Monday, March 31, 2008

Clarity, Charity, or the greatest of these, Hillarity?

HILLARY MISS-SPOKEN. "...and there we were under sniper fire at Tuzla
- or was that Tulsa?

I'VE not commented on the run up to US presidential elections so far. Of course, they are important. The way some Brit bloggers and commentators go on, you'd think we had a vote there, or that it made a difference.

It's depressing to think that whichever of the likely candidates wins, America will continue to rule the world or think that it should; and America will continue to be ruled by the big business interests that, having backed the politicians' razzmatazz can expect a return on their investments.

It's depressing to report each of the main candidates vying with each other to pledge more than 100 per cent support for whatever actions Israel carries out in the Middle East, so that Israeli leaders and military commanders can ignore any different views, including those of peace forces within Israel.

It is depressing to know that our British government and for that matter Opposition politicians will consider it an honour to do as they are told by the United States, and at most hope for a less obvious prick in the White House than George W., to make their obedience seem respectable.

It is worrying to reflect that the 'leadership of the free world' is in the hands of the country that has the highest adult illiteracy of any industrialised nation. It is more worrying to realise that
the world's biggest military and nuclear power, brandishing its missiles at the ayatollahs and their alleged ambitions, has got powerful Creationist lobbies in schools and people with access to the White House who believe they can hasten their "Rapture" and the Second Coming with a nuclear Armageddon.

But all of that cloud can be dispelled, you may say, with new and more liberal candidates on the horizon. Really? There have been various speculations about Barack Obama, from those concerned about his origins (why doesn't he spell his first name Baruch? It means the same and would have them really confused. Or maybe Barak, like the Israeli Labour leader.) to those picking up remarks by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. But what about that fine example of modern American womanhood, forgiving Bill and his cigar their trespasses, Hillary Clinton?

It seems that in 1993 the First Lady and now White House hopeful found faith in the form of a Bible study group catering for the wives of famous men, and connected with a secretive religious movement called The Family. This little-known outfit is to feature in a book due out next month, written by Jeff Sharlet, and called "The Family; the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power".

The Family runs single-sex hostels for young people in northern Virginia, where they foreswear sex, alcohol and drugs, and learn about Jesus. It holds a National Prayer Breakfast each year in Washington. But this is not your ordinary Jesus preaching the meek shall inherit the earth, according to Sharlet. At least, not around Capitol Hill, where it is also known as "The Fellowship" ( putting me in mind of a rather good spoof "radio broadcast" I once heard, performed on tape at a youth movement camp). Nor presumably at its spacious mansion, the Cedars, set in its own estate by the Potomac, where powerful right-wing politicians are served dinner by the Family's meek young female acolytes.

This religious group, which promoted Hillary Rodham Clinton to its "most elite cell" when she became a Senator, according to Sharlet, cultivates its links with elite politicians and not just in Washington. Brazilian dictator Costa de Silva convened its Latin American following, while in the world 's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, General Shuharto presided over its gatherings, as he had over the butchery of Indonesian communists. Highly ecumenical.

Some of Hillary Clinton's curious stands, such as supporting police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics, and pharmacists refusing to handle birth control prescriptions, may owe something to the Family's influence. "We work with power where we can," explains Dug Coe, of the Family, and "build new power where we can't."
Hillary's Nasty Pastorate, by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Nation, March 19, 2008

But before we condemn Mrs.Clinton as a creature of the religious right, let's acknowledge her recent contribution to the annals of would-be presidential heroism, or political humour at least.
In a speech last week she described how she had been sent as president's wife to war-torn Bosnia, landing at Tuzla airport, and having to dodge sniper bullets as she ran from the plane, with no such thing as an official reception.

I've been to Tuzla twice. On my first trip, travelling a devious route over mountain tracks to hopefully stay out of range of the guns or ambush, we could hear artillery at night. The guy at whose home I stayed was off to do a stint of service in the hills because that was where the fighting was. We were not kept awake by sniper fire, but by the local students running a rock concert. On our way back, through the country we were stopped for a brew by the roadside when some kids appeared from nowhere, and told us "the Serbs shelled this place last night". We decided not to stop for a second cup.

Later, when I was back in England, I heard about a Kiwi friend, Sue unloading medical supplies at the hospital while mortar shells ("grenades" in local parlance) were landing around. The worst mortar attack was on May 25, 1995, Yugoslav Youth Day, killing 75 young people celebrating in the city's cafe area. But by the time I made my second visit, again by road, things had quietened down, people were trying to get back to 'normal' ,, and no one talked about snipers. There was still a 'blackout' at night - but then power supplies were scarce, anyway..

Tuzla airport had been controlled by UN forces, before the Americans arrived. They decided who and what flew in. A Bosnian friend who needed to get home quickly because of a family crisis was told that no exceptions could be made. Even quite urgently needed supplies had to be trucked in over the mountains. So Hillary Clinton was one of the privileged. And by the time she flew in the war was over and the airport in US hands. Maybe the snipers were bored GIs, trying to make it feel at home like an American college campus, if not Bosnians wanting their airport back?

But in fact, contemporary newsreel footage shows nobody having to dodge sniping, and that there was an official reception for the US President's wife. Now Hillary Clinton acknowledges that she may have "misspoken" when she recalled her ordeal under fire, and US commentators say "well, she is a politician". Maybe having enjoyed George Dubya in the White House they are looking forward to another comedy act.

Hilary's heroic trip recalled:

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Iraqi trade unionists appeal: Stop the onslaught on Basra!

THIS statement has come today from Naftana (Our Oil), the solidarity group for the Iraqi oilworkers' union:

In a series of telephone calls from Basra over the past 48 hours, Iraqi
trade union activists appeal for solidarity and describe how the so-called
‘Security Plan’ started midnight 24 March with intense shelling and fire
from all kind of weapons.

The attacking forces now besieging Basra stretched all the way to the city
from Dhi Qar province. Two armoured divisions are deployed, in addition to thousands of policemen, backed by US and British planning and air cover.

They have cut off electricity supplies, food and water on the city of 1.5
million people. Hundreds have been killed or injured in a savage,
premeditated and unprovoked attack, now spreading to much of Iraq as the people protest and show solidarity with Basra’s beleaguered people.

They describe the attack as far worse than the invasion of 2003 and begun in the same barbaric manner that the criminal Saddam employed against Basra to crush the March 1991 people’s uprising. They remind us that the present puppet Iraqi government sentenced Saddam’s Defence Minister to death few months ago for similar crimes of waging war on civilians. The assault is backed by the US and British occupation forces, particularly in providing air cover. US planes are also bombarding areas in the Basra, several southern cities and Baghdad, where tens of thousands marched yesterday denouncing the “puppet regime”.

It is now, along with many other cities, under a strict curfew enforced by regime and occupation forces.

Trade union leaders have asked us to inform the public in Britain that the government’s attack on Basra serves the occupation. The city is “steadfast” and the onslaught will end in “utter failure.” The city streets were free of the occupying forces before the assault and the regime’s attacks will make it even more dependent on the occupation forces, they stressed.

Naftana, the UK support committee for the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions in the struggle for democratic trade unionism in Iraq, condemns British collusion in the preparation of the assault on Basra city and British participation in air strikes.

Naftana urges all to join in calling for an immediate withdrawal of British forces from Iraq, ending the US-led occupation, and the payment of
reparations to Iraq.

In the absence of adequate media coverage of the nature and context of this savage onslaught, Naftana wants to set the record straight on UK

In December 2007, the Basra Development Commission (BDC) was formally announced after discussions between Gordon Browne and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. (1) Browne appointed a British businessman, Michael Wareing, Chief Executive of KPMG International as “Commissioner”, apparently heading the BDC. (2) Wareing visited Basra in February and made outrageous comments, confirming his real interests to be those of predatory business rather than the security, development and well-being of Basra and its people.

Wareing told The Observer: “If you look at many other economies in the
world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite
challenging countries in which to do business. … Frankly, if you can
successfully operate in the Niger Delta, that is a very different benchmark from imagining that Basra needs to be like London or Paris.” (3)

Wareing’s appointment was welcomed by Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih, a major advocate of the 2003 invasion and of privatisation. On March 13 the British Defence Minister Des Browne met with Salih in Basra Airport.
Browne promised to show new action on ‘security’ in Basra province and to bring Umm Qasr port up to ‘the highest international standards’. (4) What this meant was made clear by Salih who threatened the Governor, people of Basra and port workers’ union of Umm Qasr saying ‘there must be a very strong military presence in Basra to eradicate these militias’.

(5) What Salih, himself a former militia leader, was concerned about were organised port workers who had earlier confronted the American SSA Marine corporation in Umm Qasr and the Danish Maersk corporation in Khor az-Zubair in the two years after these companies were imposed by the occupying
forces in 2003.

(6) The new plans involve privatisation measures opposed by
the port workers, who are supported by other trade unions and port
management. It is likely that the planned corporate takeover of the port is required in order to facilitate the activities of international oil companies.

Nevertheless, the scale of what was afoot was not apparent, but the link
between military action and breaking trade unionism was. On March 17-18 the US Vice-President Dick Cheney was in Baghdad meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who presently heads the attack on Basra city.

(7) Top of the agenda was the oil law (8) and how to insure its
passage. The oil law means that international oil majors will control Iraqi oil for many decades.

Various reports reveal that the present carnage was coordinated and agreed with British and American leaders. Naftana believes they commanded it. Why? The tide of national public opinion has turned against long-term troop deployment in both the UK and the USA. If the war was fought for oil and total domination of Iraq, then those most closely associated to those interests must speed up their plans. The present onslaught aims to break popular resistance, especially from the Sadrist movement, to the passage of the oil law and to the occupation itself.

Beyond that, with local elections looming next autumn, it aims to destroy morally and physically the popular base which would otherwise be set to drive, first from local power, and subsequently from national power, the US/UK allies, Nouri al-Maliki (al-Dawa party), his main allies in the Supreme Islamic Council, led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim, and the Kurdish leaders, Talbani and Barzani.

Naftana calls on all who support democratic trade unionism to stand by the people of Iraq, with the port workers of Umm Qasr and the oil workers of Southern Iraq, with workers in Baghdad and many other cities who are in danger of physical elimination.


For further information on Naftana and IFOU:
Sabah Jawad -

Kamil Mahdi –

Sami Ramadani –

Notes for editors: Naftana (‘Our Oil’ in Arabic) is an independent
UK-based committee supporting democratic trade unionism in Iraq. It works in solidarity with the IFOU. It strives to publicise the union’s struggle for Iraqi social and economic rights and its stand against the
privatisation of Iraqi oil demanded by the occupying powers. For more
information see the IFOU’s website:






(6) Since 2003 the first shortened its name to SSA Marine. See on Umm Qasr:


and on Khor az-Zubair



(8) d=080317082409.1u8it4sf&show_article=1

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Five years on, Jerry Duggan's family still pressing for investigation
What did he stumble upon in Wiesbaden?

FIVE years ago, early in the morning of March 27, 2003, a young man's body was found by the side of a dual carriageway about five kilometres outside Wiesbaden, in Germany.

The body was identified as that of Jeremiah Duggan, aged 22, a British student. German police told reporters that the young man had committed suicide by leaping in front of two cars. According to their story he had first bounced off the bonnet of one car, then picked himself up to run in front of another. Why he chose this unusual kind of suicide was not explained, nor how he came to be that far out of town at the time of the morning when he did it.

Jeremiah Duggan's family and friends have never accepted the "suicide" explanation. Nor did a St.Pancras coroners' court which reviewed the case. Next Thursday, April 3, at 2pm, Jerry's mother Erica and others will present a petition to Downing Street asking for a full investigation into the death of Jeremiah Duggan. Besides the forensic details, they are concerned as to what a peculiar political cult might have had to do with it, and why this outfit has been so anxious to avoid an investigation.

Jerry Duggan was the son of an Irish father, Hugo, and a Jewish mother, Erica, whose family were refugees from Germany. His uncle Hans whom I used to know was an active communist involved in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa before he came to Britain. Jerry was studying in Paris in 2003 when the Iraq war started. Friends and teachers remember him as a cheerful, friendly young man, with an inquiring mind, concerned about what was happening in the world, but not committed to any political affiliations. When someone sold him a paper called Nouvelle Solidarite however, Jerry was interested in what it had to say about the war. He agreed to attend a conference in Germany, hosted by the Schiller Institute.

At the conference, disturbed that some seemed to blame the war on Jews, Jerry stood up and identified himself as a Jew, to argue against them. If he sensed some hostility, he nevertheless decided to stay on in Wiesbaden for a cadre school.

In the early hours of the morning of March 27, 2003, Jeremiah made two 'phone calls, one to his girlfriend in Paris, and another to his mother, Erica, in London. "Mum, I'm in big, big trouble", he said. He told her he was really frightened, and needed to get away from the organisation and the people he had been staying with. Two hours later he was found dead by the roadside.

With neither a proper medical examination nor witness statements, German police apparently decided that the student had committed "suicide" by running into the path of two motor vehicles. An Inspector Shaecher apparently accepted a claim from the people at the Schiller Institute that the young student they had invited to their school had been receiving treatment for depression, or mental illness, at London's Tavistock clinic. Erica Duggan says there was no truth in this.

The inspector told her there were no "suspicious circumstances" to investigate about the death, and and that he had no grounds to investigate the Schiller Institute which was a "respectable organisation".

No suspicious circumstances? As Erica Duggan hired lawyers and made her own enquiries, she learned that strangely, neither of the cars that were supposed to have hit her son had any traces of blood or tissue. On the other hand when a Schiller Institute official handed back Jeremiah's passport which they had been holding it did have bloodstains. The Insitute denied that the couple with whom Jerry had stayed in Wiesbaden were anything to do it, but it seems they were members.

As for "respectability", both the Schiller Institute and the French paper Nouvelle Solidarite are offshoots of a cult launched in the United States by a man called Lyndon LaRouche, who used to be active under the name "Lyn Marcus" among left-wing circles. LaRouche and his followers in the United States gained notoriety for violent attacks on other left-wing groups, such that Communists and Trotskyists, among others, suspended their mutual hostility in order to oppose him. The cops on the other hand seem to have looked the other way. Before long LaRouche had moved well over to the Right, hobnobbing with various politicians and supporting Reagan's "star wars", though his clever ways with finance earned him a stretch in prison.

When she opened Jeremiah's bag and looked at his papers, Erica Duggan found examples of the LaRouchite world view, in which Jews and the British, particularly the Royal Family, figured in various conspiracies.

The LaRouchites moved into Europe particularly Sweden and then Germany, in the 1970s, when many US draft resisters and GI dissidents were entering these countries. In Sweden one of the LaRouche "Swedish Labour Party's members was arrested as a suspect after the assassination of Social Democrat premier Olaf Palme. LaRouche set up the Schiller Institute in Germany together with his partner Helga Zepp, to give his movement a more cultural image. They appear well-funded, with headquarters in both Wiesbaden and Leesburg, Virginia. The LaRouchite magazine Executive Intelligence Review, to which companies can subscribe, mixes the theories with enough well-informed analysis and fact as to sound authoritative and convincing.
Last November 100 British MPs signed a motion calling on the Attorney General to hold an investigation into Jeremiah Duggan's death. They all received letters from the LaRouchites urging them not to follow this through. Like Erica Duggan, whom the LaRouchites accused of working for George Bush and Tony Blair, just because she wanted to know what really happened to her son, this has made them all the more determined to uncover the truth.

Today a friend of Jerry Duggan is doing a sponsored sky dive to raise funds for the justice campaign. That hardly sounds like some state-backed conspiracy. Jeremiah Duggan could have been any of us when young, concerned about the state of the world and looking for answers, trying out what seemed an attractive venture, an international anti-war conference, only in his case to stumble into something else. Jeremiah's mother Erica deserves support and strength to pursue truth and justice for her son, and in doing so benefiting others still to come.

The Justice for Jeremiah campaign website:

St.Pancras Coroners report in Guardian:

Book on Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism:

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Get rid of Howells!

LABOUR'S KIM HOWELLS (centre) arrives to meet Colombian military

BRITAIN'S biggest trade union has called on Foreign Office minister Kim Howells to withdraw remarks he made about Colombia, or be sacked.

Unite,formed by the merger of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) and the technical union Amicus, says "utterly unfounded" remarks by Howells have put trade unionists and human rights defenders in Colombia at risk.

The minister had claimed that 'Justice for Colombia' (JFC), a trade union-backed human rights organisation, supported FARC, the left-wing guerrilla army that has been fighting a prolonged war against the Colombian government and landowners.

Trade unionists and rights campaigners in Colombia are frequently threatened, kidnapped and murdered by the Colombian government's forces and death squads operating with them. Past victims have included former TGWU members who returned to their country.

Since 2002, more than 550 trade unionists have been assassinated there, and yet as the Unite statement notes "the UK government continues to give military aid to the Colombian Army".

We recall the furore from the British government and media when two former IRA men were accused of aiding the Colombian guerrillas. But the presence in Colombia of British SAS men, some hired by oil companies facing peasants protesting land-grabs, went with little or no comment.

Amid the current fondness for recalling 1968 student protest we might also recall that one of the leaders of the Hornsey art school sit-in was a young fellow called Kim Howells, a member of the Young Communist League. He went on to become an officer of the National Union of Mineworkers in his native South Wales, playing a key part in engineering the return to work which ended the miners strike. Becoming Labour MP for Pontypridd, he participated in the media campaign against Arthur Scargill, led by the billionaire intelligence-asset Robert Maxwell, but backed by Labour leader Neil Kinnock.

"...what really gave the Maxwell-funded campaign against Scargill and Heathfield the stamp of Kinnock's authority was the close involvement at all stages of (Kevin) Barron and Howells". (Seumas Milne, The Enemy Within,p201.) As we know, after all their attempts to brand the miners' leader with wrongdoing, it was press baron Maxwell who wound up disappearing over the side of a yacht while his employees discovered what he'd been up to with their pension fund.

Ex-Communist Party member Kim Howells became president of the Labour Friends of Israel. No problem with the Foreign Office's current idea of impartiality, it would seem. But has he progressed from assisting an attempted character assassination of his former union leader to encouraging the forces that engage in real assassinations of trade unionists in Colombia?

Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said: "The minister's comments put in severe danger the brave trade union activists and human rights defenders in Colombia who already live with the very real and daily danger of assassination.

"Unite is also very concerned about the safety of its own members and officers and those of other international trade unions who take part in solidarity delegations organised by JFC. It is clear that when senior politicians in Colombia make such comments, assassinations and threats against trade unionists and human rights activists increase and for those reasons we are astonished that a UK minister would make such dangerous and unfounded comments.

"Instead of responding to the legitimate concerns raised about British policy in Colombia, Kim Howells is engaging in the same tactics that the Colombian regime uses to silence and intimidate its critics. He clearly has little understanding of the situation in Colombia and we call on him to immediately and publicly withdraw his comments. Should he not do so we call on the prime minster to remove him from office."

Last year Unite sponsored JFC's largest event, trying to ease the situation in Colombia by arranging a humanitarian exchange of prisoners between the warring sides. Participants included the families of those being held by the FARC.

Kim Howells meanwhile has been photographed laughing with General Montoya, the commander of the Colombian national army, who was last year named in a US House of Representatives report as having allegedly "collaborated extensively with militias that the Department of State considers terrorist organisations".

In a separate photo, Howells was seen posing with members of a Colombian military unit which human rights groups say was involved in the murder of trade unionists.

The Unite leadership has stood firmly by Labour despite differences on policies, and disappointment over the government's failure to honour promises , and retention of Tory anti-union laws. Though the TGWU's Tony Woodley has been regarded as the more left-wing and militant of the two Unite leaders, he took the occasion of a trade union rights lobby and meeting in Parliament last year to fiercely attack union members who were calling for an alternative to Labour. Just how New Labour returns this loyalty can be judged by the Howells episode. If the Labour Party in government won't get rid of this minister, maybe the Labour Party in Pontypridd can. If not, then union members and voters in the Welsh constituency should.

For Tony Woodley statement:

Article on the plot against Scargill:

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Forty years since the battle for Dignity

THE historic battle which gave birth to the Palestinian national movement as a factor in world politics took place 40 years ago. In the early hours of March 21, 1968 an Israeli force comprising 15,000 men and armoured vehicles crossed the river Jordan heading for the village of Karameh, which with its Palestinian refugee camp had become a headquarters for Fatah, the main Palestinian guerrilla group, and training base for its commandos.

Less than a year after its triumph in the Six Day War, Israel was still consolidating its grip on the territories it had seized. For the Palestinian guerrillas, the Israeli expansion had temporarily made it easier to operate within Israeli lines. Unlike the Arab armies, and unlike 1948, the mass of people in the West Bank had stood their ground, although they were shocked by the sudden conquest, and resistance remained small-scale. But after an Israeli bus hit a Fatah roadmine in the Wadi Arava the Israeli forces were determined to hit out and teach the Palestinians a lesson.

Having failed to persuade King Hussein of Jordan in negotiations to cede his rights on West Bank territory, Israeli leaders may also have thought they could bully him into submission by this massive operation.

The lesson of Karameh turned out to be not the one they intended.

As the Israeli forces advanced in three columns, with air support, the Fatah command was tipped off in time to evacuate civilians, and take up defensive positions. Israeli forces came under fire from Palestinian fighters in caves along the routes into the town. Jordanian forces too, which the Israelis may have expected to withdraw giving them a clear run to attack the Palestinians did not do so. Instead, their artillery opened up on the Israeli armour, helping to repel this invasion.

Although the Israeli assault on Karameh inflicted heavy casualties - at least 100 Palestinian fighters killed and another 100 wounded, - it did not bring the easy victory they had expected after 1967. The Israeli force eventually withdrew with 28 of its soldiers killed and 90 wounded, and leaving behind four tanks, three half-tracks, and two armoured cars destroyed, and one aircraft downed by Jordanian fire.

Israeli leaders like Golda Meir had arrogantly declared that there was "no such people as Palestinians", but at Karameh these people who did not exist had given the cocksure Israeli Defence Forces(IDF) a bloody nose. The truth was, as IDF commanders knew when they launched the Es Samu raid against Palestinians in Jordan two years earlier, foreshadowing the 1967 war, that Israel's real ongoing war was not with the Arab states, but with this people whom it had displaced.

The Palestinians could not be ignored. And far from being humiliated, at Karameh the Palestinian fighters had stood and fought the Israeli military, which five Arab states with all their weaponry and regular officers had failed to withstand in 1967. The world, and above all the Arab world, began to take notice.

Yasser Arafat, leader of Fatah, said: "What we have done is to make the world...realize that the Palestinian is no longer refugee number so and so, but the member of a people who hold the reins of their own destiny and are in a position to determine their own future."

Israeli diplomat Gideon Rafael was to agree: "The operation gave an enormous lift to Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization and irrevocably implanted the Palestine problem onto the international agenda, no longer as a humanitarian issue of homeless refugees, but as a claim to Palestinian statehood."

Karameh means "dignity". How very appropriate. In the Palestinian towns and villages and perhaps even more so the refugee camps, Palestinians felt they could hold their heads up high. Within 48 hours of the battle of Karameh some five thousand volunteers had applied to join Fatah alone. Even King Hussein, sensing the new mood among the Palestinians and other Arabs, including those of Jordan, proclaimed: "We are all fedayeen!"

Although militarily the Palestinian leadership now had to retreat from maintaining bases near the frontlines, politically it began a major advance, raising the guerrilla's profile in both the Arab and world arena. They were able to open recruiting offices in Arab capitals, and to send representatives abroad to raise support. Above all, Fatah and other militant groups were able to take over the near moribund Palestine Liberation Organisation(PLO), ousting discredited old leaders who had run it as little more than an Arab governmental asset.

This meant turning the PLO into something more like a state in exile, complete with its political parties, cultural institutions, educational and welfare bodies. It meant reaching out to mobilise the mass of Palestinians, wherever they were, and at the same time establishing the PLO as the authentic Palestinian voice seeking recognition from governments, and its place at the United Nations.

Internationally, the great powers began to realise they must reckon on this new nation, whose name had been wiped off the map in 1948. The Soviet Union had insisted on the permanency of 1948 borders and told Fatah leaders it could not support their armed struggle. (The Palestinian Communists were not allowed to establish a party for many years, since Moscow only recognised the parties of existing states, Israel and Jordan). But after Karameh, the Soviet and East European states began modifying their attitude, and from 1971 they were prepared to give the PLO some recognition and assistance. (Though asked about Soviet weapons in 1976, senior Palestinian commanders stressed "whatever we got had to be paid for".)

Within a few years of the battle of Karameh, the self-confidence of some Palestinian groups which resorted to air hijackings and ill-thought actions and gestures brought them headlines, but at the cost of losing lives and shelter for their people, as in Jordan's Black September.

Within a decade, the Palestinians had been embattled in Lebanon too, not only by Israeli and right-wing Christian forces but by supposed Syrian allies. But the United Nations General Assembly had recognised their "inalienable rights" as a people, and their right to self-determination.

Three Fatah leaders in command at Karameh emerged as leaders in the PLO, which was also able to claim itself sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, whatever Israel said, and despite some Arab governments' efforts while paying lip service to undermine it. With Yasser Arafat stood Saleh Khalef (Abu Iyad), and Khalid al Wazir (Abu Jihad), the latter very much involved in efforts to win support from the Eastern bloc and later in preparing the groundwork for the first Intifada.

Two other figures who were to win later attention for pursuing peace initiatives, for which they paid with their lives, were a unit commander who later became the PLO's ambassador in London, Said Hammami, and a medical officer, Issam Sartawi.

All these who fought at Karameh, and whom Israeli forces failed to destroy, later fell in other ways. Said Hammami was murdered in his London office on January 4, 1978, by one of Abu Nidal's gunmen probably backed by Iraqi intelligence. Issam Sartawi was gunned down in his hotel lobby at Albufeira, Portugal, on April 10, 1983, when he had been due, despite Israeli lobbying against him, to address the Socialist International. On April 16, 1988, Israeli commandos assassinated Abu Jihad at his house in Tunis, where the PLO leadership had set up after being driven from Lebanon. (In 1997 Ha'aretz revealed that the leader of the Israeli unit in this raid had been Ehud Barak, who went on to be Israeli Labour Party leader and prime minister).

On March 14, 1991, Abu Iyad was murdered in Tunis by Abu Nidal's men. Known in Fatah for his efforts to keep good relations with more left-wing guerrilla groups, he may have been targetted because he had opposed Arafat's ill-fated alliance with Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War. But with his death following that of Khalid el Wazir the Israeli military had the satisfaction of knowing the PLO leadership had ben robbed of its two top strategists. That left Yasser Arafat, who died in a French hospital on November 11, 2004, after two years of siege and humiliation at his Ramallah headquarters, having gained a Nobel Peace Prize but in the end perhaps little else for his people from the gamble he took at Oslo, of trusting the Israeli government and the Americans. (Not for the first time. In 1982 the PLO withdrew its forces from Beirut on the promise of US protection for its people. There followed the massacres at Sabra and Chatila carried out by Christian Falangist killers under the gaze of their patron Ariel Sharon's Israeli forces).

Nowadays, in the light of what has happened since Oslo, disappointment with the Palestinian Authority and disillusionment with Fatah, on which Hamas thrived, and the threat of open civil war encouraged by the Palestinian people's enemies, it may be easy to forget some past achievements. But in striving to find new leadership, respect is still due to those past fighters and leaders, whose heroism at Karameh did so much to raise the Palestinian cause, and who did take it forward.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Nawroz!

BUTTERFLIES, by Behnam Askari.

Happy Nawroz!

IT'S the Spring Equinox, and for Iranians, Afghans and Kurds, as indeed for Parsees (that is, a faith community originating from Zoroastrianism), that means it is the New Year - 1387 I believe, or New Day, Nawroz, or Nowruz, no matter how you spell it.

Starting the year with the flowers of Spring
seems as good a time as any, and that Zoroastrian link is a clue that the roots of this festival go way back, and are certainly pre-Islamic.

Though some Muslims such as Alawites, as well as the Baha'i, have incorporated it into their practice, others of a more fundamentalist persuasion frown on it, much as English Puritans once sought to outlaw the frivolity of Christmas.

But they've never been able to ban it. I asked a friend of Iranian origin who is a member of the Muslim Parliament about this. "They don't like it", he said - they being the religious authorities and strict mullahs - "but there's no way they can stop my mother holding a party".

If not even the Taliban could stop Afghans celebrating, that is a tribute to the human spirit and the strength of traditions reflecting our interface with Nature.

It's some years since some Kurdish friends invited me to join their Nawroz celebration. (at the Red Rose club, which meant we could enjoy something else the fundamentalists would not like, a pint with our kebabs). You can even celebrate the Spring on a wet night in darkest Finsbury Park. I had a good time, enjoyed the food and the friendly atmosphere, and even got shlepped into a kind of debka.

I must admit I remained ignorant of the festival's wider significance, thinking it was just some Kurdish custom. I am resolved to remedy this now, thanks to the internet, beginning with:

Starting the year with Spring, Primavera as the Italians say, is an old and widespread tradition. An oddity of the Jewish calendar, an eclectic affair combining both Egyptian and Babylonian influences, agricultural (governed by the sun, and the rising of the Nile) and pastoral (the moon, and hence the months), is that though Rosh Hashana, commonly called the "Jewish New year" falls in Autumn, the first month of the year is Nissan, roughly corresponding with April, which sees the Passover.

But another possible link is the festival of Purim, which comes before it, and is also a Spring festival. Whereas Passover celebrates the exodus and liberation of the slaves from Egypt, Purim concerns later events in Iran, and a triumph over enemies, supposedly in the time of Ahasuerus(Xerxes) and Queen Vashti. The Jewish protagonists are called Mordechai and Esther, which some scholars suggest were really names derived from the Babylonian deities Marduk and Ishtar. Only whereas in the Purim story, Mordechai is the father of Esther, who is the heroine who saves the day, the Babylonian story had Ishtar (also identied with Venus)ther holding the baby Marduk. That has led people to think of another famous mother and son, called Mary and Jesus.

Both Moses and Jesus had to be rescued from menacing rulers as babies, and come Passover, you are also thinking of Easter (though that has come earlier this year, with Nawroz!), when Jesus is betrayed after a Passover supper with his comrades, is killed, but goes on to be reborn - just like the ancient Egyptian corn god. It is all very complicated , but fascinating. Trying to trace how all these strands are interwoven in human imagination is much more interesting than the austere interpretation of strict believers who try to insist that their particular piece of thread is given by God, and defined by the priests, and anything else must be rejected.

It's much more fun being an atheist, by which I mean to say, a historical materialist!

As to Queen Vashti, by the way, there's a ladies' hairdressers called Vashti's in Shepherd Bush.

But to finish on a serious note, the picture above is a painting by Behnam Askari, a young Iranian who together with his mother and younger brother faces deportation from Britain. Part of our wonderful government's commitment to freedom. The family came to this country when Behnam was 15 because his father was working here. When the father returned to Iran on a visit he was arrested, because two of Behnam's old schoolmates whom they had allowed to stay at their flat had been charged with possessing subversive leaflets. Like other repressive regimes the Iranian authorities prefer uncovering a "conspiracy" to merely nicking two students, and so Behnam and his mother face lashings and imprisonment if they return to Iran. Behnam's old teacher and other friends are campaigning to help the family stay in Britain.

I chose the Butterflies picture because it is pretty and makes me think of Spring, and freedom. There was a news item on television the other night about conservationists worried that some of Britain's butterfly species are endangered, and working to rescue them. We saw youngsters enjoying a visit to a butterfly farm and marvelling at the beautiful creatures around them.

Let's hope a similar appreciation of diversity spreads, so more people act to safeguard endangered human beings.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Galloway disgraces anti-war platform

YOU don't often hear speakers at major public rallies stung into trading insults or accusations with hecklers. Club comedians yes, some find a bit of badinage with an audience drunk helps fill the time and inspires witty one-line put-downs that win the audience. Then there's the kind of Hyde Park orator (though it's many years since I squandered a Sunday afternoon listening to them) who counts on a heckler (genuine antagonist or stooge?) to attract a crowd looking for entertainment.

It's a bit different in Trafalgar Square, when the platform speaker, one of a line-up, wants to make best use of their time, to inspire the crowd and get their message across, with the help of a powerful sound system.

So I was surprised to hear Respect MP George Galloway, at Saturday's World Against War demonstration, turn from denouncing Gordon Brown's government, its subservience to Washington, squandering of young soldiers and introduction of military propaganda in schools, to attack some people at the front of the rally, accusing them of being "useful idiots", and the "pink contingent" of the khaki war machine.

Galloway is an experienced and capable speaker. He had a good PA system. Where I was standing I could hear every word he said, whereas I could neither see nor hear anyone who might have been heckling him. Other people have said the same. So if anyone there was trying to create a diversion, it was Galloway, alone among the speakers, who allowed himself to be diverted, perhaps because he wanted to be.

But worse than any tactical error was what Galloway actually said. Declaring that "The khaki war machine now has a pink contingent", he went on to declare that if the bombs fell on Iran they would not discriminate, killing gays and straight alike. Very true. And of course his admirers dutifully applauded. To round off, calling for action if Iran was attacked he warned that although the anti-war movement has been peaceful so far it might not remain so.

Being unable either to see or hear what was going on at the front, one could only assume from what Galloway said that the people annoying him were gay campaigners and others rightly concerned at repression in Iran. But what right had Galloway to pretend that these people must favour imperialist war, let alone to smear them as part of the imperialist war machine?

There has been some online discussion about this episode, from quite different viewpoints, in two groups to which I have the honour to belong, Iraq Occupation Focus, where someone complained about heckling of Galloway, and Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), where people were incensed by Galloway's remarks. To complicate matters, if there was any heckling it is not clear who it was from. Peter Tatchell says neither he nor anyone else from his gay rights group Outrage heckled at the rally. I may add that Peter is also a member of HOPI, and as such, firmly opposed to war on Iran. Likewise the Iranian comrades who were there, who have been with the anti-war movement from the start, and continue their anti-war campaigning even though the Stop the War leadership has tried to stifle their voice and excluded HOPI from affiliating.

Attention has been focused on the Iranian regime's treatment of homosexuality -which according to President Ahmadinejad at the UN does not exist in his country - by the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a 19-year old gay Iranian national whom the British government intended to deport because his student visa had expired. Mehdi had appealed for sanctuary after hearing that his former boyfriend in Iran, Parham, had been tortured until he gave his lover's name, and then executed.

Under the Dublin Treaty, the young Iranian cannot apply to another EU country for asylum.
He tried fleeing to the Netherlands, and thought he might head for Canada. But the Dutch government - notwithstanding Holland's reputation for enlightened attitudes on sexuality, and claims to oppose Islamicist pressures - detained the desperate young man and said it would send him back to Britain. Here, following representations by Green MEP Jean Lambert and some Labour and Liberal MPs, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has agreed to review the case. But Mehdi could still face deportation to Iran, and a possible death penalty.

Another case has come up, of a lesbian woman, Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, also threatened with deportation back to Iran.

We might have expected George Galloway MP to champion such cases, both to show his commitment to human rights and to expose the hypocrisy of the British and other Western governments which affect concern over the regime in Iran but don't show any willingness to shelter its victims. It would not be too difficult either, to point out the British and US government's complicity with a far worse repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, which they are competing to arm; nor for that matter to point to the way women and gays are suffering in Iraq since their country was "liberated". But then the stooge Iraqi government installed since the occupation is, as we have seen, supported by Ahmadinejad. And Galloway, the one-time hand shaker with Saddam Hussein has now apparently thrown in his lot with Ahmadinejad.

At any rate, the Respect MP has defended the Iranian regime and claimed on Channel 5 television's Steve Wright show that Mehdi's friend Parham was not executed for homosexuality alone but for "sex crimes". He has been challenged to give his sources for that.

The MP, who finds time for so many things, is joining Respect stablemate Yvonne Ridley on the Iranian government-funded Press TV, though we should note that the Evening Standard's Andrew Gilligan and Michael Dobbs also have their niches there.

To be fair, Galloway did say he was against the young Iranian being deported, and that he did not support the death penalty. But he did so in reply to questions, and after beginning by saying the issue was being taken up to reinforce anti-Iranian propaganda. It was also on TV, before he could claim to be provoked by any hecklers, that he introduced his remark about "giving the khaki war machine a tinge of pink". He must have been so pleased with it that he saw the Trafalgar Square diversion as a chance to more or less repeat it.

It is true that some of the people now keen to seize on this issue have had a longstanding urge to get Galloway. But these are not coming from the gay rights movement nor are they the Iranian and other campaigners in HOPI. Nor is there the slightest justification for Galloway's smear that people are pro-war or in league with the government.
What Galloway adds to the prejudices of his Islamicist allies is the method of the Stalinists, and for that matter their McCarthyite counterparts, whereby criticism of a regime is equated with war conspiracy, and political opponents are branded as "agents".

It will be interesting to see what some of his supporters have to say, not least former members of the International Marxist Group, once to the fore in proclaiming gay liberation, and now ensconced in Galloway's Respect Renewal, where they remained loyal after he ditched his Socialist Workers Party allies. But more important, the Stop the War Coalition must either dissociate itself from Galloway's attack or risk becoming increasingly discredited with him.
If we want to oppose war on Iran, we need an anti-war movement that is not afraid of the truth, as the British government is, and can call on the wider public to act because it is respected and trusted.

* SUPPORTERS of Mehdi Kazemi, though pleased with the Home Office review, want to make sure he and others are allowed to stay. They are going ahead with a demonstration this weekend in London. It is from 2pm -3pm, in Whitehall opposite Downing Street.

* Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) website:

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Bishop is playing with fire

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LOOKING AFTER VALUES? Pope Pius XII meets the man himself. Maybe the Bishop should think carefully before questioning others' rights to remember Holocaust.

AS though the ex-Hitlerjugend Pope wasn't enough, quoting 13th century fulminations against Muslim violence (not bad in between the Crusades which his predecessors launched and the Holy Inquisition with its ingenious tortures), a leading Catholic bishop has discovered a "huge and well-orchestrated conspiracy" against Christian traditions.

The conspirators apparently are gay people.

According to the Bishop of Motherwell, Joseph Devine, lecturing at St.Aloysius College in Glasgow, the "gay community" has cunningly aligned itself with minority groups, including Holocaust survivors, to make it appear they were under persecution.

"We neglect the gay movement at our peril," he warned.

(story from BBC NEWS:
(see also:

It's not the first time this clerical gentleman has made the news with his views. In September he was calling on people to show appreciation of the courage of Britain's armed forces, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier, about this time last year, he announced that was not voting Labour - nothing to do with the government's lies taking us to war, or letting the moneychangers into the temple, so to speak, with loans and Private Finance Initiatives. No, the question on which he urged Catholics to examine their consciences and the candidates was the family, and liberal adoption laws - those gays again.

In a country where many of the poorest working people have been Catholics, and where right-wing and far-Right politicians have often made use of anti-Catholic sectarianism, it now seems there is a competition to beat the drums against a new 'enemy'. It was Stagecoach transport boss Brian Souter, a member of the Protestant Church of the Nazarene, who sponsored a campaign in Scotland to keep the Tory-introduced Section 28 of the Local Government Act, making it a crime for schools to "promote homosexuality". Many teachers had said they felt inhibited, even intimidated, from teaching enlightened attitudes in schools and defending youngsters from homophobic bullying. In the end the Scottish public rejected Souter's well-funded campaign, though the transport privatiser has seemingly been more successful in another field. Since he donated £500,000 to the Scottish National Party, it has modified its opposition to bus deregulation.

It is two years since Bishop Devine, who is president of the Catholic education commission, issued a charter for Catholic schools, insisting there could be no place in them for teachers who were openly gay, because their lifestyle contradicted Chistian values.
In September 2006, the Bishop condemned legislation allowing gay and unmarried couples to adopt children as a "violation of family life". In January that year, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the head of Scotland's 860,000 Catholics, accused the government of undermining marriage by legalising same-sex civil partnerships.

Considering that the Church still requires celibacy of its priests and nuns, it is remarkable how it nevertheless considers them qualified to preach the virtues of maternity and family life to others, and indeed to have charge of young children, whom Bishop Devine and others would not have adopted by unmarried couples, let alone gays. That is without considering also the notoriously high incidence of child abuse cases that have occurred in Catholic institutions (though not unknown among other religions). The Church has been trying to put its house in order we are told, though for years it systematically tried to cover up the scandals, and some
hard-liners regard those bringing accusations as also part of a conspiracy.

That the Bishop is anti-gay is not that remarkable. But what strikes me is the sinister way he presents gay people - one in four of the population - as engaged in some giant conspiracy, and does so with reference to their forming links with minorities, and attendence at Holocaust commemorations. It is so much easier to persecute your neighbour if you can persuade yourself that behind his or her seemingly unobjectionable life and appearance, they are part of a huge conspiracy. It does not require much knowledge of history to know that it was precisely such conspiracy theories, as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, that were used by the Nazis to send millions to the extermination camps.

Ironically, in Scotland, the offshoots of the British far-Right have more than once adapted racism and antisemitism to local conditions by introducing a "Papist conspiracy" . I'll never forget the man in a Glasgow pub who told me the reasons for economic ills were obvious: "(then prime minister) Harold Wilson is a communist and he is in league with the Pope..." In troubled times such explanations can become more deadly than a joke.

Gays presenting themselves as persecuted? It is a fact that in Britain today, whatever the law might say, people can still be harassed, beaten up, murdered, for no other reason than that they, or someone else, say that they are gay. It is also a fact that during the Nazi period, even though some top Nazis had been gay, many people were persecuted and driven into concentration camps where they wore the pink triangle, because they were homosexuals.

It is also a fact that the Catholic church at the highest levels was prepared to co-operate with the Nazis and fascists, even when millions of Polish Catholics were suffering, just as it had refused to condemn the fascists' ruthless bombing of the devoutly catholic Basques. In one case, the concentration camp at Jasenovac in Croatia, where Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and others were killed, Catholic clergy participated in running the camp. Furthermore, after the war was over and the horrors were known, part of the escape ratline for the criminals ran via the Vatican.

Before accusing others of "conspiracy", or questioning their right to take part in Holocaust commemorations, the Bishop of Motherwell ought to exaine his own conscience, and face up publicly to his Church's record, from the Spanish Inquisition to the Nazi Holocaust.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Has Manchester University lost sense of values?

IT is many years since, browsing the public library to broaden my knowledge and political perspective, I chanced upon a book called Hidden from History, which looked at the way socialist and feminist ideas had interacted in the development of the women's and labour movements. It was a fascinating read, gave light on history from a new angle (to me, anyway), and written by someone who knew her subject from the inside-out rather than some dry 'detached' academic writing for specialists.

It did not just fill a gap in my knowledge, but gave me an appetite for more. I became interested in following up the story of Rose Witcop, an East End woman who fell foul of both bourgeois law and a conservative Labour movement for her efforts, together with anarchist partner Guy Aldred, to assist working-class women with birth control advice. This was under Ramsay Macdonald's first Labour government. One day I may write something on this, if nobody else does. (incidentally, Rose's sister Millie married the famous German anarchist Rudolf Rocker).

Some years after I'd read the book a friend persuaded me to go with her to a meeting about the Left-wing press, at Friends House, Euston. Afterwards a bunch of us went for a meal together at a nearby Asian restaurant, and among the group was a woman with red hair and a northern accent, whom the others introduced as "Sheila". It was not till later, after I'd been treated to my second bottle of Cobra and was listening to an interesting conversation from which I gathered that the person next to me wrote books, that I started to wonder if by any chance this was Sheila Rowbotham, author of Hidden from History. Indeed it was, but probably just as well for everybody that I had not known, otherwise they'd have had to listen to me going on and on about the book and what else it had led me to read.

Had I known then that Sheila Rowbotham like me had been in the Young Socialists thirty years before, it might have been worse, as I'd probably have wanted to compare notes, refight old battles and ask what happened to so-and-so, while the waiters were waiting to close.
Apart from a rather chaotic pre-Christmas quiz night held by Red Pepper in an overcrowded pub, when Sheila was at the next table marshalling her family amid the hubbub which made it difficult enough to say hello, let alone manage a conversation, that's the sum total of acquaintance I can claim with Sheila Rowbotham. But the students who have enjoyed her teaching at the University of Manchester value her highly, as do scholars and activists around the world who have read her books and articles, and placed some of her writings in the Marxist Internet Archive.

My acquaintance with the University of Manchester is just as slender, confined to a childhood visit to the Whitworth Museum, attendance at an evening meeting on the Middle East when I was about 15, and feeling proud whenever I passed Jodrell Bank radio telescope on the train going home to my folks. But in my innocence I'd have thought a university in the city of Peterloo, the Chartists, the first Trades Union Congress, and the Pankhurst family, would be proud to retain the services of a professor like Sheila Rowbotham.

Only, if you ask me, there's something funny going on at the University of Manchester. Here's part of an item published last month in what used to be (another source of pride) the Manchester Guardian:

'Terry Eagleton, Britain's leading Marxist literary critic, faces the axe at Manchester University, where he has been involved in one of the most ferocious literary spats of recent years with the novelist Martin Amis. Their verbal duel over Amis's comments about making the Muslim community suffer "until it gets its house in order" was given added piquancy by the fact that they were supposed to be colleagues.
Eagleton reaches retirement age in July and speculation is mounting about his future at Manchester, which is in the process of losing 650 jobs to clear a £30m debt. Professor Sheila Rowbotham, one of the most respected feminists in the country, has also been told she must retire from the school of social studies this year.
The institution reportedly also has to find the £80,000 annual salary it pays Amis for the 28 hours a year he is contracted to work as professor of creative writing.
Rowbotham said: "I turn 65 this year and requested to stay on. They said it would not be possible. Because Manchester has had difficulties they've said there wouldn't be enough money to keep me. Lots of people feel pretty fed-up here ... It's very difficult with more and more students and less administrative support. I felt sad when I first found out and then 60 people signed a letter to the university requesting they reconsider. They didn't, but I was very touched."
Marxist critic Eagleton faces axe at debt-hit university, * Guardian, Friday February 8 2008 * Liz Ford and Donald MacLeod

There are campaigns afoot for both Terry Eagleton and Sheila Rowbotham, and this is from the latter one on Facebook:
Professor Sheila Rowbotham has been told that her contract is not going to be renewed at the end of this year. The University is forcing her to retire on the grounds that they cannot afford to pay her salary (she only wants a third of her current salary to continue teaching). The University are currently paying Martin Amis £80,000 for 28 hours.....A YEAR. Sheila is an immense asset to our University and WE CANNOT AFFORD TO LOSE HER.
Sheila was an integral part of many of the movements she teaches about, proving that her age is not a hindrance but that her experience and extensive knowledge make her teaching come alive. To see for yourself, please visit

The campaign is asking supporters, particularly if they have been Sheila Rowbotham's students, to e-mail

Head of Social Sciences (professor)

Dean of Humanities (professor)

President and Vice Chancellor (professor)

It seems the committee which was to take a decision won't be meeting again till after Easter, so there's still time.

This is not about the right of two or more individuals to carry on working (a right I've been glad to give up!). It is about the right of students to be taught by them, but it is also something bigger that's going on. I won't pretend that Eagleton, Sheila Rowbotham, or I, would necessarily share the same ideas, but all of us on the Left have enough to declare a common interest. So do those who value universities as places of learning rather than trying to look flash by investing in a passing fad.

Manchester has changed a lot since I left home. The soot and grime which once caked the town hall and other buildings, as well the lungs of locals, has gone. So, less happily, has the industry which produced it. From 19th century weavers marching for their rights we have wound up with people whingeing on telly about not getting the super casino, and the prospect of washing-up jobs. But Mancunians still have much to be proud of, in more than field, and much that attracts students from many places.

Seeing Manchester University dispensing with Terry Eagleton and Sheila Rowbotham, as well as all the other staff that are going, while finding the money to pay Martin Amis so much for the occasional visit, I can't help wondering whether this is just quirky accounting, misguidedly trying to be trendy, or sending out some kind of message, to appease we wonder whom? Whatever it is, it does not sound like the University of which Manchester people used to be proud, or towards which they need feel any affection.

Nor is it any consolation that Jodrell Bank's future is also in doubt.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Little guy who took up big fight

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Leon Greenman, who has just died in London aged 97, was an ordinary little guy (literally) who, like millions of others, found himself caught up cruelly in the great horrific events of the 20th century, betrayed and robbed of his loved ones and happiness by those with power and authority. Only in later life did he find his voice to tell the younger generations what had happened and warn of the dangers they too might face if we gave way to racism.

I never got to know Leon Greenman, though friends of mine did. But hearing him speak a few times, telling his story, and seeing the tenacity and courage with which he kept up the fight, I felt his passing should not go without note.

Leon Greenman was born on December 18, 1910 in Whitechapel, in London's East End, one of six children, -three brothers, three sisters. The family background was Dutch-Jewish. You might say his tzorres began when he was two years old, and his mother died. His father remarried and took the children to live with the in laws in Rotterdam. Leon's stepmother beat him, as did his Dutch teachers. By the 1920s he had returned to London and was apprenticed to a barber in Forest Gate.

Keen like many an East End boy on boxing, Leon also took up singing, joining an amateur operatic society which is where he met Esther "Else" van Dam. They married in 1935 at Stepney Green synagogue, and spent their honeymoon in Rotterdam, staying with Else's grandmother. Else decided to stay, to look after her grandmother, and Leon commuted between Britain and Holland, working in his father-in-law's book business.

In 1938, fearing that war was approaching, Leon decided to bring Else home to Britain. But the night he arrived in Holland to collect her, they heard Neville Chamberlain on the radio announcing his agreement with Hitler, and promising "peace in our time". Reassured, Leon decided to stay. The British consul told him that if war came, as a British national he would be evacuated. On March 17 1940 their son Barnett ("Barney") was born. On May 10 the Germans invaded the Netherlands. The British embassy staff fled.

Believing that as an Englishman he and his family would be protected under the Geneva Convention on treatment of enemy civilians, Leon then saw the Nazis beginning deportations, as well as enforcing the wearing of the yellow star by April 1942. He entrusted his family's savings and passports to some non-Jewish friends for safekeeping. Fearing the penalties for helping Jews, they burnt the documents. Leon tried unsuccessfully to get new documents proving his nationality, but on October 8 1942 Leon, Else, Barney and their grandmother were rounded up and taken to Westerbork, the Nazi concentration camp in the Netherlands, from where captives were deported to the east.

In mid-January 1943 they were told they were being deported to a Polish "work camp". Leon told the camp commandant that as British citizens they should not be deported. But it was no good, they had to go. Years later he discovered that the commandant had found the Greenmans' replacement papers after the family had left. By then they were en route to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In his autobiography, An Englishman in Auschwitz (2001), Greenman describes how "the women were separated from the men: Else and Barney were marched about 20 yards away to a queue of women ... I tried to watch Else. I could see her clearly against the blue lights. She could see me, too, for she threw me a kiss and held our child up for me to see. What was going through her mind, I will never know. Perhaps she was pleased that the journey had come to an end. We had been promised that we could meet at the weekends..."

Else, her grandmother and Barney were sent straight to the gas chambers. Leon's last sighting of them was as they were taken away in an open truck. Else had made capes with peaked hoods for herself and Barney from bright red velvet curtains. Leon saw the two splashes of red. He called out, but his wife never heard him or looked back. "I thought they must be still alive," Greenman told the Guardian's Stephen Moss in 2005. The thought that he would see them again kept him going.

Leon had been selected for work. After six weeks in Birkenau he was taken to the main camp at Auschwitz. There, despite his protestations of "I am an Englishman, I should not be here", he was subjected to "medical" experimentation. He was convinced that it was his skills that saved him, earning extra food for shaving prisoners and singing for the kapos - prisoners chosen by the Nazis to head work gangs - in the evening. He believed the physique he had developed while training as a boxer enabled him to survive the selections held to weed out and murder the weak and sick. And he fought to survive, in that hope that Else and Barney might still be alive.

In September 1943 Leon was sent to the Monowitz industrial complex within Auschwitz. By January 1945, as the Red Army advanced, the Nazis began moving the slave labourers westwards. Leon and others were force-marched 90km to Gliwice in southern Poland and then, in open cattle trucks in freezing conditions, to Buchenwald, near Weimar. On April 11 1945 he was liberated by the US army. Of the 700 people transported from Westerbork, Leon was one of only two survivors.

He never remarried. In London he started to rebuild his life. He became a tradesman, travelling the country with a suitcase full of bric-a-brac, and a singer. But events in the late 1950s and early 1960s persuaded Leon Greenman that he could not put his tragic past behind or just try to get on with his personal life. A rash of swastika daubings across Europe, the attempted comeback of British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, and the emergence of new Nazis like Colin Jordan proclaiming "Hitler was right", all persuaded the little ex-boxer Leon Greenman to put on the gloves politically, and join the fight against resurgent fascism.

If daring to hope his wife and son were alive had kept Leon going through the camps, knowing their fate would now sustain him in the struggle against Nazism reborn. His special contribution would be to bear witness, telling people what he had seen and what had happened to his own family, rebutting the Holocaust deniers who try to reduce this massive human catastrophe to a game with numbers, and educating the younger generation as to where racialism can lead. At an Anti-Nazi League rally against the historical revisionist David Irving he wore a homemade badge reading "Auschwitz - Never Again" and "98288", the number tattooed on his arm.

This was in 1992. It is worth noting, because although established Jewish organisations like the Board of Deputies and the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and women (AJEX) had responded to the new Nazism in the early 1960s, providing speakers and educational material (albeit trying to keep young Jews out of clashes with fascists), by the 1980s their outlook had changed. The Deputies advised local Jewish communities to keep quiet about incidents such as swastikas daubed on synagogues, saying they were taking this up with the Home Office. They urged Jewish people not to get involved with the Anti-Nazi League, because some of its leading figures were "left-wing extremists" who might condemn Israel as racist.

Dr.Jacob Gewirtz, the Board's defence officer, peddled the new line from the US neo-cons which was that right-wing antisemitism was a thing of the past and the real danger now was the Left with its anti-Zionism. At more than one meeting he rounded on audience critics from the Jewish Socialists' Group, denouncing them as "the real enemy".

Leon Greenman was no anti-Zionist leftie, indeed like many of his generation he would not take kindly to criticism of Israel. But he had seen too much of real antisemitism and Nazism to let the new 'wise men' of the Establishment deter him from fighting it, and he remained prepared to ally with whoever was genuinely taking up that fight. The little man grew in stature, whether on demonstrations, or speaking to schools, synagogues, trade unionists and students. He did not just speak about his personal tragedy, or that of the Jews, but also about what had happened to the Roma, the left-wingers, the homosexuals and others in the camps. He urged unity and organisation to confront racism and fascism.

Leon Greenman went back to Auschwitz several times, leading delegations and guiding parties around the camp. Back in Britain he took part in demonstrations including that in 1993 to shut the BNP headquarters at Welling, when we were charged by mounted police and he had to be lifted over a garden wall for safety. That same year a BNP councillor was elected in the East End, and Leon received death threats and a brick thrown through his window. He had to install mesh shutters over his windows at his home in Ilford. The death threats continued, but Leon would not retire from the fight. In 2003 local fascists sent him a Christmas card telling him he would make a lovely lampshade. Such 'humour' was a testimony to the enmity he inspired from them, but also a reminder if needed that behind the suited respectability they present for the media, our homegrown Nazis are the same psychopathic scum who would murder millions if given the chance.

The Jewish Museum in north London set up a permanent exhibition of Leon's life, and in his last few years he was on hand on a Sunday to talk to visitors and guide them through it. He was awarded an OBE in 1998. He died in hospital, where he had been recovering from a fall, on March 6, 2008. Having been deprived of his loved ones and so much that might have made for a happier life when young, he had dedicated his later life to helping guide the younger generations so they should not have to endure anything like it again.
Guardian obituary on Leon Greenman :
earlier piece with quote:

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Experimental posting

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

War was planned, but not everything is going according to US plans

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DIMITRIS CHRISTOFIS, in red tie, with Aleca Papariga of the Communist Party of Greece on demonstration against US occupation of Iraq.

THE Israeli-Palestinian conflict has entered another bloody downward spiral, with Palestinian dead in three figutes, at least half of them civilians, most killed in the Israeli offensive in Gaza though troops also shot demonstrators in the West Bank. The massive Israeli foray was supposedly to halt Palestinian rockets hitting Israel, but even as they were bombing Gaza, the first rockets reached Ashkelon: (a city in which incidentally I have familial connections to fear for, though also one which was once home to many Palestinian families who became refugees in Gaza).

A lone young Palestinian struck at the heart of the religious settler movement, the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva where Gush Emunim was founded, though regrettably the eight people he killed before being gunned down himself were only young students, rather than leaders of this violent movement. Regrettably too, Hamas publicly hailed this action, while our media rushed to depict mourning crowds - lead item on BBC news, though to be fair, Jeremy Bowen did manage to put it in context. Palestinians feel their children are killed without the world taking too much notice.

Any pretence that Israeli forces are targeting those behind the rockets was blown to pieces on the night of February 28th when Israeli jets destroyed the five-storey Gaza headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)with missiles. The building in Gaza City had been used for union-administered health care as well as organising. The attack killed one Palestinian and caused 37 other casualties, many of them children.

"The occupation doesn't need any justifications to commit crimes against Palestinians," said Nabil al-Mabhouh, acting head of the PGFTU in Gaza. But the building was targeted because "we at PGFTU are supporting the rights of tens of thousands of Palestinian workers."

The PGFTU has put out a call for solidarity, commenting "We call for an appropriate and effective response from the international trade unions and the International Labour Organisation to put compel Israel to compensate the PGFTU for the destruction of the Folk House in Gaza." Union leaders, take note. You may yet be asked to tell what you did during the agony of Gaza.

The Israeli offensive followed a threat by Israel's deputy defence minister that Palestinians would bring a worse shoah (the word usually used for the Holocaust) on themselves. But it also came after polls showing a majority of Israelis favoured taking up Hamas offer of a ceae fire and entering negotiations. Having ignored that wish, the Israeli government will no doubt claim public feeling over the yeshiva attack compels it to retaliate against Palestinians.

The Israeli military knows it can do what it wants, because behind it stands not only the Israeli government but the United States government and its allies. Far from restraining the Israeli rotweiler,
US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice on her visit to Jerusalem was there to encourage it on, while calling upon Palestinian President Abbas to return to talks which he had felt bound to leave off with the onslaught.on Gaza and shooting of demonstrators in the West Bank.

Just how deeply the US administration and CIA has been involved in planning the bloodshed has come out in a report by David Rose, who acquired documents showing that US agents encouraged a renegade Fateh armed gang to stage provocations in Gaza, hoping it could lead to a Palestinian civil war in which Hamas would be crushed.

But despite what must have seemed a promising start, things have not developed according to plan. Hamas succeeded in holding power in the Gaza strip, leaving President Abbas with what authority he has confined to the West Bank - or those parts of it where the Israeli occupiers let him exercise it. The Israeli military has declared the Gaza strip "enemy territory" and is proceeding with its only answer, collective punishment and brute force. It has the superior fire power, of course, and can kill more Palestinians, but when this fails, what next?

Several developments in the world are not going according to plan. Even as Olmert was blaming Hizbollah and Iran for the latest rocket attacks, Iranian president Ahmadinejad was enjoying a red carpet reception in Iraq, greeted by President Talabani, proclaiming a "new era" of friendship between the countries. "Isn't it ridiculous that those who have deployed 160, 000 troops in Iraq accuse us of intervening there?", Ahmadinejad said in ariposte to the US and its allies. With the two countries cementing trade and development ties, the state visit has upset both US and British policy lines presenting Iran as the source of trouble in Iraq. By underlining the Iranian regime's support for Iraq's "stability" under a government that owes its place to imperialist intervention, and referring to its "happiness" when thousands of Iraqis have been killed or fled, Ahmadinejad might also have given champions of Iran's "anti-imperialism" pause for thought - if they are capable of such a faculty.

Another, perhaps more significant event, was the election in Cyprus on February 24 of President Dimitris Christofias, of the Working People's Progressive Party, AKEL. In the final runoff he gained 53 per cent, as against 46 percent for a Conservative. Founded in 1926 as the Communist Party, banned by the British colonial rulers before it re-emerged in 1944 as AKEL, this had long been the biggest party and had a third of the vote, but this was the first time it fielded a presidential candidate instead of being content to take the back seat.

Among supporters who flooded into Nicosia to celebrate the victory were Turkish Cypriots, who crossed over from the occupied North. This is part of the significance of Christofias' victory. In the first round he had beaten incumbent president Tassos Papadopoulos, who led a nationalist “no” campaign during the 2004 referendum, when 76 percent of Greek Cypriots voted against unity with the Turkish north. The Papadopoulos camp had campaigned on hard-line nationalism, calling the elections a second “referendum”.

When Papadopoulos was elected in 2003 he counted on distrust of the great powers imposing a Cyprus solution. But while using AKEL support he soon offered the US full use of Cyprus ports and airfields for the war on Iraq. .

Internally, he pursued right-wing policies such as forcing up the retirement age for public sector workers, and coupled with scandals, this led AKEL's working-class supporters to press their party to withdraw from coalition and hence, to its decision to stand its own presidential candidate..

AKEL is an old-style Communist Party in many respects, the kind we were told had gone away. Its London branch provided a proud number of volunteers to fight in Spain. I met AKEL members on a demonstration in London after the 1963 anti-communist coup in Iraq, and remember they still had time for Stalin, but not for the nonsense of a "peaceful road to socialism" -"that's the British party," they told me. Later when I worked at the AEI factory in Willesden I met a couple of lads from AKEL families - one of them became one of my readers on the paper round I did round the plant during my Saturday morning overtime.

Treated as an enemy by both the British and the Greek nationalist EOKA, AKEL kept its disciplined mass following back, never contending for power, but settling into a supportive role for others, and neutralism. The combined effort of a CIA-backed EOKA-B coup (supported by the Greek colonels) and the Turkish invasion for which it provided the pretext, carved up the island and made hard times for democrats.

AKEL still has red flags and portraits of Lenin at its headquarters, though like other European Communist Parties it has adopted an openly reformist agenda. But I can't help wondering whether it is the collapse of Stalinism that has freed the Cypriot party to think for itself, no longer trying to play second fiddle to whatever bourgeois party Moscow might regard as lesser evil. That and the pressure of ordinary working people who see Christofias as representing their interests, and the chance of peaceful coexistence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Christofias has promised to "manage capitalism, but in a more humane way". He has also pledged to work for reunification of Cyprus, but on the basis of agreement and equality of its peoples. Polls among Turkish Cypriots suggest many are ready to give him their support. He has also called for foreign military forces and bases to be removed from Cyprus. Whether NATO and the CIA will allow a Communist Party (reformed or not) to survive in office, let alone carry out its pledges, remains to be seen. But they will have the workers to reckon with if they don't, and hopefully not just in Cyprus. And that is not part of their plans.

AKEL website:

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Never mind the language, the threat is real

DIFFERENT PICTURE. Gaza border rally as
people's peace convoy arrived, January 26.
Latest poll says Israeli majority favour talks
with Hamas and cease fire. (photo Dani Grinblatt)

NOT for the first time, an Israeli military leader has broken the taboo on comparisons with Nazism, this time by threatening Palestinians in the Gaza Strip with a Holocaust.

Speaking on Israeli army radio, on a day after Israeli forces killed more than 30 Palestinians, nine of them children, in a series of air raids, deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai warned "the more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."

One Israeli person had been killed on Wednesday by a Qassam rocket fired at Sderot. Hamas said it was a reprisal for the Israelis killing five of its people that morning.

The Hebrew word shoah, literally disaster, is usually reserved for the Nazi World War II genocide of Jews. Israel, and following it,many Jewish Diaspora communities, adopted the 27th of the Hebrew month Nissan as Yom HaShoah, a Holocaust Memorial Day.

Any comparison between Israeli actions and those of the Nazis usually causes umbrage, even uproar, though the Jewish settlers who protested their removal from Gaza appear to have got away with calling Israeli soldiers "Nazis" and even dressing up in mock concentration camp uniforms to absurdly exaggerate their supposed ill-treatment, thereby reducing the Holocaust to a children's Purim fancy-dress show. Indeed the cheapening of Holocaust analogies is obnoxious.

But it was an Israeli army officer, explaining the destruction of buildings in Jenin , who said the Army had learned from German experience of the danger of fighting through narrow streets, as in the Warsaw ghetto.

This time it was reported that Vilnai's colleagues were rushing to distance themselves from his remarks, or play them down. An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, claimed that Vilnai used the word "in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense
of a holocaust." The UK-based pro-Zionist Engage site said Vilnai should resign for undermining the insistence that Nazi comparisons were antisemitic.

But as my fellow blogger Mark Elf noted, help was at hand for the maladroit minister. "Here's Melanie Phillips in the Spectator complaining that to render "shoah" as "holocaust" represents the "Mother of all mistranslations
Reuters translated the Hebrew word ‘shoah’ as ‘holocaust’. But ‘shoah’ merely means disaster. In Hebrew, the word ‘shoah’ is never used to mean ‘holocaust’ or ‘genocide’ because of the acute historical resonance. The word ‘Hashoah’ alone means ‘the Holocaust’ and ‘retzach am’ means ‘genocide’. The well-known Hebrew construction used by Vilnai used merely means ‘bringing disaster on themselves’.
But of course, "ha" is simply "the". "Ha-shoah" no matter how it is rendered in Hebrew, is "the holocaust" whereas "shoah" is simply "holocaust". Needless to say, Melanie Phillips didn't give any examples of this more casual, less definite, use of shoah".'

I had not realised before that Melanie Philips was such an authority on modern Hebrew usage, on top of her other accomplishments.

We recently heard how Israeli major-general Almog, accused of the illegal mass demolition of Palestinian homes, escaped a prosecution in London because he was tipped off, and the anti-terrorist squad feared a fire fight if they tried to take him from an El Al plane at Heathrow.

Incitement to genocide is a punishable crime under the international Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948 after the Nazi holocaust. But from Dachau to Darfur, mass killing is seldom announced as such.

"The 8 Stages of Genocide," written by Greg Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, sets out a number of warning signs of an impending genocide, which include "dehumanization" of potential victim groups and preparation, whereby potential victims "are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved."

As Ali Abumineh has pointed out on the Electronic Intifada site, Vilnai's holocaust threat fits a pattern. "Israel has attempted to isolate the population of Gaza, deliberately restricting essential supplies, such as food, medicines and energy, a policy endorsed by the Israeli high court but condemned by international officials as illegal collective punishment".

On 28 February, Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit stated that Israel should "hit everything that moves" in Gaza "with weapons and ammunition," adding, "I don't think we have to show pity for anyone who wants to kill us." Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior member of Prime Minister Olmert's Kadima party said Israel should invade Gaza again and be prepared to remain there "for years."

What the military and political leaders have to say is mild compared to the men of the cloth. Former Sefardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu declared last year that there was "no moral prohibition against the mass killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings" ("Eliyahu advocates carpet bombing Gaza," The Jerusalem Post, 30 May, 2007).

Eliayahu's son, Shmuel Eliayhu, chief rabbi of Safad, said: "If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand." He added, "And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop." Last month the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi came up with his own benevolent remedy. Let the Palestinians of Gaza be sent to a new 'home' in the Sinai desert, he proposed.

That most of them were originally driven from Jaffa and Majdal (Ashkelon) to become refugees was not considered. Maybe the rabbi thought if we moved them once we can do it again? Nor did he specify whether they would be sent on a forced march or if special trains would be laid on.

Ironically, as Electronic Intifada points out, the latest bellicose threats came as a majority of the Israeli public, including some top officials, were saying they would support direct talks with Hamas to achieve a mutual ceasefire, something Hamas has repeatedly offered for months.

"Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in Gaza toward a cease-fire and the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit," the Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 27 February citing a Tel Aviv University poll. The report noted that half of Likud supporters and large majorities of Kadima and Labor party voters support such talks and only 28 percent of Israelis still oppose them.

"Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-Zionist Meretz-Yahad party, called for an agreed ceasefire with Hamas, noting that "there have been at least two requests from Hamas, via a third party, to accept a cease-fire," Haaretz reported on 29 February. Israel's public security minister, Avi Dichter, visiting Sderot the previous day,
criticized Israel's military escalation, saying, "Whoever talks about entering and occupying the Gaza Strip, these are populist ideas which I don't connect to, and in my opinion, no intelligent person does either."

This reminds me of the poll carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories shortly after Hamas was elected, which showed that despite their disappointment with the "peace process" and Palestinian Authority, a majority of Palestinians wanted their leaders to enter peace talks with Israel.

Interviewed in the American magazine Mother Jones (February 19), former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy, said Israel and the US should negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas. "Hamas is not al-Qaida," the intelligence man said, "and is not subservient to Tehran."

So why isn't there a ceasefire, why are people still suffering and being killed, why have neither Gideon Shalit nor the many Palestinian captives been freed, and why, on the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) are they being threatened with a bigger shoah?

Surely because US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has blamed the bloodshed entirely on Hamas, and failed to call for a ceasefire, just as she and her British counterpart vetoed UN calls for a ceasefire in Lebanon, and - as Olmert blurted out - the Secretary of State told Israel not to respond to overtures for talks from the Syrian government.

When some of us, whom the Jewish Chronicle habitually refers to as "anti-Israel" , point to Israeli groups like Gush Shalom or those on the Left, we're told they are insignificant, or worse, traitors.
I don't know what we will be told about the near two-thirds who favour talks with Hamas. Politicians who like to claim authority from the "silent majority" tend to ignore it when it speaks up and confounds their assumptions and stereotypes. I've no doubt neo-con groupie Mel P. (well-scary spice) will scorn that former Mossad chief for his naivety.

But we should do everything to ensure voices for peace are heard; and besides stepping up our demand to lift the siege of Gaza, insist the British government stops supporting aggressive US and Israeli policies. That's the best way to help the majority of Israelis and Palestinians.

1 - 8stagesofgenocide.html

To see another aspect of Mad Mel's crusade, and its venture into fresh fields, see
Marko Attila Hoare's blog at

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