Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lecturers looking for ways to help justice, when government will not

BRITAIN'S main academic trade union, the University and College Union, has voted at its first annual conference for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, in solidarity with Palestinian academics and students, and response to Israel's continuing its 40-year long occupation of the Palestinian territories it seized in the Six Day War.

Or if you prefer the liberal Guardian's opening sentence, "University lecturers threatened yesterday to provoke international condemnation by forcing their union into a year-long debate over boycotting work with Israeli universities".

Nowt like a bit of objective reporting from the quality press, is there? One might have thought the lecturers' delegates, who voted by 158 to 99 for the boycott resolution, were looking for a way to express international condemnation of the Israeli government's actions and what's probably the world's longest military occupation, as well as its treatment of Palestinian students. But evidently that kind of international condemnation doesn't count, as compared with the condemnation the lecturers might "provoke" from the Israeli state' s supporters, particularly those in the United States.

Then again, there's the question of democracy. Just because some UCU members drew up a composite motion, publicised it beforehand in the union, and in the press, then discussed and voted for it in conference, does not give them the right to "force" their union into debating the issue! You will be saying next that Palestinians have the right to vote for their own government and expect that it would be recognised.

Besides, whoever heard of academics being asked to acquaint themselves with the facts and debate the issues?! Or heaven forbid, to exercise their consciences!

I'd been hoping to have the full text of what was actually passed, but the papers I've seen didn't have space, and their reports were mainly taken up with quoting opponents condemning the resolution. UCU's website on which I read the original motion is given over to an explanation that "The motion passed at UCU congress on Wednesday 30 May calls for a process of providing information and engaging in dialogue. It does not call directly for an academic boycott of any Israeli institutions. The National Executive Committee will in the near future be considering what action it should take in relation to all the motions passed at congress".

Accompanying this is a quotation from an interim report saying it would be up to "legitimate" organisations within the state or occupied territories to call for a boycott, before the union could respond.

What the UCU conference delegates decided was that the union should circulate its branches with the call from Palestinian unions for a boycott, in the light of which members would be asked to consult their consciences about co-operation with Israeli institutions. Though critical of most Israeli academics for assisting the occupation, the resolution did not call for any boycott of individual academics. That is an invention of the pro-Israel lobby. "This is not targeting individuals or trying to break contacts with them", said mover Tom Hicks from Brighton University.

What the papers did not report was the enthusiastic response from Palestinians who had called for a boycott. "The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) salutes the historic decision by the University and College Union (UCU) Congress today to support motions that endorse the logic of academic boycott against Israel, in response to the complicity of the Israeli academy in perpetuating Israel’s illegal military occupation and apartheid system".

This enthusiasm may be as premature as the Israel lobby's hysteria, to judge from UCU's website and general secretary Sally Hunt, who has made her opposition to the boycott clear all along, and said "I do not believe a boycott is supported by a majority of UCU members, nor do I believe that members see it as a priority for the union". In other words she wants to appeal to an apathetic "silent majority" against those who have gone to the trouble of becoming delegates and getting motions through conference.

The Zionists have a reason for exaggerating the "threat", as they do for pretending that individuals are to be boycotted. Their position depends on paranoia and presenting themselves as the victims, both to whip up supporters and scare potential opponents, and by getting in their campaign blows now they can prevent things developing.

Not being an academic, I don't feel obliged to decide what's the best action for people in academe to take. I was pleased to see from the UCU motion that they are interested in positively helping Palestinian higher education and students rather than just taking negative action, though that too is something the papers don't report.

I don't agree with a blanket "academic and cultural boycott", and nor am I convinced that an academic boycott is going to be effective. But academic life is not remote from politics, and those in places of learning and research should be aware and responsible for what they are doing, who with and who for, and consider where to draw a line. Besides, much of the outrage being generated suggests to me that the kind of resolution adopted by UCU must be doing some good!

British government deserves prize for hypocrisy

ONE comment which the Guardian highlighted, and so will I:

"The UK government fully supports academic freedom and is firmly against any academic boycotts of Israel.. This does nothing to promote the Middle East peace process."

- That was Bill Rammel, Education Minister in a government that wants academics and other staff to spy on student "extremism" (UCU members have rejected that thought police role).

This is the government which used its EU presidency to suppress its own diplomats' report on rights abuses and illegal land-grabbing around Jerusalem; which connived at the piratical Israeli raid on Jericho prison by withdrawing its observers; which cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority so that people would suffer because they voted the wrong way, but lets Israel keep privileged access to EU markets whatever it does; The government which stood alone with the Bush administration in vetoing calls for a cease-fire in Lebanon; and which let its airfields, including civilian Prestwick, be used for rushing the latest cluster bombs to Israel for use sowing death and destruction across Lebanon.

So now it wants to lecture us about promoting "the peace process"?

No wonder citizens like the lecturers, journalists and others are searching for ways they can do something for peace with justice, rather than leave it to this government!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Can Poland stop the Purple Peril?

POLISH BISHOPS waiting at airport as Pope arrives by helicopter cover faces as wind blows up their skirts. Could young children be unduly influenced by such sights?

MY keyboard skills are limited as it is, otherwise I'd consider typing this blog with my fingers crossed. A few posts back, commenting on right-wing American tele-evangelist Reverend Jerry Falwell's departure from this life, I was bold enough to say now Tinky-Winky could safely come out to play again.

What I meant of course was that parents could safely leave their small offspring watching the Teletubbies on TV without fearing they might be accused of fostering homosexual tendencies among the pre-school infants. (I say nothing about the programme's cultural merits, or otherwise) It was Reverend Jerry who sounded the warning in 1999 by pointing out that Tinky-Winky wore a triangle, was clad in purple, and carried a handbag.

Apparently the good reverend was not the first, as I'd thought, to have noticed these tell-tale signs. The show had already gained an amused following among those gays with nothing better to do than watch morning TV , and was beginning to be discussed among cultural iconographers or semiologists who make a living at it. Whether sophisticated three year olds were nodding sagaciously and nudging each other with a wink, I don't know. It's just as likely they were saying "Wow! That red handbag with purple outfit is SO retro, darling!"

But anyway, I rejoiced too soon. My idea that daft concerns about such dangers to the very young would be confined to barnstorming American preachers like the Baptist Falwell has been confounded by the Old World, Old Time Religionists of Catholic Poland, not just in the pulpit but the seats of government.

Tinky Winky accused of promoting homosexuality in Poland
Reuters, Warsaw, Tuesday May 29, 2007
The Guardian
"Poland's conservative government took its drive to curb what it sees as homosexual propaganda to the small screen yesterday, taking aim at Tinky Winky and the other Teletubbies.
Ewa Sowinska, the government-appointed children's rights watchdog, told a local magazine yesterday she was concerned the popular BBC children's show promoted homosexuality.
She said she would ask psychologists to advise if this was the case. In comments reminiscent of criticism by the late US evangelist Jerry Falwell, she said:"I noticed [Tinky Winky] has a lady's purse, but I didn't realise he's a boy."

I'd been warned about the way Poland was going, mind. About ten years ago, taking a cut through St.James' Park one afternoon I stopped by a tea stall for refreshment. The tea wasn't up to much, I seem to remember, but the young woman on the stall either spotted I had an intelligent and sympathetic face or was short of someone to talk to on a dull weekday afternoon. Anyway, she told me she was from Poland; and that not only were conditions not improving, but after ridding itself of one sort of dictatorship her country faced another authoritarianism, that of militant Catholicism, intolerant of minorities, and thrusting back women, welfare, and family law.

It's a pity I had not come prepared to record her actual words, because she put it all better than I can. But that unexpected encounter gave me something to think about and it has stuck in my mind. And that was all before the present Law and Justice Party, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, came to office, in alliance with the right-wing Catholic

Its first prime minister was Kazimierz Marcinkewicz, a member (like Blairite minister Ruth Kelly) of Opus Dei. His place was then taken by party founder Jaroslav Kaczynski, whose brother Lech banned Gay Pride when he was mayor of Warsaw. Lech Kaczynski is now Poland's president.


In October last year the newspaper Rzeczpospolita published leaked security service documents (from the time when it was headed by Kaczynski's political opponents) discussing his sexuality, because like Britain's Ted Heath, he had never married. Operatives were to determine if he had homosexual orientation, and try to spread such rumours. Unfortunately, the prime minister seems to have felt he must respond to such stories by proving himself a gay-basher, like his brother, with statements like "homosexuals who are involved in homosexual propaganda should not be teachers".

The Polish government's illiberal stand has been a bit embarassing for those who welcomed it into the European Union.
"Poland's prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, rejected EU criticism of a ban on "homosexual propaganda" in schools yesterday, saying that it was not in society's interests to increase the number of gay people.
Mr Kaczynski dismissed suggestions that homosexual people faced discrimination in Poland, in a blunt response to an EU parliament vote earlier in the day in which MEPs called for a fact-finding mission to the country to investigate recent anti-gay comments by senior officials".,,2066792,00.html

Not everyone in Poland is taking the move to control children's televiewing entirely seriously. "One radio station asked its listeners to vote for the most suspicious children's show. Some e-mailed in, saying that Winnie the Pooh had only male friends.
Even Ms Sowinska has backtracked a little, insisting that she does not believe the Teletubbies is a threat to the nation's children. But the evaluation is still going ahead and her office can recommend that the show should be taken off the air.
Poland was criticised recently after its education ministry announced plans to sack teachers who promote homosexuality".

There's that last sentence to remind us this witch-hunting isn't only a joke.

It was bad enough in a relatively enlightened country like Britain, having legislation sneaked in by the Tories that made teachers nervous of being reported by some hostile student or parent if they so much as tried to counter homophobia and bullying. Now that law has gone, but not without resistance from diehard defenders, notably in Scotland where Stagecoach transport boss Brian Souter who financed the campaign to keep Section 28 is now a backer of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

Despite the obvious differences, such as Scotland's notorious religious division, as well as the SNP's generally more modern outlook, voters who have looked to the Nationalists for greater freedom might turn a nervous side glance on the Polish experience.

  • While my thought was lightly turning in that direction, it was announced on the television news that the head of Scotland's Roman Catholic Church is to warn politicians they risk excommunication if they defend abortion. Cardinal Keith O'Brien was being received yesterday by an amiable Alex Salmond, and telling him about the Church's importance in Scottish history.


  • ON A BRIGHTER NOTE - I see from a Polish website that there was a legal Gay Pride march in Warsaw this year, and that a counter-demonstration called by a Catholic organisation claiming to promote "family values" and backed by a government minister attracted a mere 800 supporters rather than promised thousands.

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Moscow cops take sides with Nazis

MOSCOW riot police arrested about 30 demonstrators commemorating the 14th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in Russia at the weekend. British gay rights activist and Green Party member Peter Tatchell and Right Said Fred singer Richard Fairbrass were among about 100 protesters calling for the right to hold a Gay Pride parade in the Russian capital. They were attacked by a right-wing gang, who apparently enjoy impunity from police interference with their thuggery.

German MP Volker Beck and Italian MEP Marco Capatto were also arrested after being attacked.

The Independent reported: 'Nationalists chanted "death to homosexuals" while throwing kicks, punches and eggs at the protesters, who were trying to present a petition signed by 40 MEPs to Mayor Yuri Luzhkov asking him to lift the ban on the parade. The mayor has made openly homophobic remarks in the past, calling such marches "satanic".

'About 31 demonstrators were detained by police, although most were released by last night. Mr Fairbrass was left with a deep gash under his left eye and blood pouring down his face after receiving several blows to the head, while trying to speak to journalists. Peter Tatchell, co-founder of the direct-action gay rights group Outrage! and member of the Green Party, was also badly beaten before being arrested by riot police'.

Peter Tatchell used less mealy-mouthed words than "nationalists" to describe the black-shirted attackers: "We arrived at City Hall and were immediately surrounded by neo-Nazis, who began to crowd and infiltrate our group. The Moscow police and riot squad gave them a free hand to attack people. I was punched in the eye, pushed to the ground, and kicked all over my body by six people. The riot police then moved in and arrested me, allowing my attackers to go free."

Tatchell was in no doubt about the relationship he'd winessed between police and the street thugs: "There seemed to be a connivance between them. They only began arresting the neo-Nazis when it was clear that journalists had footage of the attacks."

Although the foreign demonstrators were later released without charge, three Russian gay activists appeared in court. Peter Tatchell, still recovering, said the Moscow police had "stood and watched" while far-right skinheads kicked him to the ground and punched him. "Even today I'm woozy. My eyesight is pretty poor. It's difficult to see clearly. " Comparing his experience with the beating he recieved from Robert Mugabe's thugs in 2001 he said he had registered a complaint with the police.,,2089964,00.html

It's possible to have doubts and misgivings sometimes about Peter Tatchell's choice of targets, tactics and timing, even when he is right in principle. Being inadequately aware of the wider political context he can find himself receiving "support" from people who, as he must know, really hated everything he stood for. The British government and media may currently have dubious motives of their own for highlighting anything that reflects badly on civil rights and enlightenment in Putin's Russia.

That said, Peter Tatchell and his fellow-protesters deserve credit for bravely standing up to reactionary forces in Russia to raise a genuine issue, and in doing so, exposing a related and at least equally serious concern. As a matter of fact, although Tatchell's presence ensured the media publicity he wanted for this Moscow protest, British political reaction so far has been muted, if not entirely silent.

In an unrelated incident a British diplomat has been beaten up by unknown assailants in Chita, Siberia, where he had been lecturing. This is the home of Mikhail Khordorkovsky, who was jailed for eight years for tax evasion and fraud, though some alleged this was really punishment for his role in funding opposition parties ahead of 2003 Duma elections. British embassy officials yesterday said there was no link between Mr Gould-Davies's trip and Khordorkovsky.

London's mayor Ken Livingstone wrote to Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, urging him to lift the ban on gay parades in the city that prompted Sunday's protest. He also called for all charges against the gay rights demonstrators to be dropped. "I am writing to convey my deep concern at the reported physical violence against and arrest of Peter Tatchell," Mr Livingstone wrote, adding that gay parades were now "the practice in most cities around the world".,,2090153,00.html

Right now the British government is in a poor position to go lecturing anybody about the arrest of peaceful demonstrators. Some friends of mine were arrested last year and charged under the "Serious Organised Crime" Act, for having demonstrated in Whitehall without adequate notice to police, over the Israeli raid on Jericho in which there was British connivance.

But the police conniving with fascist thuggery is another matter, and though in this case they may have been acting in accord with Moscow's mayor, the issue is wider than homophobia, bad as that is.

Eight people were murdered and over two dozen injured in fascist and racist attacks in Russian cities in April. Karen Abramyan, an Armenian, was stabbed to death in Moscow, on April 16, and the same day the body of a 26-year old Tadjik was found elsewhere in the city, with 35 stab wounds. Add them to the 20 million Soviet citizens who lost their lives to Nazi barbarism in World War II. But on the weekend of April 21-22, far Right groups were allowed to celebrate Hitler's birthday.

The Party for the Defence of the Russian Constitution invited members of the National Socialist Soviety and the Nazi combat group Format 18 to join it in a 250-strong demonstration in Moscow's Slavyanskaya Square, near Putin's offices, where police stood by as racist speeches were made. At another nationalist and racist rally on Pushkiskaya Square demonstrators raised fascist salutes, and called for a Moscow street to be renamed after the "Pskov Commandos" , who fought in Chechnya.
(Russia: Nazis celebrate Hitler's birth with violence and rallies, from Maria Rozalskaya for Antifa-Net in Moscow, Searchlight, June 2007)

The police detained one of the leaders at the second rally; after he had made an obscenity-filled speech attacking the police, reports Maria Rozalskaya.

If this is the best the police can do, when ethnic minorities and people standing up for their democratic rights are being attacked, it would not suprise me if left-wing and anti-fascist Russians set up their own defence squads to deal with the fascists.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Birds of a different feather

"ALL swans are white. This bird is black. Therefore..." But it IS a swan. Cygnus atratus,
if you'll pardon the language.

Until some years ago, the only places I had seen black swans were on the postage stamps once issued by Western Australia, and the labels of a brand of lager (whatever happened to it?), also hailing from that part of the world,

Then I was pleased to see they had introduced some in St.James' Park in London. Apparently Regents Park has some too. But what was a really nice surprise was to come across this one in the pictures, who had evidently come up from the park along the Grand Union Canal, introduced itself to the locals in Alperton, and was hanging out with the gang (or should we say swanning about?) on the stretch between the Plough and Pleasure Boat pubs and Sainsbury's. Not unlike our own perambulations at the time.
Apparently the black swans from Australia are a different species from the white European varieties, though I've noticed that cygnets are sort of grey, so could both have evolved from a common ancestor, going in different directions in northern and southern hemispheres, like the way water is supposed to go down the plughole in different ways north and south of the Equator? (Before you explode in derision, let me be first to admit my ignorance of natural history. Blame our education system.) But the difference was not apparently enough to prevent the antipodean guest from knowing it was a swan, nor the other swans (whom I'd previously thought stand-offish) from apparently accepting it.
However, the reason I've brought you on safari in south Wembley is not to discourse on the social life of our feathered friends but to muse on some philosophical points. There's been a good deal of talk recently about the ideas in a book called The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The author is not an ornithologist either; his interest is in Cygnus atratus as an example of the unexpected, turning up to confound the generalisers. His previous work was Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets.
I've not read either book yet, but I have seen some impressive reviews.
According to one admirer The Black Swan " is the most important book in social science since Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations. Nassim Taleb's book also happens to be the most significant contribution to the science and philosophy of uncertainty since Andrey Kolmogorov axiomitized probability theory (which along with Bayes, gave us the solid foundation necessary to think clearly about chance) and made progress (with contributions by Chaitin and Solomonoff) towards a more mathematically precise definition of randomness. In terms of epistemology, reading The Black Swan gave me a sense of intellectual kinship that I have not felt since reading Isaiah Berlin's "The Hedgehog and the Fox."

Now, I'm no mathematician, but I have a smattering of logic. The statement we began with was a categorical syllogism, it begins with a generalisation, derived from experience - that all swans are white - which was disproved when people from the north discovered a black bird in Australia, and decided it was a swan. But was this unpredictable, even improbable? Not to native Australians, who might have been surprised to encounter the white version. Saying "All swans are white" was not like saying 2+2=4. The whiteness of swans was not a priori deductible from the nature of swans (or what was known about it) but a generalisation from empirical observation. This does not devalue it as knowledge but limits its value for prediction.
If you were mapping a coastline it would be important to do it accurately, for navigation, but would not tell you reliably what the parts as yet undiscovered would be like.
'Nassim Taleb mentions the analogy to maps in relation to his disdain for what he calls "Platonicity." Taleb defines Platonicity (named after the philosopher Plato) as "our tendency to mistake the map for the territory, to focus on pure and well-defined 'forms,' whether objects, like triangles, or social notions .... we privilege them over other less elegant objects, those with messier and less tractable structures ..." The cardinal sin of Platonicity is that it "makes us think that we understand more than we actually do."'
Fair warning. But consider other cases. If tossing a coin it had landed heads ninety-nine times, you might still think there was a 50:50 chance of it landing tails next time. Or you might consider the possibility that it was a biased coin. In backing horses you look at their form, even though as we know it is impossible as yet even when laying odds to predict the outcome of a race with any certainty. If we knew enough to do that it would be the end of horse racing, or at least of betting on it. However, Nassim Taleb and his readers are concerned with the predictability or otherwise of still more serious issues.
Nassim Taleb, a scientist-philosopher-businessman, makes the case that 9/11 was a black swan. A black swan is a unpredictable event that defies prediction. An outlier. I agree. He expands:
A vicious black swan has an additional elusive property: its very unexpectedness helps create the conditions for it to occur. Had a terrorist attack been a conceivable risk on Sept. 10, 2001, it would likely not have happened.
In their analysis of black swans (which by definition will likely never be repeated), human beings engage in what is called hindsight bias. This is the tendency to believe that the event was predictable based on knowledge gained after the event occurred. In effect, people unknowingly substitute current knowledge of outcomes into the gaps of knowledge that were present when building earlier expectations of potential events'.
Notice how easily the writer has slipped into discussing "black swans" (and even "a vicious black swan"!) as meaning unpredictable events, even though the book has not been out that long. I wonder if anyone can predict how widespread this usage will become, and whether it will be taken up by media hacks without even a clue what it means before, like other trendy expressions it fades into obscurity? I'm pleased to see one commentator is skeptical:
I'm all for an attack on Platonism and the complacency of scholastic generalisations (often based on far less certain knowledge than people thought they had about swans) assuming we know everything about what is, and what's more, what is going to be. But I'm also suspicious of political leaders and other so-called "experts" who always claim something was "unpredictable" when they mean, they failed to predict it. I also remember how eagerly some of our gurus on the left grasped at "uncertainty" and "chaos theory" when they wanted to acquire mystic status in place of any pretence at political strategy.
When we say that black swans were "unpredictable", that was not a matter of some unknowable quirk in nature, but of our inadequate knowledge. It is perhaps a telling sign of our times that whereas primitive human beings devised religion to cope with the mysteries of nature and natural catastrophes, modern human beings fear what appears the unpredictable results of human social, economic and political processes. Even when such events as major floods devastating Asian villages or an American city are predicted, it is society and government that hamstring efforts to cope with them.

Was 9/11 predicted? So far as I am aware, not. Was it unpredictable? Well, there were warning signs. On February 26, 1993 at 12:17 PM, a man called Ramzi Yousef took a truck with 1,500 pounds of explosives into the underground garage of the World Trade Centre's North Tower. The explosion tore a 100 foot hole through 5 sub levels of concrete leaving six people dead and 50,000 other workers and visitors gasping for air in the shafts of the 110 story towers. Many people inside the North Tower were forced to walk down darkened stairwells which contained no emergency lighting, some taking two hours or more to reach safety. As the Port Authority was a bi-state agency, the towers were exempt from New York City building codes. Subsequent to the bombing the Port Authority installed emergency lighting in the stairwells. In 1997-8 six Islamicists were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for their part in the bombing. According to a judge, the conspirators' aim had been to cause the north tower to crashing into the south tower, toppling both landmarks.
So it might have been reasonable to guess that the World Trade Centre was going to be a target again, and what political direction the attack might come from. Had the US intelligence services known enough about what was being planned ... well, we cannot say. But the attack was surely "unpredictable" only in the sense that those who might have prevented it did not know enough (for all their expenditure on surveillance around the globe, which makes one wonder whether they were too busy looking at the rest of us) .
Nassim Taleb is Lebanese, and looking at the tangle of factions and outside interests preying on his native country I can understand why, quite apart from what experiences he might have had with stock markets, he is inclined to stress the unknown, even irrational. All the same... Does anyone know, let alone understand, what was behind the armed clash that suddenly brought fresh deaths and misery to Nahr el-Bared camp, making its residents once again refugees? Maybe even the gunmen of Fatah al-Islam did not know.
But that does not mean nobody did.
Not knowing, we should not fall for glib and fabricated conspiracy theories. But admitting we don't know should not make us think that nobody does, or accept that some things are without reasons and unknowable. The swan was there all the time before the scholars knew about it.

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

What the US Congress really approved

THANKS to an American friend in London, in Iraq Occupation Focus, who has passed on this comment on US policy-makers and Iraq. We are used to British politicians and newspapers claiming their motive for jingo war policies is to "Support Our Boys", when they mean use the troops as expendable pawns in their greedy game, and back any brutality in occupation.

The US Congress has voted for "supporting the troops" in Iraq. This comment, on what it really means, is written by someone who knows.

What Congress Really Approved:
Benchmark No. 1: Privatizing Iraq's Oil for US Companies
By Ann Wright t r u t h o u t Guest Contributor
Saturday 26 May 2007

On Thursday, May 24, the US Congress voted to continue the war in Iraq. The members called it "supporting the troops." I call it stealing Iraq's oil - the second largest reserves in the world. The "benchmark," or goal, the Bush administration has been working on furiously since the US invaded Iraq is privatization of Iraq's oil.

Now they have Congress blackmailing the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people: no privatization of Iraqi oil, no reconstruction funds. This threat could not be clearer. If the Iraqi Parliament refuses to pass the privatization legislation, Congress will withhold US reconstruction funds that were promised to the Iraqis to rebuild what the United States has destroyed there.

The privatization law, written by American oil company consultants hired by the Bush administration, would leave control with the Iraq National Oil Company for only 17 of the 80 known oil fields.

The remainder (two- thirds) of known oil fields, and all yet undiscovered ones, would be up for grabs by the private oil companies of the world (but guess how many would go to United States firms - given to them by the compliant Iraqi government.) No other nation in the Middle East has privatized its oil. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iran give only limited usage contracts to international oil companies for one or two years.

The $12 billion dollar "Support the Troops" legislation passed by Congress requires Iraq, in order to get reconstruction funds from the United States, to privatize its oil resources and put them up for long term (20- to 30- year) contracts. What does this "Support the Troops" legislation mean for the United States military? Supporting our troops has nothing to do with this bill, other than keeping them there for another 30 years to protect US oil interests.

It means that every military service member will need Arabic language training. It means that every soldier and Marine would spend most of his or her career in Iraq. It means that the fourteen permanent bases will get new Taco Bells and Burger Kings! Why? Because the US military will be protecting the US corporate oilfields leased to US companies by the compliant Iraqi government.

Our troops will be the guardians of US corporate interests in Iraq for the life of the contracts - for the next thirty years. With the Bush administration's "Support the Troops" bill and its benchmarks, primarily Benchmark No. 1, we finally have the reason for the US invasion of Iraq: to get easily accessible, cheap, high-grade Iraq oil for US corporations.

Now the choice is for US military personnel and their families to decide whether they want their loved ones to be physically and emotionally injured to protect not our national security, but the financial security of the biggest corporate barons left in our country - the oil companies.

It's a choice for only our military families, because most non- military Americans do not really care whether our volunteer military spends its time protecting corporate oil to fuel our one-person cars. Of course, when a tornado, hurricane, flood or other natural disaster hits in our hometown, we want our National Guard unit back. But on a normal day, who remembers the 180,000 US military or the 150,000 US private contractors in Iraq?

Since the "Surge" began in January, over 500 Americans and 15,000 Iraqis have been killed. By the time September 2007 rolls around for the administration's review of the "surge" plan, another 400 Americans will be dead, as well as another 12,000 Iraqis. How much more can our military and their families take?

Ann Wright served 29 years in the US Army and US Army Reserves and retired as a colonel. She served 16 years in the US diplomatic corps in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Micronesia and Mongolia. She resigned from the US Department of State in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.

This seems as good a time as any to mention that Iraq Occupation Focus is holding a public meeting in London on Monday evening, June 4,

Unravelling the occupation of Iraq

Tariq Ali in conversation with...Dahr Jamail (independent Middle East journalist, author of Iraq Dispatches blog), Haifa Zangana (Iraqi author and columnist)

7pm-9pm Monday 4th June 2007

Toynbee Hall, 28 Commercial St, London E1 6LS
Nearest tube: Aldgate East/Liverpool St

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Pakistan - neither free nor safe

PAKISTAN, literally "the land of the Pure", or the Islamic Republic of Pakistan to give it its full official name, was set up with the partition of India, amid massive communal violence on both sides, around half a million deaths and the flight of over seven million refugees in each direction.

Unlike India which, though it has its Hindu supremacists, officially strove to be a secular national state, Pakistan was explicitly founded on religion. The Muslim state initially straddled the sub-continent to control East Bengal till the latter fought its way to independence as Bangla Desh. Pakistan, whether under politicians or the military, has also been a bastion of the "free world" - member of the Western imperialist-backed CENTO, base for US spy flights over the Soviet Union, base area for anti-Soviet guerrillas fighting in Afghanistan, then for the Saudi-backed Taliban, and nowadays of course for the Washington-led "war on terror".

One problem with founding a state of "the pure" is that there will always be some fanatic convinced whatever they do is justified by their own pure motives and to make life even purer. In Pakistan, this applies to religious rigour, not to drinking water. Like its neighbour it has become a nuclear power, and you can't expect the authorities to find money for everything. In Pakistan today the military and the religious leaders -oft-times allies, whether against their neighbours or progress - are contending for privilege and power.

President Parvez Musharraf's Western allies, trapped in their hopeless war in Afghanistan, might turn a blind eye to the state of their rear area, but ordinary Pakistanis for whom it's more a Land of the Poor can not. Nor, to their credit, do some Muslims abroad.

Dr. Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the director of the Muslim Institute and Leader of the Muslim Parliament in the UK, and Amjad Hussain, whose brother was recently released after being held on death row under a sharia court ruling, have joined in calling on President Pervez Musharraf and the Government of Pakistan to curb the rise of extremism and gender discrimination in the country.

Their call comes after weeks of stand off between the authorities and hard-line clerics and fanatics who blocked roads and tried to impose Shariah (Islamic rule) in the capital and took captive law enforcement officials. Previously they issued fatwa (religious edict) against the Minister for Tourism Senator Mrs Nilofar Bakhtiar following her parachute jump in France in March to raise money for victims of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

In February of this year a misguided religious fanatic shot dead a provincial woman minister because he thought Muslim women should not participate in public life.

Dr Siddiqui, a scholar of international repute expressed concern “at disturbing revival of extremism and Talebanisation, worsening Humans Rights condition and gender discrimination in the country. These fanatics by their repressive actions are bringing the good name of Islam into disrupt worldwide. No civil society can endorse the use of violence for political objects or least the places of worship for instigating the same.”

Expressing solidarity with Senator Bakhtiar, he adds, “We are really dismayed at the behaviour of the fundamentalist clerics and some opportunists in the ruling party; the way they have misrepresented and sensationalised your noble cause to raise money for the earthquake victims. We condemn their threats and intimidations towards you. More over we express solidarity with women in public life and the gender discrimination they face in Pakistan. The Pakistan Diaspora community in UK and EU is supportive of the splendid job that you are doing as Tourism Minister.”

The Muslim Parliament is calling upon authorities in Pakistan to ensure that women in public life are not discriminated against and to assure their safety and security.

Worst of both worlds for Dalits

Women are not the only people in Pakistan facing discrimination. One claim that could be made for Islam, and one reason it gained adherants in the sub-continent, is that it did not recognise caste divisions, since human beings were equal in the sight of Allah. But it seems that neither the dedication of Pakistan to Islam, or to Western ideas of freedom, nor the pledges of its founder Dr.Ali Jinnah, have prevented some of its people experiencing one of the worst aspects of Indian, Hindu tradition, which has in fact become absorbed into both Sikh and Muslim practice in south Asia.

Witness this other recent petition to President Musharraf, on behalf of Dalits, that is to say "Untouchables":

SUB: Conditions of Dalits in Mirpurkhas Division

'Dear Sir,

Your scheduled visit to Naunkot, the centre-point of the Mirpurkhas Division and the region where Dalits form almost 35 per cent of the total population is being viewed by Dalits as very important.

The reason is that you have taken some steps to pull the Dalits of Pakistan, known as Scheduled Castes, from the tragic history of sufferings in the form of untouchability, caste-discrimination, and human inequality of different forms and manifestations.

Though it may surprise your honour and your local so-called upper caste people, both Muslims and Hindus, may term it as part of their culture, but the fact remains on the ground that Dalits in Pakistan are still being subjected to many forms of untouchability, caste discrimination, human inequality and humiliation just because they are born as Shudras. All these sufferings are ordained in the Manu Samriti, or Law (Code) of Manu. Some of these Codes, which could be found as being implemented in this region, which your honour is visiting, are as follows:

A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of high caste shall be branded on his hip and be banished, or [the king] shall cause his buttock to be gashed. (Any form of punishment for this 'crime'
A man of low caste, who, through covetousness, lives by the occupations of a higher one, the king shall deprive of his property and banish.
No collection of wealth must be made a Shudra, even though he be able [to do it], for a Shudra who has acquired wealth gives pain to Brahmins.
A Brahmin may confidently seize the goods of [his] Shudra [slave], for, as that [slave] can have no property, his master may take his possessions [_] and they should not have any property except dogs and donkeys.

Mr. President,

The conditions of Dalits in Pakistan have not improved despite the promise of Founder of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who addressed a Press conference on August 15, 1944 and said "I can tell my friends of the Scheduled Castes that at no time have I overlooked their interests and position and I may claim that in the past I have done all I could to help them, and I shall always stand for their protection and safe--guard in any future scheme of constitution for I think that the wrongs and injustices inflicted on them for centuries should not be allowed to continue under any civilized form of government."

In Tharparker, Umerkot, Mirpurkhas, Badin, Tando, Allahyar and other districts of lower Sindh, the utensils for Scheduled Castes are kept separate in government schools, government departments and public places.
In Tharparker, the Scheduled Castes who form 35 per cent of the population, have practically been deprived their due share in development schemes worth billions of rupees under your government.

And in Tharparker alone, thousands of Scheduled Castes people have been deprived of their cattle, moveable and immovable properties through theft and forced occupation. Under what law this is done, perhaps it is the same Manu Samriti reinvented by the upper castes.

I hope your honour will take swift action to end all these sufferings and deprivations of the Scheduled Castes while addressing the people in Naunkot on May 5, 2007. The Scheduled Castes of Pakistan hope you would consider remedial for these ills.

With Best Regards,
S Surendar Valasai
Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan (SCFP)


Thursday, May 24, 2007

New Labour targets the disabled

Workers from Remploy donned giant costumes to draw attention to their protest over government taking vital work from them and handing it to private contractors.
Here they are gathering siignatures from fellow trades unionists at a conference in Liverpool.
That was two years ago, and now more of the government plan is unfolding with the announcement of 43 closures, affecting areas of high unemployment.

Scale of closures shocks Remploy disabled workers

22 May 2007

TRADE unions trying to save the jobs of disabled workers say they have been shocked by the scale of closures announced by the Blair-Brown government. Responding to the announcement yesterday of 43 Remploy factory closures* Phil Davies, Secretary of the trade union consortium said, "This is an act of industrial sabotage which the government and the Remploy board of directors are trying to impose on disabled people and their families.

"The 43 factory closures are in areas of high unemployment. We believe that the whole of the trade union movementwill support our fight to secure these jobs and these factories. The trade unions will now seek authority for a national official strike ballot in all 83 Remploy sites. The company and the government have taken no account of the advice given to them over the past 12 months".

The unions' campaign to save Remploy jobs has been dealt a smack in the face by the announcement from various charities that they were not opposed to closure, supposedly because disabled workers would prefer integration into the general workforce. This ignores the facts: that some of these workers were at one time employed in other factories before having to find "sheltered" employment; and that there is no guarantee, especially in areas of high unemployment, that those who are being sacked will be able to find other employment.
Maybe we should know how much these voluntary sector organisations depend on help and concessions from government, and how this makes them better qualified than the unions to speak for disabled workers?

Jenny Formby, Unite T&G section, chair of the Remploy Trade Union Consortium said, "The sheer scale of the closures and its impact on disabled workers is both shocking and unprecedented. The grotesque spectacle of six organisation, purporting to represent disabled people, supporting these job loses is outrageous andequally shocking. It will not pass unchallenged. The trade unions are not arguing to maintain the status quo. The trade unions' alternative business plan, costed to remain within the £555M cash envelope, not only maintains the factory network in manufacturing but expands and develops the role of all factories to become a resource for the whole disabled community."

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Ronnie Kasrils reports from Occupied Palestine

RONNIE Kasrils, South Africa's Minister for Intelligence Services, comes from a Baltic Jewish family, and earned his political spurs in the underground struggle against Apartheid. He has upset Zionists by continuing to take sides against racist oppression in his comments on Israeli oppression in Occupied Palestine, and during a visit to the territories this month he met Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, and invited him to visit South Africa.

It would be Haniyeh's first visit to a non-Muslim country. The invitation came as Israeli leaders were talking about assassinating Haniyeh.

South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies complained that Haniyeh's Hamas views were incompatible with South Africa's anti-racist principles. Kasrils retorted that anyone who condemned the invitation did not understand the changes that have taken place in South Africa.

I'm not one who thinks because someone is Jewish their opinions are beyond criticisim, and having heard from Marxist comrades and former fighters in southern Africa I don't regard membership of the ANC government or the South African Communist Party as conferring a halo. (I've also had occasion to cross swords with a member of the Kasrils family, concerning other matters, but that's by the way). Having said all that, I think what Ronnie Kasrils has to say does him credit, and this article is both worth reading and reasonable.

By Ronnie Kasrils

Mail & Guardian 21 May 2007 11:59

Travelling into Palestine’s West Bank and Gaza Strip, which I visited recently, is like a surreal trip back into an apartheid state of emergency. It is chilling to pass through the myriad checkpoints -- more than 500 in the West Bank. They are controlled by heavily armed soldiers, youthful but grim, tensely watching every movement, fingers on the trigger. Fortunately for me, travelling in a South African embassy vehicle with official documents and escort, the delays were brief. Sweeping past the lines of Palestinians on foot or in taxis was like a view of the silent, depressed pass- office queues of South Africa’s past.

A journey from one West Bank town to another that could take 20 minutes by car now takes seven hours for Palestinians, with manifold indignities at the hands of teenage soldiers. My friend, peace activist Terry Boullata, has virtually given up her teaching job. The monstrous apartheid wall cuts off her East Jerusalem house from her school, which was once across the road, and now takes an hour’s journey. Yet she is better off than the farmers of Qalqilya, whose once prosperous agricultural town is totally surrounded by the wall and economically wasted. There is only one gated entry point. The key is with the occupation soldiers. Often they are not even there to let anyone in or out. Bethlehem too is totally enclosed by the wall, with two gated entry points. The Israelis have added insult to injury by plastering the entrances with giant scenic posters welcoming tourists to Christ’s birthplace.

The “security barrier”, as the ­Israeli’s term it, is designed to crush the human spirit as much as to enclose the Palestinians in ghettoes. Like a reptile, it transforms its shape and cuts across agricultural lands as a steel-and-wire barrier, with watchtowers, ditches, patrol roads and alarm systems. It will be 700km long and, at a height of 8m to 9m in places, dwarfs the Berlin Wall. The purpose of the barrier becomes clearest in open country. Its route cuts huge swathes into the West Bank to incorporate into Israel the illegal Jewish settlements -- some of which are huge towns -- and annexes more and more Palestinian territory.

The Israelis claim the purpose of the wall is purely to keep out terrorists. If that were the case, the Palestinians argue, why has it not been built along the 1967 Green Line border? One can only agree with the observation of Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, who has stated: “It has become abundantly clear that the wall and checkpoints are principally aimed at advancing the safety, convenience and comfort of settlers.”

The West Bank, once 22% of historic Palestine, has shrunk to perhaps 10% to 12% of living space for its inhabitants, and is split into several fragments, including the fertile Jordan Valley, which is a security preserve for Jewish settlers and the Israeli Defence Force. Like the Gaza Strip, the West Bank is effectively a hermetically sealed prison. It is shocking to discover that certain roads are barred to Palestinians and reserved for Jewish settlers. I try in vain to recall anything quite as obscene in apartheid South Africa.

Gaza provides a desolate landscape of poverty, grime and bombed-out structures. Incon- gruously, we are able to host South Africa’s Freedom Day reception in a restaurant overlooking the splendid harbour and beach. Gunfire ­rattles up and down the street, briefly interrupting our proceedings, as some militia or other celebrates news of the recovery from hospital of a wounded comrade. Idle fishing boats bob in long lines in the harbour, for times are bad. They are confined by Israel to 3km of the coast and fishing is consequently unproductive. Yet, somehow, the guests are provided with a good feast in best Palestinian tradition.

We are leaving through Tel Aviv airport and the Israeli official catches my accent. “Are you South African?’ he asks in an unmistakable Gauteng accent. The young man left Benoni as a child in 1985. “How’s Israel?” I ask. “This is a f**ked-up place,” he laughs, “I’m leaving for Australia soon.” “Down under?” I think. I’ve just been, like Alice, down under into a surreal world that is infinitely worse than apartheid.

Within a few hours I am in Northern Ireland, a guest at the swearing in of the Stormont power-sharing government of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness. Not even PW Botha or Ariel ­Sharon were once as extreme as Ian Paisley in his most riotous and bigoted days. Ireland was under England’s boot for 800 years, South Africa’s colonial-apartheid order lasted 350 years. The Zionist colonial-settler project stems from the 1880s. The Israeli ruling class, corrupt and with no vision, can no longer rule in the old way. The ­Palestinians are not prepared to be suppressed any longer.

What is needed is Palestinian unity behind their democratically elected national government, reinforced by popular struggles of Palestinians and progressive Israelis, supported by international solidarity. South Africa’s stated position is clear. The immediate demands are recognition of the government of national unity, the lifting of economic sanctions and blockade of the Palestinian territories, an end to the 40-year-old military occupation and resumption of negotiations for a two-state solution.

On a final note, the invitation to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as head of a national unity government was welcomed by President Mahmoud Abbas, and will be dealt with by our government. As they say in Arabic: “Insha ’Allah [God-willing].” Ronnie Kasrils is South Africa's Minister of Intelligence

. __,_._,___

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Flaming Liberties!

INDEPENDENT Jewish Voices(IJV) is the name taken by signatories to a statement in the British press saying that established Jewish bodies which support Israeli breaches of human rights do not speak for their community, and that they do a disservice to it when they blur distinctions between criticism of Israel and antisemitism. *

The platform at the IJV meeting I attended last week was distinguished (Lady Dahrendorf and professors Jacqueline Rose, Donald Sassoon and Lyn Segal), and some friends of mine made useful points in the discussion. But by far the best and most interesting part came in contributions by some young people in the audience.

Emma Clyne, a student from the School of Oriental and African Studies(SOAS) described her experiences with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS). Having tried to explain to its Zionist apparatchniks that the Jewish Society at SOAS wanted to look at Jewish history, traditions and culture, she did not see a UJS "information" pack about Israel as suitable for this purpose. Apparently the UJS officials took a dim view of such departure from duty.

To compound their felony, the SOAS students had decided to invite speakers from Independent Jewish Voices. UJS officialdom was not happy that students might be exposed to different viewpoints and ideas. Of course, some of the students at places like SOAS have this notion that that is why they are there.

Incidentally, I see that UJS campaigns director Mitch Simmons was particularly busy last month trying to persuade the SOAS Jewish Society not to host speakers from IJV (Students in censorship row over IJV debate, Jewish Chronicle, April 27). This is the same guy who in February was exhorting dissenters like IJV to stop complaining that they were suppressed, be prepared for debate, and "engage productively with the democratic structures within the Jewish community", among which he naturally included the UJS. This young man will go far!
(Reinventing Dissent, Guardian Comment is Free, February 9, 2007)

A lad from the Jewish Free School who spoke after Emma Clyne said he had been accepted for the Ambassadors' Programme, which trains Sixth-formers for Israel advocacy, so they can contend with anti-Israel views on campus or in the media; but he was starting to have his doubts and was worried about going on with this.

It was heartening to see that despite the investment that has been put into calling up students for the "campus war" and wider battles, some are thinking for themselves and questioning authority. They deserve help and encouragement. It was a pity the chair at the meeting did not call Jewish Socialist editor Julia Bard, who'd raised her hand at the beginning of the discussion and was particularly keen to come in after the JFS student, as she wanted to talk about what is happening in Jewish schools, as an issue on which independent Jewish voices should be raised.

A number of parents with children at JFS have been expressing concern at the way an Orthodox religious group called Aish HaTorah, or Aish for short, is being given access to the schools. This well-funded US-based organisation uses modern media methods to spread its message, and organises subsidised holidays and high-powered seminars. It has had full-page colour advertisements in the Jewish Chronicle offering Summer programmes in Israel, Africa and the USA - "Every year we take young Jewish people to fantastic destinations across the globe and ignite their pride in Judaism".

Some say it is like a cult, separating impressionable young people from parents whose ordinary Judaism is seen as not good enough. They also point to similarities with the Christian creationists. Although Aish claims to be "apolitical", and originated from a religious rather than Zionist movement, it lines up with the conservative right in America, and the Zionist settler lobby.

Clifford Singer wrote a well-researched expose of Aish in Jewish Socialist magazine last year. Here are some extracts:-

"The breezy prose on Aish's website, with its tales of personal growth and acts of kindness, suggests an organisation that is liberal and broadminded, with a dash of Californian self-help therapy. But the values that guide Aish are not those of Liberal, Reform, or even Modern Orthodox Judaism. Its credo is that of the ultra-Orthodox Haredi movement. Aish HaTorah (Fire of the Torah) insists on the inerrant truth of the Bible, which it believes was dictated by God to Moses.

"... it has hitched its social conservatism to an aggressively neoconservative stance on the Middle East. Its donors and well-wishers may include liberals and conservatives, but the political voices on its website extend from the right to the far right: Benjamin Netanyahu, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Alan Dershowitz, Dore Gold, Natan Sharansky, Melanie Phillips and Charles Krauthammer.

"In 2001 Aish set up two pro-Israel lobbying groups. Hasbara Fellowships, launched jointly with Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, trains university students to be 'effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses', and supplies them with speakers and resources. But it has stepped beyond mere 'advocacy' to defend Israel's expansion of West Bank settlements, ..."

So there you have it, in the guise of a purely religious revival these bearers of the flame have been given resources and the run of some schools to capture the hearts and minds of youngsters for a reactionary political agenda. But I don't suppose they will be included on the official list of "extremist" religious outfits against which colleges are supposed to be alert.

Fortunately, in a timely move, the Jewish Socialists' Group have now put a revised version of Clifford Singer's article about Aish on their website, so you can find this at

* For more on Independent Jewish Voices, their founding statement and signatories, etc, visit them at:

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bombing in India, and backing in Britain

SIX people were reported killed and many more injured yesterday in a bomb explosion during Friday prayers at one of India's most important and historic mosques.

Eye-witnesses spoke of bodies littering the central courtyard of the 17th century Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad. As bloodied survivors were taken to hospital police sealed off the area around the historic heart of the city, and fired tear gas at protesting crowds. Local Muslims were angry that normal police security checks had not been carried out. Some reports said two people were killed when police fired on the protestors.

There were fears that violence might spread to other areas. Some Muslim businessmen are on trial in Mumbai for bombings in that area.

The government seemed concerned at possible repercussions on commerce. Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh state, is a hi-tech centre for software companies and biotechnology firms, and due to get an American consulate next year. The chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y S Reddy, told reporters that the central government had information that Hyderabad would be targeted by "anti-social elements". He called the bombing an act of "intentional sabotage on the peace and tranquility in the country

Many people say sectarian violence and inter-communal terror in India is being encouraged by extremists on both sides receiving funds from abroad. While Imran Khan has caused a stir in British media with allegations about the UK-based MQM's activities in Pakistan, less attention is given religious-based movements in India, notably Hindu supremacists.

One organisation that does keep an eye on things, AWAAZ, South Asia Watch, is concerned that extremists posing behind innocent and charitable aims are snuggling up to institutions. It has reported that Ramesh Kallidai, a member of Secretary of State Ruth Kelly's Commission on Integration and Cohesion, paid glowing tribute to an extremist who admired and promoted Nazi-like, fascist and violent ideas in India and who believed that what occurred to European Jews under Nazi Germany was a model that India could learn and profit from - according to recent reports.

Mr. Kallidai was speaking at an event to celebrate the birth centenary of M.S. Golwalkar (1906-1973), the second "supreme leader" of the Indian neo-fascist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Mr. Kallidai, who is general secretary of the Hindu Forum of Britain, was reported in the RSS's weekly paper as saying that trying to pay homage to M.S. Golwalkar "was like holding a candle to the Sun". The paper writes that he went on to praise the expansion of the RSS and its "exemplary" ideology.

The RSS's extremist ideology of Hindu supremacism has been widely blamed for large-scale anti-minority violence in India. The RSS has been banned three times in India since Independence. The murderer of M. K. Gandhi was a former RSS member.The event in London on the 12th April was organized by the supremacist Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), the British branch of the Indian RashtriyaSwayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Golwalkar continues to be venerated bythe organization despite his support for Nazi-like views.

The event tookplace at the Advait Cultural Centre in Wembley, north-west London. Earlier, in December 2004, Ramesh Kallidai, speaking at the Parliamentary Select Committee on Home Affairs, defended the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP,World Hindu Council), an offshoot of the RSS, from the accusation that it is an extremist organisation. Kallidai said that the VHP works for the "social and moral upliftment of Hindus". According to Human Rights Watch, the VHP was among the organisations "directly responsible" for the anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2002, in which thousands were killed over the courseof three days of carnage.

The Indian RSS's joint general secretary, Suresh Soni, was a major guest atthe Wembley event. The event was also attended by key figures from the National Council of Hindu Temples, the Swaminarayan Mandir, ISKCON -Bhaktivedanta Manor, the Hindu Council UK, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (UK), Singh Sabha Gurudwara (Southall) and other Hindu organizations. The Commission on Integration and Cohesion was set up by the Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly and one of its main tasks is supposedly to address the dissemination of extremist ideologies.

"Next month, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion is due to publish its findings on how communities can tackle extremist ideologies and overcome tensions between different groups. The credibility of the Commission's findings may be seriously limited if its own Commissioners are seen to endorse individuals widely considered to be extremist", said Arun Kundnani, spokesperson for Awaaz - South Asia Watch.

Madahav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906 - 1973) was the second leader of the paramilitary RSS, a Hindu supremacist organization formed in 1925 devoted to turning India into an exclusive Hindu state. Golwalkar supported Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. In his key book We, or our nationhood defined, published in 1939, he openly supported the anti-semitic policies of Nazi Germany towards German-Jews, openly supported Hitler's violent invasion of other sovereign territories, lauded Fascist Italy and said these were models which India could learn and profit by:"German race pride has now become the topic of the day. To keep up thepurity of the Race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the semitic Races - the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has shown how well nigh impossible it is for Races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindusthan to learn and profit by." (Golwalkar, We, or our nationhood defined, Bharat Publications,Nagpur, [1939] 1944, page 37.)

In the 1950s, even when the horrors of Nazi Germany was known across the world, the RSS called these ideas of Golwalkar an "unassailable doctrine of nationhood" Golwalkar also stated that in India, minorities deserved no rights whatsoever, not even any citizen's rights. Minorities could "live only as outsiders, bound by all the codes and conventions of the Nation, at the sufferance of the Nation and deserving of no special protection, far less any privilege or rights.

See report on AWAAZ website:-

...and among students in the United States

The issue of Hindu extremism working among students in the United States has also been raised -see

...and another worrying connection:

And just in case you thought Israel had enough problems with religious extremists and "only wants Peace" in the Middle East, here's Mike Marqusee on another worrying connection:


Friday, May 18, 2007

Guatemala aid worker attacked: Call for letters to authorities.

GUATEMALA first came to my attention in 1954, when the CIA organised a military assault on the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman because it had attenpted to improve the lot of poor peasants with land reforms which infringed the grip of the US-owned United Fruit Company. I was just getting on 11 years old and not that politically informed, but along with the British intervention against a left-wing government in Guyana, the US attack on Guatemala left a lasting impression to weigh against the daily anti-communist war propaganda we got in 1950s media (papers, movies, Yankee comics and some teachers).

The Guatemalan people suffered years of brutal dictatorship, civil war, death squads and chaos. US Green Berets were sent in to aid and train the Guatemalan military against left-wing guerrillas. In the 1980s Guatemala got a military dictator called Rios Montt, who was backed by Ronald Reagan (and incidentally, aided by Israeli arms and military advisers). Montt combined dictatorship with becoming an Evangelical pastor. His gospel, addressing indigenous Guatemalan people: "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you." The Plan de Sánchez massacre occurred on the same day.

In 1982, Amnesty International estimated that over 10,000 indigenous Guatemalans and peasant farmers were killed from March to July of that year, and that 100,000 rural villages were forced to flee their homes. According to more recent estimates, tens of thousands of non-combatants were killed by the regime's death squads in the subsequent eighteen months.

I have not followed events in Central America closely, and don't claim to know much about Guatemala. But my friend Helen Pearson, a teacher and youth worker in Leicester, does know Guatemala. Helen taught and worked in Guatemalan villages. The victims of violence and terror have not been statistics, or names, for her, but people she knew.

In recent years there has been a phenomenal rate of sexual violence and murder of women and girls in Guatemala, over 1,000 in four years, as well as attacks on gays, part of a widespread brutalisation of society left behind by the right-wing terror of past decades. See these articles:

Here is the letter I received from Helen Pearson yesterday:

Dear friends and family members

I received the report below last week. The incident described happened to a close friend of mine. I have been in touch with him and he is OK given the circumstances (alive, at least). He is determined that this attack against him will not stop him from working for human rights and he is being very public about insisting that the Police take action. This is very brave in the face of the possible repuercussions there could be against him and his family.

If you have time to send, fax or email a letter to the people suggested below, or even to one of them (the President?) I know Jorge and his colleagues at Project Counselling Services would really appreciate it. It does make a difference that people like Jorge feel that they have support internationally and that the Guatemalan government knows that note is being taken in the outside world of what is going on.

I know you won't all have time, especially as many of you get quite a lot of 'urgent actions' I am sure, but I hope you won't mind me sending out this request.

With love to you all


May 8 2007,
International Agency attacked in Guatemala

At noon on Monday May 7, 2007, Project Counselling Service (PCS) was attacked in Guatemala City. What at first appeared to be a common crime – the robbery of a vehicle and cash on 3rd Avenue between 32nd and 33rd Street in Zone 3 – has other characteristics that do not fit the usual operational pattern of these kinds of crimes.

The truck that was stolen had Mission International license plates (a 2003 Toyota Hilux, plate # MI93BBG), an extremely unusual target for common criminals. Further, the two heavily armed men detained the PCS staff member in the truck and assaulted him, physically, verbally and sexually.

We are particularly concerned about the sexual assault, as an attack against the physical integrity of our colleague. It also appears to be intended to send a message to intimidate PCS, particularly significant since the assault occurred during an International Seminar on sexual violence being carried out by PCS, Sharing Collective Memory: Psychosocial Accompaniment and Integral Justice for Women Victims of Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict. It is of great concern that the assault may have political content related to our work and that of our Guatemalan counterparts, who have also recently suffered numerous robberies and assaults.

PCS is an international organization dedicated to challenging impunity and seeking justice for human rights violations perpetrated during conflict and post-conflict periods in Latin America, including Guatemala. PCS has emphasized the need to make visible the issue of sexual violence in these contexts.

At the same time, PCS is an active participant in the International NGO Forum (FONGI), and is a member of its Board of Directors. We note that this attack has occurred as part of a wave of attacks against other member organizations of FONGI. PCS is the fourth member to be attacked in the last month, in three separate incidents.

PCS urges the Guatemalan authorities to immediately undertake an effective investigation to identify the attackers and reveal their true motivation for this serious aggression, including the sexual assault.

We also urgently request the support of the international community. Please urge the Guatemalan authorities to take immediate, responsible and serious action on this incident, as well as the ongoing series of attacks and intimidation against national and international human rights defenders, to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

PCS requests your urgent intervention before such aggressions, urging the authorities to guarantee the safety of human rights defenders working in Guatemala, sending letters to:

Presidente de la República de Guatemala
Lic. Oscar Berger Perdomo
E-mail: varroyave@presidencia.gobgt
Fax: 502-22383579

Vicepresidente de Guatemala
Lic. Eduardo Stein
Fax: 502-22383579

Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Guatemala
Sr. Pert Rosenthal Koenigsberger
Fax: 502-24100000

Ministra de Gobernación de Guatemala
Sra. Adela de Torrtebiarte
E-mail: gobernació

Fiscal General, Jefe del Ministerio Público de Guatemala
Lic. Juan Luis Florido Solí
Fax: 502-22512218

Procurador de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala
Dr. Sergio Fernando Morales Alvarado
Fax: 502-77755475

Juez de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – CIDH
Dr. Diego García Sayán
Fax: 506-2340584

Director Ejecutivo del Instituto Interamericano de Derechos Humanos – IIDH
Dr. Roberto Cuellar
Fax: 506-2340955

His Excellency Señor Edmundo Rene Urrutia Garcia, Embassy of Guatemala, 13 Fawcett St, London SW10 9HN.Fax: 020 7376 5708

and copying them to: Diana Avila, PCS Executive Director:
and Samantha Sams, Central America and Mexico Program Coordinator: pcsguate@itelgua.comProject Counselling Service


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Wonder which way Reverend Falwell went?

SAFER? Now Reverend Jerry's gone, Tinky-Winky can come out again.

THERE is not much in the way of good news these days. In Gaza, as if the effect of sanctions and Israeli siege and attacks was not enough, gunmen working for rival gangsters have terrorised people off their streets. In Portugal, the parents of a missing little girl called Madeleine cling frantically to hope that she is still alive though the search for her has got nowhere.

In France a right-wing son of emigres from Hungary promises to get tough with immigrants, and take away working people's hard-won rights. In Britain, it looks like Gordon Brown is on his way unopposed to Number 10, though for how long we don't know. Not enough Labour MPs could be found to back left-winger John McDonnell. Trade unionists whose real pay has been cut by Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer must watch union leaders trying to make backdoor deals with Brown for promises about what he will do as Prime Minister.

So as we look around for something to cheer us up, here's one piece of good news. In the United States, the Reverend Jerry Falwell has snuffed it. Popped his clogs. Gone to meet his Maker. Or to t'other place, if you believe it exists.
My fellow blogger Janine Booth gives you a flavour of Jerry Falwell's preaching:

On Apartheid: a "bulwark for Christian civilization".

On AIDS: "the wrath of a just God".

On Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement: “the Civil Wrongs Movement.”

On the 9/11 attacks: "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, and the ACLU and People For the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America—I point the finger in their face and say 'You helped this happen.'"

"He also held some wacko theory about the forthcoming day of 'Rapture', when God would pop down to Earth and spirit all his true followers away to Heaven. They'd vanish - just like that. And everyone else would die in some gory global wipeout. Nice".

I met journalist Christopher Hitchens once on the road between Tuzla and the Dalmatian coast, when our bus was detained for hours by Croatian president Tudjman's charming cops. We had a beer together later, though not a long chat as he was more interested in chatting up Julie Christie, which was fair enough. I have been sorry to see him go off since then on a political bender, winding up more right-wing (on the Iraq war at any rate) than his brother Peter who worked for the Tory Daily Express. (Peter Hitchens moved on to the equally right-wing Mail. Both Hitchens brothers were at one time members of the International Socialists, which became the Socialist Workers Party). But Hitchens, recently naturalized an American citizen, has remained an atheist and an opponent of religious reactionaries, racketeers and bigots like Falwell.

Here is him being interviewed about the Reverend Jerry by Anderson Cooper on American TV:

Cooper: Christopher, I'm not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?
Hitchens: No. And I think it's a pity there isn't a hell for him to go to.

Hitchens points out how the good Christian Reverend, recipient of a Jabotinsky Award from the late Menachem Begin, made antisemitic innuendos to please his goyish constituency at home, while at the same time supporting the most extreme right-wing Zionist settlers in Palestine. He also alludes to the worrying fact that such seemingly way-out preachers of Armageddon can be well-in with the president in Washington.
Hitchens: "The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September 11 were the result of our sinfulness and were God's punishment if they hadn't got some kind of clerical qualification? People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup."

Hitchens: "...[T]he country suffers, to a considerable extent, from paying too much, by way of compliment, to anyone who can describe themselves as a person of faith: Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Chaucerian frauds, people who are simply pickpockets..."

Cooper: Do you believe he believed what he spoke?

Hitchens: Of course not. He woke up every morning, as I say, pinching his chubby little flanks and thinking, I have got away with it again.

Cooper: You think he was a complete fraud, really?

Hitchens: Yes.

Cooper: You don't believe that, I mean, in his reading of the Bible, you don't think he was sincere in his—whether you agree or not with his reading of the Bible—you don't think he was sincere in what he spoke?

Hitchens: No. I think he was a conscious charlatan and bully and fraud. And I think, if he read the Bible at all—and I would doubt that he could actually read any long book of—at all—that he did so only in the most hucksterish, as we say, Bible-pounding way.

Cooper thanked Hitchens, reminded the audience that he's all about diverse opinions, then ended the segment on this note: "Coming up, we are going to look at Jerry Falwell's war on homosexuality, blaming gays and lesbians for 9/11, among other things, [he] even warned about the Teletubbies, as we mentioned. What was his problem with Tinky-Winky? Find out next on 360."
I only ever watched the Teletubbies programme once, and having first cut my political teeth on the CND marches when "Spies for Peace" drew attention to Britain's secret nuclear bunkers, I was a bit alarmed at seeing a children's programme in which some mutants in strange suits appear briefly on a grassy mound then have to disappear underground again whenever the siren goes. Did the makers know something that we should?, I wondered. (My generation feared a war between two super-powers. It's funny how fewer people seem worried about nuclear weapons now every Tom, Dick and Harry has them. Could They be putting something more soporific than fluoride in our water these days?).
Still the arrival of Teletubbies, from pre-school fare to a cult programme among those of student age has arguably been good for the nation's youth, as many who would not otherwise be up before noon began getting up to munch their cornflakes in front of mid-morning TV.
But Jerry Falwell's complaint was different. These god-botherers can always spot stuff we might otherwise miss (remember Mary Whitehouse denouncing 'My Ding A Ling"?) and in February 1999, Rev.Jerry denounced the Teletubbies, declaring that Tinky Winky was a sinful homosexual, his evidence being that: "He is purple - the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle - the gay-pride symbol." Not to mention the handbag.
At least Tinky Winky and his pals can breath a sigh of relief now. Aah...
The rest of us can worry that while Rev.Jerry goes down, the man he helped into the White House is still there, still waging war on the infidel, and backing Zionist aggression, and still dangerously close to that "Rapture" button.

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