Wednesday, September 30, 2009

With Pride, Against Prejudice

VUKOVAR solidarity with Belgrade Pride, and the
protesters can take pride in this.
photo from the album: Prosvjed protiv zabrane održavanja beogradske Povorke ponosa

IT must be at least twenty years since I took part with friends in a Gay Pride march. At the time we were opposing the notorious piece of Tory legislation by stealth which became Section 28 of the Local Government Act, forbidding "promotion" of homosexuality in schools. Gay people feared a witch-hunt, and teachers feared they might face trouble if they talked to their students about Shakespeare's sexuality, or tried to raise awareness, and stop bullying and gay-bashing in the yard. It seemed only right, regardless of our own sexual orientation, to show solidarity against prejudice and persecution.

Since then that nasty law has been repealed, though not without some opposition. Without being complacent when quite young children are using "gay" as a term of abuse, and homophobic violence still goes on, we like to think we are in more enlightened times. Openly, indeed outre, gay characters are on TV, gays have come out in government, and in the police, and Tory leader David Cameron has apologised to gay people for Section 28.

I imagine Pride these days is far more of a carnival than a protest, and a commercialised scene at that. But perhaps we should not forget its origins, in a commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York, 40 years ago, when gays and lesbians and other people fought back against police attacks. Though many countries are today eager to host Pride events to boost their liberal credentials and their tourist trade, the treatment of gay people and Pride still gives an insight into the real character of societies and the forces at work in them. We know that homosexuality remains illegal in Iran, so it may be a while before there's a Pride march in Tehran, while in Tel Aviv young people attending a disco at a gay advice centre were a gunman's target. The one thing which Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders in Jerusalem were able to agree on was opposing a Pride march.

Attempts to hold a Pride event in Russia have been met by violence from police and fascist thugs, while Lithuania's parliament has celebrated its freedom from the Russian yoke by enacting its own law similar to Section 28.

This was condemned in the European Parliament, though I see British Tory MEPs abstained in the vote.

A planned Pride march in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, had to be called off last month when police refused to sanction it, saying they could not protect the marchers against right-wing violence. Fascists had threatened attacks and called for lynching of gays.

The organisers had at one point appealed to the Serbian Orthodox Church to use its influence by appealing for calm. It refused. Well, perhaps like the British Tories it has its allies to consider, or it just did not want to be accused of hypocrisy. I would hazard a guess that like other religious denominations, the church has its share of homosexual clergy, and if the others are anything to go by, of child molesters. But one would hate to see it unfairly accused of harbouring freethought and tolerance.

The threats and ban on Pride in Begrade have brought demonstrations and messages of support from other cities, including London, Berlin and Budapest. The Hungarian capital had its own Pride march on September 5, and though it too has seen fascist violence and threats, this year with strict security it passed off peacefully. This weekend there was a demonstration outside the Serbian embassy in Budapest in solidarity with the banned Belgrade Pride. There is also going to be a demonstration at the Serbian embassy in Vienna this week.

However, what impressed me particularly was the report of a demonstration in the Croatian city of Vukovar.
It is not a capital city, just an industrial city on the Danube, which expanded mainly in the last half of the 20th century. Until the war broke out in what was Yugoslavia I had never heard of it.

In an 87-day siege between July and November 1991 the Yugoslav People's Army(JNA) and Serb nationalist militias bombarded the city to rubble, and moved in to kill or drive out Croat civilians. Before the war broke out Vukovar had a small Croat majority, with almost as many Serbs, and numerous smaller minorities. As with Tuzla in Bosnia, many people had intermarried,. Asked their nationality on forms, they put down simply "Yugoslav". This was what the nationalists and Milosevic set out to destroy. When we learn that Croatian President Tudjman's party did not obtain a majority in the region, which ws held by the Croatian League of Communists, we may wonder if those were right who accused him of wanting to abandon the city.

My Serbian comrade Rade told us about his brother, a reservist who had been called back to JNA duty. the night before his unit took part in the assault on Vukovar he realised he and the unit commander -an ethnic German -were the only ones still wearing their red star cap badges. The rest of the men had all replaced these with the white eagle badge of Serb nationalism. Rade's brother managed to prevent his comrades participating in atrocities, but he had no doubt the atrocities took place.

As Rade told a London meeting, replying to a question about Yugoslav unity, "If you want a united Yugoslavia you don't destroy a mixed, workers' city like Vukovar". (it was Rade by the way who deserved much of the credit for our decision to set up Workers Aid for Bosnia, and to head for Tuzla). Indeed the JNA itself began to break up, as non-Serbs would no longer serve, and many Serb soldiers too had seen enough, though alas they were not yet able to topple the Belgrade regime or outweigh the Chetnik militias led by politicians like Vojtslav Seselj and Radovan Karadzic or gangsters like Arkan.

One of the worst atrocities in the war was the killing of 250 people - patients, nurses and medical staff - taken from the Vukovar hospital. Two years the International Criminal Tribunal convicted two former Yugoslav Army officers and acquitted a third of involvement in the hospital massacre. It has also accused Vojtslav Seselj, the fascist who was Milosevic's coalition partner, of inciting and encouraging the massacre

Vukovar is being rebuilt, but reports say relations between Croat and Serb are harder to recover after what people went through. That is why it is a heartening sign that in Vukovar there are people taking a stand for solidarity, and extending a supporting hand to those in Belgrade who are fighting for human rights. They can be proud of this.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Saying No to New Highland Clearances!

David and Moira Milne

DAVID and MOIRA MILNE met in 1992, and that same year David finally managed to buy an old coastguard look-out station, and start working on it, so the couple could convert the disused building into their family home. It took a lot of hard work, energy and vision. But these were not property developers looking for a quick profit, they were a couple looking forward to enjoying the home they had made for themselves in peace.

Now they are having to fight for it, not against repossession such has affected many people in the present crisis, but against dispossession - to make way for a sodding golf course! That's to say, two golf courses, a private housing development with time-share flats and a 450-bed hotel, all part of a resort scheme which US property tycoon Donald Trump wants to establish at Balmedie, along the coast north of Aberdeen, with the approval of local councils.

Trump owns a 2,000 acre estate at Menie in Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeenshire county council is due to discuss compulsory purchase orders on five properties when it meets on Thursday, October 1. Not for housing, schools, hospitals or other pressing social needs. People like the Milnes and other people would be required to give up homes and farms to make way for Trump's luxury development for private profit.

Campaigners petitioning against the orders have gathered so far more than 7,000 signatures. You can add your voice online at:

Tripping Up Trump, campaigning for the people and environment threatened by Trump’s development, says the issue has moved from being a planning and environmental question, to being about the human rights of local people affected.

"Worse still, Trump received outlined planning permission on the grounds that he had all the land he needed. This is why Tripping Up Trump stands strong, demanding that Donald Trump doesn’t abuse the law and residents affected by his controversial housing and golf development".

Evoking comparison with the ruthless Highland Clearances, when Scottish crofters were driven from the land to make way for sheep, and then for grouse, turning poor people's farmland into playgrounds for the rich, Trip up Trump's website is referring to this as the "Trumpland Clearances".

Last year Donald Trump rejected warnings from his own environmental experts that the £1bn golf resort the coastline north of Aberdeen would damage a legally-protected stretch of dunes. Environmentalists also charge that local airport expansion plans are driven by Trump's envisioned resort.

Campaigners also challenge the claim that Trump's resort would replace jobs being lost in the offshore oil industry. Apart from short-term construction work, the resort would offer low-paid seasonal and domestic work - and Trump's plans include a 400-bed hostel for migrant workers. That's better than no provision, but hardly an answer to Aberdeen's future economic needs.

His proposals were rejected by the local council last year, but gained the backing of Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond. The Scottish National Party-run government granted Trump International Golf Links Scotland outline planning permission, and both Aberdeen city council and the Lib Dem-led Aberdeenshire county council have got behind the scheme.

Donald Trump has not ignored the people opposing him. He recently passed police a set of e-mails which he claimed showed that Tripping Up Trump (TUT) was behind a stunt in which more than 20 statues in Aberdeen Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling were dressed up, with Donald Trump masks and golf clubs. A Menie Liberation Front claimed responsibility, saying it was “to symbolise the way Trump thinks he can walk over Scotland”.

Martin Clegg, a spokesperson for TUT, denied his group was involved. Grampian police were investigating. The e-mails purported to be from Clegg and another TUT activist discussed the statue dressing idea, and also contained minutes of a meeting at which concern was expressed on the legality of the action, and the need for care to avoid damage to statues.

Insisting TUT had nothing to do with the statues stunt, Martin Clegg said a complaint had been made to police over the intercepted e-mails. “It will surely not surprise anyone that TUT discusses campaigning against the Trump development at its meetings. ...The Trump organisation appears to be spying on us. We suspect they planted a mole.”

Donald Trump Jr declined to reveal how the e-mails had come into his possession, but said his father had “many friends in Aberdeenshire who were always passing on information”.

Trump's "friends" don't all come free. His organisation has employed lawyer Ann Faulds, partner in an Edinburgh law firm, who previously advised the former Scottish Executive on its policies for compulsory purchases of land for development. According to one critic, this shows power is being “bought and sold for Trumpton gold”. The accusation has been forcefully rejected by Trump, with his senior aide attacking the media for spreading “shit”.

bIf Aberdeenshire does decide to go for compulsory purchases it may be a first. In the past these have been used for housing or transport needs, and usually as a last resort. Some councillors may be unsure about these powers being used for a private profit scheme. This may be why an expert lawyer has been brought in.
“This is indicative of the way the Trump organisation works,” says Daviid Milne. “They engage people who have worked for government to allow them to understand every wrinkle, loophole and furrow in the legislation.”

It has angered Mr.Milne and strengthened his resolve to resist. He has promised the only way he will leave his home is “horizontally in a box”.

IThanks to Sxottish Socialist Party member Catriona Grant for bringing this to my attention).


Friday, September 25, 2009

Mohammad Othman: arrested for speaking for his people

"WHAT the Palestinian people need is articulate spokespersons who can make a reasonable case", is a piece of presumably well-meaning advice one still hears occasionally, along with the helpful suggestion that they try non-violent civil resistance. I'm not sure if these supposed well-wishers have never heard of Bil'in, where non-violent protesters have faced tear gas and rubber bullets for protesting Israel's Wall on their land, or if they think American campaigner Rachel Corrie was some kind of "terrorist", because she might have damaged the bulldozer which killed her as she tried to resist it demolishing a family's home.

Jayous, like Bil'in, is a West Bank village where Israel's so-called security fence separates the people from the land which is their livelihood. Here is a video from Amnesty International's visit to Jayous:

MOHAMMAD OTHMAN comes from Jayous.

Mohammad, 33, is a member of Stop the Wall, a grass-roots campaigning body linked with War on Want in Britain. He has campaigned peacefully for ten years now, and been able to speak to visitors to Jayous, showing them the Wall and explaining how it affects people. More recently he was invited to Europe to speak to people, explaining how, in his view, they could help the Palestinian people resist occupation by supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions as a strategy of pressure on Israel to withdraw.

On September 22, Mohammad Othman was detained by Israeli police as he returned from Norway and tried to cross the Allemby Bridge on his way home. He is due to face a military court on September 29. He has not been informed of the charges against him.

It reminds me of the old joke which has an Israeli officer saying "We need to find out leaders who can really speak for the people. Then lock them up!"

Those who have met Mohammad Othman say he is articulate, has a good sense of humour, and is well-liked by both local people and visitors from abroad.

Writer and campaigner Naomi Klein says "I learned more from spending a day driving around the West Bank with Othman, following the land-grabbing path of the Wall, than I have from reading dozens of books. His passion for knowledge and his love of the land are astounding and contagious."

In London, Yasmin Khan, Senior Campaigns Officer at War on Want said "War on Want condemns the arrest and detention of Mohammad Othman and calls for his immediate and unconditional response. It is unacceptable for Israel to be targetting human rights defenders with such intimidation"

Friends of Mohammad Othman suggest three things we can do to help secure his release.

* Demand the Israeli authorities release Mohammad by sending a letter to Ron Prosor, the Israeli Ambassador in London (or wherever you are)

* Demand the British government put pressure on Israel to release Mohammad by writing to the British Consulate in Jerusalem.

* Follow his campaign blog and join the facebook group to get the latest updates and action alerts
For more information and to take action see:

Sign the petition:

Free Mohammad blog:

Friends of Freedom and Justice at Bil'in:

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Farewell Bill Speirs

I'M sorry to hear today that Bill Speirs, former general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, had died, aged only 57, though he had been ill for some years.

I met Bill about fifteen years ago, when I was involved in Workers Aid for Bosnia. He must have been the most prominent figure in the trade union movement to give support to this campaign, which was a Trotskyist initiative, its support coming largely from ordinary working people and students rather than 'big names' or bureaucrats. After a meeting in union premises on Grays Inn Road a bunch of went over to the pub, and I realised that the man getting the beers in and enjoying his discussion with some young convoy drivers -also Scots as it happens -was the Scottish TUC leader.

Now that I think about it, I was not entirely surprised. Shortly before this, wearing one of my other hats - as a representative of the Jewish Socialists' Group - I'd rushed after work one evening, invited to press the flesh with the pres - Yasser Arafat, - on his first visit to London, at a reception held in the Egyptian embassy. Having joined the queue, and been introduced to the Palestinian leader, shaking hands and exchanging a few words, I made my way through the throng to the drinks table. There was not much left.

I recognised Ken Cameron of the Fire Brigades Union, shook hands with writer Chaim Bermant, and was introduced to a former lord provost of Glasgow. Then I overheard a couple talking to Ken Cameron, the lady - whom I later learned was big in War on Want, and who was with Bill Speirs - was telling Ken "We have just been speaking to these people from Workers Aid for Bosnia. It's a Trot thing of course, but we have got to support it".

What did surprise me though was that Bill Speirs did not just put his name to Workers Aid or offer to speak at meetings, he was not content with helping fundraising, but managed to go out and see for himself by taking a place on one of te convoys. As I can testify these were bumpy rides on mountain roads and tracks, not the safe and easy luxury ride one associates with general-secretaries.

I made another trip to Bosnia a year later when asked to attend a conference in Tuzla. We flew to Split, then boarded a coach which took us via the dramatic scenery of the Neretva river. scene of World War II partisan heroism, and crossed by us on a bailey bridge, through battered Mostar. I got to know Bill and his friend Margaret from War on Want on this trip, and they must have guessed I was short of cash because Bill insisted on paying every time we stopped for refreshments. Later I was proud to join them when we came out of the conference hall in Tuzla to go and meet the Kreka miners.

Bill was keen not just what they needed for immediate relief but how British unions could help them in their plans for post-war reconstruction. He went back to Tuzla a couple of years later for a miners' international conference they organised.

It was on that previous trip via Croatia that our returning bus was held up at the border for several hours while Croat police went through everybody's passports looking for people whom they wanted to detain. It was Bill Speirs, out of the various 'celebs' and communicators on board, who stepped down, and exercising his full authority as representative of millions of Scottish workers, soon persuaded the police that if they knew what was good for them and their government ...well, I don't know what he said, but we were soon on the move again!

I can't claim to have kept in touch with Bill Speirs when he returned to his 'normal' union duties, though I was pleased to see and hear him speak as Scottish TUC leader on anti-war platforms in London, and at meetings on Palestine. I also still have a letter he wrote after I contacted him about an issue I have personally tried to take up, demanding an investigation into the murder in Paris of Egyptian communist Henri Curiel, for which nobody has been brought to justice. Bill expressed his support and asked me to keep him informed if there was anything he could do about it.

Meanwhile he was also challenging the Blair government over its treatment of workers like the firefighters.

Bill Speirs may not have been the most outstanding person in the trade union movement, and I can't recall ever seeing him on TV or hearing his name mentioned often south of the Border. But he was a trade unionist who saw his duties to the working class internationally, took up causes without regard to whether they were fashionable or would endear him to the Establishment, and he was prepared to help in ways which were not all that glamourous. I'm glad I met him, and wish I'd got to know him better. It is a tragedy that ill-health curtailed his active work, and has deprived Scottish workers of such a man.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Threatened with another catastrophe

RAMALLAH - The International Committee of the Red Cross has warned that Gaza's access to safe supply of drinking water could cease at any time. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says outbreaks of disease could be triggered as a consequence.

[Water desalination units in Gaza (photo: Dan Muller/Middle East Children's Alliance)]Water desalination units in Gaza (photo: Dan Muller/Middle East Children's Alliance)
The warnings follow a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report Monday that "Gaza's underground water system is in danger of collapse after recent conflict compounded by years of overuse and contamination."

"An outbreak of Hepatitis A and parasitic infections could occur at any time," Mahmoed Daher from WHO in Gaza told IPS. "Already the number of people, especially children, suffering from diarrhoea has risen dramatically."

"We have noticed an increase in people suffering from kidney diseases from water contaminated with toxins, as well as babies born with an unnatural blue tinge," Munther Shoblak from Gaza's Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU) told IPS.

The UNEP report focuses on a rise in saltwater intrusion from the sea caused by over-extraction of ground water, and pollution from sewage and agricultural run-off, with toxic levels high enough to put infants at risk of nitrate poisoning.

Gaza's underground aquifer is the sole water source for its 1.5 million people. Only 5-10 percent of the water now is fit for human consumption.

The average per capita daily consumption of water for personal and domestic use in Gaza is 91 litres. WHO recommends 100-150 litres daily. Israelis consume 280 litres per day.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported last week that at least 10,000 Gazans remain without access to the water network. Furthermore, access to water is limited on average to six to eight hours from one to four days a week for the entire population.

"Approximately 150-160 million cubic metres (mcm) are extracted from Gaza's underground aquifer annually. Due to a regional drought over the last few years only about 65 mcm has flown back into the aquifer annually. This leaves a shortfall of 100 mcm," says Shoblak.

Sewage-contaminated seawater and agricultural overflow contaminated with toxins have been flowing into the aquifer's deficit. The CMWU is only able to partially treat some of the 80 million litres of sewage pumped out to sea on a daily basis due to a shortage of spare parts, fuel, and electricity cuts.

During Israel's bombardment of Gaza during the December-January war, the strip's already degraded infrastructure was heavily targeted. CMWU estimates that about six million dollars worth damage was caused to major water and sanitation infrastructure during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's codename for its war.

Over 30 kilometres of water networks were damaged or destroyed by the Israeli military in addition to 11 wells operated by the water authorities in Gaza. More than 6,000 roof tanks and 840 household connections were damaged.

There is an urgent need for cement, pipes, pumps, transformers and electrical spare parts to implement numerous projects in the water and wastewater sector.

Some 1,250 tonnes of cement are currently needed for the repair of water storage tanks alone. But Israel's blockade prevents cement from being brought into Gaza.

Javier Cordoba, the ICRC water and habitation coordinator who is supervising Red Cross reconstruction efforts in Gaza says the situation is very fragile. "A lack of construction material and parts has led to a de-development of the water infrastructure, which could collapse at any minute," Cordoba told IPS.

"The whole system is inter-connected," Cordoba says. "Water wells use mechanical pumps to supply Gazan homes with water. The shortage of mechanical pumps and other spare parts has reduced the number of wells able to operate."

Electricity shortages force the wells to rely on back-up generators. Israel's blockade not only limits electricity supplies but the supply of industrial fuel too.

The ICRC has been working on ingenious methods to get around the blockade to bring temporary relief to Gazans.

"We have managed to build a new, albeit primitive, wastewater plant in Rafah in the south of Gaza. We used pieces of the wall which used to divide Gaza from the Sinai peninsula, before the wall was blown up last year, for the basic structure.

"We also succeeded in finding limited spare parts from Gaza to operate the plant," said Cordoba. "But this is just an interim solution, and the well will only last about five years. The more permanent and sophisticated wastewater management plant in northern Gaza still requires imported parts from Israel."

Cordoba added: "In order to relieve the pressure on the aquifer we have been digging a number of shallow wells. These again are only temporary and don't supply much water like the deeper ones, but they allow the municipalities to function again."

UNEP estimates that more than 1.5 billion dollars may be needed over 20 years to restore the aquifer back to health, including the establishment of desalination plants to take pressure off the underground water supplies.

"The international community also has to fulfil its obligations in regard to economic pledges and promises it made to establish desalination and wastewater projects," Shoblak told IPS. "Political pressure needs to be applied to Israel to allow for reconstruction and repairs."

The UNEP report warns: "Unless the degradation trend is reversed now, damage could take centuries to reverse."

Labels: , ,

Friday, September 18, 2009

TUC for targetted boycott

IN a week that has seen Justice Goldstone's UN report confirm that Israeli forces carried out war crimes in Gaza, and with thousands of Palestinians having to queue at an Israeli checkpoint in the faint hope they can get to pray in al-Aksa mosque for the last Friday in Ramadan, Britain's Trade Union Congress had before it a motion proposing a boycott of Israeli goods, to press Israel to end its occupation.

Amid the howls of outrage from the Israeli embassy and right-wing newspapers, what emerged from the debate is a policy of targetted boycott, aimed at goods coming from the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, and companies which invest in the settlements or Israel's annexation wall..

Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said the TUC move was a "landmark" decision which followed a wave of motions passed at individual union conferences this year in reaction to Israel's onslaught on Gaza.

The Israeli embassy claimed the "reckless" boycott commitment would " inflict harm and hardship on workers throughout Israel, both Jew and Arab alike" - though of course none of the settlements being targetted is in Israel - and described it as " a slap in the face to all those who sincerely campaign for peace."

The Israeli government sends its navy to seize Palestinian fishermen off Gaza, confiscating their boats, and its army prevents medicines and building materials being taken into the devastated Gaza area. Its planes have bombed water treatment and sewage plants, even before dropping white phosphorua on civilians. But its ambassador says the TUC should "hang its head in shame" at the possible hardship caused to workers if someone does not buy some herbs exported from the West Bank settlements. What will it say if the boycott is extended to all Israeli goods and - something not yet discussed - made into a proper trade union industrial boycott?

Peace campaigners in Israel and outside will gasp in amazement at the embassy's chutzpah, before laughing out loud at the idea of Israel's ambassador in London being worried about "those who sincerely campaign for peace".

In fact the Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom has been maintaining its own boycott of items from the settlements and and can provide a list. It has been difficult to draw a distinction here because Israel labelled settlement goods as its own produce in order they could enjoy European Union privilege. European Jews for Just Peace (EJJP) have tried to get something done about this by lobbying the Brussels parliament.

As for firms involved in construction of the Wall or the segregated roads and settler light railway, EJJP have added their voice to that of Palestinians and NGO's like War on Want in campaignong for disinvestment.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, says unions "have a part to play" in seeing an end to the occupation, a dismantling of the separation wall and the removal of the illegal settlements. "We believe that targeted action – aimed at goods from the illegal settlements and at companies involved in the occupation and the wall – is the right way forward.

"This is not a call for a general boycott of Israeli goods and services, which would hit ordinary Palestinian and Israeli workers but targeted, consumer-led sanctions directed at businesses based in, and sustaining, the illegal settlements."

Delegates had backed a motion from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) calling for a general boycott, and the revised position agreed by the general council, which takes precedence in forming TUC policy. The TUC statement, successfully limited the boycott by restricting it to goods from the illegal settlement.

The TUC is also committed now to reviewing its relations with Israel's Histadrut union federation, which endorsed the Gaza war, and to demanding that the British government curtial arms sales to Israel..

Mick Shaw, the FBU president, said the general council statement did not go far enough. "It's not just an issue of a boycott of goods produced in illegal settlements. Firstly, we think that impractical. These goods do not come with a label which says 'these goods are produced on an illegal settlement'. We feel we need to have discussions with Palestinian trade unions, discussions with the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council], where we can put most pressure on the Israeli government and to target a consumer boycott better."

Speaking after the debate, Shaw said the TUC policy now in place "was an important shift" in reaction to the military action earlier this year. "We will now try to identify goods and products where the most pressure can be put on the Israeli government to persuade them to change their policies."

Hugh Lanning, chairman of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said it was a "landmark" decision which followed a wave of motions passed at union conferences this year because of "outrage" at Israel's "brutal war" on Gaza.

The University and College Union, one of the first to consider a boycott campaign, albeit confusedly, backed down from even inviting Palestinian academics to promote discussion, after threats of legal action by American Zionists. It has obtained a clause in the new policy which says that "in undertaking these actions each affiliate will operate within its own aims and objectives within the law".

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tory 'toff' with a taste for Nazis

Rik Mayall
below, Alan B'Stard (aka Rik Mayall), right- very right-real life Tory Alan Clark.

THESE days when we've grown used to how awful and corrupt New Labour can be, it may do no harm to remind ourselves -and the young who have known no other government - just what Tories can really be like.

Fictional MP Alan B'Stard switched to Blair's camp and took charge of flogging peerages, but real life Tory bastard Alan Clark remained a Thatcherite -and more- to the end.

Now, ten years after his death an official biography of the Tory minister, whose diaries televised with John Hurt entertained as scandalously as the fictional creation, is out. We don't know yet how honest it will be. But on the BBC Today programme the book's author, Ion Trewin, has described Clark as "wonderful".

Fearing this presages Clark's rehabilitation by respectable politicians and media, Dominic Lawson, son of a Tory chancellor, and former editor of the Spectator and the Sunday Telegraph, felt prompted to ripost: "Alan Clark was not wonderful. He was sleazy, vindictive, greedy, callous and cruel. He was also a thorough-going admirer of Adolf Hitler, although his sycophants persisted in thinking that his expressions of reverence for the Fuhrer were not meant seriously. They absolutely were".

An Old Etonian who lived in a castle in Kent, Clark was however at one time said be on a Tory party list of "unsuitable" people to be candidates, perhaps because his remarks about admiring Hitler had found their way into an American Nazi journal called Stormtrooper. He was nevertheless selected for Plymouth Sutton, and became its MP. His right-wing views on race, immigration and the European Union were no problem in winning favour with Margaret Thatcher, and he became junior Employment Minister. It was his remark to senior civil servants about people who might "fear being sent back to Bongo-Bongo land" which marked the man's style and attracted the attention of the Daily Mirror as well as Searchlight magazine.

But it was British Nazi John Tyndall's boasts of having important friends in Westminster and Whitehall, that set some people wondering ...Tyndal had donned uniform with Colin Jordan's National Socialist Movement and done time with Jordan for storing weedkiller as explosive. He could be just bullshitting, but what if...? It so happened that Tyndall, made his boasts to Ray Hill, who was acting as a mole for Searchlight. Eventually he came up with something definite. He said that he'd had dinner with Alan Clark.

When journalists asked Clark if this was true, the Tory minister insisted it had only been lunch, and in a third-rate Italian restaurant, and said he found his dining companion was a "blockhead". He explained that he had gone along because he was interested in some articles on defence which Tyndall had written in Spearhead. The propriety of a government minister discussing such matters with the leader of the National Front was thus brushed off.

Alan Clark's taste for controversial company came up again a few years later when the London Evening Standard remarked his presence at a cocktail party at David Irving's Mayfair home.It was to commemorate Irving's book Hitler's War, and the swizzle sticks were tastefully decorated with swastikas. But the minister and war historian Clark later distinguished his views from those of the revisionist historian Irving. "Irving would have made peace in 1940 because he wanted us to be a German satellite. I would have made peace in 1941 because that would have saved the empire".

Clark was naturally delighted when some academic historians started echoing this hankering of some of Britain's upper class for what they believe might have been. But he seems to have remained a "lovable rogue", however unlovable and immoral he really was, for cthe most onservative and pious members of the Establishment.

Let Dominic Lawson continue:

'When Alan Clark died, in September 1999, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, led the tributes, saying: "We will all miss him". One MP had the courage to offer an honest view of his late colleague: David Heathcoat-Amory – who had the genuine article's ability to see through Clark's phoney imitation of the upper-class Englishman. Heathcoat-Amory told the BBC that "he wasn't a particularly nice man. He could be very cruel with colleagues. One incident that sticks in the mind was when we were having a whip-round for a colleague and he [a multi-millionaire] refused to chip in ... I also think he was very conscious of his own image and status, and his own reputation as a diarist."

That rang true. When the London Evening Standard began publishing some spoof Alan Clark diaries, he sued them for a considerable sum of money, although it must have been clear to any reader that these were nothing more than a form of humorous homage. Yet Clark, for all the witty demolitions of his colleagues in his diaries, took himself very seriously indeed – it was a source of great bitterness to him that neither Margaret Thatcher nor John Major could take at all seriously his insistence that he should be Foreign Secretary.

He made it to Minister of State for Trade, however, in which role he did something truly wicked. At the time, this country had an embargo against selling weaponry to Saddam Hussein. Clark did not agree with this policy, and so gave the nod and a wink to a company called Matrix Churchill to sell machine tools to Saddam, which he knew were for military use. This was against the law, so when HM Customs discovered the shipments, the Matrix Churchill executives were arrested. They protested that the then Trade Minister Clark had given them the all-clear; but when he was visited by the police, he lied and said that he had done no such thing.

So the executives went on trial – and would have received substantial prison sentences, were it not for the fact that the judge overturned so-called ministerial public interest immunity certificates, which had kept from the court documents revealing Clark's involvement. Clark, of course, had signed those certificates, and must have thought that this would end any chance of his lies being uncovered.

Immediately, the Matrix executives' lawyers put to Clark in the witness stand the incompatibility between his remarks to the police, and what was now being revealed. Clark drawled, "it's our old friend economical... with the actualité": in other words, he admitted that there had been a conspiracy between him and the Matrix Churchill executives to disguise the nature of the exports to Saddam. The trial collapsed – and Clark became an instant hero. It was felt that he had told the truth in the dock, and thus saved the defendants from unjust incarceration. The truth was that Clark had been content to see the men locked up on the basis of his perjurious evidence – for which he should have been prosecuted – and only came clean when the forced disclosure of documents he had connived in suppressing had put him on the spot.

It turned out that Clark had earlier explained his motives for clearing the exports to Saddam: "The interests of the West were well served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, the longer the better." He was indeed a notable historian of wars, one of his most acclaimed works being Barbarossa, an account of the Eastern Front in the Second World War. He was intent on proving Hitler's talent as a military leader, but over the years it became clear that there was more to it than mere technical admiration of Hitler the war strategist. In 1981 his diary records: "I told Frank Johnson that I was a Nazi; I really believed it to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished."

Johnson, who was then on the staff of The Times, gulps and tells Clark that he can't really mean it. Clark really did mean it. But even when he complains in his diary that Johnson "takes refuge in the convention that Alan-doesn't-really-mean-it", his readers continue to believe that this is all an uproarious joke. Yet, and this is to his credit as a diarist, he does not attempt to mislead his readers about his true opinions: at one point he records his thoughts of defecting to the National Front, and when two NF emissaries come to visit him he writes, "How good they were and how brave [those] who keep alive the tribal essence."'

While Clark was involved in the Matrix Churchill trial he was cited in a divorce case in South Africa. Not content with having an affair with Valerie Harkess, the wife of a judge, he seduced her two daughters to boost his tally. Clark's wife Jane remarked on what Clark had called "the coven" with the line: 'Well, what do you expect when you sleep with below stairs types?', and referred to her husband as an: 'S,H,one,T'.

Lawson writes:

"Again, the reading public seems to find Clark's frenzied extra-marital rutting merely amusing: or perhaps it is just that they appreciate his lack of hypocrisy in admitting all to his diary. They should consider what it was like to be in receipt of his unwanted attentions. Some years ago the (married) journalist Minette Marrin recorded her own experience of it. They had both been invited to a "political" dinner at a private house. He instantly pressed himself on her in a most unsubtle way, demanding that she leave their hosts, join him for a private dinner and then...

Marrin recalled: "He thought 'no' was a form of flirting ... When at last he came to believe that I was impervious to his charms and would not rush off with him into the night, he turned to me with a particularly vicious look. And this is what this self-styled gentleman, this intellectual, this flower of our civilisation, then said: "Well, fuck you then. Fuck off. I'm not talking to you any more."

I think it would be better if we heard no more about the "wonderful" Alan Clark.'

And that's that. Except to say that when Clark encouraged businessmen to supply hardware to Saddam Hussein, and advised them to "be economical with the actualite", just as when he approved arms sales to the Indonesian dictators, he was acting for his government. None of Clark's scrapes dissuaded Kensington and Chelsea Conservatives from deciding he was just the man for possibly the country's safest seat in 1997. Only a brain tumour removed him two years later. Clark's personal behaviour and prejudices had probably reflected far more of his class than even those praising him would care to acknowledge.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I might go to Philadelphia and find it closed

Library banner philly AN American friend used to tell us that the United States had the highest adult illiteracy rate of any industrialised country. He was trying to explain what progressive Americans like himself were up against. Seeing all those other Americans marching against public health care, and seeing the ignorant rubbish some of their politicians and opinion-formers get away with trotting out, I think I can see his point. Not that those who read tabloid trash, even without moving their lips, are better off for knowledge of the world than if they could not read.

Still, I would never generalise about such a big country, which has produced some great writers, and contains such a variety of people and places. My friend lived in California. I'd imagine things are different in, say, Philadelphia. The place was founded by Quakers, for godsake, and Benjamin Franklin was a citizen. Philadelphia boasts the Liberty Bell, symbolising its place in the American Revolution and the thought that went with it.

When WC Fields made his famous quip "Last week I went to Philadelphia, but it was closed", I imagine Philadelphians were proud of their reputation for missing frivolity, and enjoyed a laugh at their city with Fields - himself a native Philadelphian. But sadly, if anyone talks about Philadephia being "closed" in future it may not be a joke.

As my good friend, American columnist, Pennsylvanian and fellow blogger Sue Katz tells us:

'The entire Free Library system of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is closing as of October 2. No more books will be lent; no more after-school, ESL or myriad other programs will be held. Budget cuts are leading to the end of books for all those who are dependent on this noble free service. I have probably never used the word “noble” before (at least, not clean of irony), but for me libraries are key to democracy.

Without libraries, there is little chance for class mobility. With all its bullshit about America being a meritocracy, that all you need is to work hard (at least in the days when there were jobs), that the cream rises to the top, that you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, in fact we sit with France, Italy and the UK at the bottom of the class mobility list. (Denmark, Norway, Finland and Canada are at the top.)

Of course the Internet, you are saying, is the great leveler. That’s assuming that every kid has a computer. Those who don’t? They can use them at the library. In fact, they can learn to use a computer at the library. Librarians can help folks who don’t know where to start or how to continue. Let’s not forget that librarians were the one professional group who absolutely refused to go along with the Patriot Act demands to reveal info about their patrons.

The Philadelphia libraries that are closing do a lot more than lend books. They take books to groups in the community who can’t drop by the library very easily, like to senior centers and homebound individuals; there are programs for children and for job-seekers; they have the world's largest lending library of orchestral performance material; they have books in Braille, large print and recorded books.

A lot of people will be bitterly disappointed if Philadelphia goes through with this unthinkable deprivation. Even more people will find their lives becoming limited. Free libraries even out the playing field a bit, and with so many people affected by the greed of the bonus class, even a little bit is something.

I’ve been to a lot of libraries in a lot of places in the world, but I’ve never been to a Philly library. I hope that I’ll have that chance. The CEOs have received obscene rewards for taking us all down. They’re clearly feeling all stimulated, but for me, this blow is simply too, too much. Don’t lock up our books. Free the books!'

Read and enjoy Sue's article in full in her blog 'Consenting Adult'

I've not been to Philadelphia, or indeed the United States, yet, but rely on good American friends like Sue to keep me informed and fill the gaps that newspapers, TV and movies might leave in my knowledge.

On the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers' collapse which brought the other dominoes tumbling till they were shored up by the taxpayers, we are still seeing the repercussions both sides of the Atlantic. I'm concerned not just for what happens to ordinary Americans but because politicians here are proclaiming the need for cuts, and all too often we hear supposedly smart types telling us to follow American examples. Let's take warning.

Meanwhile, though I've no immediate plans to go to Philadelphia, I am planning to visit Jordans in Buckinghamshire in the near future. That's the last resting place of William Penn, founder of the US city of "brotherly love" and the state that bears his name. If I feel an earth tremor, I will know who is turning in his grave.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Who Cares? Hussein Cares!

AFTER the First World War it was called "shell shock", though it took time before it was recognised. As the charity Combat Stress, which was formed in May 1919 as the Ex-Servicemen's Welfare Society, reminds us:

"Those who suffered from mental breakdown during their Service life received little or no sympathy. Indeed, during the First World War, if it led to failure to obey orders, death by firing squad was always a possibility.

At the end of the War there were thousands of men returning from the front and from sea suffering from shell-shock. Many were confined in Mental War Hospitals under Martial Law – with the risk of being sent on, without appeal, to asylums."

Shot, shunned, or shoved in asylums. We can look back in anger, as well as horror, at the way society sent thousands to their deaths in that war, and the way it treated those returning wounded, whether physically or mentally. Today there is recognition, and provision...things have improved (though not for the civilians at the other end, who become statistics). Or have they?

In the tabloid press headlines, everyone in uniform is a "hero".On TV we see the returning regiment proudly march through town, or the respectful crowd in Wootton Bassett watching the flag draped coffins coming home. We are not shown so much of those who return with bodies or minds shattered. It makes me think of an episode in "Only Fools and Horses" when grand-dad is recalling how returning First World War wounded were taken out through a back exit of Waterloo Station so the public should not be too upset by the sight. "Homes Fit for Heroes, we was promised. What we got was heroes fit for homes".

My Dad thought that line was good. As a boy scout he'd run errands for some of those wounded, in his home town Nottingham. He went on to serve as a Regular himself, and in later life, he used to visit one of his old pals, in one of those homes.

Old granddad Trotter was talking about those with terrible physical injuries, of course, victims of shells and mustard gas. But as Hussein al-Alak told a meeting in Manchester University Students Union earlier this year, there are also those "whose wounds do not show", the victims of shell shock and what is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Hussein is an Iraqi, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars and chairman of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign, and he is concerned, as you might expect, for the many Iraqis whose suffering might go unrecognised, and certainly under-reported, here. He also works to draw attention to the plight of refugees, including many Palstinians, who have had to flee Iraq, and he is in touch with the Gaza Mental Health Project, working for those, particularly children, suffering effects of war and privation in Gaza under siege.

It was also Hussein al-Alak who asked me recently to go and see Iranians on hunger strike in Grosvenor Square over what was happening to Ashraf refugee camp in Iraq, and to give him a report for al Thawra , online journal of the Iraq Solidarity Campaign.

With all these calls on his concern, as well as worries about what is happening to his family and friends back in Iraq, it strikes me as all the more impressive that this Manchester-based Iraqi has found time and energy to work for a society that is mainly, if not exclusively, helping British ex-services personnel

In February he was talking to students, and in May, as reported by Combat Stress (a charity whose patron is the Prince of Wales, and whose trustees include military top brass,) he was arranging an event called "Tea by the Tigris": "Hussein Al-Alak of the Iraqi Solidarity Campaign held a coffee morning in his local hall in Manchester. The morning raised £100 and went a long way to help increase awareness and understanding of Combat Stress in the community. Many thanks to Hussein and everyone who was involved".

More recently Hussein sent out this report to friends on Facebook:

We had a great day at the Withington Hospital, when we did a stall for victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and over the space of a few hours, we handed out hundreds of leaflets for Combat Stress: The Veterans Mental Health Society.

During the day, we got to speak to doctors, nurses, patients and their families, with some people having little or no knowledge on the issue but on the most part, people drew on either theirs or a relatives experiences of living with PTSD.

Speaking to one woman, she described how as a child in London, the middle aged men who used to "roam the streets" and how some people would describe them as being "odd". She also described how some children used to call them names because their behaviour was eratic and that parents would encourage children to leave them alone.

"It was only when I got older that I began to appreciate that those who we thought were "odd", were actually Veterans still suffering from Shell Shock from the First World War and that their behaviour was not strange as a result of choice but a reaction to what had been experienced in the trenches of France."

Another woman also recalled a similar experience but growing up in the North of England, described the impact of the First World War and how she knew some men with missing limbs but also recounted the amount of women in the communities who remained "spinsters" and often wore clothing associated with mourning, as a consequence of husbands, fiance's, sons and brothers who had also been killed, with many of their bodies often remaining strewn in some battlefield.

One woman approached us and enquired about what we were doing and after explaining about the campaign for people with PTSD, stopped and looked at us. Tears welling up in her eyes, she said "I could have done with you a year ago!" She then went on to explain that her father had been a prisoner in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp and that he'd been severely tortured whilst he had been detained.

She briefly explained the impact this had on her family growing up but as her father had got older, how he'd developed dementia and that in the last year of his life, had ceased to recognise either his sons or daughters but had reverted back to being a prisoner of war in a Japanese Prison Camp and as a family in the twenty first century, how they had to contend with watching him relive the horrors experienced in the Second World War.

Such scenes were once described by Pat Barker in the book Another World, where in the last few months of his life, 101 year old Geordie began to recall his experiences of the fighting and losing his only brother in the Great War.

Barker also describes the flash backs, the struggle of Geordies family trying to contend with a truama which they have never experienced themselves and a trauma which many in the mental health services still state "we are not prepared" to deal with in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan, that when you look at the contradiction between our actions and reactions when dealing with War Trauma, it is safe to assume that until we take responsibility for the families and victims of PTSD, that Britain will indeed become another world.

Sadly, the latest news I have from Hussein is that someone has fraudulently accessed the charity bank account in Manchester in order to siphon off funds that were raised for unfortunate war casualties. Hopefully the bank will make good the losses, but it shows the kind of sick, callous bastards people like Hussein are up against.

I don't think Hussein al-Alak will get the kind of publicity accorded someone who commits crimes or creates provocations in the name of Islam. I don't think he is after personal publicity or making a career out of what he is doing. He is just a human being trying to do what he thinks is right by fellow-human beings. I don't expect those newspapers and columnists who lose no opportunity to calumnify any and every Muslim will find space to give Hussein al-Alak a mention. But I think he will be grateful if at least his friends understand. He is entitled to that. And that's why I thought I'd write something.


Further reading:

See also:

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Fash get a Harrow education

A BUNCH of bigots, bullies and assorted members of the Master Race are fuming this weekend over their humiliation at the hands of Muslim youth and anti-fascists in the London borough of Harrow. It was Friday, the Muslim sabbath, and the middle of Ramadan. In Harrow, as in mosques throughout Britain, an extra prayer had been ordered for the victims of the 9/11 attacks, regardless of religion. But for some anti-Muslim groups the anniversary of the terror attacks was seen as a good time to choose for a demonstration in Harrow against "Islamic extremism". Outside the mosque.

No matter that the Harrow mosque has no connection with "extremism", let alone with 9/11. A new mosque is still under construction next to what were plainly inadequate premises for the local Muslim community. For the anti-Muslim campaigners the mere sight of its minaret arising proudly over the neighbourhood is cause for outrage. They alleged the new building was being extended to include a sharia court, though both the mosque and the local authority which had given planning permission denied this.

The sharia matter is a phoney issue anyway. As with Jewish rabbinical courts, sharia courts in Britain can only deal with religious, family and commercial disputes among members of the faith concerned, and where both parties agree to submit to their judgement. They do not supersede the law of the land. It is true that women in both communities have their criticisms of religious authority. But neither are anxious to be "liberated" from patriarchal family values and tradition by a bunch of hooligans whose heroic traditions stem variously from the Chelsea Headhunters and Adolf Hitler.

The current season of clashes over Islam ostensibly began on March 10, with a peculiar demonstration by Muslims in Luton. Peculiar, in that it was not against some fresh atrocity or escalation of war in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, but against a homecoming parade by troops of the Royal Anglian Regiment. Peculiar also in that Luton has one of the largest Muslim communities in Britain, nearly 15 per cent of the town's population. Many have taken part in anti-war demonstrations and protests. But this time the demonstrators numbered eight, and even some of them had to be brought from out of town.. The leader was a former activist in al -Muhajiroun, already banned from the Luton mosque, as well as by the British government.

Without ignoring the behaviour of British or US troops in Iraq, or Afghanistan, the anti-war movement concentrates on attacking the policies of the governments which have sent them to these places, not on blaming the men and women for the orders they carry out. With a majority of the British public, including families of military personnel, against, or at very least questioning these policies, there is no reason to assume that people who turn out to show respect for the soldiers or relief at their return home, are in agreement with the wars. The pro-war media might like you to think that. But the eight young men in Muslim dress shouted abuse against the soldiers. The police let them provoke a response from the crowd, and the media gave the scene full prominence. At the risk of being called a conspiracy theorist I must admit to having wondered who wrote the script.

Next thing was an arson attack on Luton mosque, and then a number of anti-Muslim groups and individuals from the British National Party, together with known football hooligans, trying a march in Luton on Easter Monday, followed by a bigger one on May 24, when some turned to turned to attacking shops and cars. Next it was the turn of Birmingham.on July 4, when people were attacked in the street, and again on August 8, when the English Defence League, which operates with an outfit called United Casuals, tried to persuade interviewers it was not racist, not even anti-Muslim, only anti-"Islamic extremist", against those who were attacking "our troops" while a woman kept chanting "this is OUR country, we were born here". Again thire was trouble, with some of the Muslim youth unable to contain their anger.

There was some confusion about just who was planning the Harrow event, whether it was English Defence League, as many assumed, or a group called Stop Islamiification of Europe (SIOE), which seems to have been the case. SIOE too claims it is not fascist or racist, but just against mosques. "Islamophobia is common sense" was one slogan. A look at its website shows support for Serb nationalists over Kosova, and for Israel (thanks a million, or several). There also appear to be links between SIOE, EDL and other right-wing groups.
Anyway, having seen some of the internet publicity on sites like "Stormfront", as well as what happened in other places, people who gathered to oppose the Harrow demo had a fair idea what sort of characters to expect.

As it happened there was no anti-Muslim demo in Harrow.on Friday. From about 1pm, people thronging out of the mosque were joined by others coming to defend it, while acros the road a newly formed Harrow United Against Fascism set up stalls and distributed placards. Some shops were boarded up, as it turned out unnecessarily. Trades unionists from the PCS union, Watford Trades Union Council, and TGWU Unite came with banners and flags, students from Harrow college nnd local schools arrived, and by late afternoon the crowd had swelled across the road. Labour MP John McNulty came and spoke, and later speakers included Steve Hart from Unite, Nick Grant of the National Union of Teachers, and a Unite rep from local bus garages.

Meanwhile the youth were gaining confidence without losing any of the anger that had built up at the pereived threat to their mosque and community. The slightest glimpse of any suspected anti-Muslim demonstrators attempting to sneak up across the civic centre car park or down nearby side streets was enough to send them swarming across to attack. Police withdrew from the mosque area to form a cordon blocking the way to Harrow and Wealdstone station, where the fascists were supposed to be gathering. It was left to an imam and stewards from the mosque to part the waves in the dense crowd so three buses could get away.

By 7pm it was clear the anti-Muslims would have no march and they were the ones who would need defending. Stephen Gash of the SIOE was arrested for his own protection, and so were some skinheads who had been trying to reach the site from Harrow centre, unaware of the reception that awaited them. Some of the youth who had wanted to get at the fascists ended up throwing sticks and stones at riot police, and ten arrests were made.

Some anti-fascists discussing the campaign against Muslims assumed the British National Party (BNP) had something to do with it, recalling how the far-Right party used violent clashes in Oldham and other towns to boost its vote in the North. Certainly some BNP individuals, notably from Luton, are involved. Others suspect at the BNP's rivals on the far-Right, as well as members straining on the lead against Nick Griffin's turn to 'respectable' electoral politics. Labour's minister for communities John Denham has compared those involved to Mosley's blackshirts with their forays into Jewish areas in the 1930s. But Harrow MP McNulty says this is giving them too much significance.

Some people on yesterday's UAF stall would accept the reference to the Battle of Cable Street, in 1936, and mention how black people and anti-racists confronted the National Front in the battle of Lewisham, in 1977.
It has to be said that the rabble which the EDL and SIOE have organised hardly match Mosley's well-resourced pre-war fascists with their uniforms and military discipline. But nor are their "anti-terrorist" gambits entirely new. We can think back to the Napoleonic wars for the "throne and altar" mobs combining booze, patriotism and reactionary violence, or First World War attacks on anyone sounding German; or come forward to other campaigns attempting to brand entire communities by supposed association with "terrorism".

In the late 1940s the fascists tried to revive their movement by stirring up anti-Jewish feeling over the terrorist attacks on British forces in Palestine. They were not without success in some areas, though when they invaded the Hightown area of Manchester near where I grew up they had to be rescued by police, and some of them had to be taken to the Jewish Hospital. (I was four years old at the time, and only heard about these stirring events years later. I don't know if they have entered recorded history). Then in the 1980s the National Front made links with Ulster Loyalists, and fascists tried to turn football chants of "No surrender to the IRA" into organised gang attacks on Irish people in Kilburn.

The very appearance of chaos among today's far-Right groups, with alliances forming then coming apart, and
rival leaders whose line seems to depend who is listening, has its advantages for them. Those who concentrate on one issue - anti-Islam - can con members of other minorities, winning their support or at least weakening opposition. If the Muslim communities feel vulnerable, and youth feel isolated and turn to extremism, or blindly hit out, that suits those whose overall goal is to divide people. 'Respectable' right-wing leaders can disown those caught in provocations and violence, while still hoping to benefit from the atmosphere that is created.

For all that, though what happened in Harrow was not without its problems (some people may have been wrongly attacked, or frightened of attack), it was a good day. The 'fash' ( fascists) have had their Harrow education - and for those football hooligans who might have come looking for any excuse to cause mayhem, as for those tossers who tell themselves they are the Master Race, there can be little fun in seeing your leaders taken away for their own protection, needing it yourself, or simply having to give up your march, and plans for the evening.

For the youth who came to defend their mosque and community, there is not only the satisfaction that they won, but the realisation that they were not alone. Those who give it some thought may realise there is more to beating prejudice and hostile forces than one punch-up, and more to securing your future than controlling the street for one evening. Then hopefully, those trade union flags and banners, and people with political leaflets and papers, talking about working-class unity, may come to mind, and have some meaning.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 06, 2009

'Stolen Beauty' protest at Vienna UN

WOMEN IN BLACK (Vienna), are to hold a protest on Thursday morning outside the Vienna International Centre, which is the United Nations centre in the Austrian capital. Inspired by their sisters, the Women in Black in in Israel whose regular vigils against war and occupation have defied abuse, threats and violence, the Vienna women are focussing not on an international conference or visiting statesman, but a practical issue that hrought oppression in Palestine into the UN building itself.

A friend has sent me their leaflet, which says:


Don’t buy goods from stolen lands!

Boycott Ahava Dead Sea Cosmetics
sold in the VIC Commissary!

While acknowledging that there is a world-wide campaign to boycott Israeli goods while the occupation and denial of freedom to the Palestinns continues, the Women in Black cite specific grounds for not buying Ahava products, or having them on sale in the centre.

"Don’t let yourself be ‘soothed and smoothed’ by Ahava’s creams and cosmetics! Why? Because they are produced by a firm complicit in the theft of Palestinian land and livelihoods.

Ahava is an Israeli company with a factory and visitor centre in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement near the Dead Sea. This is one of the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

Since 1967 Israel has moved almost half a million settlers into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, flouting international law and dozens of United Nations Resolutions and forcing Palestinians off their land.

Ahava products are sold at its store in London and by a range of companies in shops around Great Britain and in other countries, including Austria.

Companies like Ahava profit from the Israeli occupation and Israel’s settlements, which are a major obstacle to a just and peaceful solution to the conflict.

As United Nations employees can you really go against the Resolutions of your organization? Therefore: boycott Ahava!

Support the call to ban illegal Israeli settlement produce!

Why does this matter to you as an ethical shopper?

Palestinian farmers have lost over 40% of the West Bank to illegal settlements.

Palestinian workers in the settlements are exploited and child labour is used.

Scarce water resources are often confiscated by Israel and used for the houses of settlers and their swimming pools and to irrigate settlement produce for export abroad whilst Palestinian farmers are losing their crops through lack of land and water.

Settlements harshly obstruct the daily lives of the Palestinian people. Movement is restricted through Apartheid system of separate roads, hundreds of checkpoints and the illegal Apartheid Wall. Palestinians face violence daily from armed settlers.

Palestinian producers face huge difficulties to reach export markets - and are even prevented to do so - while Israeli illegal settlement produce easily reaches its destination.

Palestinians in Gaza have suffered death, destruction and war crimes from Israeli attacks. They face humanitarian catastrophe; over 80% are dependent on food aid under the siege imposed by Israel.

Ahava fraudulently benefits from customs duty exemptions under the EU-Israel Trade Agreement – by labelling its settlement produce as coming from Israel.

This call for a ban on illegal settlement produce is part of a vast campaign to boycott all Israeli goods until Israel abides by international law and respects human rights.

That point about UN resolutions reminds me of the UN Conference of Non-Governmental Organisations concerned with Palestine, held in Vienna, which I attended some years ago. Among the people I met there for the first time were Israeli journalist Amira Hass, now well-known for her writing from the West Bank and Gaza, and film-maker Simone Bitton. The Israelis, who also included Knesset member Charlie Bitton, and Mordechai Vanunu's brother Meir whom I knew from London, were buoyed with optimism from a conference they had just attended with Palestinians in Toledo, Spain. This was before the official, and secret, talks in Oslo that have led to so much disappointment, and further bloodshed.

While at the UN centre I was also introduced to a gentleman from the Vienna Jewish press. I shook his hand, thinking it was nice that he was showing an interest in our efforts. I was soon disabused of that notion, as he fired a couple of hostile questions at me, for rhetorical effect rather than waiting for answers, about my willingness to meet with the PLO "terrorists". Then he proceeded to lecture me on Austrian antisemitism, Holocaust denial, and the iniquity of holding this conference in Vienna, so close to Mauthausen. Perhaps he had got the wrong conference, or perhaps he thought the UN should not be in Vienna, though so far as I know he has remained there himself, if only to smear my Austrian Jewish friends by bracketing them with antisemites.

In case this Zionist editor is about to rush into print again with evocations of the past (mention of boycotts often elicits a conditioned reflex), might I suggest a different one? It is of the holiday beaches in Nazi Germany which proudly announced themselves "judenrein" (free of Jews). It has some particular resonance in this case, as this report from the Independent a year ago tells:

Palestinians are being regularly and illegally barred from reaching Dead Sea beaches in the occupied West Bank, according to a Supreme Court petition filed by Israel's leading civil rights organisation.

The Association of Civil Rights (Acri) in Israel is challenging what it says is the frequently imposed ban by the military on Palestinians seeking to swim or relax at beaches in the northern Dead Sea. The salt-saturated sea is the only open water accessible to Palestinians from the otherwise landlocked West Bank.

The petition says that the Israeli military is using the Beit Ha'arava checkpoint on Route 90 – the only open access route in the occupied West Bank for travel to the Dead Sea – to turn back Palestinians, mainly but not exclusively on weekends and Jewish holidays.

Acri says that the ban is to appease Israeli settlers operating concessions along the Dead Sea's northern shore. They fear losing Jewish customers if there are large numbers of Arabs using the beaches in territory seized by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967.

A Palestinian bus driver, Mohammed Ahmed Nuaga'a, described how he was turned back by the military with a party of children, aged between six and 12, on a school trip from the Hebron district to the Dead Sea last month. The outing had been officially co-ordinated with the Palestinian Authority education ministry and included 10 teachers and 15 parents. He returned a few hours later in the hope that the soldiers would relent but they did not do so. "I tried to explain to them that these are young pupils who came from very far to fulfil a big dream – to see the sea," he said.

"But the soldiers were aggressive, and started shouting at us that Palestinian passage is forbidden, whether children or adults. The pupils begged the soldiers to let them go for even 10 minutes just to see the sea and return, but nothing happened."

In the petition a senior Acri lawyer, Limor Yehuda, says: "We are dealing here with travel bans and entry prohibitions to public places in occupied territory which are tainted with discrimination and characteristic of colonial regimes. We have here prohibitions preventing the protected population of the occupied territory from using its own resources, while the very same resources are put at the disposal and enjoyment of the citizens of the occupying power."

Dead Sea bath salts and cosmetics are among products which Palestinians themselves have tried to develop. But with Israeli roadblocks and restrictions on movement it is hard for them to develop anything. They are not even allowed to take their kids to Dead Sea beaches. No wonder Israeli peace groups like Gush Shalom and the women's peace coalition are themselves boycotting Ahava. The least the UN can do is follow them, and clean up its shop if it wants its resolutions to be taken seriously.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 03, 2009

It's that man again - Financial Times boost for Modi

RIGHT-WING Indian political leader Narendra Modi, whose invitation to a London business conference caused controversy earlier this year, looks like receiving a new boost to his career. The Financial Times group has decided to confer the 'FDI Asian Personality of the Year 2009’ on the Gujarat chief minister.

Modi began his rise to political power in the RSS, a youth movement whose founders admired Adolf Hitler, and which, contrary to India's secular and tolerant tradition, believes in a nationalism based on Hindu supremacy.

Modi and his BJP party took over government in Gujarat in 2001. The following year the west Indian state suffered some of the worst inter-communal violence India had seen since partition. Ostensibly in response to the death of Hindu pilgrims in a train fire blamed on Muslim rioters (it has since been put down to accident), mobs attacked Muslim shops and homes, and more than 1,000 people were killed (some rights orgaisation estimate there was twice that number). Witnesses said the pogromists seemed organised, led by men with lists of addresswes to go to. Police had orders not to interfere.

Some 5000 families of Internally Displaced Muslims, who fled the carnage, still live in rehabilitation colonies built by NGOs as they have not been allowed to return to the villages which bear the sign of the Hindu supremacy.

The BJP and its front organisations have spread their influence - and fund-raising - among Hindu communities abroad, by posing as cultural, religious and philanthropic efforts. At the same time, Modi toured in Britain and the US addressing rallies. But after his visit to the United States, unease among both Asian Americans and human rights organisations led to the US government revoking his visa the following year. He was cited for responsibility fer violations of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.

But this year, amid reports of big business backing for the BJP, with some of India's biggest industrialists singing the praises of Modi and his government in Gujarat, he was invited to attend a major investment conference at the Marriott hotel in Grosvenor Square, in May. There was talk of him being in line to be prime minister of India if the BJP did well in elections, and it was feared he would use the visit to London both to boost his standing here and obtain a new visa for the USA.

In the end the BJP did not do that well, and the London business conference was cancelled.

But now Narendra Modi is being given another chance to boost his ambitions thanks to the prestigious Financial Times.. For those of us who remember the old advert where someone was asked their opinion on some development and, not having he newspaper to inform them replied "No FT - no comment", it would seem the new slogan might be "thousands killed or injured by mob in name of religion?" "FT -no comment"

The FT Group, is part of Pearson PLC, a London headquartered media conglomerate. The current CEO is Marjorie Scardino, she serves on the board of MacArthur Foundation, which ironically gives out peace grants.

The award in question has been instituted by the FDI Magazine [glossy, 15,000 circulation], which is part of the FT Group. It is a fortnightly and focuses on the business of globalisation.

The panel which chose Modi include the editor at FDI Mag -- Courtney Fingar, e-mail Tel: +44 (0) 20 7775 6365].

Some people in India are also sending letters of protest to the British High Commissioner. ( Emailommissioner (Email: and send copies to or write to her directly.

There seems no harm in protesting to the Financial Times in London. There was a time when that business publication contained a nest of left-wing journalists. It used to be said that the capitalists themselves wanted to know what was happening in the world, so would leave the lies and right-wing propaganda to the tabloids for the deluded masses. But if the FT can turn a blind eye to the bloodshed that lies behind a man like Narendra Modi's political ambition then it has degenerated.

Meanwhile there is an international petition that anyone can sign online, and that's at:

Protest against Proposed 'FDI Asian Personality of the Year 2009' for Mr. Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat (India) Petition, hosted at

Labels: ,

It couldn't happen to a nicer company

NICE to be able to relay a bit of good news for a change, and it could not happen to a nicer company..
For some time now opponents of Zionist colonisation in Occupied Palestine have been particularly targeting the business of a wealthy diamond trader who expanded into the property game. This news item which friends have forwarded me, from the Alternative Information Centre in Jerusalem, suggests that targeting works.

Did Leviev's Empire Succumb to Boycott?
Dhir Hever, Alternative Information Center (AIC)

On 31 August 2009, Lev Leviev, the sixth richest Israeli according to Forbes
Magazine, convened a press conference and announced that his company Africa
Israel will be unable to meet its financial obligations and repay its debts
on time. Leviev's debt is estimated at nearly Euro 1.4 billion. While this
tycoon said in August 2008 that "I will meet all of my obligations, to the
last penny," he admitted in the latest press conference, one year later,
that he made serious investment mistakes.

Though Leviev originally made his fortune in the diamond industry, Africa
Israel is the flagship of his business empire. The company is well known for
its widespread real-estate investments, but also for the fact that it builds
in Israeli settlements, or colonies, in the West Bank. The company's
construction projects in areas such as Ma'ale Adumim, Har Homa, Adam and
Modi'in Ilit contribute to the ongoing efforts to dispossess Palestinians
from their lands, to expand illegal Jewish settlements, entrench Israeli
control, and place obstacles to ending the occupation and achieving peace
between the Palestinians and Israel.

As a result of these construction projects, Leviev's business empire came
under a massive and well-coordinated worldwide boycott campaign. Although it
is difficult to organize a consumer boycott on a real-estate company,
because that would amount to convincing people not to live in certain areas,
supporters of the Palestinian cause for justice and freedom found creative
ways to apply pressure on Africa Israel.

As the crimes of Africa Israel became infamous throughout the world,
international pressure on the company began to mount. Demonstrations took
place in New York City, including in front of Leviev's store on Madison
Avenue. Leviev's diamonds were shunned in Dubai, and UNICEF refused a
donation from him, saying "We are aware of the controversy surrounding Mr.
Leviev because of his reported involvement in construction work in the
occupied Palestinian territory." The UK embassy in Tel Aviv decided not to
buy its office from Africa Israel while on 23 August 2009, it was revealed
that Blackrock Inc., a large British investment firm, decided to divest from
Africa Israel. Eight days later, Leviev convened the press conference in
which he announced his inability to repay his debts.

You can read the article in full at:

The AIC author says this will bring cheer to the "brave people" who have campaigned for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli policies. I expect it will. But good cheer and bravery apart, and whatever the moral justification for boycott, I would say what this good news shows is that rather than over-generalised boycott calls (or worse, in-crowd repetition of "BDS"), directed vaguely against "Zionism", what works is campaigning focussed on specific issues which everyone can understand - occupation, the annexation wall, house demolitions, the siege of Gaza - and targeting companies or inititutions which can be shown to be directly involved. If you can appeal to the ordinary person's sense of what's right and wrong, you can also make investors nervous.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Is it Meme(the name of the game), or Me!, Me! (like the heroine of La Boheme)?

I've been tagged by Madame Miaow in a sort of game called political meme where you all answer a few questions about yourself then pass it on to someone else. That urbane guerrilla from exotic East Eight reckons ruefully that this kimd of exercise must help Special Branch, but way I see it, when you get to my age you can fill up their files and wear down their pencil stubs, and will to persist, by loading them with useless information. So here goes:

First political experience Difficult to say, and depends what you mean by 'political' and 'experience'. I did ask why some people had big houses, gardens and lots of money, and we didn't, and why the government did not tax the rich and give it to the poor to make us all sort pf 'middle class' , a phrase my Mam liked, but she advised me to be careful or people would call me a "Communist". That seemed strange because the "communists" in my Yankee war comics were bad guys, and there was a young guy in our street home on leave from fighting communists in Malaya, his pal had been killed, but he could not answer my questions as to why the troops were there. When we visted some friends of my parents whom they'd described as Communist I found these seemed nice people, they had lots of books and magazines, and though they were working people like my Mam and Dad, they seemed to know and understand all sorts of things, but were always friendly and jolly, not like the teachers at school.

I also remember a discussion in our house once, it might have concerned the "Doctors' Plot", or the fate of Soviet Yiddish writers, or the Prague trials, and the grown' ups were saying "How can you have antisemitism in a communist country?", and so on. Someone mentioned Marx, someone then mentioned Trotsky, and a Mr.Rosenfelt said "Ah, now Trotsky was a real communist!" Later when my friend Dave whose parents were in the CP was referring to "Four great leaders, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin", I asked about Trotsky. He said Trotsky had been a "traitor", though he could not say why. Mind you, he also said Tito was a traitor, and as I was reading keenly about the Yugoslav partisans then I wasn't having that! But we stayed friends.

First vote Well, I was taking part in votes in the youth movement, and so on, and in 1959 I also helped left-wing Labour MP Frank Allaun in his campaign, his vote went up though over the rest of the country, Labour did badly, but to be fair I think he would have done well even without my support. In those days you did not get the vote till you were 21, so the first general election I voted in was 1964. By then I was in London and had just been chucked out of the Labour Party as a Trot, for selling 'Keep Left' , but I still voted Labour, for Reg Freeson, one of the people who had chucked me out.

First demo: Not sure. Could have been CND or May Day, or might have been a Connolly Association march in Manchester over two guys called Mallon and Talbot who were facing a murder charge - in those days a hanging matter.

Last vote: European and London Mayoral, though I am not that fond of either institution. If I remember rightly I voted for No2EU, Yes to Democracy, though I'd wished it had a more positively socialist name and policy, and voted Labour, for Ken Livingstone as mayor though again, I'm not his greatest fan, but just hoping to keep the Tory Boris out.

Last political activity: See my previous blog. I was in Grosvenor Square with the Iranians, partly just to find out more, but partly also to give support. Whatever one makes of the Mujihaddeen-e Khalq, I don't like to think of a refugee camp being surrounded by troops and riot police, at the mercy of a regime which, let's face it, Britain and the US put in place. Something has to be said.
And now I must get on with another political activity, editing a members'bulletin for the Jewish Socialists' Group. This was by way of a break!

And not sure how you "tag" people, being old and technologically challenged, but I'll go for Jim

and Stroppy or Janine,

Incidentally, does anyone know whence this word "meme" comes, and is it supposed tobe pronounced like "Mame" (there is nothing you can name) as in the musical, or like Mimi, whose tiny hand was frozen in La Boheme?

Labels: , ,