Monday, August 30, 2010

The banker speaks his mind TURKISH and other "guest workers" were welcome to contribute to West German's "miracle", till some decided to stay. The German economy continued to absorb workers from many countries even after re-unification. But now as Europe struggles to recover from the bankers' crisis, top bank chief complains that "Muslims do not contribute to the economy".

Thilo Sarrazin next to the cover of this book

Abschaffen Sarrazin!

GERMAN central bank executive Thilo Sarrazin has delivered some of his thoughts on the desirability or otherwise of various minorities. In line with a certain tradition he has offered a supposedly scientific explanation for his prejudices.

"All Jews share a particular gene," Sarrazin said in an interview published on Sunday. "That makes them different from other peoples." Sarrazin was promoting his book Deutschland schafft sich ab ("Germany does away with itself"), apparently not inhibited by any thoughts about where such theories led Germany in the past, nor worried that controversy over his views might cut short his future on the board of the Bundesbank.

"The cultural peculiarities of the peoples is no myth, but determines the reality of Europe," Sarrazin told the newspapers Welt am Sonntag and Berliner Morgenpost.

It was not Sarrazin's first foray into racial cultural 'science'. He has said in the past that Muslims living in Germany do not contribute to the country's economic prosperity, only running fruit and vegetable stands.

Leaving aside what the banker has against people who sell fruit and veg, it seems he has forgotten the thousands of Turkish workers and others (including Bosnian Muslims) who contributed so much to Germany's industrial "miracle".

Many stayed, and settled in, their children speak German, but still face discrimination when jobs are short, and particularly in the east, racial attacks. There are Turks on German TV, and in the German football team along players of Tunisian, Nigerian and Bosnian background. But that's not enough (or too much) for the neo-Nazi skinheads, while for bank boss Sarrazin it's the fault of Muslim immigrants all over Europe that they are not integrating properly into the societies of their host countries.

And Thilo Sarrazin is, at the time we write, still a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD)!

A former Berlin Finance Minister, he has complained that the capital was not elitist, that it has too many poor, too many immigrants, and too much of a "leftist" mentality.,,4747455,00.html

As though to reassure critics that he is not just a throwback to past racist demagogues, Sarrazin has said he would prefer immigration "if it was by eastern European Jews with a 15-percent-higher IQ than the German population."

Perhaps he has forgotten that the Jewish population of eastern Europe was considerably depleted by the efforts of a past German regime, which began by deporting Polish Jewish immigrants?

But Jewish people have not, and nor are they unaware that antisemitism, particularly from persons of social standing, often begins with supposed tributes to Jewish "cleverness".

"Whoever tries to define Jews by their genetic makeup, even when it is superficially positive in tone, is in the grip of a race mania that Jews do not share," said Stephan Kramer, secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Kenat Kolat, the chairman of Germany's Turkish Federation, has called for Sarrazin to be removed from his post after his latest comments criticizing Muslims. "I am calling upon the government to begin a procedure to remove Thilo Sarrazin from the board of the central bank," Kolat told the daily newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau on Saturday, August 28.,,5951829,00.html

German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in on Sarrizin's comments in an interview on ARD television, saying his remarks were "completely unacceptable" and "run down entire groups of society."

Merkel added that she was sure Sarrizin's remarks would be discussed within the Bundesbank.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also responded to Sarrazin's latest comments. He said statements "that promote racism or anti-Semitism have no place in political discourse." There are fears among some German politicians and bank leaders too that the publicity given Sarrazin's views could adversely affect German's trade and foreign relations. Chancellor Angela Merkel has now urged the Bundesbank to remove Sarrazin.

While Sarrazin referred to the alleged unique genetics of social groups, he also claimed he was not racist. It was not ethnicity, he said, but rather the culture of Islam that kept Muslims immigrants from integrating into European societies. The SPD former minister claimed his views were not extreme or against the party line. Other parties, he said, would prefer to see immigrants kicked out of Germany, whereas he claimed to advocate integration.

Christian Gaebler of the SPD told news magazine Spiegel that if Sarrazin did not willingly leave the party, he and other members would "begin procedures to expel him from the party."

One wonders what kept them.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sins of the Father, and the forgetfulness of Monsieur Minc

SPRING BREEZE at the Winter Stadium. Paris 1942

NEVER thought I'd write anything in defence of the Pope. Especially not this pope, with his evidently soft spot for 'integrists' and reaction in general. But the Catholics' Holy Father has himself come under a reactionary attack, from an odd quarter, and it is one that deserves an answer.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy announced this month that his government was closing unauthorised Gypsy camps, which he claimed were centres of drugs, crime and prostitution, and was sending Roma back to Bulgaria and Romania. Hundreds of people are being flown back. So much for free movement of European Union citizens and the advantages for poor countries in eastern Europe of obtaining EU membership.

Incidentally, the Tory government in Britain is swinging its weight behind councils to shut down traveller sites and deny facilities, while the media have discovered that many Poles and other migrants who came here to work in the prosperous West are sleeping rough on the streets. I haven't checked whether the Beeb property programmes are still encouraging Brits to buy places in eastern Europe.

Anyway, Sarkozy was speaking at his first cabinet meeting after the summer break, amid growing questions over his leadership. Human rights organisations and of course Roma people themselves have criticised what is happening, and Sarkozy's political opponents accuse him of using the Roma immigrant issue to boost his flagging support.

The French government wants to cut public spending and debt, but is facing public resistance to its policies. Trade unions are warning of strike action against the move to attack pensions, and there could be a European general strike affecting France on September 29.

France already expelled 10,000 Roma last year, but this time it appears to be stepping up the operations, with over 100 "illegal" camps broken up and 635 people deported. Besides scapegoating the Roma for the country's social problems, the government is making sure people know about it. Immigration Minister Eric Besson said on Europe 1 radio last week that "around 950" Roma will have been repatriated by the end of this month.

Romania has questioned whether the repatriations comply with European law and the EU Commission has said it is concerned about them. From Bulgaria it is reported that the first batch of people to be flown back were not Roma, as expected, but ethnic Turks. The French government claims it is acting in accordance with European law by deporting people if they have not found work within a month.

The Pope, Benedict XVI, expressed his concern by urging, in French, that countries should "know how to accept legitimate human differences". The Catholic Church in France also condemned the mass deportations.

These criticisms were apparently too much for one of Sarkozy's top advisers, M.Alain Minc, who demanded to know by what right "This German pope" could speak as he did, in French? Minc told radio France Inter that by virtue of his nationality, the pope was "an inheriter" of the Third Reich. He considered the pope disqualified by "His insensitivity, as shown when he reinstated a revisionist bishop, his insensibility of the history, of which he is like all Germans an inheritor, not culpable but an inheritor",

Evidently Minc was referring to the Nazi Holocaust, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti gypsies in the Nazi death camps. But if the leader of millions of Catholics, and for that matter anyone else who is German, is considered an "inheritor" of the Nazi crimes, what should we say about other European nations who provided perpetrators, as well as victims, of genocide?

Let us consider a just-passed 70th anniversary. On 20 August 1941, French police conducted raids throughout the 11th District of Paris and arrested more than 4,000 Jews, mainly foreign or stateless Jews. French authorities interned these Jews in Drancy, marking its official opening. French police enclosed the barracks and courtyard with barbed-wire fencing and provided guards for the camp. Drancy fell under the command of the Gestapo Office of Jewish Affairs in France and German SS Captain Theodor Dannecker. Five subcamps of Drancy were located throughout Paris (three of which were the Austerlitz, Lévitan and Bassano camps)

On July 16, 1942 there took place Operation Spring Breeze, one of several aimed at reducing the Jewish population. More than 4,900 of the 13,152 victims of the mass arrest were sent directly to the camp at Drancy before their deportation to Auschwitz. Few survived. Children taken from their parents by the Vichy police often did not make it to the camps, being starved and ill-treated so they died without even leaving Paris.

Pétain and the Vichy regime willfully collaborated with the German occupation, and the police and the state Milice (militia) organized raids to capture Jews and others considered “undesirables” by the Germans in both the northern and southern zones. The collaborationist regime of Vichy France interned 30,000 Gypsies, many of whom were later deported to Dachau, Ravensbrück, Buchenwald, and other camps. About 16,000 French Gypsies died in the camps.

Other victims of French collaboration - apart from resistors of course - included refugee German communists, and Spanish Republicans, thousands of whom had been interned after Franco's victory, and were handed over to the Nazis when they arrived.

The Vichy regime was smashed with its German protectors, of course,. But by way of continuity, the Vel d'Hiver, winter stadium in which Jews had been rounded up for deportation was used again two decades later to hold Algerians, and the Vichy police chief turned Gaullist minister Maurice Papon gave the police their orders to kill Algerians.

On 16 July 1995, the President, Jacques Chirac, ruled it was time that France faced up to its past and he acknowledged the role that the state had played in the persecution of Jews and other victims of the German occupation. Three years later Maurice Papon was found guilty of crimes against humanity.

I would have thought that M.Alain Minc, whose original family name was Minkowski, did not need Chirac to remind him of these unpleasant pages of history. Nor will he need telling, as an economist, that while many French people suffered under the occupation, and from bombing, some did well from collaboration, from contracts for detention camps and other rackets, much more profitable than the petty crime and street begging of which the Roma are accused.

L'Oreal is a well-known brand name in the news lately, not for the first time. Here's an earlier report from Forbes business magazuine:

Paris-resident Edith Rosenfelder, 76, filed a $30 million criminal suit against L'Oréal and German insurance company Badischer Gemeinde Versicherungs-Verband (BGV) in Paris in 2001 and is still awaiting her day in court. According to the suit, the Rosenfelder home in Karlsruhe, Germany was illegally seized in 1938 by BGV, before the transport of Rosenfelder's parents to Auschwitz. (Her mother died there. Her father died in Geneva in 1945.) According to the complaint, in 1954, BGV sold the plot of land once housing the Rosenfelder family's Victorian estate (the house was bombed during the war) to Schueller--Bettencourt was 31 at the time--though he knew it had been confiscated from its Jewish owners. By that time, German restitution laws mandated that property seized from Jews during the Nazi era must be returned to their rightful owners.

In France it is commonly believed that Schueller had close ties to the Nazi regime. During the 1930s, he is said to have hosted meetings of La Cagoule, a fascist group with Nazi sympathies, at L'Oréal's headquarters on rue Royale in Paris. Schueller eventually transformed the Rosenfelder land into L'Oréal's German headquarters. The site also stood behind the Gestapo and La Cagoule's headquarters. In 1991, he sold the property for $3.8 million to a German governmental agency.

But the sins of the father did not stop L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt becoming France's richest woman, only to become centre of a legal tangle and scandal involving tax evasion and illegal political donations. Apparently it did not even deter Sarkozy's party from accepting 150,000 euros from this tainted source towards its election fund.

Perhaps Monsieur Minc, the President's economic adviser, who has had his own problems over intellectual property, was looking the other way.

Or perhaps he chooses when to to forgive and forget.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Snap! What united Jonathan and Roberta, divides David and Jonathan

YOU know how it is. There you are innocently sitting drink in hand near someone at a simcha, or waving your flag near them on a demonstration, when snap! Flash go the cameras, and before you know it tongues are wagging, suggesting you've got some sort of relationship. It happens to us celebrities all the time, and it has happened to Jonathan Hoffman.

There he was, in London's Covent Garden on August 14, the vice chairman of the Zionist Federation, waving his Israeli flag outside Ahava, which markets skincare and cosmetic products based on minerals harvested from the occupied Palestinian shore of the Dead Sea. There too, to help repel the pro-Palestinian boycott campaigners, was Roberta Moore, Brazilian-born, ex-Israeli supporter of the English Defence League (EDL), the same blue and white flag knotted tres chic round her neck.

Ms.Moore, a spokeswoman for the EDL's much-vaunted "Jewish division", says she used to support Rabbi Meir Kahane's far-right Kach party in Israel (so far to the right it was banned by the Israeli authorities, which takes some doing for a Zionist outfit). That started out in America, co-incidentally, as the "Jewish Defence League". Another interesting coincidence was that both Rabbi Kahane and black preacher Louis Farrakan were at one time FBI informers.

It looks like a very un-Jewish tattoo on her right tit, but then as Ms.Moore told a reporter from the Israeli paper Ha'aretz , she did not respect these religious rules. She had nothing against Muslims either, she explained, having once had a Muslim boyfriend, though he wasn't religious, " He drank and ate pork like everyone else". She has business friends from Iraq and Pakistan, but thinks Muslims "should go back to their own countries" - though not Brazilian-born Israelis, it seems.

As for the right tit next to her in the photograph, although it was not the first time the Zionist Federation and the EDL had found themselves together on a demonstration, Jonathan Hoffman insists there is no collusion, and has threatened to sue blogger Tony Greenstein for allegedly suggesting otherwise.

People who don't like Zionists and have it in for Mr.Hoffman are making much use of this photograph.
It could not happen to a nicer fella.

But Jonathan Hoffman has had an up and down relationship in his adventures with the media. When he staged a demo outside the Hackney Empire to protest the Skies Are Weeping concert (dedicated to Rachel Corrie), the BBC let him have the last word on it. After a story that he had been subject to anti-Jewish barracking during a meeting in SOAS, the BBC accepted complaints that this was not true, and withdrew the story (the Jewish Chronicle, whose editor Stephen Pollard seems to think highly of Jonathan Hoffman, let it run). When Mr.Hoffman was ejected from a meeting in the House of Commons after heckling Holocaust survivor Hajo Meyer two people 'phoned the BBC with the story, but it did not make it into the news. It was left to Hoffman to boast afterwards in his blog that he had "debated" Hajo Meyer, whose " knowledge of Jewish history and of antisemitism is poor".

It must be frustrating for a wise man like Hoffman facing such poorly informed opponents. Latest was Ha'aretz journalist Gideon Levy, an Israeli who lives in Israel and has been in the Occupied Palestinian territories, and written a book about the Gaza onslaught. Hoffman accused him of not knowing the facts.

Let it not be said that Jonathan does not admit when he is wrong, however. He has had to do so over the photograph above, which was as it happens taken by another Hoffman, one David. I don't suppose they are related, and I doubt they are friends, though David and Jonathan in the Bible were a watchword for loyal friendship. But it appears from this below that at least Jonathan Hoffman has started to learn he should treat people like David Hoffman with respect.

By Jonathan Hoffman
August 24, 2010

On my Jewish Chronicle blog I described a photograph taken on 14 August
2010 at the pro-Ahava demonstration as "fraudulent". I also wrote "That
photo was 'Photoshopped' -- and it is bloody obvious that it was
'Photoshopped' I do not discuss but I do identify lies and fraudulent
Photoshopped photos."

These statements were entirely without foundation and I had made no
attempt to check their accuracy. I accept that the photo was absolutely
genuine and had not been tampered with in any way. The photographer,
David Hoffman, is a well known and respected photojournalist and I
apologise to him unreservedly for my hasty and unfounded comments and
for the distress and embarrassment caused.


I would not normally make a song and dance over something like this, but I thought it would be nice and appropriate to round off here, courtesy of Billy Eckstine, with some words by Al Hoffman:

David Hoffman photo gallery:

More on Roberta Moore:

  • According to an East End Anarchist blog, some energetic EDL supporters from Croydon who had been to defend Ahava thought they would make up their day with a meeting in Essex before winding up with some leafletting in the East End. This last proved an ill-fated move and one of them wound up in hospital with head injuries, but "nothing serious". I'm sorry to hear that.
  • The EDL are threatening to invade Bradford on Sunday, August 29, although the police have banned all marches. A rally, We are Bradford, celebrating unity, will be held to oppose the racists and fascists.

    Assemble: 12 noon at Exchange Square, Drake Street, Bradford city centre, Saturday 28 August.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Now Bangladesh state turns on workers
KALPONA AKTER, of Bangladesh Centre for Labour Solidarity.
Former child worker in sweatshops, who has spoken abroad for Bangladesh workers.
Arrested on August 12 and still detained.

WAS the Bangladesh government's long-awaited decision to prosecute alleged 1971 war criminals a genuine response to public clamour for justice? A manouver to strengthen the ruling party against its opponents? Or a desperate move to divert attention before the state stamped down on militant workers?

At the end of last month the country's War Crimes Tribunal announced it had issued arrest warrants for four senior leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islam party, already in custody on other charges, whom it accuses of siding with Pakistan forces during the 1971 war for independence, when three million people were killed.

The news coincided with the announcement of a new increased minimum wage for garment workers, who had been waging militant strikes and demonstrations, and also came with moves to restore secular, democratic and 'socialist' elements in the republic's constitution.

But many workers said the promised increase still fell short of the living wage they needed, and vowed to continue their struggle. Bangladesh workers produce many of the garments on sale cheaply in High Street stores in Britain and other rich countries.

Now many trade unionists have had to go into hiding because of a police clampdown on militants. Unions say that at least 100 workers had been arrested since the strikes last month and 5,000 had been sacked. Police confirmed they had arrested 20 people, including four union leaders and seven women workers, in the past two weeks alone.

"Most of us are now on the run, living in fear as we are getting threats from the police," said Garment Workers Unity Forum president Mosherefa Mishu. Police have mounted nightly rampages through the slums which house the impoverished employees.

"At least 5,000 workers have been sacked for involvement in the protests. Hundreds are just leaving their jobs and going back to their villages," said Bangladesh Textile Garment Workers Federation president Mahbubur Rahman Ismail.

At least 12,000 workers face prosecution after police scoured images in the media to identify the protesters. They will face charges of violence, vandalism, arson and looting, with union leaders accused of inciting the workforce.

The vigorous police action against workers contrasts with the way employers have been able to ignore the law. A study by War on Want UK in co-operation with Bangladesh unions found that despite a 2006 labour law setting down an eight-hour working day, two thirds of garment workers were having to work up to twice those hours. The law was supposed to guard freedom of association, but workers who joined the union were harassed and bullied by managements. Women workers were worse-treated than men, and sacked if they asked for maternity leave.

Many workers have been struggling to manage on 1,662.50 taka (£15.29) monthly minimum wage, which the government agreed to put up to 3,000 taka (£27.59) a month, starting November. However many workers held out for their full claim of an immediate 5,000 taka (£45.99) minimum. Bangladesh workers make clothes for big Western companies like Tesco, H&M, Primart, Asda and Wal-Mart. But local employers say they fear rising costs - of fuel as well as wages - could lose the work to places which might be even cheaper. Since 2005 the international system of textiles quotas was abolished in favour of cut-throat open competition.

News report in Morning Star:

Report on Bangladesh garment industry from War on Want:

Bangladesh labour leaders fearing for safety, report from 'No Sweat'

Campaigners in Pittsburgh, USA, demand release of Kalpona Akter and other trade unionists.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

August 16, 1819 a date to remember

THIS unusual demonstration took place in Manchester, as part of efforts to make sure that events which took place there 191 years ago today are properly commemorated. I have taken it from a website dedicated to that purpose.

On August 16, 1819 people came from Manchester neighbourhoods and from surrounding towns, gathering on St.Peter's Fields, to hear speakers calling for political reform, to make Parliament less corrupt, and more representative of the people. They hoped this way that they could get something done about their poverty. The landlords' parliament had passed the Corn Laws, pricing bread itself out of reach of poor workers.

The weavers and labourers who produced this country's wealth had no vote.

The main speaker was to be Henry 'Orator' Hunt. The meeting had scarcely begun when the Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas Trafford, were ordered in to arrest speakers and disperse the crowd. These mounted volunteers were drawn from the propertied classes, fearing and hating the poor. With cutlasses and clubs they set about people, men, women or children alike. The hussars were sent in to assist them.

Eighteen people were killed, and hundreds injured, fleeing the bloody scene. As news spread of what happened the word 'Peterloo', was given to it, mocking the 'heroes' who had attacked unarmed civilians, by comparing them with the soldiers who gained victory at Waterloo, four years before the Manchester massacre.

Sympathies and opinion shifted to people seeking reform. The struggle went on. Some of their demands were realised in the 1832 Reform Act. A second Act in 1867 extended the vote to working men. But it was a century after Peterloo before Britain got universal suffrage. Poverty has not been ended. In fact with this government it is going to get drastically worse.

As a youngster in Manchester, I was told about the massacre by my parents, one day as we were in town, and paused in St.Peter's Square. Today I heard that singer Alun Parry was taking part in an anniversary event at the Britons' Protection pub. Must have been a tough choice for many when Man. U. were playing at home. Discussion of the commemorations brought this from a friend Kevin Parslow, a member like me of Unite: "My great-great-great-great grandfather, James Moorhouse of Stockport, was one of those arrested. He stood trial with Henry Hunt and others at York assizes and was acquitted".

Politicians and assorted charlatans commend us to be proud of our "heritage". They have even made a business out of it, while laying waste much else. So, it is good that we are remembering our real heritage, and making sure it passes on to future generations. It is the memory of men and women who were not afraid to take a stand for their rights, against the rich and powerful, and though cruelly attacked, did not give up. What rights and freedoms we have today we owe to past generations. We will need their strength and courage again as the ruling class tries to drive us back.

Teach the children well.

Contemporary artist George Cruikshank's suggestion for a monument:

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Iranian regime is not "anti-imperialist", it is is anti-working class and anti-humanity


AN Iranian woman appeared on TV last week and confessed to having conspired with an in-law to murder her husband. Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who was originally sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery, having been lashed 99 times to confess that, could now be hanged for the 2005 murder.
Sakineh, a 43 year old mother of two, who has been held on death row in Tabriz since 2006, also criticised her lawyer Mohammed Mostafaie for "interfering" with her case. "Why has he taken my case to the TV? Why has he disgraced me?"

Mr Mostafaie has fled Iran and is now seeking asylum in Norway.
Another of Ms Ashtiani's lawyers has said that she was tortured for two days in prison to force her to make her televised confession on Wednesday.

The TV confession came after an international outcry over the stoning threat. It may have been intended as reassuring the regime's conservative supporters, answering critics, and defying foreign governments. Following up President Obama's calling for stepped up sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme, and expressions of concern for three Americans held in Iran, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed fears for Sekina Ashtiani and also for an 18-year old Iranian facing a possible death sentence for homosexuality.

But Brazil, too, which is friendlier to Iran, had offered to give asylum to Sekina, only to be rebutted by the Iranian authorities.

Many people in Iran, including not least Sakineh's son and daughter, were horrified by what they saw on TV and the renewed death threat, and international human rights and women's organisations raised further protests. Amnesty International condemned the "so-called" confession and said the independence of Iran's judiciary was "tattered" by the broadcast. "This makes a complete mockery of the judiciary system in Iran," said Drewery Dyke of Amnesty's Iran team. "Iran is inventing crimes ... it is an unacceptable practice that flies in the face of justice."

What kind of regime retains such archaic laws and punishments as stoning to death for "adultery", subjects men and women to lashings, and executes young people for homosexuality? The Iranian regime is not unique in being reactionary and repressive, but while eager to embrace modern technology it is outstandingly barbaric. Having ridden to power on the backs of the revolution which overthrew the Shah, it poses as anti-imperialist and employs words like "revolutionary", but uses social backwardness and religious fanaticism to sustain its power and suppress the forces of progress, women, students and most important, the workers.

There were reports last month that Tehran busworkers' leader Mansour Osanloo was about to be released from prison. But instead, he was convicted of new crimes last week and as a result was once sentenced to an additional year in jail, all in the absence of his lawyers. This additional year in prison will begin once his current prison term ends in one year.

According to reports from Jaras, Mansour head of The Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, was sentenced last week in branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in the city of Karaj.

During his sentencing, Brother Osanloo was deprived of the presence of a lawyer and his lawyers were not even aware that he had been taken to court. Osanloo has suffered a number of ailments while in prison, including a heart condition,severe back pain and an eye condition. Under the existing laws, court appointed doctors have voted three times to release him from prison.

Additionally a report written by a medical commission consisting of five doctors who had examined Osanloo for several hours concluded that he should be freed based on his deteriorating medical condition.

The busworkers' leader has been incarcerated repeatedly over the past ten years. He was attacked in prison by a former policeman held on murder charges and believed to be acting as an informer.

Before the news came of his fresh conviction Mansour's wife had said: “They are seeking to build a new case based on false testimony from other prisoners, for example, to take testimony from witnesses who claim that Osanloo was creating problems in jail; this when Mr. Osanloo is a law abiding citizen. I know my husband well and I am certain that he is not interested in creating problems. I am sure that his behaviour in prison is no different. Unfortunately they are determined to build a case against him in order to keep him in prison for a longer period of time.”

Whatever the apparent tensions and conflict between Iran and the Western powers, which it suits the Ahmadinejad regime to maintain, the real struggle is between the regime and ordinary Iranians who want their democratic rights and a better life. The threat of war enables the regime to appeal to patriotic unity and crush dissent. The sanctions which America and its allies have hypocritically imposed - while supporting a nuclear-armed Israel and its occupation in Palestine - have actually weakened the Iranian opposition and strengthened Ahmedinejad's regime.

These articles bear out what the campaign Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) has been saying for some time. HOPI is for the defence of the Iranian people against imperialism and supports their struggle for their rights against the Islamicist regime. It has links with Iranian workers and socialists, abroad and within Iran.

Any confusion such as we have heard in parts of the anti-war movement and the Left, upholding the Iranian regime's supposed "anti-imperialist" credentials, received an answer this weekend from an interesting direction. Writing in the Morning Star, John Haylett says that notwithstanding its relations with other governments and movements standing up to US bullying, Ahmadinejad's regime is not anti-imperialist

Referring to the big democracy struggles which broke last year on to Iranian streets, he concludes:

"Solidarity cannot be withheld by trade unionists and other progressives in Britain simply because US imperialism opportunistically criticises Iran for practices it excuses or ignores in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Nor should revulsion against the vile punishments and repression visited on Iranians be misused to justify imperialist intervention, as the B52 liberals did with regard to Iraq.

As Tudeh Party of Iran general secretary Ali Khavari, the leader of the country's banned communists, makes clear, "Regime change from outside, such as occurred in Iraq, is neither possible nor acceptable by any means in Iran. Any foreign force that attempts such a dangerous provocation will burn its fingers, set the whole region on fire and seriously endanger world peace."

John Haylett is a long-standing Morning Star journalist and its political editor. He is an executive member of the Communist Party of Britain. Whatever our historic and present differences, I would find it hard to disagree with what he says here. I see no reason to.

Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception, is a former Morning Star journalist and also a member of the Communist Party of Britain executive. Does he disagree with John Haylett's position?

If not, and he agrees both with opposition to war on Iran and support for its working people's struggles, how can he justify his stubborn, adamant opposition to HOPI's request to affiliate with the Stop the War Coalition? At one time Murray claimed without a shred of evidence that HOPI was against everything that the Coalition stood for. More recently, when he had the opportunity to change this stance in the light of what we'd seen in Iran, he chose instead to triumphantly brandish a remark by one individual - not a HOPI statement or even made in a HOPI meeting - as 'proof' that HOPI was somehow out to infiltrate the Stop the War Coalition with hostile intent.

Why it should do so by asking for discussions, after openly applying for affiliation, when members could simply join the Coalition if we were not already members, who knows?

But the more important question most people will ask is, how does such bureaucratic exclusion of a group with whose stand you can't reasonably disagree, help the credibility of the Stop the War Coalition? Are there issues here that the Stop the War leadership would sooner not discuss? Or are we dealing with petty, trivial considerations, compared to the need to strengthen the anti-war movement and give solidarity to those struggling against inhumanity in Iran?

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Friday, August 13, 2010

Can Nasty Nick compete with Dirty Desmond ?

MY eye was caught by a newspaper headline the other day:. "Brit Kids Forced to Eat Halal School Dinners: Muslim Meals for Primary Tots of All Faiths".

Shock! Horror! The vision of five year-olds being force-fed Karahi Gosht was almost enough to make me forget that the fundamentalists in our government wanted to take away nursery kids' milk, following in Margaret Thatcher's tradition. Not that I'm suggesting that was the newspaper's intention, of course.

It was also almost enough to make me wish I was back at school.

But what was it about? Muslims, like Jews, are required by their religion to eat food that conforms to certain dietary rules. Pork is out, of course, and animals must be slaughtered the right way to be halal, or kosher. When I was at primary school we Jewish kids ate in a separate half of the canteen, if I remember rightly, though the meals were the same. Later, in Salford, we went to a central kosher canteen situated in the basement of the Rialto cinema. My favourites were the meat loaf, and the roly poly pudding.

In the London borough of Harrow, where many of the primary school children come from Muslim families, schools decided that, rather than go to the trouble and expense of separate ordering and facilities, they would write into the contracts that all meat supplied for their school meals is halal. It is no hardship for non-Muslim children, and the schools always have fish and vegetable alternatives anyway.

But it was front-page news for the Daily Express, and its sister paper the Daily Star. (Just as I suspect it would have been I suspect if they had been able to report "Muslims demand separate canteen). Once again we were seeing political-correctness-gone-mad, Muslims and foreigners imposing their ways (note that reference to "Brit kids" as supposed victims - you can't be a Muslim and a Brit, whatever that birth certificate or naturalisation paper says). It was a story of cruelty to animals too, even if parents going for a curry or kebab probably had not worried before about the meat being most likely halal.

Cue for stuff about animals being "bled to death", slowly, and in agony. The Express passage below is among the less sensational:

"Islamic law requires slaughter with a single cut of the throat while a religious verse is recited. The animal – which is not stunned beforehand – is left until all the blood drains out. Each year more than 114 million cows, goats and chickens are killed under halal rules in Britain. Halal is exempt from legislation requiring animals to be numbed before slaughter.

The Government’s Farm Animal Welfare Council found that animals could remain fully conscious for up to two minutes. It called for all animals to be stunned before slaughter.

Last night, parents in Harrow said they had not been consulted. Steve Hilton, a quality assurance technologist, said: 'I don’t mind people having dietary requirements as long as they don’t force it on someone else. I wouldn’t force a Muslim to eat pork'.

Very noble of you, Mr.Hilton. If there's any quality assured pork going you can send it my way, with or without apple sauce, though you can keep the crackling. But so far as I know, eating pork is not actually required in any religion, so there your analogy falls down. Still, I know it's not easy to be at your best when some newspaper wanting something snappy is on the line. And assuming you were accurately quoted.

This claim that animals are cruelly "bled to death", in agony, is one I've heard before about Jewish ritual slaughter, shechita. Defenders say it is not the case, if the throat is cut the correct way, because the carotid arteries are severed. The animal's brain is deprived of blood, and at the same time the jugular veins are severed, so the brain shuts down with total loss of consciousness. It takes two seconds, according to the experts. Whereas in ordinary slaughterhouse killings the beast that is supposedly stunned can scramble around in pain and terror for some time before it is finally killed.

I'm no expert, and I would not even know if there is any difference between shechita and halal methods of slaughter (both require the blood to be drained to remove possible impurities before the meat can be fit for consumption). Nor, I suspect do the reporters, and to judge from the comments they received, readers who condemn one condemn the other equally. There was already an anti-Shechita campaign being waged by some people, one suspects a mixture of animal-lovers and Jew-haters, and it has already been banned in some countries. The newer anti-Muslim, anti-Halal wind could lift the less fashionable older prejudice out of the doldrums. Which means that the owner of the Express and Star, Richard Clive Desmond, is venturing on to thin ice, assuming he is behind his newspapers in their crusade against Muslims.

Richard Desmond has come a long way since he left school young and got a job on classified ads with Thomson Newspapers. By the time he was 21 he owned two record shops. From there he was into publishing, and in 1983 his company obtained the license to publish Penthouse in the UK, thence moving on to produce such enlightening publications as Asian Babes, Horny Housewives, The Very Best of Mega Boobs, and Spunk Loving Sluts. He acquired once prestigious and ever patriotic Express Newspapers in 2000. When his company moved to Docklands the Princess Royal opened the offices (I don't know if she had ever made it into his magazines). When they moved to Northern and Shell Tower, Prince Philip performed the job.

"Dirty Desmond" , as Private Eye has had fun calling him, hails from a Jewish family. I don't know whether he keeps kosher or is religious, but he has apparently put enough of his money around to acquire respectability and status. In 2006 he was appointed head of the chidren's charity Norwood, though not everybody was happy or thought him suitable for the post. Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard once left the Express, and to celebrate his departure wrote an editorial in the Times in which the first letters of sentences spelt out FUCK YOU DESMOND. But since then it appears they have been reconciled.

Of course the Halal food story is just a small part of the daily diet of Islamophobia, xenophobia and stirring you get in newspapers like the Express and Star. Here was one front page last month:

It turned out to be the installation of two squattee type toilets, such as are favoured in many countries, in Rochdale Exchange, a business place that does not belong to the local council. They are not "Muslim-only" of course, and nor were they paid for by public money. But stick to the facts and you're left with a news item for Sanitation Review, hardly the stuff of front-page headlines.

Besides producing stories for the thickos and obsessives who might support the English Defence League (EDL) and its offshoots, the Express and the Daily Star have been given to accepting the EDL's claims that it is not violent or fascist (posed picture burning a Nazi flag), and to exagerrating the importance of little provocative Muslim groups whom the EDL claims to be fighting against.

'Making matters worse is the role played by the Daily Express and Daily Star. Both right-wing papers have happily given huge publicity to the antics of al-Muhajiroun, and just last week the Express ran a cover story with the headline "Now Muslims Demand Full Sharia Law", thereby very mischievously attributing the demands of a minuscule outfit to an entire faith group. The story improbably claimed that "up to 5000 extremists" would march in support of al-Muhajiroun's demands. Unsurprisingly, a Daily Express editorial denouncing Muslims because if you "give them an inch they will take a mile" was reproduced word for word by National Front News.'

As it was the demonstration which the Express anticipated might draw 5,000 did not even happen. The leader was poorly.

The accusation of a link has also come from the far Right, from an embittered Nick Griffin of the British National Party, who initially suspected the EDL was some kind of state-sponsored 'honey trap', but then changed his mind: “Spelling it out in simple terms, you look at the owners of the Daily Express, the Daily Star and their interests. The EDL is a neo-con operation. This is a Zionist false flag operation, designed to create a real clash of civilisations right here on our streets between Islam and the rest of us.”

This is rich! The EDL has proved an attraction for some of the BNP's activists, which may be why Griffin appears resentful. But the BNP itself under his leadership has gone from Holocaust revision to supporting Israel in its wars, if only to emphasise the anti-Muslim line, and sent its much-boasted Jewish councillor from Epping to mix with US neo-cons at a conference. Could be that Griffin was expressing sour grapes at support from over the Atlantic going to the rivals who have stolen his thunder, as well as the BNP's disappointing election results.

I think Griffin was probably nearer the truth the first time. That elements within the state may be co-ordinating the EDL, and not just the EDL but the provocateurs who served as pretext for its operations.

The EDL does wave Israeli flags and boast a Jewish wing now, and it can draw encouragement from the anti-Muslim bigotry which has erupted in the United States, to which some Jewish organisations appear to be sucking up. However this has not been repeated here. The Zionist Federation accepted the EDL demonstrating alongside it in support of the flotilla attack, but the more mainstream (albeit Mossad-linked) Community Security Trust advised Jews to have nothing to do with the EDL.

That leaves Desmond...

While he makes his mind up, his news papers are keeping up the anti-Muslim stories. But people are starting to get wise, and treating them with ridicule. Here's an Express story (though one shared by all the tabloids) analysed on the BBC Now show:

I loved the idea of that Belfast woman telling Black Country folk how to confront religious division and prudery! But this story amounted to Walsall council in the West Midlands replacing torn fabric on some windows at the swimming baths with some plastic sheeting instead. Hold the front page! Don't know what the 'Express' 's once-famous owner Lord Beaverbrook would have said. His papers were always in to flag-waving and the Empire, and readers may not mind being thought old-fashioned jingoists. But do they really want to be considered stupid?

We mustn't sneer. downmarket as his papers, particularly the Daily Star, may be, Dirty Desmond's Northern and Shell has taken over Channel Five television, adding it to Portland which owns 'adult' channel Television X, and pay-for-view pornography service Red Hot TV. Perhaps this unhappy marriage could give birth to a new classic series - Porn and Prejudice?

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Lords, Ladies and Lollards

Stones above lintel record it was given by Earl Derby, and when it was closed. But there's more to its history than that.
As on August 8, 1555...


UXBRIDGE, on the western edge of London, is part of the London borough of Hillingdon now, indeed has its civic centre, as well as the offices of several big companies. But in the shadow of modern office blocks and shopping malls there survive bits of the historic Middlesex town.

Having some time to fill in Uxbridge recently, I took a stroll down Windsor Street and had a look at the seemingly nondescript bit of land surrounded by busy traffic, and called Lynch Green.

There are still a few gravestones against the far wall to show this ground's former use. But what caught my interest first was the stone above the entrance archway informing us that "Henry, Earl of Derby, Lord of Stanley and Strange, Lord of Man and the Isles" had donated this bit of land or use as a graveyard in 1575.

There was a time when I only knew the Earl Derby as a pub on Kilburn High Road, apart from the 12th. earl's contribution to the horse racing calendar. But the 18th earl unwittingly stepped into my path about 1970, in a minor row at Lancaster, and that prompted me to read how his ancestor Lord Stanley withdrew support from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, and, so the story goes, spied the defeated king's crown under a gorse bush, and niftily extracted it and placed it on the head of Henry Tudor. And the rest is history.

In 1579 Alice Spencer -one of the Althorp Spencers, from whom Diana descended - married Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange, who subsequently became the fifth Earl of Derby. They had three daughters, Frances, Anne and Elizabeth. Her husband died suddenly, apparently poisoned, either because he had been suspected of a plot against the throne or because he had refused to participate in it. The Jesuits were suspected. Conspiracies affecting these families are not some new invention. Alice decided to leave Knowsley in Lancashire where they had been living, and moved to Harefield, where she is buried.

Uxbridge was growing, with its flour mills by the river and market. "The seventeenth century was marked by conflict. From 1630 to 1633 the townsfolk were in dispute with the Countess of Derby over the payment of market tolls. This was finally resolved and the occasion marked with a banquet. " (Hillingdon b.c. website) Before she died in 1637 , Lady Alice willed alms houses for six poor women of the parish, with a pound a year for repairs and a fiver a year for a curate to say prayers for them. You pass these on the way up from Uxbridge to Harefield.

But back in Uxbridge, Lynch Green had an association with death before it was handed over as a graveyard.
It was here on Lynch Green that three heretics were burned to death in 1555 Foxe's Book_of_Martyrs" tgives the names as John Denley, Robert Smith and Patrick Packingham", but other sources call the last one Patrick Rockingham. He was found guilty of denying the Trinity.

In the 14th century, a Yorkshireman called John Wycliffe had gone up to Oxford, where he was influenced by the empiricism of Roger Bacon and the logic of William of Occam. Wycliffe came to believe in the reailty of the material world, and in critical dialectic, and to preach against the superstition and corruption of the Church. He translated the Bible, believing that the more people who could read and understand it, the better.
"Even though there were a hundred popes and though every mendicant monk were a cardinal, they would be entitled to confidence only insofar as they accorded with the Bible."

As his preaching awakened people's ideas beyond learned circles, Wycliffe was blamed for the 1381 Peasants Revolt, though he did not approve of it, and he was denounced as a heretic, first by the Chancellor of Oxford University and then by the Archbishop of Canterbury. His followers were labelled "Lollards", meaning they mumbled their prayers, but actually they were claiming the right to say the Lord's Prayer and learn Bible passages in their own language, rather than trust the priest's mumbo-jumbo.

This movement - without any formal organisation though it was - became international. In the faraway country of Bohemia, after Jan Hus, master at Charles University had been burnt at the stake for heresy, it became a national revolt from 1419 – 1434, during which not just printing, as with Bibles, but that other great invention, gunpowder, was put to good use. Henceforth the privileged in their armour and castles were no
more guaranteed security than the Church was safe from criticism.

In the 16th century, Reformation in Germany brought on the peasant wars. In England, Kett's revolt in Norfolk, in 1549, though primarily a socio- economic struggle, was accompanied by demands relating to the Church and education. If a churchman was not up to scratch his congregation should be able to replace him, they said. Furthermore, they asked of the king, " We pray that every proprietary parson or vicar having a benefice of £10 or more by year shall either by themselves or by some other person teach poor men’s children of their parish the book called the cathakysme and the primer". A very modern movement.

The Lollards whom the bishops and authorities feared and persecuted in London, and in the Chilterns, in Amersham and Chesham, and Uxbridge, particularly during Queen Mary's Catholic reign, do not appear to have had any thoughts of armed revolt, or such like. Though often unschooled, craftsmen and apprentices, some unable to read, they tried to learn and study. A few might meet together, or pass on books to each other, or listen to an unapproved preacher. Watched by informers, and remembering the terrible fate of their fellows burnt at the stake in Amersham, in 1521, they depended on knowing whom they could trust, the 'justfast men", the "known men".

"The " known men " were largely poor and ignorant folk ; they shared in many of the faults and errors of the time ; but their faces were towards the light, and it was in their lowly homes, rather than in the palace or the cathedral, that the promise and the potency of the coming change really lay.

The Lollards of the Chiltern Hills
Glimpses of English Dissent in the Middle Ages
W. H. SUMMERS(1906)

And not just men, as we see from this testimony : "The poor fellow confessed that he had " learnt his doctrine " of Thomas Chase, and of Agnes Ashford, of Chesham, to whom he had paid seven visits before he could learn by heart a few verses of the fifth chapter of Matthew. His sister Marian testified that he had taught her the Paternoster, Ave,and Creed, in English, and that he had persuaded her for the last six years not to go on pilgrimages or worship images".

Pilgrimages and images were not just part of religious practice, they strengthened priestly authority, and they brought in money for the church, as the Lollards commented.

What money they had was to be put to better purpose: 'One John Sawcoat mentioned Richard Sanders as " ever defending them that were suspected to be known men," and as having "bought out his penance, and carried his badge in his purse." His wife Alice Sanders, according to another witness, gave Thomas Holmes a shilling to buy a book for her daughter, when he told her that a noble (6s. 8d.) would not suffice to buy it. Another time she had contributed 6d. towards the purchase of a book which cost no less than five marks (3 6s. 8d.) a glimpse, by the way,at the method by which expensive books were sometimes obtained'.Indeed, in those days these were considerable sums.

Though the Almighty might be all-seeing, his official representatives were not depending on him to see or to punish. "Thomas Holmes, ...horrified the townsfolk by the wholesale manner in which he now betrayed his brethren, and they came to the conclusion that he must be "a fee'd man of the Bishop." He named nearly sixty persons, not only in Amersham, and in the neighbouring villages, but in various parts
of Herts, Middlesex, and Oxfordshire'.

"Three victims suffered as near the Bucks borderder as the Lynch Green at Uxbridge John Denley and Robert Smith, on the 8th of August, 1555, and Patrick Packingham on the 28th of the same month".

'At last, in November, 1558, the Fiery Terror of the Marian persecution was brought to a close by the death of Mary on one day and of Pole on the next. Immediately on the accession of Elizabeth, a " Commission of Lollardy," which had been issued by Philip and Mary in 1556,was called on to give in its report, but it was only in order to stay further proceedings. Early in 1559 the acts against Lollardy were finally repealed; although, as we have seen, an oath against it continued to be taken by magistrates till 1625'.

It was not the end of religious persecution in England, though now the boot was on the opposite foot, for Catholic priests and the families who harboured them were seen -not without justification - as serving a hostile foreign power. But Elizabeth I enunciated the politique view when she said that she would not try to "open a window into men's heads" - outward conformity and loyalty to the monarch would suffice, and it was not till later that the authorities again became concerned over dissenters challenging the authority of the monarch's church.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Where a child pleads for his father, and a trip to the seaside is breaking the law

TWO "human interest" stories from the land some call "Holy" caught my eye this week, showing some very unholy -and inhuman - things happening, in the name of "Law"; and despite that, some decent people determined to affirm their humanity by a simple action, and not afraid of breaking the law in doing it.

First, is something which, unusually, mainstream TV appears to have picked up, the harrowing scene of a distressed five year-old boy protesting helplessly as armed soldiers drag away his father, arrested for the "crime" of "stealing" water. As a friend, Gila Svirsky comments, "From the landscape, this appears to be the area south of Hebron, where Israel has consistently refused to bring running water to Palestinian homes. Good thing the settlements nearby have swimming pools and irrigated lawns".

TV cameras have captured the distressing moment a five-year-old Palestinian boy sees his father arrested for stealing water. Khaled Jabari wails in torment and confusion as Israeli soldiers drag away his father Fadel in the West Bank district of Hebron. Walking barefoot, the youngster becomes ...

From citizens of Hebron to cave-dwelling Bedouin in the hills to the south, Palestinians in this area have been undergoing repeated harassment and terror from the Israeli army, the Border Guards, and the armed Zionist settlers whose goal appears to be making life impossible for them.

Angela Godfrey-Goldstein explains some of the background to this particular incident: "Atta Jaber and others there in the Beq'a Valley near Kiryat Arba recently had all their irrigation pipes torn out by the Civil Administration (IDF) and yet another water cistern totally demolished. No water for farmers in Area C from Israel, who control Area C (60% of the WB) and none from the PA because they have no authority there... so how the hell do Palestinian farmers farm? Not enough they lost a huge tranch of land to Road 60, which they're not allowed to use..."

Some people accuse the Palestinians of bringing up their children to be "terrorists". Not like the Israeli police who brought high school students to assist in last week's destruction of a Bedouin village in the Negev and mass eviction of families. A lesson in civics. I wonder what lesson they think the 200 Bedouin children left without shelter in the desert have taken? Or what 5-year old Khaled Jabari makes of seeing his father dragged away like that?

Our politicians, renewing arms export licences for Israel while still talking about "the peace process", ought to have that scene branded on their heads, or at least projected large on the walls of Parliament and Congress.

And now for something more uplifting, a happier tale, of what 'ordinary' people can do against awful reality:
"On Friday, July 23rd, a dozen Jewish women, a dozen Palestinian women, one baby, and three Palestinian children took a trip from the West Bank in six private cars. We crossed several checkpoints, drove to Israel’s coastal plain, and toured Tel-Aviv and Jaffa together. We ate in a restaurant, swam in the sea, and played on the beach. We ended our day in Jerusalem. Most of our Palestinian guests had never seen the sea. Most had not, in their entire lives, prayed at their sacred places: they looked upon them longingly from the heights of Mount Scopus.

"None of our guests had an entry permit from the Israeli authorities. We are announcing here publically that we deliberately violated the Law of Entry into Israel. We did this in the footsteps of Ilana Hammerman, after the state lodged a complaint against her with the Israeli police. She had written an article published in Ha’aretz on May 7th reporting on a similar excursion.

"We cannot assent to the legality of the Entry into Israel Law, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River while depriving Palestinians of this same right. They are not permitted free movement within the occupied territories nor are they allowed to enter the towns and cities across the green line, where their families, nation, and traditions are deeply rooted.

"They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to experience one of the most beautiful and moving days of our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if only for one day.

"We did not go with “terrorists” or enemies, but with human beings. The authorities separate us from these women with fences and roadblocks, laws and regulations, often claimed to protect our safety. In fact, the barriers are only designed to perpetuate mutual enmity and the control of Palestinian land seized illegally in contravention of international laws and the values of justice and humanity.

"It is not we who are violating the law: the State of Israel has been violating it for decades. It is not we—women with a democratic conscience—who have transgressed: the State of Israel is transgressing, spinning us all into the void.

"Henry David Thoreau, in his famous essay “Civil Disobedience” (1845) wrote:
"…when a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army."

"Listen to these words, see how aptly they describe our situation here and now —and do as we have done.

Signed (in alphabetical order): Annelien Kisch, Ramat Hasharon; Daphne Banai, Tel Aviv; Esti Tsal, Jaffa; Ilana Hammerman, Jerusalem; Irit Gal, Jerusalem; Klil Zisapel, Tel Aviv; Michal Pundak Sagie, Herzlia; Nitza Aminov, Jerusalem; Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, Tel Aviv; Roni Eilat, Kfar Sava; Ronit Marian-Kadishay, Ramat Hasharon; Ruti Kantor, Tel Aviv

Some of the women in the act of breaking the law.
When laws are unjust, they are made to be broken. When the state and government are inhuman, we can only affirm our humanity by acts of resistance.
As well as admiring the action these women took, maybe we can learn from them and apply the same attitude in other situations.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Exile and Heritage. A Kafkaesque tale for today

The State of Israel has laid legal claim to two cases of his unpublished documents, as part of its "cultural heritage".

Kafka's friend Max Brod was a Zionist, albeit one influenced by the ideas of Martin Buber, who favoured a bi-national state. Kafka himself, though interested in Yiddish culture and influenced by Jewish experience and outlook, gave it a universal perspective in his work, and was besides a member of a libertarian socialist group.

Were Kafka to come back today, I wonder what he might make of the Zionist state?

Perhaps he could write a successor to his novel The Castle, this time involving not a surveyor trying to reach the place of authority, but a Palestinian woman, Mrs. K(halid). being turned away from one Israeli roadblock to another, as she tries to reach a maternity hospital, only to end up giving birth by the road.

Or maybe he would give us a protagonist, Youssuf K., born in Jerusalem where his family has lived for generations, yet unable to acquire either a Palestinian or Israeli passport. His city has been unilaterally annexed by Israel. and he must depend on the Israeli authorities for permission to reside there or to travel, even to spend time with relatives in the occupied West Bank should he hope to return.

Our hero meets and marries a young German woman, and moves to Berlin with her so that she can continue her studies there. They have a daughter, Zainab, and a few months later Youssuf returns to Jerusalem and tries to register their marriage.

But the Israeli Home Office refuses to allow this, arguing that Youssuf K. now lives abroad and has therefore lost his right to reside in Jerusalem. They quote legislation that removes the residential rights of Palestinians after an absence of seven years, although he had only left Jerusalem eighteen months previously. They do issue him with a travel permit, albeit only valid until May 2011, and only on condition that he then return to Jerusalem for a minimum period of one and a half years.

When his daughter Zaynab was born, Mr. K requested the Israeli Embassy in Berlin to enter her name on his documents. But this has been turned down on the grounds that her mother was German.

This refusal to register either his wife or daughter leaves Youssuf K. with an impossible dilemna. He can leave his family to return to Jerusalem, so as not to lose his residency rights, or stay with them and forfeit his rights. Because the Israeli authorities refuse to register either his marriage to Wiebke or the birth of their daughter, which would be legal requirements for them to reside in Jerusalem, but at the same time refuse to renew his permit unless he returns to Jerusalem, they deny residency to his family but force it on him.

What happens in the end?

We don't yet know.

Because this is not an imagined story for a novel, but a true one.

It concerns a real person, called Firas Maraghy, his wife Wiebke, and their little daughter Zainab. Firas is due to return to Jerusalem in May next year, but unless the Israeli authorities and the ambassador in Berlin relent, this means he would have to leave his family.

That is why, at the time we write, Firas Maraghy has been on hunger strike for over a week, outside the Israeli embassy in Berlin.

He is demanding the right to return to his home in Jerusalem with his wife and daughter. A right that is surely in accord with international law, and would be expected of any civilised, let alone supposedly "democratic" country?

A Jewish group in Berlin, Juedsiche Stimme fuer gerechten Frieden in Nahost (Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East), the German section of European Jews for a Just Peace - EJJP, has launched an international petition online to the ambassador, Mr.Ben Ze'ev.

I would urge you to read and sign this. If you are adding a message, stick to the point, and don't say anything offensive, but show you are taking this case seriously. Imagine if it was happening to you or one of your friends or family.

"For ye were strangers in Egypt. And you know what is in the heart of a stranger".

Franz Kafka never lived to finish The Castle, dying of starvation after a final bout of tubercolosis. In one ending he discussed with Max Brod, K., the book's protagonist, would continue to reside and die in the village; the castle notifying him on his death bed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there"

Let us help try to see that Firas Maraghy's story has a happier ending.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Crumbling Foundations, Missing Billions

AT a time when Iraq’s farmers are struggling over irrigation water, and people in the towns suffering power cuts and shortages, the country's largest dam is less than half full. Officials blame poor maintenance, and crumbling foundations. If the dam fails cities could be threatened with flooding.

Iraq's treasury is also light, to the tune of over $9 billion, and they say the US military and its contractors were last to see the missing billions.

Here's a report on the dam:

Iraq’s largest dam loses 60% of its water reserves

By Khayoun Saleh

Azzaman, July 26, 2010

The Mosul Dam, Iraq largest water reservoir, suffers from serious erosion of its foundations, according to a senor Electricity Ministry official. The dam, which used to hold 11 billion cubic meters of water, is less than half fall, said Musaeb al-Mudaress, the ministry’s information officer.

Mudaress made the remarks as he tried to explain to local reporters the reasons for the slump in power supplies and the worsening conditions of the national grid. The dam, which in terms of capacity is the fourth largest in the Middle East, suffers from neglect and lack of maintenance and repairs.

"The Mosul dam cannot be filled with more than 40% of its capacity" of 11 billion cubic meters of water, Mudaress said. Its hydro-electricity power plants used to produce around 320 megawatts, enough to feed the northern city of Mosul, home to nearly 2 million people.

But as the dam’s storage capacity has declined so has its power generating potential, according to Mudaress.

Today, the dame produces less than 100 megawatts and the output is erratic. The drastic decline in reserves is catastrophic to Iraqi agriculture since the water reserves were essential to farmers cultivating land on both sides of the River Tigris that bisects the country from north to south.

The dam’s plummeting reserves are not due to lowering water levels from the Tigris which originates in Turkey. They are necessary to preserve its shaky foundations and prevent its failure which is bound to inundate major cities including Mosul and Baghdad if it bursts at full capacity.
family:'Times New Roman';font-size:100%;" >ttp://\2010-07-25\kurd.htm

Meanwhile billions of dollars meant for reconstructing Iraq have gone missing, with fingers pointing out to the US Department of Defence, reports al Jazeera. .

"According to a newly released audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Pentagon was entrusted with $9.1bn after the fall of Baghdad - money that came from the sale of Iraqi oil and gas.

Out of this, nearly 95 per cent, around $8.7bn, has not been properly accounted for.

Subsequently, most of it has been at least partially tracked. However, the military failed to produce any records whatsoever for $2.6bn.

In addition, the US military continues to hold over $34mn, which it was supposed to return to the Iraqi government in 2007.

The Pentagon has blamed poor record-keeping and lax oversight. They have pledged to undergo what they call a process of archival accounting to track missing funds.

Iraqi officials say they know nothing about the missing billions".

And the Guardian takes up the story:

The US department of defence has called in forensic accountants to help track $8.1bn (£5.2bn) of $9.1bn in Iraq's oil revenue entrusted to it after the fall of Baghdad, following an official audit that revealed the money was missing. The funds were to be used for spending on reconstruction during 2004-07, a period when Iraq was under weak transitional rule.

The report was issued today by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which had previously criticised poor book-keeping by senior officials throughout the last seven years.

Iraqi officials said they knew nothing about the missing billions and had no means to find where they had been spent. "We will speak to the oil ministry finance committee tomorrow about this," said a spokesman for Iraq's oil minister.

The revelation was made against a backdrop of limited services nationwide made worse by a summer that has seen demand for electricity well exceed Iraq's meagre means to supply it through weeks of staggering heat.

The reconstruction of Iraq's worn-out infrastructure was to be a central plank of the US military's achievement. However, as combat forces steadily withdraw from the country to meet a 31 August deadline of only 50,000 troops remaining – mostly engineers and trainers – Iraqis are pointing to a dearth of the services that they were promised.

The Pentagon pledged to undergo a process of "archival accounting" to track missing funds, some of which is thought to be a result of shoddy book-keeping. However, the audit could not find any documentation to substantiate how the Pentagon spent $2.6bn. An additional $53bn has been allocated by Congress to rebuilding Iraq and the audit committee is examining whether those funds can be accounted for.

"I will need a lot of convincing," said Adnan Makhoul, a businessman from the Baghdad suburb of Karrada. "In fact I will never believe it, look around and tell me how any money has been spent."

Yunadim Kenna, a member of the Iraqi parliament's economic committee, said the massive shortfall had its roots in the heady early days after the fall of Saddam Hussein when billions of dollars of reconstruction contracts were handed out by the-then Coalition Provisional Authority.

"In the beginning, the contracts were huge, especially with the American companies and local mediators. It was not supervised well and it was very clear there was massive corruption, especially in projects related to the oil, defence and interior ministries.

"The Americans were spending wildly in the early days. We didn't know what on and there was no documentation. But after 2008, things became more organised."

If the war was fought for control of oil, there is violence now in the aftermath because farmers are competing for water.

Urban drinking water supplies are sometimes polluted.

Meanwhile, Iraq's electricity supply industry has still to recover from years of sanctions and war. In the capital, Baghdad, the electricity was only on five hours a day last month, according to a report today in the New York Times, which also describes people stealing electricity by illegally attaching cables to power lines.

"Iraq’s electricity problem is, of course, older than its still-uncertain embrace of a new form of government. Before Mr. Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait 20 years ago this month, Iraq had the capacity to produce 9,295 megawatts of power. By 2003, after American bombings and years of international sanctions, it was half that.

"The shortages since have hobbled economic development and disrupted almost every aspect of daily life. They have transformed cities. Rumbling generators outside homes and other buildings — previously non-existent — and thickets of wires as dense as a jungle canopy have become as much a part of Iraq’s cityscapes as blast walls and checkpoints.

"Most of the generators are privately operated, and the cost — roughly $7 per ampere — has for ordinary Iraqis become too exorbitant to power anything more than a light and a television.

“I’ve never seen good electricity from the day I was born,” said Abbas Riyadh, 22, a barber in Sadr City, the impoverished Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. As he spoke, as if on cue, the lights went out.

Billions of Dollars Later

"The United States has spent $5 billion on electrical projects alone, nearly 10 percent of the $53 billion it has devoted to rebuilding Iraq, second only to what it has spent on rebuilding Iraq’s security forces. It has had some effect, but there have also been inefficiency and corruption, as there have been in projects to rebuild schools, water and sewerage systems, roads and ports.

"The special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, Stuart W. Bowen Jr., said that one quarter of 54 reconstruction projects his office had investigated — including those providing electricity and other basic services — had not been completed or carried on by the Iraqis they were built for.

"The United States is now winding such projects down, leaving some unfinished and others, already in disrepair, in the hands of national and provincial governments that so far seem unwilling or unable to maintain and operate them adequately".

Lenin once tried to sum up socialism roughly as rule by the soviets plus electrification of the whole land. It would seem that for Iraqis, at least, imperialist-delivered "democracy" means corrupt government, consumerism for those who can afford it, but lack of basics such as clean water and electricity supplies.

"Iraq’s electrical grid remains a patchwork of old power plants and new, supplemented with makeshift and inadequate solutions. Iraq now imports 700 megawatts from Iran. When temperatures soared this summer, it paid for two electricity-generating ships from Turkey to dock near Basra, one of the most badly affected cities, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"The country’s transmission and distribution networks are aging and mismanaged by a bureaucracy as sclerotic as it was in Mr. Hussein’s era.

"The entire system is hampered by poor planning and by inter-agency rivalries that, for example, delay fuel to power plants; by a lack of conservation; by continuing terrorist attacks on electrical towers, including four in the last half of July in Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala Provinces.

"Corruption — which the special inspector general’s office called “Iraq’s ‘second insurgency’ ” in a report released on Friday — is pervasive. Mr. Farhan, the shop owner, said his landlord had bribed Ministry of Electricity workers to install the pirated cables three years ago. “He couldn’t just connect the cables himself,” he noted.

We might wonder whether there is any connection between the problems of electricity supply and the recent raids on the electricity workers' trade union. The workers might be able to take an overview of the industry and organise it for their people's needs, without favouritism, foreign bank accounts, or corruption. But in Iraq as in any other country, there are limits to bourgeois democracy

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