Saturday, December 31, 2011

Continuity Man American film maker Michael Moore is no mere "trendy" media type trying to keep up with the fashion of the day. He may be light as theoreticians go, and I'm not nominating him as a wonderrebbe or guru, as though I believed in such things. But giving credit where due, Mr.Moore has uncovered an important thread of continuity leading up behind the anti-capitalist "Occupy" movement, whether or not participants are aware of it.

"On this day, December 30th, in 1936 -- 75 years ago today -- hundreds of workers at the General Motors factories in Flint, Michigan, took over the facilities and occupied them for 44 days. My uncle was one of them.

"The workers couldn't take the abuse from the corporation any longer. Their working conditions, the slave wages, no vacation, no health care, no overtime -- it was do as you're told or get tossed onto the curb.

"So on the day before New Year's Eve, emboldened by the recent re-election of Franklin Roosevelt, they sat down on the job and refused to leave.

"They began their Occupation in the dead of winter. GM cut off the heat and water to the buildings. The police tried to raid the factories several times, to no avail. Even the National Guard was called in.

"But the workers held their ground, and after 44 days, the corporation gave in and recognized the UAW as the representative of the workers. It was a monumental historical moment as no other major company had ever been brought to its knees by their employees. Workers were given a raise to a dollar an hour -- and successful strikes and occupations spread like wildfire across the country. Finally, the working class would be able to do things like own their own homes, send their children to college, have time off and see a doctor without having to worry about paying. In Flint, Michigan, on this day in 1936, the middle class was born.

"But 75 years later, the owners and elites have regained all power and control. I can think of no better way for us to honor the original Occupiers than by all of us participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement in whatever form that takes in each of our towns. We need direct action all winter long if we are to prevail. You can start your own Occupy group in your neighborhood or school or with just your friends. Speak out against economic injustice at every chance you get. Stop the bank from evicting the family down the block. Move your checking and credit card to a community bank or credit union. Place a sign in your yard -- and get your neighbors to do it also -- that says, "WE ARE THE 99%."

"Do something, anything, but don't remain silent. Not now. This is the moment. It won't come again. 75 years ago today, in Flint, Michigan, the people said they'd had enough and occupied the factories until they won. What is stopping us now? The rich have one plan: bleed everyone dry. Can anyone, in good conscience, be a bystander to this?

"My uncle wasn't, and because of what he and others did, I got to grow up without having to worry about a roof over my head or medical bills or a decent life. And all that was provided by my dad who built spark plugs on a GM assembly line.

"Let's each of us double our efforts to raise a ruckus, Occupy Everywhere, and get creative as we throw a major nonviolent wrench into this system of Greed. Let's make the politicians running for office in 2012 quake in their boots if they refuse to tax the rich, regulate Wall Street and do whatever we the people tell them to do".

Leave aside Michael Moore's adoption of the all too common confusion around between working and "middle class", which has the danger that it erects a false barrier between those workers still with jobs and skills in demand and the poor and unemployed. Moore's vision also limits itself to the possibility of restoring and defending the relative prosperity gained by sections of working people in heyday of boom and American industrial power.

But at least he reminds us that these gains were made in struggle and did not 'trickle down' from the generosity of the business tycoons and bosses, or the super rich. Evoking the struggles of the 1930s is also a healthy inoculation against the snake-oil salesmen, conspiracy theorists and middle class dumbwits who have been telling eeach other the system was fine until some wicked individuals spoilt it, and have remembered how Henry Ford once spoke ill about bankers, forgetting he also ordered gangsters and guns be used against workers.

Moore is wrong to think the big auto sit-downs of 1936 were the first time such things had happened, even in America, and they certainly were not confined there. In 1920, Italian workers occupied the big plants of Turin, though as one observer noted, while they had raised the red flag over the factories, the tricolore still flew over the barracks and police stations. We know which won, as a former "Socialist" backed by capitalists, landowners and the bankers JP Morgan arranged the "march on Rome" of his blackshirts.

But if the embers of working class resistance had been stamped underfoot with the rise of fascism they burst into flame again in 1943, in the factories of Turin as well as in the partisan movement, which was to leave il Duce dangling.

Between the wars sit-downs and occupations had taken various forms and places, from Italy to Poland, even Hungary under a semi-fascist regime, and often involving miners staying underground. In 1934 there was a major staydown strike at Terbovlye, in Slovenia. It may have been miners from Yugoslavia who brought that weapon with them to the anthracite mines in America.

In 1935 about 70 miners stayed down and on strike at Nine Mile Point colliery in South Wales. It was not to be the last time miners in Britain took such action.

In 1936, strikers at Le Havre in Normandy occupied to prevent a lock-out, and their action spread right across France, involving big factories like Renault and the steel plants. It ended with workers winning gains from employers and government, not just national pay agreements but for the first time, holidays with pay and other benefits.

In both France and the United States the sit-down strikes boosted organisation and confidence in the working class, as well as securing immediate gains, and as Leon Trotsky pointed out, they did something more:

Sit-down strikes, the latest expression of this kind of initiative, go beyond the limits of "normal" capitalist procedure. Independently of the demands of the strikers, the temporary seizure of factories deals a blow to the idol, capitalist property. Every sit-down strike poses in a practical manner the question of who is boss of the factory: the capitalist or the workers?

Transitional Programme of the Fourth International

Of course posing the question is not delivering an answer. In the 1970s there were several places in Britain, the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders being most famous, where workers fighting sackings and closure took over the workplace, and while perpectives varied they posed other questions, like how the workplace relates to society, the state and finance.

More recently we have had the occupations at Vestas in the Isle of Wight, and Visteon in Belfast and London. Both raised interest much wider than among "the usual suspects", and neither waited for supposed leaders from the TUC or Labour Party to initiate them. The Vestas strikers, defending wind turbine jobs, gained support from climate camp activists.

Though the main struggle here is currently over cuts and pensions, it is clearly related to who should pay for the capitalists' crisis, and could raise the issues of who is boss, and who owns what, in new ways.

The Occupy movement has sprung up outside the conventional organised labour movement, but if anti-capitalism is to mean anything positive it needs the working class as a political force, and for that the working class needs its memory. Whatever Michael Moore's political limits, we should welcome anyone, particularly with his creative skills, who is bringing out the connections.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

And yet, still it moves!

SPRING scene from Regueb, 'the land of free people', Tunisia. (photo by Fawzi Chihaoui)

AS the year draws to a close the enemies of the Arab peoples may be assuring themselves that the "Arab Spring' is all over bar the shooting, as reaction clamps down brutally in Egypt, while Islamic parties there and in Tunisa taste the fruits of others struggle and sacrifice. The Saudis have shown willing to put all that Western hardware to use in Bahrain.

In Libya the new regime brought forth by NATO help has promised sharia law, and a "freedom" that could make people nostalgic for the tyrrany of Gaddafi. There, as in Iraq after western "liberation", the oil companies are not the only ones taking advantage of opportunities. Al Qaida is reportedly moving into new quarters nearer Europe, and anyone who believed the imperialist guff about "winning the war on terror" may yet wonder why outfits like MI6 and the CIA are called "intelligence" services.

It is too soon to call what is going to happen in Syria, with or without interference from the West, whose sanctions are making people suffer more, or the Arab League, which send a human rights team headed by a Sudanese general accused of war crimes in Darfur.

In Israel, the movement for social justice inspired by Tahrir Square has folded its tents without, for the most part, its leaders worrying how it could achieve anything without acknowledging the rights of the neighbours Or perhaps the leaders did worry, and decided to settle for more modest advances, such as jobs for themselves in the establishment political parties which, including Labour, have created the mess.

Now, while settlers and ultra-Orthodox battle as to who can best finish Israel's pretence of modern democracy, the military come to the fore again with their panacea; whatever is happening in the rest of the world, never mind the Middle East - "Let's bomb Gaza!". They may think they can get away with it again, especially in an American election year, but counting on the Mid West instead of the Middle East, they may have miscalculated.

The Palestinians are no longer as divided as they were, and nor is the Egyptian border safe. Israel may try to compensate for loss of its Turkish ally by discovering the Armenian Holocause and the plight of the Kurds, but making propaganda is not the same as taking positions on the ground. As for the Arab masses, having shed their blood for changes in their own countries, they are not going to forget the Palestinians, nor forgive any regime, be it nationalist or Islamic in garb, that accepts humiliation in the name of compromise.

As to what is happening in the countries of the 'Arab Spring', we can see that in spite of any setbacks or suppression, this revolution is still moving, and its character is being decided, not by outside pundits or even political leaders, but by the people taking part.

In Tunisia, the combination of political dictatorship and economic neo-liberalism offering no hope led to a young man setting fire to himself and igniting the revolt. The aspiration to work and a future remains, and with it the awakening of women and awareness of minorities are aspects to which some attention has been drawn. Attacks on synagogues, whether perpetrated by Salafis or others, were seen as the work of saboteurs of the revolution, and the new Tunisian leader has urged Jews who left the country during past Middle East tension to return. It may be just a gesture but that does not mean it is insignificant.

If women in Tunisia are anxious, in Egypt they have been enraged by police brutality, which forced US secretary of State Hilary Clinton to take her distance from Washington's allies. Rather than be intimidated, the women turned out in huge, almost unprecedented numbers in solidarity with their sisters.

While an important aspect of democratic revolution in Egypt is the establishment of works committees and free trade unions, it is also interesting to see how the struggle to determine the revolution's character finds a microcosmic echo in a battle within a professional body, in this case the doctors' union.

As in Bahrain, it seems the medical professionals in Egypt too are taking blows from the state for asserting their independence and duty to come to the aid of their people injured ghting for freedom.

It was the historical failure of Egypt's bourgeoise to establish a democracy free from corruption and undertake modern development which doomed the country to decades of military rule, from Nasser's "Arab Socialism" through to Mubarak's regime. Replacing khaki with cleric's garb, or a coalition of both, will not deliver social justice. The Egyptian working class, so often brave in struggle, must have a political voice.

One group which has emerged are the revolutionary socialists, and they seem to have aroused the fear and hatred of both the regime and the religious reactionaries. For their part they are refusing to be silenced or intimidated, and this seems to be enlarging the hearing they receive . While we don't know enough yet to comment on their policies, let us hope the fears they arouse among the witch-hunters are justified!

It may even give people on the Left here something to think about.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

EU takes account, and Veolia counts the cost

IN an apparent change from the days when Britain used its presidency of the European Union to suppress a report criticising Israeli policy on the West Bank, the EUs ambassador to Israel has submitted a formal protest to the Israeli Foreign Ministry over plans to displace Bedouin, and demolition of Palestinian homes in the E1 area near the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim.

The EU Ambassador, Andrew Standley, also expressed profound concern over the deterioration in the Palestinian residents situation in the West Bank Area C, under Israeli control. He cited the rise in the number of houses demolished by Israel, an excess of 500 in 2011, resulting in more than 1,000 Palestinians displaced.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is taking some credit for ensuring that European governments and the EU are kept aware of what is going on. It says that after a briefing and field visit lead by ICAHD Co-Director Itay Epshtain, and Advocates Michael Sfard and Emily Schaeffer, European foreign ministers received a report compiled by the European consuls in Ramallah and East Jerusalem on the situation of the Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank.

"The report cited a rise in the number of Palestinian houses demolished by Israel, and the growing distress of the Palestinians living in Area C. "ICAHD has long cautioned about the emergence of a greater Jerusalem" said Epshtain "linking the Judaization of East Jerusalem and displacement of Bedouin in E1, with the development of Ma'aleh Adumim, all the way to the Jordan Valley."

"The significance of this development is not only the creation of a greater Jerusalem that controls the center of the West Bank" says ICAHD Director Dr. Jeff Halper "but the emergence of Israeli Occupation territorial contiguity, that effectively eliminates the two state solution."

Halper referred to the EU protest saying: "The EU is picking up on ICAHD's long standing analysis which connects seemingly unrelated developments on the ground to the larger political picture."

According to Haaretz, EU foreign ministers have also received information from human rights organizations, referring to ICAHD's publication'Nowhere left to Go: Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin Ethnic Displacement', saying Israel is planning to forcefully transfer some 3,000 Bedouins of the Arab al-Jahalin tribe from their residence in the E1 area, to allow for the expansion of illegal settlement Ma'aleh Adumim.

In November 2011, Israel expropriated 1.5 km2 of Palestinian land in the northern Jordan Valley and de-facto annexed the land to a Jewish community within Israel proper. This is considered the first instance of Palestinian land in the Occupied West Bank to be annexed to Israel, (excluding East Jerusalem) in defiance of international law.

In his May 2011 address to US Congress, Israeli PM Netanyahu asserted that "Israel will never cede the Jordan Valley. Israel would never agree to withdraw from the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement signed with the Palestinians. And it‘s vital – absolutely vital – that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River."

The Path to Annexation – 2011 Fact Sheet published by ICAHD highlights the matrix of control laid over the Jordan Valley, the legal framework, fact and figures associated with the de-facto annexation of the Jordan Valley.
To download the fact sheet, press here…

Meanwhile, in London, campaigners celebrated the good news before Christmas that French-owned company Veolia appears to have been left out of the bidding for a £485 million contract for the West London Waste Authority ('WLWA') , covering disposal and treatment of of residual domestic waste from o1.4 million inhabitants of the London boroughs of Brent, Ealing, Harrow, Hillingdon, Hounslow and Richmond-upon-Thames.

The reasons behind the decision by the WLWA to exclude Veolia from the short list are commercially confidential. The company has a wide range of business in Britain, from water supply to bus services. It has recently lost contracts in Richmond and Ealing, and been criticised for wanting to cut street cleaning it carries out in Brent.

But what has really engaged the activity of Palestinian solidarity and human rights campaigners is Veolia's involvent in projects assisting and profiting from Israel's occupation and colonisation in the West Bank. Together with another French company Alstom (formerly better-known in Britain as Connex) it has been involved in the Jerusalem light railway project which links illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank with Jerusalem, helping to reinforce the cordon of settlements which separates the city, including Arab East Jerusalem from its hinterland.

Veolia also runs bus services whose segregated character was exposed recently by Palestinian youth who were arrested for boarding the bus at certain points (and one of them simply for being at the stop).

Over the last six months campaigners in London lobbied local councillors and officials to exclude Veolia from the waste contracts, and submitted a letter to the WLWA documenting Veolia's direct complicity in grave breaches of international and humanitarian law in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Besides the transport issues, - including what amounts to discrimination in recruitment of staff - campaigners also pointed to Veolia involvment in taking waste from Israel and illegal Israeli Settlements and dumps this on Palestinian land at the Tovlan landfill, in the Jordan valley.

Some of this information came from the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem in its report on the Jordan valley, and in North London where councils are considering a contract similar to the West London one, they received a letter from the coalition of women;s peace groups in Israel and Palestine. The campaign in west London had support from the Green Party and more recently from Brent Trades Union Council.

There are signs that Veolia would like to divest from its controversial Palestine involvments as its business elsewhere starts to suffer. Alstom has already been hit by institutional investers in Holland and Norway deciding to pull out, and it suffered the loss of a major rail contract in Saudi Arabia following publicity over its Israeli operations.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Not much goodwill about

SAD as it is to say, and without in any way doubting or disrespecting the hopes of millions for whom today is about more than expensive overindulgence or ostentation (not to mention the millions without clean water or enough to eat), the millennial message about "peace and goodwill to all" has still to penetrate or overcome power politics.

Today's news from Nigeria, where dozens of people have reportedly been killed in a string of church bombings, is a reminder of the way religion itself is used as a cover for hate-mongering and organised murder. Like the bombings in Iraq which it closely followed, and the ferocious attack on an Assyrian church in October 2010, these are not spontaneous outbursts by mobs, as suggested perhaps by the inadequate expression "sectarian strife", but planned attacks by trained groups with arms and explosives, and sometimes suspicious ability to get past security forces.

And before any self-righteous Christians smugly point their finger at Islam as a "religion of violence", we needn't remind them of what the Churches have sanctioned and exhorted over centuries, but just mention Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon, Omarska and Srebrenica in Bosnia. The UK too is no stranger to "sectarian violence"; and the Assyrians whom we mentioned have not been safe from attack in the United States.

Having unleashed so much destruction and misery in Iraq, and bombed Libyans to "free" them, the US and Britain are threatening to do the same for Syria, and meanwhile hitting its people with sanctions which starve the ordinary people they are supposed to save. "Suffer little children" seems to be the part of the Gospel they apply. Meanwhile right-wing American preachers and politicians are competing to promise Armageddon with Iran.

In Israel recent months have seen a spate of arson attacks on mosques, with which the police seem suspiciously unable to cope, as well as threats to Jewish peace groups, for which one suspect was caught and turned out to be the son of the head of the security services. It is just one manifestation of a shift towards intolerance and the politics of the far Right.

Last year we had the mayor of Nazareth Illit, which sits on the hill overlooking what we're told was Jesus' home town, announcing a ban on Christmas trees in the squares, because this was a "Jewish town". Arab residents, many of them Christians, got the message. Decorated trees may not be essential to Middle Eastern Christian tradition, but nor are they offensive to Judaism, which has a New Year for Trees, Tu b'Shvat. Besides, more than a few Jewish families in the West have been known to install festive trees indoors at this time of the year, "just for the kids".

But this wasn't just about religious intolerance, it was about showing who is boss, and telling others they don't belong. No wonder Palestinians put such an interpretation on the Israeli leaders' insistance that Israel is a "Jewish state", and Western government's injunctions on them to recognise this as the price for peace, particularly when they also see maps depicting the West Bank and Gaza as parts of Israel.

No wonder, either that the Christmas Tree has become so significant a symbol in Arab Palestine, from Beit Sahour east of Bethlehem, which claims the fields where shepherds saw a new star announcing hope, through Bethlehem itself, to Nazareth.

In Britain, where we are used to stories in the right-wing press about Christmas and its symbols supposedly being banned or at least threatened in order supposedly to appease other religions, or in the name of "political correctness", the ban in Nazareth somehow escaped much attention. Maybe because it was real unlike their usual fabrications, or because they don't want their blinkered readers to realise Palestinians are not all fundamentalist Muslims.

Last week we had Prime Minister David Cameron turning from patriotism (evidently not quite the last refuge of a scoundrel) to the Bible, declaring on the 400 th anniversary of the King James Bible that the UK was still a Christian country and "we should not be afraid to say so".

I should not think the Prime Minister was signalling his intention to join Occupy LSX protesters and clear the money changers from the temple, nor even that he would listen to what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say about social services and cuts. But that exhortation to "not be afraid", implying that somehow poor Christians were being intimidated by non-believers and those of other faiths was a signal to those who assert their "Christianity" by hostility to others that they are on the right lines. This might not upset Mad Mel at the Mail, who likes to think we are in it together, defending "Judeo-Christian values" against the rest, and maybe it won't trouble Tory Priti Patel MP who is busy campaigning against trade unionists to prove her worth to the Tory Right.

I don't know whether Baroness Varsi is comfortable with it. She complained last January that prejudice and hostility towards Muslims was becoming almost respectable in British society.

But then in October, remembering perhaps that she is chairman of the Tory party, the Muslim peeress adopted what could almost have been a foretaste of Cameron's speech, by saying Britain needed to become more Christian and people should not be afraid of saying they went

I thought people were more afraid of being called liars when they claimed to go to church, for instance when trying to get their kids a place in religious schools.

The BBC report I saw of Cameron's speech did not get a quote from the baroness, but oddly did give us Michael Portillo: " We all know the classic cases of political correctness that you are not allowed to mention Christmas, and cards that you send out at this time of the year must not mention Christmas and things like this. I mean, absolute nonsense. So, as though my Jewish friends would not send out new year's cards at the time of their new year. Quite extraordinary."

If that is the message Portillo got, I think we can guess what the EDL and those who encourage them made of it.

Pride and Prejudice

If some people in whatever religion are unlikely to unite and love one another, they can sometimes unite in hatred of a common foe, be it wicked materialism (that of the have-nots, not the rich) or gay rights campaigners, who unlike some clerics tend to choose willing partners above the age of consent.

We saw the furore over a "Pride" march in Jerusalem, and here in Britain a body called the Christian Institure is boasting that retailers Tesco have been forced by the threat of a boycott to withdraw its sponsorship from London Gay Pride.

The Christian Institute says it exists for “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” and “the advancement of education”.

"The Christian Institute is a nondenominational Christian charity committed to upholding the truths of the Bible. We are supported by individuals and churches throughout the UK.

We believe that the Bible is the supreme authority for all of life and we hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. We are committed to upholding the sanctity of life from conception".

Though not happy that the government is doing enough to deal with gays and promote Christian family values, or remove supposed protection from Muslims, the Institute probably sees Cameron's speech as encouraging.

But its exasperation with Tescos does not just extend to the subject of gays. Apparently the store chain, in common with various other institutions, has been causing poor unwitting Christians to purchase and consume Halal meat. What's more it was slow to refund them when they found out.

'But Mrs Robinson told him that if she had been a Muslim who had unknowingly bought non-Halal meat, the store would give her money back. She said: "I felt that as a Christian I had as much right to demand a refund. At that point he relented and reluctantly took the meat back.”

'If Tesco had continued to refuse her a refund when it would have given one to a Muslim, Mrs Robinson could have launched a legal action. She added: “If I’d known it was Halal I would not have bought it. It is an issue of conscience for me, something I feel strongly about'.

Now maybe I am a bit slow to see the equation being made here. A Muslim or Jewish person required by their religion to only eat meat that conforms to their dietary laws will expect that meat that is labelled halal or kosher is as it is described. Especially if they have to pay extra for it as is usually the case with kosher meat, not because of any superiority but for the cost of religious supervision. They are unlikely to be satisfied with a refund for having inadvertedly broken their religious code.

Christianity, so far as I am aware, does not have any dietary rules. You can eat what you like. And until comparatively recently, kill it how you like. Good Christian English folk, clergy included, managed for centuries to spear, shoot, snare or ring the neck of creatures for the pot, as well as setting dogs on other animals to see them rip them apart, just for fun. It seems a bit late to become squeamish about other people's slaughter methods, if that is the issue. But assuming it is (and some of my friends have become vegetarians for the same reason), I don't see how this can be classed a religious objection, albeit apparently one than can be assuaged with a cash refund.

Still, whatever the genuine feelings of the lady in this case, I think we might discern other motives in the Christian Institute making a campaign around such things.

Another report on the Institute's website says that Ofcom is trying to clean up offensive language in broadcasting, especially when children might be exposed to it.

But the Christian Institute is not that keen on censorship.
'Should the law criminalise "insulting" words or behaviour? Most people would say "no". The freedom to disagree and to challenge received wisdom lie at the heart of a democracy. But Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 outlaws "insulting" conduct. We believe it is having a chilling effect on free speech and particularly Christian evangelism.The Christian Institute is campaigning for the word "insulting" to be removed from Section 5, as part of the forthcoming Freedom Bill'.
They have the support of some Tory MPs.

I feel tempted to take this as encouragement to freely say what I think of the Christian Institute. But it is hard to find adequate words, and besides, this blog is a family site.

So peace on earth, goodwill to all. But don't expect it now.


Friday, December 23, 2011

A Consistent Freedom Fighter

WHEN he died two years ago he was buried with full military honours in Warsaw, his coffin draped in the red banner of the Jewish Workers' Bund, inscribed "Bund - Yidisher Sozialistisher Farband," and the choir sang the Bund anthem, "Di Shvue."

Tributes flowed in to Marek Edelman, who had been the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto revolt, and some of them came from political leaders who would not have understood let alone cared for his politics, and media that had little to say for him when he was alive.

From ghetto fighter to cardiologist, Marek Edelman was a consistent fighter for human rights and dignity, and whatever allies might have sought his support, his enemies were enemies of freedom. Having been a member from his youth of the Bund, which fought for Jewish workers' rights wherever they lived rather than looking for a Promised Land elsewhere, he remained stubbornly in his native Poland even when antisemitism reared its ugly head again under so-called socialism.

He went on to champion the workers' rights committee KOR and Solidarity, also extending his sympathy to the people of Bosnia, to the extent of comparing the Muslims fight for survival to that of the Polish Jews against Nazism.

Some left-wing dissidents in Poland, such as the Trotskyist Ludwik Hass, whose own death preceded Edelman's by a year, criticised the former ghetto fighter for what they saw as his naievity, both about the Solidarnosc leaders' aims and the goals of Western democracy. They did not doubt Edelman's own motivations and decency.

Edelman's survival, and refusal to join the Zionists claiming exclusive rights to the Holocaust and ghetto fight, or to Palestine, were enough to earn him emnity and ensure that his name was seldom mentioned in either Establishment media or "official" history. To make matters worse in August 2002 he wrote an open letter to Palestinian resistance leaders, in which he criticised the use of suicide bombers to hit civilian targets, but infuriated the Israeli government and its supporters by addressing the Palestinians as fellow-fighters against oppression. Edelman addressed his letter "To all the leaders of Palestinian military, paramilitary and guerilla organizations — To all the soldiers of Palestinian militant groups".

When Edelman's book "The Ghetto Fights" had been republished in English in 1994, by the Socialist Workers' Party publishers Bookmarks, it received a hostile review in, of all places, the anti-fascist journal Searchlight, which had entrusted the task to some hack bred by the Zionist Union of Jewish Students. It was hard to detect which aroused most ire, Marek Edelman's straightforward historical account or the politics of those who had published it.

The motives of former Israeli Defence Minister and Foreign Minister Moshe Arens, who visited Edelman in Warsaw in 2005, should have been above such suspicion, but his efforts to have the former ghetto commander's heroism officially recognised were unsuccesful.

When on my return from Warsaw I tried to convince a number of Israeli universities to award Edelman an honorary doctorate in recognition of his role in the Warsaw ghetto uprising, I ran into stubborn opposition led by Holocaust historians in Israel. He had received Poland's highest honor, and at the 65th commemoration of the Warsaw ghetto uprising he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal. He died not having received the recognition from Israel that he so richly deserved.

Perhaps in retrospect they did him an unintended favour.

Now a homage to Marek Edelman has appeared, from those with most claim to honour the tradition from which he came. Freedom in his Heart: a tribute to Marek Edelman,, is published by Jewish Socialist Publications. Some of the articles that appeared in the Jewish Socialist magazine shortly after Edelman's death, and there are also short extracts from "The Ghetto Fights". The articles have been written in Britain, Poland and America. The title is a sly allusion to Edelman's profession as a cardiologist as well as the spirit that was his lifeblood.

Following the Introduction, there's an essay by David Rosenberg, For dignity and freedom, not territory, on Edelman's Bundist principles and how they were applied during and after the war, in the fields of Jewish thought, Polish political life and international issues.

In So faithful to the people of the ghetto, Wlodka Blit Robertson, who was smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto as a child just a few weeks before the Uprising began, reflects on her personal interactions in Poland with Marek Edelman and the activist Alina Margolis who married Edelman).

Barry Smerin gives a first hand report of Edelman's funeral, Buried with his comrades, while Mike Shatzkin in A fateful promise tells the tragic tale of Edelman's attempts to help the daughter of a Bundist fighter, Zelman Frydrych, who perished in the ghetto uprising.

All this and extracts from The Ghetto Fights. A perfect present for Chanukah, even if it arrives a bit late If the lamp in the temple could last for eight days what's a few more days among friends, over Christmas?

You can order copies ( inside the UK it is £3 plus 65p p&p.) Cheques/POs to JS Publications. Send to JS BM3725 London WC1N 3XX

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When they do it, it's not called a boycott

NOT GIVEN HOUSEROOM? Images like this one from Larissa Sansour’s Nation Estate project proved too much for Lacoste, who have removed artist from Elysée Prize.

I'M not a great fan of the "Cultural Boycott" idea, though I can understand the legitimate motivation which leads friends to reach for this tactic, against the "normalisation" of oppressive regimes and occupations, like Israel's hold on the West Bank, now approaching its 45th year.

Sometimes such boycotts can hit the wrong people, as when a lecturer was banned from speaking at Leicester University back in the 1970s because he was a white South African, though he had been helping black African trades unionists and was no friend of the Apartheid regime. (An apparatchnik fell back on the excuse that the man was "not approved by the ANC", unaware as of course we all were that the London ANC office was being manipulated by the South African intelligence service).

I know my friends waging the anti-Israel boycott would not be so unjust or crude, but there was the hostility misdirected at Juliano Mer-Khamis in Hungary, foreshadowing his assassination outside the theatre he had founded in Jenin.

Besides, the other side - governments, business and reactionary outfits - are much more able to enforce their boycotts, as an army checkpoint is more effective than a couple of kids giving out leaflets. They don't use the "boycott" word, don't depend on voluntary adherence, and don't care whom they hit.

It does not do them any credit.

A big American DIY firm, Lowe's Home Improvement. decided recently to pull ads from a TVreality show about American Muslims, following protests from an evangelical Christian group. The North Carolina- based retailer stopped advertising on TLC's "All-American Muslim" after a group calling itself the Florida Family Association complained, saying the program was "propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values."

The show, premiered last month, simply chronicles the lives of five families from Dearborn, Michigan, just outside Detroit. The area has a large and long-established Muslim and Arab-American population, and the programme just shows ordinary families going about their lives, their kids going to school and saluting the flag, and so on. But evidently this suggestion that Muslims, Arab-Americans, are just plain folk, American citizens, even human beings, is too much for some good Christians to bear.

They mobilised supporters to write to the show's sponsors, and one company pulled its ads. It is reminiscent of the days of the Hollywood witch-hunts, when such tactics made sure actors or screen-writers labelled "communist" could not work in the United States. Except in this case the bullying is aimed not at individuals nor even a political spectre, but at an entire section of people defined by ethnicity or religious faith. The comparison with Germany in the 1930s need not be stressed. In America, fascism often appears in religious guise.

Slamming the Lowe company's decision as "un-American" and "naked religious bigotry", a state senator from Southern California has said he was connsidering calling for a boycott. Senator Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, said he would also consider legislative action if Lowe's doesn't apologize to Muslims and reinstate its ads. The senator sent a letter outlining his complaints to Lowe's Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Niblock.

"The show is about what it's like to be a Muslim in America, and it touches on the discrimination they sometimes face. And that kind of discrimination is exactly what's happening here with Lowe's," Lieu said.

Suehaila Amen, whose family is featured on "All-American Muslim," said she was disappointed by the Lowe's decision. "I'm saddened that any place of business would succumb to bigots and people trying to perpetuate their negative views on an entire community," Amen, 32, told The Detroit News on Sunday.

WHEN it comes to Palestine and Palestinians, boycott can be applied so automatically and unhesitatingly that merely to utter the names can be treated as "political", indeed an act of rebellion. I well remember the American gentleman who was scandalised, and lectured me about the iniquities of Arab regimes, because I wore a tee shirt artistically depicting old Jerusalem rooftops and with the one word in small print "PALESTINE". More recently I heard of the crates of Taybeh beer which could not be imported into the United States because they were labelled "made in Palestine" and the US customs insisted there was "no such country". I thought maybe Pressident Obama, who had spoken about 1967 borders, should have a word with them, but evidently they had interpreted America's policy correctly, as we have seen by the US decision to boycott UNESCO.

And it is not just America, as the story below from Ali Abumineh's blog on Electronic Intifada indicates:
The high-end French clothing chain Lacoste has demanded the removal of work by Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour from the shortlist for the €25,000 Lacoste Elysee Prize that is awarded by the Swiss Musee de l’Elysee with sponsorship from the firm.

Sansour was among eight finalists shortlisted for the 2011 prize. According to a press release issued by Sansour, “Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labelling it ‘too pro-Palestinian.’”

This latest instance of apparent censorship of Palestinian artists by a cultural institution comes just months after the Museum of Children’s Art in Oakland, California censored an exhibit of art by children in Gaza just before its planned opening under pressure from anti-Palestinian Zionist groups.

Sansour, who is based in London, is a native of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. The press release explains:

As a nominee, Sansour was awarded a bursary of €4,000 and given carte blanche to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging. In November 2011, three photos for Sansour’s Nation Estate project were accepted, and she was congratulated by the prize administrators on her work and professionalism. Sansour’s name was included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website as an official nominee. Her name has since been removed, just as her project has been withdrawn from an upcoming issue of contemporary art magazine ArtReview introducing the nominated artists.

In an attempt to mask the reasons for her dismissal, Sansour was asked to approve a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’. Sansour has refused.

Søren Lind, Sansour’s assistant, told The Electronic Intifada today that the Lacoste company had yet to give any public response on the matter. A Google-cached image of the official Elysée Prize website captured by The Electronic Intifada proves that Sansour’s name was on the shortlist until at least 12 December, and then removed on the current version.

Sansour’s multimedia project Nation Estate was “conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Nation Estate depicts a science fiction-style Palestinian state in the form of a single skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population. Inside this new Nation Estate, the residents have recreated their lost cities on separate floors: Jerusalem on 3, Ramallah on 4, Sansour’s own hometown of Bethlehem on 5, etc.”

Sansour was born in Jerusalem and her multimedia work has been exhibited all over the world. The photo above, from the exhibit, is published courtesy of Sansour. More can be seen at her website.

Full text of press release

20th December 2011


French fashion brand demands the removal of Bethlehem artist Larissa Sansour from major photographic prize.

The prestigious €25,000 Lacoste Elysée Prize is awarded by the Swiss Musée de l’Elysée with sponsorship from Lacoste, the clothing brand.

Larissa Sansour was among the eight artists shortlisted for the 2011 prize. In December 2011, Lacoste demanded that her nomination be revoked. Lacoste stated their refusal to support Sansour’s work, labelling it ‘too pro-Palestinian’. A special jury will convene in January 2012 to select the winner.

As a nominee, Sansour was awarded a bursary of €4,000 and given carte blanche to produce a portfolio of images for the final judging. In November 2011, three photos for Sansour’s Nation Estate project were accepted, and she was congratulated by the prize administrators on her work and professionalism. Sansour’s name was included on all the literature relating to the prize and on the website as an official nominee. Her name has since been removed, just as her project has been withdrawn from an upcoming issue of contemporary art magazine ArtReview introducing the nominated artists.

In an attempt to mask the reasons for her dismissal, Sansour was asked to approve a statement saying that she withdrew from her nomination ‘in order to pursue other opportunities’. Sansour has refused.

Sansour says: “I am very sad and shocked by this development. This year Palestine was officially admitted to UNESCO, yet we are still being silenced. As a politically involved artist I am no stranger to opposition, but never before have I been censored by the very same people who nominated me in the first place. Lacoste’s prejudice and censorship puts a major dent in the idea of corporate involvement in the arts. It is deeply worrying.”

Sansour’s shortlisted work, Nation Estate, is conceived in the wake of the Palestinian bid for UN membership. Nation Estate depicts a science fiction-style Palestinian state in the form of a single skyscraper housing the entire Palestinian population. Inside this new Nation Estate, the residents have recreated their lost cities on separate floors: Jerusalem on 3, Ramallah on 4, Sansour’s own hometown of Bethlehem on 5, etc.

Regretting Lacoste’s decision to censor Sansour’s work, Musée de l’Elysée has offered to exhibit the Nation Estate project outside of the confines of the Lacoste sponsorship. Musée de l’Elysée is based in Lausanne, Switzerland. The Lacoste Elysée Prize 2011 is the award’s second edition.

I'd be tempted to call for a boycott of Lacoste, but to be honest I have never worn their stuff and could not afford it even if they catered for overweight old gits like me. But others might take the idea up., if they haven't done so already.

Where's Crocodile Dundee when you need him?!

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Raising consciousness and solidarity
BAHRAINIS at London May Day rally.
Now Manchester is centre of solidarity

WITH scenes of police brutality in Egypt, the continuing death toll in Syria, and Israeli forces attacking the funeral procession of someone they had killed earlier, we can see why some people have said despondently that the euphoria of the "Arab Spring" has been succeeded by a Middle Eastern Winter.

But if we are looking for rays of light, one is that the people are plainly not giving up, nor going away, not even when the surely desperate forces of "order" have to drag women by their hair from Tahrir Square.

Another is that there is a movement of support and solidarity sprouting, more aware and conscious than anything we saw in the anti-war movement, maybe because it is centred on people with first-hand knowledge of the struggles because they and their families are directly involved. Refugees and exiles, from being merely people we ought to help, can help us know the score, the better to understand and fight the policies and regimes our governments are supporting.

Here's a report about Bahrain, and the arrest, physical violence and ill-treatment practiced against human rights defender Zainab AlKhawaj:

" We are deeply concerned about her safety after seeing the violence that she was subject to during arrest. Zainab Al-Khawaja is a 28-years-old member of Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, famous human rights blogger as @angryarabia and a mother of 2-years-old girl from Bahrain.

"On 15 December 2011, Zainab was arrested by Bahraini security forces from a roundabout on Budaiya highway, west of capital city Manama where she was taking part in a peaceful-sit-in-protest. The security forces responded with firing tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the protest, while Zainab continued the sit-in before the police moved in to rough her up. She was arrested, handcuffed, assaulted and punched in her back by the police officer as she was forcibly dragged off into custody. She, as well as another woman Masooma Al-Sayed were then taken to the police station.

"Zainab is a mother of a two-year-old child, whose husband Wafi Al-Majed is in prison along with her father, Bahrain’s most prominent political activist and human rights defender, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja who was imprisoned for life in June by special military court. Zainab faces grave danger and is at risk of being tortured, as the regime has systematically attacked human rights defenders, health workers and professionals who are speaking up against the repression and human rights abuses.

"We condemn ill-treatment of Zainab Al-Khawaja in public in the strongest possible terms, and arbitrary detention and demand the authorities to release her and Masooma Al-Sayed immediately and unconditionally. We ask all concerned people to take immediate and urgent action in support of Zainab Al-Khawaja and Masooma Al-Sayed. Zainab Al-Khawaja and Masooma AlSayed are to be detained for seven days.

"According to their lawyer:
Masooma Alsayed was kicked in her leg and is now limping, was not seen by doctor
Zainab when arrested had something sprayed in her eyes and was unable to see for approx an hour. Zainab in police station was beaten on head, arms and legs, as she was unable to see
Zainab recognized the voice of the policewoman who beat her, but the prosecutor refused to write it down. When her lawyer attempted to show the prosecutor video of the arrest, he refused to see it. A policewoman came in with bandaged arm claiming Masooma and Zainab hit her.

Zainab refused to sign statement unless policewoman's name was taken who hit her. The prosecutor got angry and made everyone leave the room, awaiting decision.

The moment Zainab was arrested

This information from Bahrain was relayed to us via Manchester, where there is a Bahraini people's solidarity campaign that has demonstrated with support from health workers and other local trades unionists and students against a Bahraini business conference, and in support of Bahraini doctors and nurses who were brutally attacked by the regime there.

At the weekend there was a conference in Manchester about the struggle for freedom and equality in Bahrain, addressed by among others, Tony Lloyd MP who is chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. (Just for the record we note that Manchester Central MP Lloyd did vote against the Blair government on Iraq, and on the renewal of Trident.) This conference "In support of the Bahraini revolution" was made possible with the help of the refugee rights and political asylum research group RAPAR which says it will work with rather than merely for its clients, and has been assisting Bahraini students whose funds were stopped by their government.

As a Mancunian "exile" who grew up proud of Peterloo and the Chartists, and the area's historic lnks with colonial and Irish freedom and anti-Apartheid struggles , I award full marks to those who are maintaining the tradition in today's world! And best wishes to the Bahraini freedom struggle!

And Iraq - Kurdistan

Meanwhile, and to set aside the mutual back-slapping between allies that has accompanied the US withdrawal from Iraq, here's a friend on Facebook posting pictures of an event that happened in London recently:

"On the occasion of International Human Rights Day our group Freedom Umbrella: Action for Kurdistan organised a seminar in UK parliament on the violation of human rights in Kurdistan. The seminar was hosted by Labour MP John McDonnell the speakers included Asos Hardi from Awene Newspaper in Kurdistan, Bashdar Ali Journliat and brother of journalist Sardasht Osman who was assassinated last year for criticizing the Kurdish authorities, Houzan Mahmoud from Organisaiton of Women’s freedom in Iraq and Mufid Abdullah journalist also editor of Kurdistan Tribune website. The seminar was chaired by Gona Saeed from Freedom Umbrella".

To which an Iraqi woman solidarity activist has commented:
"Great work Houzan, to have this meeting in parliament at this crucial time when the US/UK are congratulating themselves on what they have done to Iraq! The Kurdish region is often referred to by lobbies like 'Labour Friends of Iraq' as a shining example of people who benefited from the invasion and are living in democracy! Corruption, nepotism and lack of accountability are the main ills in Iraq today!"

To which Houzan Mahmoud replies:
ank you dear friend, well the so called Labour Friends of Iraq are standing with dictators not with the workers of Kurdistan. We know what is going on that's why we are hosting such meetings to make these issues known. best wishes".

To which I concur.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Witness faces trial by War Criminals

Bradley Manning hearing: agents say gunship killing video found in room

AMERICAN soldier BRADLEY MANNING is the subject of a pre-trial hearing to decide whether he should face a full court martial on charges of taking classified material, and disclosing secrets that could "assist an enemy".

After months of being held in military cells, regularly stripped and treated like some dangerous terrorist, the former technician is having his supposed mental state, sexual inclinations and personal identity toosed around in public, before an investigating officer who must be impatient to proceed with the real business. Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, a reserve military judge who has also worked as a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice since 2002 until he went on reservist military leave to devote himself to the Manning case.

The military accuse Bradley Manning of "treason", which could incur the death penalty. Some politicians have been calling for his execution ever since he was identifed. But the information which Manning is accused of leaking through Wikileaks concerned actions by US forces in Iraq, which were hardly a secret to those at the receiving end, and diplomatic reports. They may have endangered America's reputation, but they assisted the American and allied public to know what has been done in our name. We are "the enemy".

The US colours were lowered in Iraq this weekend, and the "Last Post" played, before Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told troops: "You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country's future generations."

The US forces are leaving behind some 700 "advisers" with Iraqi forces, and mercenary contractors no doubt to help look after the oil interests which Western companies have obtained. They are also leaving what was once among the more developed countries of the Arab world, but has been devasteated by sanctions and war, and torn apart by armed gangs, some imported, some covert foreign units, unleashed by the conquest.

Many educated Iraqis, doctors and engineers, have been killed or terrorised into leaving. along with Palestinian and others who had made their living there. "Aid" dollars and art treasures have gone missing from the country. And as American service personnel go home, many Iraqis have no homes left.

"Not far from where the speeches were taking place lay grim evidence which refuted the claims that the Americans were leaving behind a land of stability and prosperity. More than 8,000 people are living in squalor in a field of mud and foetid water, with huts made of rags and salvaged pieces of wood.

"The residents of Al-Rahlat camp are among 1.3 million refugees in their own country; families driven out of their homes by the sectarian violence spawned by the war. Another 1.6 million fled Iraq for neighbouring states, mainly Jordan and Syria. Those in Syria, with its escalating violence, are now having to seek another place of safety.

"Around 450,000 of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) are living in the worst conditions, crammed into 380 street settlements scattered around the country. They have little or no access to clean water, sanitation or medical care. Many of these people, deemed to be illegally squatting, cannot get the documents necessary to register for welfare relief or take up jobs, or enrol their sons and daughters in schools. The tension and claustrophobia of such an existence has led to psychological problems, especially among children. Domestic violence is rife.

In the speeches at the leaving ceremeny particular tribute was paid to the bravery of US troops who went into Fallujah. For many that name evokes other memories, and living reminders:

"FPIF reports (November 23rd): Seven years after the U.S. invasion of Fallujah, there are reports of an alarming rise in the rates of birth defects and cancer. But the crisis, and its possible connection to weapons deployed by the United States during the war, remains woefully under-examined. "Thirty to fifty thousand people were still inside the city when the U.S. military launched a series of airstrikes, dropping incendiary bombs on suspected insurgent hideouts. Ground forces then combed through targeted neighborhoods house by house. Ross Caputi, who served as a first private Marine during the siege, has said that his squad and others employed "reconnaissance by fire," firing into dwellings before entering to make sure nobody inside was still alive. "By the end of the campaign, Fallujah was a ghost town. Though the military did not tally civilian casualties, independent reports put the number somewhere between 800 and 6,000. As The Washington Post reported in April 2005, more than half of Fallujah's 39,000 homes were damaged, of which 10,000 were no longer habitable. "Of the current problems in Fallujah, the most alarming is a mounting public health crisis. In the years since the invasion, doctors in Fallujah have reported drastic increases in the number of premature births, infant mortality, and birth defects-babies born without skulls, missing organs, or with stumps for arms and legs. Fallujah General Hospital reported that, out of 170 babies born in September 2009, 24 percent died within the first seven days, of which 75 percent were deformed".

That's an article from Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a project of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. FPIF describes itself as a "Think Tank Without Walls"[1] that brings together over 600 writers, scholars, academics, artists and activists seeking to make the United States a more responsible global partner. FPIF believes that "U.S. security and world stability are best advanced through a commitment to peace, justice and environmental protection as well as economic, political, and social rights".

But reports like their's on Falluja must surely be of assistance to the "enemy".

The high incidence of birth defects in Falluja has led some to wonder if it was linked to US chemical weapons or phosphorus, or depleted uranium munitions which the Western military leaders denied using in Iraq. But one authority has suggested that the culprit may not be depleted uranium.

"Professor Chris Busby, from the School of Biomedical Science, University of Ulster, believes that the United States severely overstepped the boundaries of international law and is the likely suspect in the use of not just deadly depleted uranium, a growing subject in the world, but actual U-235 enriched weapons-grade uranium from a neutron bomb.

Those are the weapons that kill biological life but leave structures and landscape otherwise intact. You could call it the ultimate irony; discovering that illegal nuclear weapons were used in Fallujah, Iraq by the United States; the country that led the world down the trail of deceit by falsely declaring that Iraq had 'weapons of mass destruction'

Some commentators have seemed in a rush to discredit Professor Busby and his findings.

We don't know how well-founded his research was or what motives he is supposed to have had for coming up with his version.

But of Bradley Manning's evidence on one incident there is little room for doubt. He provided an official video from a US helicopter gunship of the airstrike in which it killed eleven individuals on the ground, two of them being Reuters news correspondents, as well as firing rockets into a residential block, and destroying a van in which two children were passengers.,_2007_Baghdad_airstrike

The crew remarked that people should not have brought kids into a "battle zone" - a Baghdad street, They don't appear to have faced any recriminations let alone trial. But then it would appear they were only following orders and acting in line with the procedure they had been given.

All the same it is some "justice" that ubjects the man who exposed such actions to an ordeal and threatens this witness with the death penalty.

The same "justice " that leaves George Dubya Bush with a grin, and Tony B-Liar Blair getting richer than ever from the war that the two of them started.

By way of a follow up:

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 16, 2011

Two gun outrages, differently reported, both raising questions and echoes of the past

TWO shooting outrages on the same day shocked two European cities this week. In the Belgian city of Liege, at least four people were killed in a gun and grenade attack at the Christmas market, and more than 123 people left wounded, some seriously.

In Florence's central squares a gunman killed two street vendors, both Senegalese, and wounded several others.

In both cases the killers appeared to have no rational motive, just opening fire on innocent people going about their ordinary lives. In both cases, the murderers were already known to the police, and each of them finished off by turning their guns on themselves, unlike the Norwegian killer Breivik who has lived to appear in court but whom doctors have declared insane.

Though neither outrage was on the scale of the massacre in Norway, both roused horor and anger, and both were rightly reported, but not to the same extent, at least in the UK. I saw the Liege shooting covered on TV, but not the attack in Florence. A report for the Institute of Race Relations wonders whether the difference in casualties in the two cities was big enough to justify their different coverage.

"The reporting was most obvious if you compare the BBC World Service's coverage between December 13 and 14 with that of BBC Radio 4. The World Service covered both incidents, while Radio 4 in its bulletins kept completely silent about Florence. In UK papers, too, the Liège story was front page news with the Florence incident, if covered at all, tacked on as an appendage. Was the reason that the victims in Florence were all Senegalese street vendors and violence against those without papers has become such an everyday feature of Italian life that it is not considered newsworthy?"

In both cases there are questions to be asked about how the killers were loose on the streets with firearms. Liege is, it's true, not only an industrial city but one historically associated with weaponry, from the Middle Ages through to the NATO-issue FN FAL automatic rifle produced at nearby Herstal.

All the same it is worrying that Nordine Amrani, a man who, according the BBC, was already "known to Belgian police as a gun enthusiast"(sic) was able to leave home in Liege that morning with an FAL assault rifle, hand grenades and a revolver, just off you might say for a day's shooting.

Amrani received a five-year prison sentence in 2008 for possessing a large arsenal and growing cannabis. However, a court of appeal acquitted him of the gun conviction a year later on the grounds that he had had the necessary permissions to keep them, his lawyer Jean-Francois Dister told La Libre Belgique newspaper.

When he was paroled in 2010, his guns were not returned because of his drug-dealing conviction but otherwise he was under no special gun restrictions, Mr Dister explained.

According to Liege public prosecutor Daniele Reynders, the paroled man showed no sign of mental instability.

At the time of the massacre, the 32 year old Ixelles-born man, a welder by trade, had been due to attend a police station for questioning about a vice charge. He had appeared in courts several times in his life and had a previous vice conviction from 2003. Apparently he felt the police were picking on him.

When he was arrested in 2008, police found 2,800 cannabis plants he was growing in a warehouse. They also found 10 guns and 9,500 gun parts. The arsenal included a Law rocket launcher, an AK-47 assault rifle, a sniper rifle, a K31 rifle, a Fal assault rifle and hundreds of cartridges, Le Soir reports.

"Amrani made silencers himself," its article notes."At the time, Amrani refused to say where the weapons had come from and where they were destined." He was acquitted of gun possession charges due to "grey areas" left by a change in the law, the paper says.'

Amrani opened fire in a square not far from the police station where he had been due to report on charges relating to a party in November and a woman's disappearence. He killed himself rather than face custody. After searching addresses associated with Amrani, and finding the body of a murdered woman, prosecutors said they had not found any message from the gunman. The woman, who had been shot through the head, was found in the same warehouse where Amrani cultivated cannabis in 2008, prosecutors confirmed.

If the Belgian killer felt driven beyond reason, or was a petty criminal who had become mixed up with something bigger than he understood, there is less doubt about the motivation of the gunman in Florence. Like Ander Breivik, the perpetrator of the Oslo massacre, Gianluca Casseri was inspired by the racist politics of the far Right. As the IRR report comments, the similarity with the Breivik case, even though on a much smaller scale, make it more remarkable that the Florence shootings did not rate more media attention.

Casseri was a member of CasaPound, a fascist group which takes its name from the American poet Ezra Pound, who moved to Italy and became an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. A contributer before the War to Oswald Mosley's fascist paper Action, Pound was charged with treason for his wartime broadcasts for the Axis, but a diagnosis of insanity saved him from execution. As much as his poetic standing, or even his links to Mussolini, what may commend Pound to current day fascists is his early obsession with "usury" as the culprit for war and crisis, and his admiration (some say later repudiated) for the classic conspiracy work The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Casseri himself was the author of fantasy novels including The Key of Chaos about a wizard, a mathematician and an alchemist, which enjoyed some popularity. He also wrote an academic paper about Dracula folklore and was the editor of a niche magazine about fantasy and horror fiction and comics. CasaPound - known in Italian anti-racist circles for its attacks on Left targets - denies being extremist, though its vice president Simone de Stefano while acknowledging that Mussolini's racial laws were a mistake, calls his 'brand of fascism' to be the group's 'point of reference, a vision of the state and the economy and the concept of sacrifice'. CasaPound has also sponsored rock concerts at which supporters whip themselves with belts because, according to them, it is 'a way to risk pain, to confront yourself in ways society does not allow'.

Africans in Italy had no difficulty recognising what happened in Florence as a racist attack. About 300 people, many of them also street vendors, gathered in an impromptu protest at the killings, demanding to see Casseri's corpse. 'Don't tell us he was a madman', one told the Guardian, 'because if he was he would have killed whites as well as blacks'.

In both Italy and Belgium there are echoes from the past in these two attacks. Before they had the immigrants to target, Italy's modern day fascists made do with atrocities against their fellow-countrymen, such as the Milan bank and Bologna railway station bombings (August 1980). These actions were also part of a "strategy of tension" promoted by America's CIA and linked with elements in both Italy's own "secret state" and the so-called Gladio stay-behind network set up after the war supposedly to resist Soviet takeover. This was turned against the native Italian communists and left, both by 'false-flag' terrorism for which the Left was meant to take the blame, and creating a general mood of fear from which it was hoped a right-wing, even military government would benefit.

In Belgium a series of violent crimes between 1982 and 1985, culminating in another shopping centre shooting, in Brabant, were carried out by a gang later linked with supposed "rogue" policemen and the gendarmerie, as well as a shadowy fascist oufit called Westland New Post. There too the suspicion was raised of Gladio involvment and the aim of terrorising people into accepting a right-wing regime that promised "order".

[1] Tom Kington, 'Italy's fascists stay true to Mussolini's ideology' Guardian, 6 November 2011. [2] Tom Kington, 'Florence gunman shoots Senegalese street vendors dead', Guardian, 13 December 2011.

References in A tale of two cities, by IRR European News Team

Other references to see:


London connections:


Labels: , , , ,