Saturday, 31 July 2010
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Recently the furore surrounding the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has been reignited, there has been talk of "transatlantic tensions" and the "damage" to the "special relationship" between the US and the UK - which is of course only discussed on the Queen's side of the pond. Never mind the fact that al-Megrahi was convicted due to the testimony of a man who not only gave around 20 false descriptions of him and failed to identify him in court, but was rewarded for his testimony with payments. Tony Gauci received in excess of $2 million, and his brother Paul received a payment in excess of $1 million, from the US Department of Justice - as part of the "Rewards for Justice" programme. Never mind the anonymous witness, a CIA informant, who received $4 million upon al-Megrahi's conviction. The debate is about the UK's standing in the world, or more specifically in Washington. The innocence or guilt of the man is no longer up for debate.
British Petroleum may have been used by Americans in their tirades about the company, which were laughably deemed "anti-British" by the British press, but the company was once called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as its primary source of oil was Iranian in origin. The company became known as British Petroleum in the early 1950s. This was just after Mossadeq had been elected in Iran and nationalised the country's oil reserves. The British government soon acted to subvert Mossadeq's government. With the support of the US, and the active participation of the CIA, this "subversion" eventually led to a coup in 1953, the nationalist Mossadeq was removed from power and bringing back the Shah to govern Iran. BP continued to operate in Iran, though had been diminished, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979 that overthrew the Shah and subsequently led to the oil reserves being nationalised once more. This drove BP out of Iran and the "War on Terrorism" was soon underway.
This neatly brings us back to the issue at hand. After the establishment of the Islamic Republic, tensions quickly began between the US and Iran due to the hostage crisis and the war with Iraq. It was in 1988, just months before the Lockerbie bombing, that the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian airliner, killing 290 people including 66 children. The US wrote this off as an "accident" and Bush I went on to reward the ship's captain "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer." In the aftermath of 9/11, it reflected the widespread ignorance as Bush II asked "Why do they hate us when we're so good?" But it has been argued that the Lockerbie bombing, just months after the Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down, could have been retaliation from Tehran. Though we may never know as Thatcher squashed the attempts at an independent inquiry just before she left office.
That instance tells you of the true nature of the "relationship" between Britain and America. Thatcher squashed an independent inquiry, which could have brought a link between the way Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 just months later. But the British government were not involved in gunning down the Iranian airliner, just as in 2003 the invasion of Iraq was not conceived by Blair but by American neoconservatives. Nevertheless, the UK media still assumes that Britain has a major role in international affairs, even though we are more or less an appendage of the US. Take Trident, Britain's last claim to power in the world, as we have the power to liquidate entire countries - but only with the permission of Uncle Sam. The "special relationship" between the UK and the US is nothing but window-dressing and Britain is more like an obedient lieutenant than a partner. The only country in the world that has anything like a "special relationship" is Israel.
The furore around the premature release of a so-called "terrorist" is more about the incompetence of the UK government to follow the party-line in Washington than it is about al-Megrahi or the "War on Terror". This is the reason that al-Megrahi's guilt is not even a matter of debate, the debate is on the standing of Britain in the world (a euphemism for the White House). If al-Megrahi is guilty locking him away would be meaningless and merely hypocritical. As there are wanted terrorists being harboured by the American government, like Orlando Bosch who blew up a Cuban airliner and killed 73 people on the CIA's watch. Bosch, and others like him, are wanted throughout Latin America for a host of terrorist atrocities. If we want imprisoning al-Megrahi to mean more then we should extradite men like Orlando Bosch to face trial immediately. But no, Bosch and his friends remain free while we expect standards of justice to be upheld in our case. It is hypocrisy in the most literal sense of the word, we extend standards to others which would not extend to ourselves.
Grounds of Appeal
BP admits to 'lobbying UK over Libya prisoner transfer'
BP Oil Spill: US politicians accuse BP over Lockerbie terrorist
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
"Take up the White Man's burden--And work another's gain." - Rudyard Kipling
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another's profit,
The Iraq war, just like other wars waged by Western powers, was commonly criticised for the loss of life on the side of the aggressors. The implication of this is that the only reason this war is "wrong" is because "our boys" are being killed by the "enemy". The war is fine, but the deaths of soldiers fighting on our side are not. Not only is this approach completely immoral in itself, it reinforces the ideological assumptions of Western "superiority" which presupposed the invasion of Iraq. Turning the West into a benevolent civilised power in the world and the rest of the world into a realm of savages that need to be contained and guided for their own good - the "White Man's Burden". Thus, George Bush's famous question "Why do they hate us when we're so good?" Of course, there are legitimate grievances behind terrorism that go back decades in the Middle East. But that's another matter unrelated to the invasion of Iraq.
From 1979 to 2003 Iraq was governed by Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath Party, with the full support of the United States government right up until the mid 1990s. It was the neoconservatives, political allies of the oil industry and self-proclaimed "democratic revolutionaries", who had wanted to march on Baghdad since oil prices increased from $13 to $40 a barrel during the First Gulf War. It is these hawks who wanted the fall of the statue of Saddam Hussein, a great moment of optimism for many Iraqis, to become the indelible symbol of the invasion and the "moral basis" on which it was fought - bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq. But that is unlikely given the massive opposition to the war and occupation based on moral principles and an understanding of the historical context of the war.
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought." - Rudyard Kipling
Naturally, the military support provided by the US came at a massive human cost. The war between Iraq and Iran raged for a decade and left almost 1 million people dead on both sides. But the US government also turned a blind-eye to Saddam's domestic crimes - which they would later use to "justify" the invasion. In 1982 Saddam Hussein survived an assassination attempt as he visited the Shi'ite town Dujail. Around 400 people were detained following the attempt in Dujail, an unknown number of them were tortured and around 148 were later executed. The homes, buildings, orchards and farmland belonging to the convicted mere razed. The families of the convicted were exiled. The Hussein regime later launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, which began in 1986 and ended in 1989, while American politicians sat back and pretended to be oblivious.
In 1988 alone, in the poison gas attack on Halabja, 5,000 Kurds were killed and 11,000 were injured. That same year, around 182,000 Kurds were slaughtered in Northern Iraq. This was combined with a policy of "Arabization" in which Kurdish communities were torn apart by the state and poor Arabs were brought into Northern Iraq with the promise of cheap housing. Contrary to popular belief the US support for Saddam went on after the First Gulf War, which may mean their support of him had little to do with containment of Iran. There were several uprisings across Iraq, including one engineered by al-Qaeda, which were suppressed through the use of air-strikes that were authorised by the US in spite of a no-fly zone officially imposed over Iraq. The Clinton administration implemented further economic sanctions against Iraq which killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis through starvation whilst empowering the hold of Saddam Hussein over the population.
On War, Empire and Resistance - Tariq Ali
Bush in Babylon - Tariq Ali
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Friday, 16 July 2010
Of course, the idea of an enlightened elite acting as the guiding force of the masses goes back further than the Left-Right labels which emerged from the French Revolution. It probably originates in Plato's notion of "philosopher-kings". Though it is true that the most prominent leftists are intellectuals, writers etc. but that is not a testament to the "dissonance" between radical ideas and the working-class. As the working-class is the origin of such ideas and has been the driving force of radical politics in the past. The strange way that right-wing views have become common among the working-class is down to the mass-media and it's involvement in propagating ideology. For decades there was a staunchly radical press in Britain and America, which was popular among working-people, which has been decimated over the last 50 years. As the media became dependent on advertising revenue, and by extension "Big Business", dissent was drowned out.
Consequently, as the radical press has been marginalised, a reactionary press has emerged to propagate the prevailing ideology of our times - which could be described as state-capitalist. Ideology being a belief system, which extends to how the world and life is interpreted, which does not necessarily require the belief of participants. If the ideology is all pervasive this is definitely the case, as it shapes the environment in which we live and is almost totally inescapable. In the case of South Africa, during Apartheid, say you come across a bench designated only for whites to use. In you're mind you go over the reasons that this is utterly despicable and racist, you express your opposition to the racism of the state and so on. But, because you are white and tired, you sit down on the bench anyway and the dominant ideology remains intact.
Most right-wing views can be delivered from a simplistic "common sense" position, deeming it's reactionary conclusion to be "obviously" correct and rational, usually with little to no opposition. The Right has little need for intellectuals for this very reason, at best intellectuals serve merely to stamp out dissent and disguise policy. The task of leftists is to break apart the dominant ideology, creating a space in which to "form" a new ideology to radically transform society. This is the same reason that there are left-wing political parties explicitly called "Communist" and "Socialist", whereas right-wing parties are never called "Capitalist". The task of the Right is not to radically "change" society, at least not the same way as the Left, but to maintain and reinvent the status quo. So "Capitalist" is often replaced with "Conservative" as the name for such political parties.
As class has become an ignored issue in today's world, ignored by politicians and by the media, class consciousness is greatly diminished. At the same time issues relating to social policy, where the Right specialises in peddling easy answers, such as abortion, gay rights and immigration etc. become major areas of debate. Appealing to bigotry is typically the way right-wing political parties win votes amongst the working-class. In the US the white working-class typically vote in relation to gun ownership and religiosity. George W Bush won over these voters in 2004 by backing gun permits, which allow people to carry concealed firearms into churches, whilst opposing abortion and gay marriage on "moral grounds". Whereas, the upper-classes tend to vote according to economic policy, taxes and health-care.
Only people with enough time, motivation and resources can commit to the kind of research and reading necessary to understand the Left's arguments. Meanwhile, we are constantly bombarded with right-wing views and commentary through the media, the internet and even in popular culture. The majority of the population has to work, to earn money for the basics but also to save up for luxuries and pay-off debts, therefore they cannot commit to such research projects. Exceptions being occupations where there is a great deal of freedom for the worker, academic positions are an instance of this. This is the reason that teachers and students have been at the forefront of dissent and activism for decades. Slavoj Žižek, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and David Harvey have all held, or still do hold, an academic position of some sort. All are writers, a tradition of great freedom in the "work place".
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Sarkozy's cabinet approve ban on face veils
French Parliament approves ban on face veils
Constitutional confrontation looms over burka ban
Shopping for Burkas
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
After all, once the game is completed the character has gained millions of dollars, and participated in a few thousand murders, but has nothing much to spend it on except guns, prostitutes, alcohol, food etc. In a sense, the game play reveals the limits of negative liberty - the freedom from constraint - by leaving a player with meaningless choices. The consumer choices a player is confronted with are even more meaningless in a gaming environment, where one is engaging in a simulation of consumption. In many ways the games are libertarian, you are free to make choices and indulge. Ultimately, the games do not judge the player in a strictly neutral and permissive manner. But if you violate the Harm Principle - you can do what you want, so long as you harm no one - the police might come after you. In some of the later games, like GTA 4, the police even go after pedestrians and petty criminals who have attacked you. This notable advance in technology is only the step forward made by classical liberal thinkers in the 19th Century.
In the games American politicians are presented as sleazy, corrupt, opportunistic and cynical figures. Like all satire it carries a greater truth about politics than we can see in our day-to-day lives. It highlights what we see in politicians at the most basic level, they are all the same, liars, thieves and murderers etc. There are references to a "Jingoism act" being rammed through Congress by the government, which is an obvious allusion to the USA Patriot act. Early on in GTA 4 the bridges of Liberty City are closed off to combat terrorism. Passing pedestrians can be heard calling the government "fascist". The games even include parodies of it's critics, in GTA 4 the "culture warriors" are amalgamated into an extreme right-wing radio-show host named Richard Bastion while Jack Thompson is turned into a do-gooder lawyer who expresses a disdain for computer games claiming that "Guns don't kill people, video games do" - before being murdered by the protagonist.
In real life meritocracy is a farce, people do not rise according to merit and nor should they as it is the hierarchy which is fundamentally wrong. We should not seek to rise to the top of the pyramid but seek to level that structure. So the vehement attacks of the games on the American establishment are irrelevant as the games celebrate the essence of what they are mocking. It's as ironic as it is almost self-parodic.
Saturday, 10 July 2010
The Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995 was a product of the rise of a militant anti-government sentiment in the US, who want to tear apart the Federal Reserve and “roll back” the state, and was a violent response to the Waco siege. This anti-government sentiment developed as corporations sought to direct all anger and hatred against the state in a bid to further deregulation and privatisation in the US. The bombing was an “alarm bell” to the collapse of America’s civil society and the welfare state, for the benefit of “Corporate America” and completely supported by the federal government. Timothy McVeigh probably hold-heartedly believed the emotive rhetoric about the “invisible hand” and the free-market, his criminal actions were a response to what he saw as a tyrannical government contrary to the individual liberties and rights guaranteed in the US Constitution.
It would appear that Raoul Moat, and others like him, should not be ignored and forgotten after death. Alarm bells are ringing and we have a responsibility to respond. How should we respond? By focusing on changing government policy to compromise on these spending cuts, which will worsen the situation, and to further redistribute wealth, improve education standards and create jobs in deprived areas. It's like the rise of fascist groups in Britain, like the Aryan Strike Force, the problem will fester if allowed to and we could see a resurgence in militant racism. The media coverage Moat's killings, and his hiding for a week, with a 24/7 zeal for bloodshed may have turned Moat into a nihilistic anti-hero. Forensic psychologists often expect one or two copycat killers, Moat may have acted to emulate and "outdo" Derrick Bird's recent spree. The coverage of such stories should be minimal and utterly boring, to avoid inspiring further violence.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
The Bush doctrine, which Blair was masterfully servile to, led the invasions out of sheer jingoism with aims relating to a convergence of self-interest. The desire for self-preservation, whether real or perceived, among the American people was the enabling factor of the invasion of Iraq. But it was the self-interest of the US government, to gain further dominance in the region and hold-off the rise of the Chinese as a global superpower, that collided with the self-interest of American and British business - namely, energy corporations and the military-industrial complex. As well as the need for the British state to feel as though they had some purpose in the world, even if that purpose is as Uncle Sam's poodle. In retrospect, the amount of propaganda used to whip the populace into a fear-driven frenzy of hawkishness that is truly unbelievable. Mohammad Sidique Khan cited the invasions as reasons for his actions and claimed that the bombings of 7/7 were a way to avenge the deaths of Muslims - by holding the people who elected Tony Blair responsible.
The people killed on 7/7 did not deserve to die, nor did the men and women killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, but these atrocities are evidence that the methods by which governments around the world, claim to be "fighting" terrorism, are not working. The reason: the so-called "War on Terrorism" is, on the surface, merely "cleaning up" the after-effects of decades of political turmoil and decay in the Middle East. Furthermore, the "War on Terrorism" appears to be merely a vacuous label, that disguises the kind of military aggression that led to the emergence of "Militant Islam" in the first place. Therefore, in order to prevent terrorism, as opposed to merely "clean up" afterwards, we should be acting to limit the use of violence against the Middle East by the West to achieve political goals.
In a world without being able to make moral judgements to bring such conflicts to an end leaves us in a limbo of cultural stagnation and moral segregation. At it's most extreme and terrifying, this would mean in one part of town drugs and prostitution are legal while in another religious law is enforced and discrimination against gays is common. The atomistic view of the human species, underpinning relativism, that we are made up of different societies and cultures in which certain practices and belief systems have resulted from the conditions in such places. This does not take into account the fact that human beings have always moved around, integration is possible and has occured in the past. Sadly it would appear that liberal intolerance has emerged to fill this void in the place of a real solution to the problem of relativism. To judge terrorists according to the standards of Western values, though this is even more paradoxical and misguided, it is expressed throughout society.
Even on the internet phenomenon that is YouTube relativism has become a subject, by proxy issues, of debates over related political and religious issues. The political community of YouTube are a varied bunch, ranging from socialists to libertarians, and share characteristics with radio-show hosts in the US. The videos are typically monologues delving into certain issues, occasionally these monologues are responses to rebuttals by other users. Just as in the US radio-show hosts often attack one another, Michael Savage has attacked Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck in the past. In regards to the problems of relativism, the coverage of related issues - such as whether or not the burka should be banned - on YouTube ranges from arguments that focus on the subjugation of women and verge on racism to those that shoot down all criticism as racist and a sign of the decadence of the West.
The internet is a great medium through which "cults" can be generated, just as radio and television, that are centred around charismatic personalities and entertaining shows etc. One such personality is Pat Condell, the face of New Atheism on YouTube, who endorsed UKIP in the General Election of 2010. Pat Condell was a comedian in the 1980s and has now made a come-back on YouTube over the last couple of years. UKIP is the leading Eurosceptic party in Britain today, it consists mostly of reactionary liberals and nationalists. Just like right-wing radio-show hosts in the US, Condell rants about the Labour Party and the hypocrisy of a liberal elite destroying Britain with multiculturalism and political-correctness. Mostly these videos are monologues, consisting of witty polemics, and are largely one-way in the sense that there is no interaction between the personality and the viewer, other than through emails and other videos.
Pat Condell stands for freedom, equal rights and secularism as part of his own liberal outlook - adding a dose of hippie anti-war rhetoric. He not only assumes rational and autonomous behaviour from others, he demands it of them and in doing so elevates such liberal ideals to an absolutist level. Thus, even multiculturalism and political-correctness are an obstacle to the "Good Life" Condell advocates. This clashes with the contemporary forms of liberalism which emphasise a neutral state over a pluralistic society based on relativistic assumptions about culture and morality. It could be argued that the liberal intolerance emerging today is a return to the days when liberals like JS Mill had a clear idea of how people should be living - a flourishing life free of constraint from absurd religious traditions and the masses.
These demands go largely unheard as society and the world are far more complex than a consensual arrangement upheld by free individuals, as liberals would have us believe. In a sense, the controversial way that Condell refers to Islamism as "Islam" is really derived from an overly simplistic understanding of complex religious and cultural entities. All of the Abrahamic religions are complex in that they are not just religious groups, made up of many sects, but are sometimes connected with cultural and ethnic identities - as well as political thought. The homogenous and static "Islam" that Condell describes is partly a figment of his imagination, the Qu'ran should not be thought of as the sole origin of Islamic extremism, given the extent to which the political turmoil of the Middle East has contributed to the rise of the phenomenon.
It is as if there is a kind of confrontation between the rational mind and the indifferent universe - similar to 'the Absurd', as Albert Camus wrote of it - taking place in the emergence of liberal intolerance. The ideals may be espoused, by the likes of Pat Condell and Christopher Hitchens, as a solution to the problems of relativism - how to judge religious extremism etc. But these ideals, of various liberties and rights, are commonly understood today as permissive and as a consequence the world remains indifferent. Promoting freedom of speech as a value for it's own sake seems quite strange as many would argue that free-speech is the protection of values, but is not a value in itself. Because people express their views because of some underlying reason or cause, not for the sake of expressing them freely. This is the point that liberals, like Condell, are missing.
If liberalism works best when everyone is a liberal, then liberalism is no more absolute than Christianity as it can then be written off as relative in the same manner. It could be that tolerance and pluralism should be ensured, while the ability to make moral judgements that transcend cultural boundaries is maintained and not taken to an authoritarian extreme. Multiculturalism does not go far enough in furthering tolerant pluralism, as it gives us pluralism but in practice we merely ignore the differences between us - as opposed to celebrating those differences. A benign form of ethnocentrism may be appropriate, as Rorty proposed. This view accepts that values differ from culture to culture, adding that we cannot help but favour the values we have been conditioned with. We cannot help but judge other cultures in accordance with such morals, though we should not repress others and should only promote our culture in the way we would recommend a book to a friend.
Albert Camus - The Absurd
Vote Small, Think Big
Richard Rorty's Ethnocentrism