Saturday, 31 July 2010

A Colour-Blind Society?

Rush Limbaugh once listed individual liberty, limited government, capitalism, the rule of law, faith, a colour-blind society and national security as the core tenets of the American conservative movement. Despite the claims that the American Right are "colour-blind" and are proponents of a colour-blind meritocracy - in which those most deserving rise up the ladder and the unworthy remain at the bottom of the heap - race baiting remains a tool of vilification on the Right. The American Right are "colour-blind" until a black person raises the issue of racism or past injustices suffered by African-Americans in the United States. Because in a so-called "colour-blind" society it is racist to even acknowledge black people as African-Americans, as opposed to Americans, and the same method is used to shoot down arguments for affirmative action.

Just as in the case of Reverend Wright, in which the words of a black preacher were taken out of context and used against the Obama administration, liberation theology was turned into racist psychobabble to justify raising the possibility that Obama might be a racist. It was the same right-wing commentariat that were vilifying Wright and Obama as racists, who supposedly adhere to a "colour-blind" vision of America. Of course, it was "colour-blind" conservatives like Ronald Reagan who opposed the Civil Rights act on the grounds that it infringed on the civil rights of businesses and property owners. Reagan went on to be dragged kicking and screaming into voting for a day honouring the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. But that did not stop him from putting Nelson Mandela on a list of "terrorists" in 1988.

Last week the issue of race has once again resurfaced in American politics, in a similar manner to the ACORN scandal last year, this time it was Shirley Sherrod who was the target of vilification. Andrew Breitbart, a leading conservative blogger, posted a selected excerpt of a speech by Shirley Sherrod at the NAACP (see here). In the clip it appeared as though Sherrod admitted to discriminating against a white farmer on the basis of his skin colour. Soon after right-wing pundits like Bill O'Reilly leaped on the clip as evidence that Sherrod should resign from her position in the Department of Agriculture. The clip was posted on, the same website where the selectively edited videos that brought down ACORN last year were posted. The American Right had it in for ACORN ever since the organisation endorsed Obama in 2008, the Right has propagated conspiracy theories that the election was stolen by ACORN for Obama.

Even though in the full video Shirley Sherrod tells a story of the way she felt when first worked with a white farmer - back in 1986 when she worked for a non-profit organisation - and how her immediate reaction to him was wrong. The point of the story was that she should help white farmers, because "the struggle is really about poor people" in Sherrod's own words. The fact that Sherrod's initial reaction was down to anger going back to the murder of her father in the 1960s is also ignored by the conservative media. But in the end her reaction to the white farmer, who she perceived as "talking down to her", did not go as far as outright discrimination. Sherrod actually saved the man's farm, because solidarity among poor people should transcend the "boundaries" created by centuries of racism in the US.

Sadly, it's too late as the Obama administration forced Shirley Sherrod to resign. The Democrats could be facing a rebellion by voters in November, and Obama is also looking to secure a second term, so Sherrod had to go to avoid any allegations that the Democrats are racist. Breitbart's video did it's damage and the administration looks even more vulnerable to the Atwater tactics of the Republican smear-machine. Unfortunately, the idea of a "colour-blind" society is still prevalent among white Americans and the conservative movement. This is unfortunate as such a vision would ignore past injustices, instead of compensating for them, and would exacerbate the condition of namelessness experienced by African-Americans - as a direct result of slavery which stripped them of their culture and history.

In this vision of a colourless society in which people rise in accordance with their effort there would be no room for addressing the crimes of the past. This would make this an ignorant society, one which carries no guilt and no desire for redemption to resolve the crimes on which a high standard of living enjoyed today is partly built on. It would be a society in which indifference to minorities, women and the poor as a whole would be nurtured. In a sense, it would be affirmative action for rich-white-men who have not gained their position out of effort. Very few would rise up the ladder, as they already do, and the vast majority of people would remain at the bottom. Tensions along racial, gender and economic lines would be concentrated and would fester for years to come. In short, it wouldn't be much of a society to live in if "colour-blindness" were the chosen method to deal with racism.

Related Links:

Saturday, 24 July 2010

BP stands for "Bad Poodle!"

Rewards for Justice?

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.

The matter at hand is whether or not the devolved Scottish Parliament released al-Megrahi so that BP could secure its "commercial interests" in Libya. But more importantly, for David Cameron, how will the British government look in the eyes of the American government after this - the "special relationship" is at stake they claim. US Senators have accused BP of having a hand in al-Megrahi's release, which is another twist in the tale of BP's oil spill in the Mexican Gulf and the outrage surrounding it. Though BP has admitted that it did lobby the British government to further prisoner transfer negotiations between the UK and Libya, but has insisted that it did not lobby to ensure al-Megrahi's release. Considering that BP has $900 million offshore drilling operations in the region, undoubtedly the company was acting to avoid disrupting such interests. It wouldn't be the first time that BP has been a source of agitation and turmoil, though usually for others and not us.

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.

 A "Special Relationship"?

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.

Related Links:
US and UK in standoff over Senate's Lockerbie Investigation
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

The White Man's Burden?

"Take up the White Man's burden--
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,
And work another's gain." - Rudyard Kipling

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.

Saddam Hussein seized power in 1979 by usurping the position of his cousin Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr and purging the Ba'ath party of all opposition - accusing his rivals of being involved in a plot with the Syrian regime to annex the Iraqi Republic. This was a time of great political upheaval in the Middle East, which had emerged from the Six Day War and the failures of Arab nationalism - the rise of a corrupt authoritarianism in Egypt for instance. From these social conditions sprouted Islamism, which was exemplified by the toppling of the Iranian dictatorship through revolution and the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Hussein had the full support of the US government as he presented himself as a counter-agent to the new regime in Tehran. It's likely that Hussein feared, as did the US, that the revolution could spread to Iraq and possibly other major oil-producers.

"Take up the White Man's burden--
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.
But it is not enough to simply condemn the crimes of Saddam Hussein and the Western powers that enabled his regime. If we just condemn and do not act, we reassert the notion that the West is "superior" in our all-powerful status in the world. Instead of Kipling's imperial "White Man's Burden" - that as superior beings we are obligated to "civilise" the uncivilised - we reassert this "superiority" by insisting on our guilt without acting to redeem ourselves and correct past injustices. So we apologise for our complicity in past crimes and then go on to turn a blind-eye to them once more. Take Jimmy Carter, regarded by some as a "heroic liberal" and is attacked as an anti-Semite, for his critique of Israeli foreign policy but throughout his term he did nothing to help oppressed peoples and actually supported genocide in East Timor. Thus, we must put a stop to imperialist wars or we are no better than the hawks who engineered them with such gusto.

Related Links:
Christopher Hitchens on the "Axis of Evil"
On War, Empire and Resistance - Tariq Ali
Bush in Babylon - Tariq Ali

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Raping and Pillaging in Mesopotamia.

"I believe freedom is the future of all humanity." - George W Bush

Despite massive opposition around the world, the US led the invasion of Iraq with the expressed intent of removing Saddam Hussein - a vile and brutal dictator - from power, to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people. Everyone knows that Iraq is a major oil producing nation, second only to Saudi Arabia, and many members of the Bush administration had worked in the energy industry. Oil, the black gold that flows below Iraq's sand and dirt, is the reason most often cited by the public for the invasion today. We now know that 80% of Iraqi oil has gone to American and British energy corporations. But there is another side to the invasion that is often ignored. The Coalition Provisional Authority initiated a wave of radical economic reforms known as "shock therapy". These reforms included the mass-privatisation of state industries and public services, followed by deregulation of the markets and a 30% cut in corporation tax. These same corporations were also permitted to transfer their profits out of Iraq 100% tax free.

The aim of this "shock therapy" was to create the ideal market economy. On which a flimsy brand of democracy would be predicated, as the power of the state had been largely handed over to the private sector. The corporations that were soon dominating Iraq's economy, were fed a diet of no-bid reconstruction contracts by the US government. For example, Bechtel received a $35 million contract which also covered costs up to $680 million. But Halliburton is the most infamous case, a company once run by Dick Cheney, as it received $10 billion worth of contracts through executive agreements. Halliburton was suspected of overcharging, using the money of American tax-payers to cover it's costs, but only $10 million of the $250 million contested costs were not covered by the US government. In a sense, the private sector consists of tyrannical organisations, known as corporations and businesses, in which leaders are unelected and answer to no one, except their shareholders. They act to maximise profit and minimise cost, regardless of the needs and wants of the Iraqi people.

It is these corporate tyrannies that stand in the way of the Iraqi people in pursuing goals that are rooted in traditional politics like nationalism and socialism. The brand of democracy, perhaps more appropriately labelled polyarchy, introduced to Iraq will most likely stifle any attempt at radical or progressive change. As the real power lies in concentrated wealth in Iraq and these corporations will give support to the politicians most hospitable to their needs and wants. We have already seen this in the form of the Constitution of Iraq, which was written by men chosen by the provisional government. This is the reason that the only piece of legislation remaining from the years under Saddam is that which restricts workers from unionising. Initially, it appeared that the Bush administration were aiming to install an iron-fisted government to rule Iraq that was probably not much different to the regime led by Saddam Hussein. In reaction to this there were mass-demonstrations orchestrated by Ali al-Sistani and his followers. The US government was trying to avoid a truly democratic Iraq and ignored the demonstrations, as a result the insurgency began.

These are the real reasons that the invasion of Iraq was a war crime, the pathetic liberal cop-outs that deem the war a "military blunder" are insufficient to condemn the war in it's depravity. The Nuremberg tribunal held aggression, in the form of invasion, as the supreme international crime. Under this umbrella falls all subsequent crimes, like the use of white phosphorous and other chemical warfare in Fallujah which has left hundreds of thousands horribly deformed. Let alone the number of Iraqis killed since the invasion, which is now over 1 million, and those who have been driven from their homes, who number around 4 million. If we want to continue to hold up the war against fascism as the great moral battle of the 20th century, we should at least have the decency to ensure that the Nuremberg principles are not trampled. For that reason, Bush and Blair should both be tried at the Hague. But also reparations should be made, Iraq should be reconstructed in accordance with the needs of the Iraqi people in mind - not in accordance with some utopian capitalist vision.

Friday, 16 July 2010

The Liberal Elite?

It's Ideology, Stupid!

It is often pointed out by those on the Right that most left-wing figures and representatives are intellectuals, writers and politicians - the liberal elite that Fox News reviles. The implication being that the Left is out of touch with the "grass-roots" folk, that their views and theories do not resonate with hard-working families and average blue-collar citizens. This is the typical reactionary populist device, which turns it's opponents into an exploitative and oppressive "elite" from which only a right-wing rebellion can save us. The irony of all of this is that the Right are more likely to believe in a "vanguard" today. When arguably it was once the Left that embraced such ideas, as seen with Lenin, and have long since abandoned them. Whereas today, it is neoconservatives who believe in the use of "noble lies", which presupposes an embrace of elitism, to achieve political goals that are for the good of society.

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.

Common Sense?

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

Rodent Populism.

 The rightly reviled ultra-nationalists of Europe, Jean-Marie Le Pen et al, are widely considered the modern proponents of fascism. This has recently manifested itself in the "exposure" of Nick Griffin to an aggressive audience and panel on Question Time. The programme may have shown Griffin up as he is, a repugnant bigot, but the political class represented on the show engaged in a display of masturbatory narcissism - forgetting about the prejudices of Parliament. Baroness Warsi conveniently forgot about the homophobic leaflets she had distributed in 2005. Let alone the way that Jack Straw fed the debate over the veil and the widespread opposition to Ghurkhas gaining British citizenship among politicians. Instead they portrayed themselves as the politically-correct, tolerant and liberal defenders of freedom and multiculturalism. We all know the horrors of fascism and the modern faces of it are no less despised.

Despite what we would like to believe about our modern politicians, it is from the political class that fascist tendencies are most likely to emerge. These tendencies will be depicted as "moderately" racist and "necessary" measures taken for national security. The Arizona immigration bill is a typical example, it came not from the American Nazi Party but it might as well have, as it stipulates that "foreign" looking individuals must carry the papers needed to prove their US citizenship. If not such individuals can face fines, arrests and even deportation. Let alone the disgraceful Berlusconian approach, which essentially encourages Italian fishermen to kill Africans trying to get to the continent by sea, and the state-sponsored torture of men picked up and accused of "terrorism" in the Middle East.

We have recently seen this theory partly confirmed as the French National Assembly has approved the banning of face-covering veils. 336 politicians voted in favour of the ban leaving only one in opposition, though the Socialist Party boycotted the vote, and the ban will go through the Senate in September. It is likely that by 2011 the veil will be banned in France and wearing it punishable by fines. The President of France, the "Rat Man" so detested by the Left, and his band of conservatives have given the bill their full support in a populist move to further perpetuate the time in power. As the spending cuts kick in, the ban will help keep the electorate on board with Sarkozy through thick-and-thin (in theory) as Muslims become a convenient scapegoat during the rough recovery.

This is a perfect instance of politicians, who are not considered extremist and are in fact liberal and politically-correct, actively cracking down on a religious minority. Out of the French Muslim population (estimated at 5 million people) around 2,000 women wear the veil. The opposition to the veil is supposedly derived from a concern for women's rights and the secular values of French society. Even though it could be argued that the bill is unconstitutional. There is no such legislation on the veils worn by nuns, but that could be because the majority of the masses are Catholic. The French government probably doesn't care about the issue, but it is bound to win over far-right votes at the next election given the delicate nature of the issue.

The logic behind the bill is to deter and prevent the subjugation of women and further integration of the Muslim community into French society. This logic is taken from liberal ideas about the equal rights and freedoms of all individuals. The penalties for wearing a veil include a fine or to be sent on a citizenship course. Notice, the assumption that if one wears a burka it is a rejection of Western culture and secular values. Paradoxically, it seems as though in a liberal society - where individuals are free to be whoever they want to be and live however they wish - the right-wing government of France expects Muslims to live according to a certain standard of "Frenchness". Naturally, not all religious groups are held to this same standard. It could be that there is a new version of the "Harm Principle" in France: you can do whatever you want so long as it is French and you do not harm others.

Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is common in European countries and we may see a similar ban in Britain. It's ironic as this ban is no better than the kind of chauvinistic legislation imposed on women in Saudi Arabia, among other places, where the veil is obligatory. Even the most simple of souls must see that it is contradictory to try and end paternalism through paternalism. Though this warped methodology is ever more common in the West. The "War on Terrorism" is a perfect instance: violence to prevent violence, terrorism to reduce the threat of terrorism. The subjugation of women in the Muslim community, or any other, cannot be resolved by further oppressing women. This should be obvious in this day and age, even to the "Rat Man" and the liberal hypocrites of Whitehall.

Related Links:
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

Generation GTA?

The Grand Theft Auto is by far one of the most popular, if not the most popular, series of video games produced over the last 15 years. The games typically follow a male anti-hero on his journey through the underworld of an American city. Character motivation varies from revenge to greed. Common motifs include narcotics, prostitution, murder and car theft. The setting is usually a satire of a major American city like Miami, New York or Los Angeles. Of course, the games are a conservative's wet dream as the player is placed in a semi-autonomous environment where they can indulge indulge in various acts of crime, ultra-violence and general depravity. Though conservatives focus in on the violence as training children to be cold-hearted murderers. Despite the fact that 500 million copies of GTA 4 were sold in the first week of it's release and very few violent incidents have been linked to the game since it's release 2 years ago.

The self-proclaimed "culture warriors" of the United States are ignoring the exploitative aspect of the character's criminal career in relation to capitalism. This should be expected from modern conservatives in a way, as they are typically conservative on social issues. So economic exploitation and devastation would not interest the majority of them. The fact that the player takes on the role of the Randian hero, an exceptional and creative individual who will rise above the passive conformist masses. This is so because the player is more intelligent than the game and can pass the missions using their capacity to thrive in a predictable and controlled world. The player-character has an advantage over the "herds" around him, as he is not held back by simulated emotions and can plan how to dispatch pedestrians at random. This is even more true if the player has access to cheat codes, in which case not even the game's police can interfere.

The game play is characterised by a degree of "freedom" not available in most games. But this should not be mistaken for true liberty, as the freedom accessible to players is merely the ability to act autonomously in constructed environments and situations. Like with the freedom to choose, the options have already been made for you and all you have to do is take your pick. So the universe of Grand Theft Auto is one in which you can act in ways which you cannot in reality, but only as far as the game allows as part of a constructed scenario. It should be noted out that games are an unusual medium of entertainment as they actually deprive the consumer of content. This functions to keep the consumer playing for longer, in order to complete the game and acquire the desired abilities. Though once the consumer has completed they often don't want to play the game any more, as it was the competitiveness built into the game that was truly thrilling and not the "carrot" they were chasing.

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.

Despite the barrage of satirical messages in the games, the specifically political messages are often ignored by critics and reviewers. Even the "culture warriors" of America have failed to notice the "anti-American" sentiments embedded in the games. Because it is easier to accuse a game of "corrupting" the youth and instigating violence than it is to analyse its political idiosyncrasies. That takes work and may not be easily "linked" to extreme violence. It could also easily turn into a debate on American politics with liberals and conservatives engaging in the acceptable dialogue over whether or not the game is "anti-American". A debate which would not amount to much even in the likely outcome of a victory for conservatives. It would be difficult to ban a game on the grounds that it is "anti-American", whereas if the game is overly violent and sexually deviant a case can be made. The video games are works of satire in a way.

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.

The criminal world is not so far from capitalism in its most unconstrained version, there are no regulations and no taxation of illicit profits. In the underworld there are merely costs and revenue, supply and demand - the "invisible hand" - with the state looming over them seeking to deprive the people of their freedoms. The gangs are competing firms in a dog-eat-dog world where the most brutal and ruthless thrive. These organisations are hierarchical and tyrannical as the individuals belonging to them have no say in the decisions made, they are there to follow orders. Of course, this generalises to the real world and not just virtual reality. Organised crime is not that far from the functions of the market, it differs in that it is illegal and viewed as immoral. In the Grand Theft Auto series, the player is selling his labour to various bosses in completing missions for pay which is far less than he could be paid. Eventually the player ascends the ladder, usually by killing a boss and usurping his position. This is the brutal underbelly of meritocracy.

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

Alarm Bells are Ringing.

The fugitive Raoul Moat has shot himself after a week in hiding from the police which he so loathed. It seems plausible that the recent spate of spree-killing and teenage knife crime in Britain is closely related to social deprivation and the inequality it has resulted from. As there is a correlation between inequality and social deprivation, in more unequal societies there is greater illiteracy, obesity, teenage pregnancy, violent crime, mental illness, depression, drug and alcohol abuse etc. So the "Broken Britain" that David Cameron whined about could be the result of the economics of the last 30 years, which have welcomed inequality and we are now more unequal than we were 40 years as a consequence. Over the same time period, symptoms of social deprivation, such as violent cirme, teenage pregnancy and obesity etc. have all risen sharply. What can we learn from the actions of men like Moat?

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.

In Britain, we have seen Raoul Moat shoot police after shooting his ex-girlfriend and her lover. Moat’s letters expressed a deep and burning hatred of the police, it could be that the police represented a “destructive force” to Moat just as the state appeared tyrannical to McVeigh. Moat had been harassed by the police; his car had been stopped by police around 100 times over a period of four or five months - in the lead up to his brief incarceration. In his first letter to the police, Moat accused them from taking his "freedom" from him. The police are supposed to be a helpful presence in the community, but to Moat and many in this country, the police have become more like a “pest” and a “threat” – fining us for saying “bad words” etc. Perhaps, this rampage is a sign that the violent anti-statism of American militias has come to Britain. Moat could be a precursor to something far much destructive.

In February of 2010, Joe Stack flew a small plane into an IRS building in Houston, Texas and in his suicide note he expressed a similar rage to McVeigh’s – except it was aimed at corporations as well as the state. Nevertheless, the target of Stack’s desperate rage was an IRS building, he chose to attack the American tax system – a common target of disdain for many Americans, for tax is theft to them. Stack’s note ends by outlining what he refers to as the “creeds” of capitalism and communism. “The communist creed: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: from each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.” Though Stack's plane crash and notes are a more clear expression of rage, against the political class and the economy, than Moat's shooting spree. But Stack's attack on the IRS shares the same connotations as Moat's shootings of police.

The desperation of these men, in the face of such problems, is evident in their actions. Destroying the state is not an answer to the problems created by the economy, as the state is merely complicit in the misdeeds of a deregulated and privately-owned financial sector. The chaos of the financial crisis was enabled by the state and the structure of “Big Finance” has not been altered by the state, so it is the government who are responsible for the perpetuation of an economic system which will enrich the few at the expense of the many. But as far as the state’s role goes it is merely complicit in the irresponsibility and greed built into the system. Nevertheless, this is a common reaction to the chaos of the economy. Just like MPs expenses, when bankers were walking away with millions of pounds in bonuses, the newspapers and the public turned on politicians who had claimed thousands of tax-payer money.

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

The "Maximum-Hygiene" State.

Clean up in Isle Two...

The mass-media love a moral panic, it makes for easy work and sky-high ratings, and the coverage of violent crimes, particularly murder, is no different. The latest incidents of this are the spree-killings in the North of England, where we have seen Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird go on seemingly indiscriminate rampages that cannot be explained. Murder loved ones and neighbours, how can a person do such a thing? This just about sums up the coverage of their crimes, but there is another side to Britain’s levels of violent crime. And it isn’t the moral decline of our society, due to a culture of permission and dependency where everything is allowed and nothing is true, as the reactionary press would have you believe. Though social deprivation is partly at fault, but the causes of this deprivation are more complicated.

A recent study conducted by Wilkinson and Pickett reveals that there is a link between inequality and social deprivation. In more unequal societies there tends to be greater rates of illiteracy, obesity, teenage pregnancy, violent crime, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and depression. Of course all of this recent bloodshed cannot be written off as the result of Britain’s inequalities, as there are too many other factors to take into account. But it is no coincidence that these crimes have occurred in regions that have been worst hit by the financialisation of the economy, the shift away from manufacturing to finance, which has decimated many working-class communities in the North. Moat and Bird are members of a population which is superfluous in the economy, they are completely unnecessary.

In Colombia the state has a policy of “social cleansing” in which death squads are sent into the slums to “liquidate” the poor. Similarly in the US the destruction of the welfare state and the criminalisation of the poor, especially African-Americans, functions in the same way. This is the reason that there are almost 10 million people in some phase of the “correctional” system of the US. The control of the “unworthy” and “unneeded” poor in Britain has also taken similar forms. CCTV, ASBOs and curfews are all ways of marginalising people, who are not needed. This system is supposed to “clean up” the effects of social deprivation in our society. CCTV is supposed to help catch criminals, not deter them or even resolve the problems that lead to crime. ASBOs are used to keep the “unruly” poor in line, not to help them better themselves through education and training.

This is the reason that the coverage around the death of “Baby P”, another moral panic, was framed from an angle which emphasised the failures of the social services to seize the child from his dysfunctional home. Most of the coverage has not focused on the social deprivation – the fact that his parents were illiterate and jobless – which nurtured the dysfunctional behaviour that led to the violence in the first place. Instead the mass-media choose to highlight the abuse and failure of the system while ignoring the conditions which require such a system in the first place. At the same time, reactionaries call for the death penalty for the criminals and demand that social workers be fired, not retrained, for their incompetence. This is a symptom of a society which does not deal with its problems – namely inequality – and just “cleans up” afterwards. The government has become a “maximum-hygiene” state.

In the case of Bird and Moat there has also been talk of police incompetence that “failed” to catch Bird as he drove through the countryside and “failed” to stop the domestic violence of Moat’s relationship. The fact that these human beings are regarded as “unnecessary” in our economy is not taken into account. The dysfunctional behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse as an escape route, are also ignored. The media would have us believe that this violence is simply down to the “innate evil” of the perpetrators and we would be better off hanging them. When it’s quite likely that the actions of Bird and Moat are the “alarm bells” that our society is becoming more and more fragmented, dysfunctional and factional. These problems are nurtured by an economic system which abandons and uses the working-class, depriving them of meaningful work and fobbing them off on consumerism for a purpose in life.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

7/7 - The Elephant in the Room.

"Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters." - Mohammad Sidique Khan

The tragic events of July 7th 2005 are often thought of as the British equivalent to 9/11, it is even commonly referred to as 7/7, which was the first time that British citizens had been targeted by a "home-grown" Islamist terrorist cell. By 2005 the world was almost a few years into the "War on Terror" that had been re-declared by President Bush, the "War on Terrorism" had actually been declared by Reagan for the first time in 1981. Of course, we are led to believe that this is merely coincidence, that we would have been attacked regardless of foreign policy because these Islamists hate freedom itself. Though there is truth in that Islamism is opposed to individual freedom and has demonstrated this consistently. But the ongoing debate over the origins of Muslim extremism and terrorism is often an extension of the "Good Muslim, Bad Muslim" game. The arguments that al-Qaeda is purely a religious fundamentalist phenomenon, assume that Islamist terrorism is totally unconnected to events in the world.

If you have an understanding of the events of the last century in the Middle East, particularly the Arab nationalist rebellions against imperialism and the subsequent foreign "interventions" to seize the region's most valuable resource. The violence which established the state of Israel and has sustained the continuing expansion of that state should also be remembered. The failure of Arab nationalism to deal with these problems created a void, where people once gathered around nationality as a source of unity and meaning that transcended individuality and could liberate them from very real problems. The established nationalist regimes became corrupt, a perfect example being the Egyptian regime, and lost the faith of the masses. The autonomous self-determination and meaning that nationalism once offered had been diminished greatly, by corruption and the dependence of these dictatorships on the US for support.

In the vacuum, that followed this collapse of Arab nationalism, the masses sought a new identity marker which could give them independence and solve the problems of their daily lives. A radically theocratic ideology emerged, which we could be called Islamism, that aimed to bring down the corrupt regimes in the Middle East and replace them with Islamic states. Just like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Islamists wanted to accomplish this by "cleansing" society and go back to a highly nostalgic vision of the past. Of course, this would entail the destruction of all aspects of modern society, as it did in Cambodia to take society back to 'Year Zero', that were not compatible with their vision of a "pure" Islamic state. This is the reason that the Taliban acted to destroy the Buddhist heritage of Afghanistan, as well as the perverse logic behind banning all music, literature and depriving women of an education.

The fact that Kabul was dominated by Islamists for five years is the reason that Afghanistan is considered the fundamentalist country of the Middle East. But it should be remembered that 40 years ago Afghanistan was what is called "Westernised" and had a strong communist movement. The Taliban, one of the most reactionary movements ever to emerge in the Middle East, is a sign of what results from years of brutal war and devastation. During the 1980s, Afghanistan was torn apart by the forces the USSR and the US had "mobilised" as part of a proxy-war. The violent forces that had been mobilised were left to do as they please once the war had ended, this led to unprecedented amount of carnage which left over 50,000 Afghans slain. Today, the forces are known as the Northern Alliance, a thuggish group of opiate war-lords, and are our ally in the war against the Taliban. So it seems rational to conclude that there is a link between the political turmoil of the Middle East and the rise of "Militant Islam".

It just doesn't seem plausible that Islamism and the violence it espouses towards the West is based on merely an opposition to liberalism. Though the crimes and misdeeds of Western governments in the Middle East definitely do not justify acts of terrorism. But this is the very reason that the war in Afghanistan is so immoral to begin with. The US and the UK invaded Afghanistan with the full knowledge that it could lead to the deaths of over 7 million people, from starvation alone, while refusing to negotiate with terrorists as the Taliban offered to extradite Osama bin Laden to the US if the Bush administration would present sufficient evidence of his guilt. We would not accept an invasion of our country, especially not under similar circumstances, which is just the reason we should extend that standard to other countries. The double-standard of these "interventions" is what enrages people, and rightly so.

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.

Related Links:

Relativism Knocks...

... Absolutism Answered.

In the West there is often commentary on issues of multiculturalism, tolerance and political-correctness, especially in relation to "Western values" - which Gandhi deemed to be a "good idea". But these debates have developed in reaction to controversies, like the Danish Cartoons of Mohammed, which are part of the wider problems of relativism. The problem of relativism, in all of it's variants, is that there appears to be no rational way to adjudicate conflict as that would constitute absolutism. This is why the cartoons of Mohammed was such a difficult issue. Iconography has been an accepted part of Christianity for centuries, but iconography of God or the Prophet is not acceptable within Islam because it is feared it may lead to idolatry. To the relativist, both perspectives are equal, right and wrong change according to the culture, no culture is absolute. In that sense, freedom of speech cannot be promoted as a universal value, without reverting to a vulgar relativism, but neither can the perspective of Muslims on iconography.

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.

Related Links:
Albert Camus - The Absurd
Vote Small, Think Big
Richard Rorty's Ethnocentrism