Monthly Archives: November 2007

Shambles on the Left

I have just accepted an offer to speak at Respect’s national conference. Let me be quite clear – I will speak against the war and Bush foreign policy, and in favour of human rights, to pretty well any audience. I spoke at the Lib Dem fringe, and am doing an event with the Tories in December. My politics are no secret – I tend to vote Lib Dem in England and Scot Nat in Scotland, sometimes at the same election! Nowadays my loyalties are to principles, not parties, and there are individuals I respect across most parties who I believe are broadly in line with those principles.

I am telling you this because Respect have split, and I will be talking to one of the shards. I would speak to any other shard if asked, too.

The far left in this country seems wonderfully self-destructive. Watching the Scottish Socialist Party, which had actually been electorally successful, tear itself apart over accusations that Tommy Sheridan had indulged in some of my hobbies, was morbidly fascinating. Why Respect think they have enough mass to split is beyond me. It’s the People’s Front of Judea all over again.

Peculiarly, the tensions between socialist politics and some of the more conservative views of Islam, which made Respect a strange alliance, do not seem to be what split it. I don’t really know what did cause the trouble. Power struggles between individuals are all I can discern.

The reason I care is that this all impacts on the Stop the War movement. I have moaned before that it is very unfortunate that a movement whose aims are supported by a majority of the British population, is organisationally dominated by those from a tiny minority perspective. The reason is, of course, that they are prepared to put in the work and know how to do the organising – the process is not sinister, but the failure of the Stop the War Coalition to turn mass support into a mass movement may yet prove to be a historical disaster. Lib Dems, Tories, Scot Nats, Plaid Cymru and old Labour are hugely outnimbered at STW conferences by less mainstream groups. I speak to STW meetings up and down the country still, though I do many more for Amnesty International nowadays. But the STW meetings in the provinces have shrunk right down towards their SWP core.

STW itself seems to be splintering over Iran. There is apparently a division over whether it is legitimate to criticise the Iranian government, while opposing any attack on Iran. My own view is that Iran has a dreadful government strongly influenced by theocratic nutters, the human rights situation is very poor, and it has stupidly handled the nuclear weapons question with unhelpful bellicosity. But I also think that the extremism would die down if the US stopped feeding it by mindless antagonism, and that an attack on Iran would be even more disastrous than the attack on Iraq. The tendency to whitewash anyone who opposes Bush – be it Ahmadinejad, Putin, Chavez or whoever – is one of the specimes of flabby thinking which prevents the anti-war case from being put with the force it deserves.

Meantime, I shall continue to do what little I can, by writing and by speaking to whoever will listen. But we must not give up on the anti-war movement – as time ticks on with the Republicans still on the back foot approaching the Presidential election, an attack on Iran becomes every day more likely. American electoral politics, not Iran’s nuclear power programme or international relations, will be the key factor.

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Frank Goebbels Gardner Strikes Again

With The Queen’s Speech tomorrow and Gordon Brown intent on ramping through 2 month detention without trial for Muslims, the traditional ceremony has been performed of wheeling out the Head of MI5 in advance of the Queen’s Speech to tell terrible lies about the extent of the terror threat. “Pinnochio” Evans tells us there are 2,000 potential terrorists in the UK – and then throws in casually that it could be double that.

That is plainly bollocks. it is far too high a figure. The IRA – who were much more persistent and lethal terrorists in the UK – had a membership in the 80’s, when at the height of their bombing campaign, of about 90 actual terrorists. The current 2,000 clearly have severe productivity problems by comparison.

Any genuine security expert will tell you that Evans’ figures are far too high. Assuming the large majority of these “terrorists” are adult male, that means according to Evans at least one in every 150 adult male Muslims in the UK is a terrorist, and at his higher surmise signifcantly more than one in a hundred. Plainly, to anyone who actually meets any Muslims, that is impossible.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of “Security consultants” who make a fat living from exaggerating the threat of terrorism and then advising on how to counter it. The BBC usually has no problem finding up this kind of so called “Security expert” to reinforce the ludicrous scare. Today the BBC rolled out Dr Sally Leivesley – who they failed to point out is Managing Director of “Newrisk Ltd”, an archetype of those seeking to make money from spreading fear.

And they have the ever reliable Frank Gardner. Chiselled profile held high, impeccable hair swept back, upper lip stiff, poppy impeccably in place, Gardner can be relied upon to retail any absolute rubbish the security services spew out without the slightest danger of passing it through a filter of independent thought. He can also be relied on to produce a meaningless graphic to illustrate the most ludicrous of propositions.

To date his finest hour was when 250 police stormed a house at Forest Gate and shot a completely innocent young postman as he got out of bed. The police explained that they were searching for a “Chemical weapons vest”.

There has never, ever been a “chemical weapons vest”, anywhere in the World. The very concept is nonsense – the point of a chemical weapon is to achieve maximum dispersal of the chemical, and wrapping it in fabric around the human torso would be ludicrous. That is why there has never been a chemical weapons vest.

Nonetheless the noble, earnest Gardner introduced a graphic of what a chemical weapons vest might look like – a laughable photo of a camouflage pattern waistcoat full of suspicious bumps and loops. He might just as well have labelled it a nuclear bomb vest. What a farce! What a wanker!

Anyway, Gardner was at it again tonight with a graphic to explain the latest ludicrous claims. How do they know there are 2,000 terrorists, he asked? Well, they can’t tell us because it’s intelligence, he explained. But the helpful graphic fills the screen, with hundreds of sinister black silhouettes of unknown terrorists, interconnected by numerous black lines indicating networks, nodes and axes of evil. And to explain it all, every so often, there was a not blacked out figure, a suicide bomber or, glowering at us, Osama Bin Laden. Of course!! That’s the evidence!! There really are thousands of them.

I was going to retaliate by producing a graphic of thousands of sinister silhouettes linked by criss-crossing lines, and dotted among them Goebbels, Hitler, Attila the Hun, Stalin, Mao and Frank Gardner. But I can’t be bothered – sounds like a job for Bloggerheads.

The truth is that since September 11 Islamic militants have killed about 70 people in the UK. That’s 12 people a year in a country of 60 million. Every death is terrible, but a threat to our existence it is not. You have a much better chance of drowning in your own bath, of being struck by lightning or of winning the national lottery than of being killed by a terrorist. But that wouldn’t persuade you to give up your civil liberties, or that we have to invade more oil rich countries for our security.

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Dirty Diplomacy Reaches the Parts…

I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed by the failure of Dirty Diplomacy so far to garner any major reviews in the United States. But it continues to be appreciated in small niches, like the St Paul’s American Asian Gazette :

The book often reads like a travelogue as Murray tells about his compelling travels through the country, and he also publishes previously secret memos and letters add meaning to his stories. It is an appeal to the global community to enter the hot debate over what policies and actions are acceptable in the name of security. Despite the occasionally distracting portrayal of himself as a Lone Ranger defying the evil regime and exposing the wrongs perpetuated by the complicity of others, his tale is powerful and adds a meaningful voice to the growing global call for social justice.

Not entirely complimentary, but again nice to know that someone there read it. Meanwhile a very good bit of writing coming from Middlesborough:

First, take a look at pictures of Usmanov. That man appears to have no DNA. The blueprint for his being seem to be the seven deadly sins. In fact, I’d bet each cell in his body positively pulsates with greed, lust and avarice. Have you ever seen such drooping bulldog jowls, tiny pin eyes squinting out of a heaving mountain of rubbery flesh and huge murderous meaty hands other than those not behind bars?

This scientific conclusion is based on solid objective evidence. That is, I once spent a couple of hours in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, and I can unreservedly state that it’s a gangster state. The officials that I had the er. interesting fortune of meeting wore black leather jackets, thick gold chains hung off their necks and their fingers were braced with even more gold.

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Musharraf Presses the Panic Button

It is worth stating the obvious – Musharraf has always been a military dictator, strongly supported by the US and the UK. He has not just become a military dictator. What he has just done is tighten authoritarian control, clamping down on the press, opposition parties and the judiciary. He is becoming a worse despot, taking long strides down the road of authoritarianism, and dashing fond hopes that he may be set on gradually returning democracy.

The timing of his pressing of the panic button seems dictated by a need to pre-empt the Supreme Court finding his re-appointment as President unconstitutional. Its connection to Benazir Bhutto’s return is confusing, but her initial statements seem to be condemnatory, short of actually doing anything about it. It has to be said that, with very few exceptions, Pakistan’s leading democratic politicians are, and always have been, a venal shower. But being clear eyed about that in no way justifies Musharraf’s desperate attempt to extend his power.

A large proportion of the over a thousand or more arrested are in fact the “Good guys” in this – human rights activists, the better journalists and campaigning lawyers. That is inexcusable.

The posturing in the US and UK would be amusing if it weren’t appalling. Rice and the Pentagon have a distinctly different nuance, while the UK government tries to get away with minimal huffing and puffing – and no action. The whole flawed logic of the War on Terror is exposed yet again. I had to watch it as they supported Karimov. A measure of their hypocrisy is that even their mild rebukes of Musharraf are harsher than anything they were meteing out to Karimov – not because they mean it, but because in the case of Pakistan the World is watching and they feel the need for some pro-democratic spin to hide their true actions.

Meanwhile just how close we are to similar government actions to those in Pakistan comes with a government ratcheting up of the anti-Muslim rhetoric following the De Menezes verdict. The head of MI5 is wheeled out today to make the ludicrous assertion that there are 2,000 individuals posing a potential terrorist threat in the UK.

Those confessions and mass denunciations wrung in the torture chambers of Uzbekistan, Pakistan and elsewhere do come in useful when you need to press the fear button again, don’t they?

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De Menezes and Lies

Of course Sir Ian Blair should resign. Hopefully he might finally do the decent thing once the inquest jury brings in a verdict of unlawful killing.

The main reason he should go is the telling of lies about the incident. For me it is deeply disturbing just how much traction these lies have. Surfing around internet chat on the De Menezes incident, there are hundreds of people asserting that De Menezes did not stop when challenged and ran from the police, while wearing a bulky jacket. Once you can get the germ of a lie into the heads of the public, it sticks. Plainly those police lies retain their force even though news bulletins for a fortnight have been showing CCTV footage of De Menezes perfectly normal behaviour in the underground, and shown quite plainly that he was wearing tight clothes .

He did not run, was not challenged, he walked quietly onto the tube where he was suddenly, with absolutely no warning, held down and viciously murdered. Yet the myths put out to justify his murder appear ineradicable.

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Really Lovely Review

Occasionally you read a review from someone who really “gets” what I am trying to do, and it gives you a lovely warm feeling inside. For me, that feeling is redoubled when that person is writing from somewhere I have never heard of. So here is a review from the Kingston Observer (that’s Kingston USA, not Jamaica). No. I don’t know where it is either. But I’m definitely going to go there one day now.

Before the torture scandals of Abu Ghraib became public, there was the matter of the prisoner who was boiled to death in Uzbekistan. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to that country, learned of this tragedy and exposed it, urging the British government to distance itself from U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. propped up the repressive Uzbek regime with half a billion dollars yearly in exchange for the use of an air base. For his trouble, Murray was harassed mercilessly by his own government and ultimately forced out of his position.

By his own unvarnished admissions, Murray enjoys a drink or more and he is a serial adulterer now living with his Uzbek lover, Nadira, in London, but his morality is surely greater than the sum of those two parts. He’s like the Bill Clinton of the British foreign service, messy on the personal side, brilliant and compassionate on the other. He no doubt exposed his own flaws to snatch the opportunity from his political foes. Well done and bravo.

Murray traveled the Uzbek countryside, consulting with British businessmen and ordinary Uzbeks whose lives are a torment. Growing cotton is a major industry in the country, and at harvest time, university students and hospital patients who are ambulatory are sent to pick the crop.

The political and judicial issues, however, are what landed Murray in his own vat of hot water. His description of a trial he attended is horrific since even the witnesses are tortured to produce the desired testimony. According to Murray, the post 9/11 rage resulted in the practice of sending prisoners to countries like Uzbekistan where human rights is an unacknowledged concept. Muslims are tortured in the name of the war on terror. When prisoners are executed their families are charged for the bullets. The hideous irony, of course, is that the dictator Saddam Hussein received justice at the end of a rope, while Uzbek President Karimov got a fat check from the U.S. Ultimately, Karimov embraced Mother Russia and tossed us out.

By turns unbearably sad and raucously funny, this book is a must read by a man with courage in spades and an acute sense of perspective and humor. Dirty Diplomacy is an extraordinary book.

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