Daily archives: January 24, 2008

A Different Culture

The ever formidable Brian Barder had posted a fascinated observation on the growing weirdness of US political culture. Here is an excerpt:

It’s sad because it’s another example of the steadily widening gulf between the political culture in the US and that in the rest of the west, exemplified by the Iraq war (leaving aside, if possible, the UK’s culpable complicity in it), the so-called “war on terror” and its implications for civil liberties, extraordinary rendition and Guantanamo Bay, the role of religion, attitudes to capital punishment and the treatment of prisoners, demonstrative patriotism, and now the role of the US sub-prime market in bringing about the impending recession which will engulf the rest of us as well as the United States. Alas, it’s no longer the case that the rest of the civilised world looks to the US as its moral and political leader. And I fear that the causes of this ever-widening gulf go much deeper than just the consequences of the catastrophic presidency of G W Bush: whoever succeeds him will not be able to build a durable bridge across it. Many of us small-L liberals used to feel that we had more in common with our American cousins than with our historical enemies just across the English Channel, the French and the Germans, and even our slightly more distant historical friends, the Scandinavians and the Dutch. I don’t think that’s true any more.


The whole is well worth reading. Barack Obama leaves me stone cold too. I think we underestimate how different and dangerous the US now is. Last year I delivered a talk on Central Asia at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. As I sat preparing my lecture, I had the television on low in my hotel room because I don’t like complete silence. Gradually I found myself listening intently to an evangelical preacher, telling his TV congregation that they should not worry about casualties in Iraq because the Bible showed us that there had to be a great and bloody conflict in the Middle East before the Second Coming of Christ. So the more people who died in these wars, the closer we are to Jesus.

Now that message would be acceptable to very few people in the UK – just Tony Blair and his immediate friends, really. I related this astonishing thing I had heard to some American lecturers over lunch. They told me that at least a third of their students would believe this stuff. And this was Ann Arbor, not the Deep South. It is essential that we all wake up now to the fact that the US is a deeply disturbed and psychotic society, and by far the biggest danger to world peace.

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Peter Hain

I am really sorry Peter Hain has resigned. Of course, part of me is delighted to crow at the exposure of yet another New Labour financial scandal. But other feelings overrule this.

Peter Hain was the hero of my childhood, who inspired my interest in politics, and helped cement my values, through his anti-Apartheid campaign. I joined the Young Liberals and was soon on their National Executive and a contributor to Liberator. Hain was a talented footballer, and playing against him at a Young Liberal conference in Great Yarmouth around 1975, the only way I could cope with him was to kick him in the bollocks and have him carried from the field.

There was an amazing parallel to this in 2000 when I was playing alongside him in a charity game in Accra, and broke my shoulder in a nasty tackle – he helped carry me off the field.

It was the existence of Peter Hain as a Minister which was one of the factors which led me naively and disastrously to believe for a long while in Uzbekistan that our government could not be knowingly receiving intelligence from torture, and it must be a low level operation. When the government in consequence of my interventions on this issue tried to frame me with false allegations, in a personal way it came home to me hard just how completely Hain and the other New Labour careerists had sold their souls.

Yet I feel sorry for him now, which shows what a sentimental old twit I still am.

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Occasionally there is a moment of revelation, when an image makes plain an underlying truth. I think the Palestinian breakout through the Wall from Gaza into Egypt is such a moment. The joy of the ordinary Palestinians as they poured through the gap to do simple things like stretch their legs and shop, brought home graphically a truth which the Western media has been hiding for years: that an entire population is imprisoned in Gaza.

The images were so obviously reminiscent of the joy at the fall of the Berlin Wall, that it is going to be difficult to convince public opinion in most of the world that it is a good idea to wall the Palestinians up again. Only the most purblind can fail to realise that this terrible imprisonment and degradation is a major cause of Islamic radicalism, not only in the rise of Hamas but worldwide. It is essential that Egypt now resist pressure from the US and Israel to intern the Palestinians again.

Where is Tony Blair, the Middle East “Peace Envoy”? Not speaking out for the Palestinians right to freedom, certainly.

No doubt Aaronovitch and the Times will now call me anti-Semitic again.

Meantime back at home the government blindly pushes ahead with increasing Muslim grievance with yet another “Anti-terror” bill designed to curb our civil liberties still further. There is no possible justification for the desire to introduce internment at home. This will merely stoke still further the sense of grievance and alienation that can lead a tiny minority into violent reaction.

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Early draft of Iraq Dossier to be made public

From BBC Online

An early draft of the government’s infamous dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction must be made public, the Information Tribunal says.

The document, by Foreign Office press chief John Williams, was an unpublished draft of the dossier which was unveiled by Tony Blair on 24 September 2002. The Foreign Office had appealed against the Information Commissioner’s order that it should release the draft. It is not yet clear whether the Foreign Office will appeal to the High Court.

Weapons expert Dr David Kelly was found dead shortly after being named as the source of a BBC report suggesting the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction was “sexed up”…

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