Wednesday, March 30, 2005
He's tried that it doesn't matter it's all right now ploy — you know, the Iraqis are enjoying democracy, the Arab World's awakening, and the whole world is hunky dory stuff, so let's not mention the war. But that's a dangerous path to follow, given Blair's record for deceit, as surely if it's all right to deceive for Iraq, it'll be all right for Blighty too, you know, the end justifying the means and all that. Will victory by any means over here be acceptable because it'll keep the unsavoury Tories out? Already people are worrying about the increase in postal ballots, especially in marginals. Postal ballotting is fast becoming the tool of election fiddlers the world over, and I shall not name names for now.
But Blair does sound like a man clutching at straws, even if it's just Jack Straw. The sight of this strange looking man — like someone who's walked out from the cartoon book y Crumb — is enough to make you want to remain sober for the rest of the year. Straw was left to answer for Blair the other day on how they bamboozled everyone to war with Iraq, oh you remember, the Attorney General saying No, No, then yes, and all that. To be honest, I can't remember anything of what he said, and besides, it doesn't matter any more. Then Father of the House Peter Hain — once the scourge of apartheid government — appealing to Guardian readers last Monday, to stay loyal, and forgive and forget:
"All I say is that, right or wrong, ministers like me acted in good faith. Accepting this honest disagreement, surely the priority is to support the fragile fledgling democracy taking the place of Saddam's murderous tyranny - the Iraqi political parties, the free media and free unions that are trying to establish themselves against merciless violent attacks?"Well, if only things were as easy as that. And, if you're warning us kids now to behave or the Terrible Tories will come and wring our necks, why did you behave like them in the first place?
And as for the Tories, maybe there's something of the night in that dark place. Imagine Tory leader Howard, descendant of Immigrant Jews from Transylvania, making illegal asylum seekers an election issue. And what a turnout for the books eh, when a Jewish man starts railing against Gypsies who're waiting to settle on your turf. And he's got a Mr Nasty from Australia working for him to turn the tide against Labour, this little man who's been talking about immigrants coming here to work.
So what do we have left? Oona King, the pro-war sitting Labour MP in the predominanrtly Muslim consitutuency of Bethnal Green and Bow in East London is being challenged by former Scottish Labour MP George Galloway of Respect, the new anti-war party. Respect will probably not do well outsdie Muslim constituencies, but still, it'll give Labour a start where they've been very smug. And old Tariq Ali of the anti-Vietnam war left (remember?) says he'll be Liberal-Democrat for a day on 5th May, if that indeed is election day.
Maybe that'll be the way to go, tactical voting where it'll hurt, really hurt so Blair will have to go.
Five Days In May
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The liberals have always been of two minds about Iraq. Now they have an excuse, and soon they will be able to go back to their everyday life without that anti-war thorn pricking away at their hearts. So it was worthwhile then all those kids dying and life destroyed, and innocent civilians dead, and Falluja, and Guantanamo, — which has introduced a new kind of liasser-faireism in the world's morality front, and the flouting of internationally accepted norms, and Afghanistan?
Excuse me, but doesn't this sound a bit like Madeline Albright who, when asked about those thousands of Iraqi children who died, replied, it was worth it. And this is certainly in step with that nice born-in-the-Bronx kid Colin Powell who said that the number of civilian dead in Iraq wasn't something that he'd care about. Nice old Colin is gone now, pillar of decency turned to pillar of salt, but the gist of it is, dear liberal hearts, that it was all worth it.
Last weekend there was a march in London (and other capitals) to remind us of the war, and it was attended in London by close to 100,000 stalwarts who think — still — that the deaths of innocents, the disruptuion of the lives of the living, the destruction of their country, the sickness of their children, in their hearts, the American dead all returned in — not coffins — but 'transfer tubes', were a price too much.
Let's look at it this way: does the end justify the means? Always? I can think of only very, very few instances where it ought to, but even then I'm still prevaricating in my belief. It is the justified end that's now used to argue for the torturers of Guantanamo, Abu Ghreib, and in all those other hidden places, Then think again about it all: the lies, the deception, the WMDs that didn't, the slight bending of the truth, fake intelligence reports. And now, a censored resignation letter that was handed in by Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy Chief Legal Adviser at the British Foreign Office, that now shows that the government's Attorney Aeneral Lord Goldsmith had not one, but three views on the legality of the attack on Iraq — No, No, Yes. And the Yes version of the advice was only a page long as we've also now found out. That was the shred of advice that Blair got and on which he took the country to war. And even then, there're strong voices now which say that even that opinion was written in Downing Street, not in the Attorney General's chambers.
This happens when ends justifies means.
Across the pond of course, it was all go for them. Again, fake evidence, concealed receipts of arms sales to Iraq, cover-ups of evidence of the effects of DU even on their own boys, then soldiers coming home, dead, under cover of night. There's a move there to rally parents whose children came in a box unannounced, although draped with a flag.
And the ultimate deceit of all is, in their context, not how many Iraqis, but: how many US soldiers actually died?
The end justifies the mean, more like. How can they talk now of democracy blooming in the Middle East when it was they all along who kept snuffing it out? Remember Mossadeq in Iran? remember the Shi'ii revolt in Basra after the first Gulf War? All those poor people no-hopers who were left to be quashed by Saddam's might? Well, come to that, who killed Allende in Chile after he was voted in by popular vote? And who now, ignores all that Saddam-like behaviour in Central Asia whilst condemning it in North Korea, Iran? And where is Israel, that nuclear-powered thug of a state, placed in this?
There's evidence for you now that democracy can be got without war, suffering, brutal attacks on chosen targets. But that, I'm afraid, is not how it works. There's talk now that Lebanon is a concern (poor scapegoat Syria) because the US wants to have a base over there. Perhaps it's true, but when the truth comes out it may be too late.
Perhaps all the nodders and revisionists should think again about that with a clear head.
Shadow of Doubt
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
Take Blighty for instance, this little corner that Napoleon once contemptuously described as a nation of shopkeepers. Now they've discovered that the breaking up of the 192 Directory Enquiries service and dividing the spoils among the awaiting free entrepreneurs was a mistake. Now there are so many Directory Enquiry services — mostly charging exorbitant prices for simple questions about phone numbers — that the people are befuddled. And what's worse is no one can remember any of those Enquiry numbers any more. As they say, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but they did, and it's the customers now who are broke from paying the bills.
This isn't the first lesson that they've learnt, and it won't be the last. Before this they privatised British Rail, the bus companies, everything that moved on track or on four wheels. And what's happened to good old British Rail now? Even India has a better record of their trains sticking to the time-tables. And just take a ride on the buses in Londra to see how privatisation has worked — drivers indifferent to the needs of the passengers er, sorry, customers, some routes going haywire, and conductors — where there are still conductors — who do not care two hoots for the daily travellers. The buses went down the tube when the conductors stopped going round saying "Thank you! Thank you!"
The loss of innocence started for me when share-prices become a major item on the evening news. Why should the price of shares suddenly become so important that it requires its own slot in the daily agenda? Now every country in the world has gone share-price crazy, attentive watchers of this daily casino. Why were they, say, twenty years ago not such an important item of the daily news? Is it because we're greedier now? Then came Bloomberg, that ultimate evil of all the freeloading entrepreneurs. And in Malaysia, a TV station has even copied these grabbing needs and this Bloomberg mania that it has put, in one small TV screen, a smaller wiindow for whoever's presenting their excuse for a programme, a moving line of text down below, maybe of some shares rising or diving, and then something else on the right hand corner. Little wonder then they call it the idiot box, it's for idiots who wouldn't just switch it off when it's become such bedlamania.
And now they have a new genie, called globalisation, out of the bottle, which again is about businesses stretching out their tentacles to all corners of the world. Governments have been so bamboozled, leant upon more like, by this little opportunistic device of the multinationals that they've fallen for it hook, line and sinker. Now they're singing it in one loud chorus: open it up, let it loose, give it up, free for all.
So, all the little countries now say, let's hear it for trade; drowning that little shrill voice that asks: "What about us the people?"
Drowning The Little People
Saturday, March 19, 2005
"In an atmosphere like this," he says, "it's easy for those who do to continue in their errant ways. Because they know that no one will cut any ice with the people up there."
So let's hope the Prime Minister, or someone who reads for him, is reading this.
In Blighty, and I'm sure in other places too where there's a concentration of Malaysia students, there is a group of very important people who're here to sow the seeds of Islam Hadhari, something that's been prepared in a rush and served on a silver platter, perhaps in response to the Neocons' blaring on about Islam in the world today.
I do not know myself what Hadhari is, and from the way they're going on on that, it must be something I've been missing out all these while. But personally, I believe in the Islam of openness, honesty, integrity, and compassion. When I see the virtues of the welfare state, with its concern for the disadvantaged, the poor, I feel that that is Islamic, Hadhari or no. When I see a country in our immediate neighbourhood that makes a fuss of cleanliness, and cares about the shrubs and the trees, and punishes severely civil servants or government ministers who have been tempted by corruption and bribery, I feel that that's Islamic. And when I hear of Omar, one of the four righteous Caliphs, dressed, not in the designer cloak of his time but in near tatters, telling his people to correct him if he'd strayed but to follow him when he was steadfast, then I feel that anyone who professes to be Islamic should follow his way.
As to what Hadhari is, I do not know. From the presence everywhere now, of all those people who're purporting to bring us back to this path, it sounds and looks to me like a nonsensical jaunt, a pointless plea.
If the belief is that there's something wrong with the practise of Islam but not in The Way, then let's go back to see what we have in The Way. Kuala Lumpur is a mess of planning, with money taking precedence over beauty and leisure and people, systems going haywire because the bidders are cronies all who ought to be looked after (see the urban railway system), so let's look into this Hadhari thing, I feel, and see if it has got anything to say.
If the poor are being neglected while the rich are getting fat; if consumerism is being worshipped and crass materialism holding sway, if our idiot boxes are opened to the corrupting influences of the mindless everyday Cheers! or other shrieking American pap that dumbs everything down to a rap, if fat cat politicians are getting even...fatter without fear of ever having to answer; if the rulers are so out of touch that everything they do is now merely dismissed by the people with a shrug because there's nothing else they can do; if the corrupt hold sway...then perhaps, we should look at Islam Hadhari and see if it's got anything at all about all that...in there.
Islam is for the caring, not for the pompous wayfarers, for the people who follow the sunnah of the Rasulullah who rose when the funeral procession of a non-Muslim came past, in honour of a fellow human. Islam is not just for Ramadhan or Hari Raya, it is for here and the hereafter. If, as I suspect, Islam Hadhari is mere window-dressing, then please let's shut down the shop and all turn to something that's more worthwhile.
I hope you're reading this, whoever you are.
Knock, Knock, Who's There...
Sunday, March 13, 2005
And who's resisted? Why the decrepit, anachronistic Lords on the Woolsack who've been wheeled in, arms a-trembling, minds a-bogglin' but hearts set on doing the one decent thing to do. To resist this road to tyranny. It was a sad, funny, bizarre sight: Lady Thatcher, the woman once known as Thatcher the Snatcher, the vanquisher of Galtieri in Malvinas-Flaklands, the Iron Lady, now coming out to vote against or even water down, Labour's anti-terrorism law that'll give the Home Secretary (a politician) the right to deprive people of civil liberties without rhyme, reason, or right to know.
So the Bill became law after 31 hours of debate in the House of Lords, the longest in its history. But thanks to the decrepit Lords — average age 68 — whose hereditary status Blair wants to abolish to fill the House with his own cronies, some decent elements were injected into the law, controversial though it may be. The Home Secretary has promised to have the law reviewed by the House in a year's time, a compromise to the "sunset clause" earlier demanded by the Conservative party that would have ended the law after a year.
It is clear that the law is aimed at Muslims who are now already facing curtailments in their civil liberties here. The new law now extends the Home Secretary's power of detention to British citizens, and is raising questions why such sweeping powers are needed which were not even thought of during the height of the IRA bombings in the 1970s (when these urban terrorists received funding largely from their supporters in America). Blair's approach to this has been typical. Here again was the man who raised the question of non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) to justify invading Iraq, ranting about 700 potential Muslim terrorists waiting in the wings to create havoc in British civil society. Then his own minister said that the number was actually 200 or fewer. Then Blair said that the security services (MI5, MI6) opposed the 'sunset clause' , only to be contradicted in the House of Lords by his own Lord Chancellor Falconer who said that no such approach had been made to the Prime Minister by the police and the security forces.
Exchange in the House of Lords:So how can we trust a Prime Minister who's proved again and again that all it needs to show his true nature is by the simple transposition of the vowels in his surname?
Earl of Onslow: "Have the security services told the Government that the security of the country will be at risk if we have a sunset clause?"
Lord Falconer: "No, my Lords, they have not."
The debate in the Lords and the melting down of the opposition in the Commons (among Blair's own Labourt party members) shows how fragile democracy can be in the face of party politics and social and political bigotry. Some sections of the press kept harping in their reports on the 'unelected chamber' that the House of Lords is, yet here is another demonstration that at crucial times, how precious is the the wisdom and the experience of this unelected chamber. And Blair is working to end all that now, even though Parlaiment already has a way to deal with recalcitrant Lords through the Parliament Act that can over-ride the Lords' opposition, and which Blair had used in the past and was threatening to use again Last Friday.
On the eve of the passing of this new terrorism act, five Muslim detainees were released from Belmarsh Prison ("Britain's Guantanamo") on judicial order because of the expiry of the old law. These detainees — including a mysterious man named Abu Qatada, styled a Muslim 'cleric', who once offered to spy for the MI5 — are as good as being convicted terrorists as far as the press are concerned, though they have never been charged or tried, and have been detained for three years.
And this is the worrying aspect of the law: much as the nation needs to defend itself against terrorist attacks, it is an odd day when a country that speaks of introducing democracy and liberty to the outer reaches of the world also curtails the same thing to people that they hold in detention in the name of those freedoms. A terrorist who attempts to bomb and maim innocent people deserves to rot in gaol forever once he's proven to be so by due process of law. If we do not subject them to such scrutiny, how sure can we be that they're not innocent people?
Muslims are bieng specially targeted by this law, as Blair's own counter-terror minister Hazel Blears admitted earlier this month when she said that Muslims must put up with being targeted by police. If that is so, then would Muslims also be required to expect less than the other people? If they're arrested, what acts are they held for? For what crimes? These are questions that cut through to the heart of guilt and innocence. How could knowing the grounds for their detention breach the ramparts of national security? In 2002 and 2003, nine Algerians — Fouad Lasnami, Abdellah Abdelhafid, Mourad Idir Abes, Ghalem Belhadj, Karim Benamghar, Salah Moullef, Hakim Ziem, Sofiane Lahamar Hassim Ziem and Karim Ziem — were arrested in Edinburgh and Glasgow. They were taken in under the the anti-terrorism act, and all were released without further charges twelve months later.
Of them men detained — without charge, without knowing the nature of their 'offences' in Belmarsh — a number have been driven to mental instability and need psychiatric care. Those released before last Friday will be subject to strict supervisory orders — twelve hour curfew, electronic tagging, banned from using the internet or mobile phones, and meetings only witrh approved people. Yet they will still remain uncharged, unaware of wehat offences, if any, they'd committed. Those who've been released have their lives ruined forever.
As Ghalem Belhadj (here as an asylum seeker) said on his release: "Who are they trying to make secure when innocent men and families like mine, who came here to seek safety, are terrorised? There is one law for Muslims and one law for others."
End of Magna Carta
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
We've all forgotten about the so-called Lebanese civil war, or the daily bombardments of the beautiful city of Beirut by a neighbouring power, or the cold-blooded murders in Sabra and Chatilla. We hear voices now that Hezbollah was a foreign creation — no, not Saudis, but Israel — to create yet another faction in a country already fractured by war. Lebanon was a beautiful, thriving country torn by factionalism and internecine feuds, encouraged by people who created the Hezbollah. Who encouraged the Maronite Christians to arm and sow dissension and murder? Who unleasehd them into Sabra and Chatilla? So then as now, nothing's changed at all.
It was Syria that moved back into its frormer province of Lebanon (torn from its body by France) to bring back stability. Ten years ago Syria had 42,000 troops in Lebanon, but they've been withdrawing and deploying ever since, and there're only 13,000 there now, not inside but outside major Lebanese cities. And they've been continuing their withdrawal. This is what the Syrian ambassador to the United States said in a radio interview earlier this month, but who will hear him now?
And where was the United States in the meanwhile? Busily preparing itself for the Neocon world that it is about to foist itself on Lebanon and Syria.
I've already said that I have doubts that it was Syria that killed Hariri, friend of Syria and former Lebanese Prime Minister. Of course I lack the proof, but so do all those people who are so certain that it was Syria. Instead, all the press in the world are repeating what the US have been feeding them, that it was done by an obscure group that no one's heard of, based in — wait for it — Syria.
Now, there're people out demonstrating in Lebanon for democracy. We also saw a crowd in that Square on that fateful day when the statue of Saddam Hussain was toppled, yeah, by people ushered in by invading soldiers and posing proudly for the camera. This is how democracy is bursting out nowadays, 'spontaneously' everywhere that even the Independent newspaper is asking, could Bush be right after all?
Today 500,000 people came out in Beirut in support of Syria. Well, bully for them I say, and bully for democracy now. And while we're at that, let's have some demonstrations in Iraq too to see how many would like to see the US army stay.
Meanwhile, in the cauldrons of Uzbekistan, they still probably do have prisoners screaming in pain in boiling water. This is what former British ambassador Craig Murray told his bosses in the Foreign office, but he was sacked for that. Uzbekistan is too valuable an ally in the fight against terrorism that even state terrorism is acceptable. In fact, all those 'confessions' extracted by torture in boiling water were readily picked up by the intelligence organisations of the West as basis for detaining and bundling off other people to torture cells.
And oh, this is hardly time for laughter, but when when Craig Murray was telling the world about those abuses, there was a demonstration too outside the British embassy there, led by a man named Mikhail Ardzinov, whose human rights organisation IHRSU sprang suddenly from out of nowhere. "Human Rights is not Politics!" their placards say, "Mr Ambassador, don't interfere with our domestic affairs." It reminds me of a comment by Edward Elgar when riots broke out in Saudi Arabia during the visit of one of his musical rivals. Nothing to do with him, I should add, but it didn't stop Elgar from commenting: "I didn't realise that the Arabs are that musical."
Assad State of Lebanon
Friday, March 04, 2005
This issue of a Muslim fighting for her 'right' to wear her Muslim dress at school brings echoes of the fight that the Muslims lost in France against the requirements of her secularist laicite. Laicite used to mean that religion played no role in government whilst the people were free to follow their particular practices, but it's now extended to mean that religions, especially Islam, have to follow the dictates of the secular.
The irony in this case of Shamina Begum is not that she came from a school where the headmistress was herself Muslim and that 79% of the pupils shared her faith, but the tabloid Daily Mail saying on Thursday that this will be the end of choice. The Daily Mail is, of course, a paper that has chosen to exercise its choice many times. Now, in its battle against Tony Blair and the Labour government, it is whipping up the issue of asylum seekers to a frenzy. Now, with its own knickers once again in a twist, all the Daily Mail could come up with after Shabina's two years of legal nightmare and loss of her place at school, is the effete question if this be the end of school uniforms. Well, the Mail loves uniforms: during the second World War, it came out in support of the Brown shirt fascists and the Nazis in Germany.
But to be fair, they were not a lone voice. In a country that nurtures eccentricity and raises individualism on a pedestal, most of the press have raised much the same issue. Begum's victory has destabilised the institution of uniformity in schools, ended choice, because schools now have to allow this freedom now recognised by the court of law as fundamental to a human being. What possible damage could Begum's jilbab do to human society, common decency? In fact, in all the pictures published today, Shabina Begum in her jilbab and hijab looked more fetching than her schoolmates in their shalwar khameez. Then oh, said all those the distraught voices further, allowing her to wrap herself this way will put in the minds of those who don't a feeling that they're less devout as Muslims, and, by contrast, (I suppose), make Begum the wearer feel superior. Well, oh!
These are difficult times for Muslims, when choice means mainly the freedom for other people to choose for them their proper modes of behaviour. Only the other day the Mail's own liberal-turned-right columnist Melanie Phillips was bemoaning the fact that Muslims are now asking for time off to pray at work. Well, well, well, what's happened to our differences, to our religious tolerance, multiculturalism and all? Whatever will these Muslims ask for next, the right not to be spat at by the rabid media?
No one's asked Melanie Phillips or other Muslims to wear the jilbab at school as far as I know, but Shabina's reappraised her religiosity and feels that her true fulfillment as a Muslim can only come this way. If anyone disagrees with that, "look at verse 3.59" she says. and some Muslims agree with her, some don't, but let her and many others like her have their way. What is more important, her choice of attire based on her belief (and this is her belief) and her continuing education, or her being dressed like all the other people?
And oh, by the way, her counsel in the Court of Appeal was one Cherie Blair, QC, whose husband Tony Blair told the Women's Hour programme on Radio 4 last week — in order to push draconian measures through Parliament that will allow suspects to be detained in their own homes on the order of the Home Secretary, without judicial intervention — that there are now 700 Muslim potential terrorists in Britain waiting to do mischief. In the same week when one of his cabinet members told Muslims that they must now get used to being treated as terrorism suspects.
Drubbed By The Jilbab
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
On September 13 1993, an accord was signed in Washington between Israel and the PLO that was hailed as a breakthrough. When needled by television interviewer Cokie Roberts on why Israel should trust Arafat, ex-Secretary of State James Baker replied, "Cokie, there's no reason why they should trust or not trust Arafat. The fact is, they [Israel] haven't given up anything." Israeli writer Amos Oz told the BBC then: "Well, September 13, 1993 is the day of the second greatest victory of Zionism, the first one being the establishment of the state in 1946." This is what the late Edward Said — who was opposed to the Palestinians going to the negotiating table on demeaning terms — had to say about the accord:
"As subsequent history has proved, the PLO has given up all the...resolutions passed by the UN since 1948, including, and above all, Resolution 194, which says that Palestinian refugees made refugees by Israel in 1948 are entitled to compensation or repatriation...In addition, and this is something deeply troubling to me, the PLO has accepted the notion that it's not negotiating for the national rights of the Palestinians and self-determination. What it's negotiating for is the interim limited self-rule of the residents of the West Bank and Gaza So both in the exchange of letters and in the declaration of principles which Israel and the PLO signed on that day, there's no mention of the Palestinians who do not reside on the West Bank and Gaza. This is over fifty percent of the Palestinian population, which are now stateless people in Lebanon, Syria, 1.4 million in Jordan, and so on. And all of that's been thrown away."So what new concessions will the Palestinians be rehabilitated into in London prior to fresh negotiations?
For a view of what's happening on the ground now, I've borrowed these two illustrations from that very informative website If Americans Knew:
New Settlements Built (March 2001 - July 2003)
60+ new Jewish-only settlements have been built on confiscated Palestinian land between March 2001 and July 11, 2003. There have been 0 cases of Palestinians confiscating Israeli land and building settlements.
Demolitions of Israeli and Palestinian Homes
0 Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians and 4,170 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since September 29, 2000.
How many Israeli and Palestinian Children Killed Since September 29, 2000? Israelis and Palestinians Killed Since September 29, 2000?UN Resolutions Targeting Israel and the Palestinians? Go to If Americans Knew now and find out the grim facts.
Negotiating to Extinction