Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Robert Mugabe, the Butcher of Zimbabwe, Dies

September 8, 2019

on Friday the media reported the death of Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe. Mugabe had been the leader of one of the country’s two opposition, nationalist movements against White colonial rule. There’s seems to have been more than a little optimism over his taking over the mantle of government. Ian Smith, the country’s previous president, had been so opposed to Black majority rule that he had unilaterally declared the country independent of Britain. Nevertheless, he declared that Mugabe was the best man for the job. As a symbol of the country’s new, African identity, the country’s name was changed from Rhodesia, after Cecil Rhodes, the infamous 19th century British imperialist, to Zimbabwe. This is a massive fort, dating from at least the 12th century, whose size and construction so astonished western archaeologists that it was considered the work of outsiders – the Chinese or the Arabs – before it was firmly demonstrated that it was indeed the work of the indigenous peoples, probably the Shona.

These new hopes were to be tragically and horrifically disappointed. Mugabe soon demonstrated that he was a brutal thug, determined to use violence and mass murder to hang on to power. He and the other members of his wretched party looted the country of millions, enriching themselves while they forced the mass of its people into abject poverty and starvation. Mugabe was a member, I believe, of the Shona, historically one of the weakest and most persecuted peoples in that part of Africa. Mugabe was determined to reverse this, and began his reign by attacking and butchering the Ndebele. Zimbabwean soldiers entered Ndebele villages to beat and murder their inhabitants. And it wasn’t just the Ndebele. He soon moved on to other groups and peoples. The thug’s approach to campaigning was simple. During his elections he sent his thugs into villages to break the arms of the local people. They then told them that if the didn’t vote for Mugabe, they’d come back and break their other arms.  In the early part of this century he moved on to attacking White farmers. There appears to have been some agreement with the British government during the negotiations for Black majority rule that Britain would pay a sum to the Zimbabwean government, which would then be used to buy White-owned farms, which would then be handed over to Blacks. Mugabe claimed this money had not been paid, and moved his troops in. The farms were invaded, their owners brutally dispossessed. As with the Ndebele, those who resisted were savagely beaten and killed.

This came at a time when race relations in this country were also fragile. I think it was about the same there was a general election, and once again immigration was an extremely contentious issue. Black groups, such as Operation Black Vote, were also campaigning for a greater number of Black and Asian MPs. I think part of the rise in racism at the time may well have been due these racial issues in Britain coinciding with genuine, anti-White political persecution in Zimbabwe. For those, who really fear and hate Blacks and Asians, the organised attack on the country’s White minority by its government may well have confirmed their deepest fears.

There may also have been something to Mugabe’s accusation that the money to purchase the farms properly had not been paid. When I was working as a volunteer at the former Empire and Commonwealth Museum, a fellow volunteer asked me if I knew what going on at the National Archives. He’d been there in order to study a parliamentary paper from the 1980s about the negotiations for the handover to Black rule. However, he was told it was unavailable, and wondered whether it was being deliberately kept out of circulation for some very dubious reason.

Not that this makes Mugabe any better. As Mugabe filled agriculture and industry with his thugs and butchers, the country’s economy collapsed. Inflation reached the exorbitant levels of Weimar Germany. Previously, Zimbabwe had been one of the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It was actually an exporter of food, and called the continent’s breadbasket. Under Mugabe, this catastrophically collapsed. There was starvation and famine, except for Mugabe and his obscenely rich gang. Zimbabweans began fleeing over the border into South Africa as illegal immigrants simply to survive.

Mugabe fought off several challenges to his leadership, including by Musaveni, before eventually conceding some kind of power sharing agreement. I think he officially retired as President a few years ago. This was cautiously welcomed, as even though Mugabe himself was gone, his successors were still members of his party, who had been willingly complicit in his crimes against humanity.

Reflecting on the old thug’s death on the breakfast news, I heard John Simpson describing how fiercely intelligent Mugabe was. He excelled in embarrassing and humiliating reports by turning the questions against them. Simpson said that every action he did was clearly well thought out in advance. I can actually believe it. Contrary to what many people actually believe, intelligence and education doesn’t necessarily make anyone more moral.

As for Mugabe himself, his death reminded me of a passage from one Tom Sharpe’s books, Riotous Assembly. Published in 1971, this was savage satire of South African police force. One of the characters in it is Constabel Els, a brutal thug, who prides himself on having killed two Blacks with the same bullet. At the book’s climax, Els is himself nearly killed preparing the scaffold for the execution of an Anglican bishop he and his superiors have framed for the murder of a Black cook. The gibbet collapses, taking with it part of the jail, and freeing the Black prisoners. Believing Els to be dead, they dance and sing:

Els is dead, Els is dead,

He’s gone to the Devil where his soul belongs.

Raper of our women. Killer of our men,

We won’t see the swine again!

I think that probably describes how many feel the way about the passing of this old brute.

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Bolsonaro – The Fascist Destroying the Brazilian Rainforest and Threatening Human Survival

August 24, 2019

Mike’s just put up a post this evening urging his readers look at an article on the Open Democracy website about the burning down of the Amazon rainforest by Brazil’s Fascist president, Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is a right-wing extremist, who defends Brazil’s military dictatorship. He also backs the campaign of the logging companies and the ranchers to open up the Amazon to exploitation and cultivation.

Except that, as Mike’s article points out, the soil is so poor that it only lasts for two harvests after the trees have been cut down. I can remember studying the problems of the Amazon, and similar parts of the planet, in the ‘A’ level geography class at school. Part of the course involved the Third World. The Amazon is a precious global resource, because its vegetation soaks up something like 20 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide. That’s why it’s been called the ‘lungs of the world’. It’s also the home to countless precious and endangered species of animals and plants. And biologists are also interested in it because some of the plant species may possess medicinal properties, and so be immensely valuable in the creation of new drugs and treatments for disease.

The indigenous peoples of the Amazon do practise a form of agriculture, ‘slash and burn’. They cut down an area of forest to cultivate, but only do so for a fixed length of time before moving on to another area and leaving that part of the jungle to regenerate. It’s sustainable as it doesn’t exhaust the soil, as Western-style agriculture does.

It’s also an outright attack on the Amazon’s indigenous peoples themselves. The ranchers and loggers are very jealous of the extensive lands allotted to the Amerindian tribes as their reservations. These peoples have suffered a long, miserable history of European persecution. Following the European invasion of the New World, they were enslaved by the Portuguese settlers. Those that survived the devastation brought about by European diseases, that is. Conquistador accounts of journeys through the Amazon describe cities and communities that were wiped off the map. These accounts were thought to be just legends until archaeologists began discovering the house platforms and other remains belonging to these now vanished communities. These civilisations were vast, and it seems that the Amazon may have had a population of several millions before the catastrophe of European contact.

These sites are also of interest to ecologists, as the ‘black soil’ there has the power to regenerate, and restore its fertility.

Despite being protected under Brazilian law, the persecution and maltreatment of Amerindians continued into the 20th century. Encroaching farmers shot them as troublesome pests on their land. A few years ago, attacks by a group of loggers left one tribe virtually extinct. Although there were survivors, they are too few to form a viable breeding group. When they pass, so does their ancient people.

This is what is threatened by the actions of Bolsonaro and his backers in big business by the mass destruction of the rainforest. And if it goes, it may mean that the rest of the world goes with it as climate change becomes even more massive.

I realise that the subject of the Amazon is immensely touchy with patriotic Brazilians, who feel that it’s a resource they should be allowed to exploit. And I’m very aware that if the world declared that Britain should not be allowed to cultivate, or should be forced to rewild some of its forests, our people would similarly be indignant.

But this goes beyond the rights of individual nations. This is a catastrophe that threatens the world. The international community must join forces and aid the left-wing activists and ecological opposition in Brazil, if we are to preserve the rainforest and ourselves.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/24/brazil-is-burning-its-way-to-climate-change-apocalypse-and-the-rest-of-the-world-is-happy-to-allow-it/

Sam Seder of Majority Report fame has also put up a video on YouTube in which Michael Brooks and his team identify Bolsonaro as the Human species’ greatest threat to survival. Here it is.

Private For-Profit University Collapses in London

August 5, 2019

Last Thursday’s I for 1st August 2019 carried a report by Ewan Somerville on the  collapse of one of the private universities set up in recent decades, GSM, on page 11. The article, titled ‘Private London university GSM collapses’, ran

One of Britain’s largest private universities has collapsed into administration, leaving thousands of students fearing they will not be able to complete their degrees.

GSM London, a for-profit private degree provider with 3,500 students, will close in September after failing to “recruit and retain sufficient numbers of students” to stay afloat. It says 247 jobs are threatened.

The UCU lecturers’ union blamed the “marketisation of education” and warned against an “increase in poorly regulated private providers”.

Jeffrey Fernhout, 23, who has just completed an economics degree at GSM, told the I he received “no warning” about the collapse. “This has left a lot of students angry, frustrated and uncertain about their future,” he said. “But the organisation was very badly managed so this isn’t a shock.”

The Office for Students, the higher education watchdog, said its “priority is to ensure that students are able to complete their studies”. GSM promised to “support as far as possible “those needing to be relocated.

The Department for Education reiterated its stance of not “bail(ing) out failing providers”.

So much for their superiority of market forces and private enterprise. Of course, this isn’t the only university in trouble. Very many are experience financial problems, partly due to cuts in government funding. When I was studying for my Archaeology Ph.D. at Bristol, I was told that the archaeology department was faced with laying off some of its teaching staff because of funding cuts made by the Blair government. Blair, Mandelson and co. funding policy was inadequate to support courses that required expensive technical equipment. I also heard from academic friends this weekend that one university has also been forced to close their conservation course for archives and libraries, despite it being considered the leading course of this type in the country. Again, the reason was the high cost of funding against the small number of students taking the course. It’s a financially simplistic attitude that ignores the fact that archives and libraries need skilled conservators, and that the money spent on such a course is repaid in the continuing upkeep of rare and valuable materials held in institutions up and down the country.

I also think that many other universities, which are similarly experiencing financial problems, also have problems recruiting the necessary number of students. Years ago, way back at the beginning of the century, another academic friend of mine predicted this would happen. He had been looking at the demographic rates, and concluded that the bulge in the number of people in their late teens and early twenties, who would enter Higher Education, had passed. Colleges and polytechnics, which were perfectly good as they were, were encouraged, if not required to expand into universities. I think that as a result, many of them have seriously overstretched themselves. Universities have complained that the initial student fees they were allowed to charge, which were capped at £3,000, were inadequate. Hence the increase to £9,000. And this has led in turn to massive student debt.

Many students now feel that they cannot afford their education, and that includes nurses. A little while ago BBC Bristol produced a documentary reporting that students number on nursing courses had fallen. Interviewing some of those still on the course, they explained that the reason was that they simply could not afford to support themselves and pay the tuition fees. Some of those still on the course explained that they had to work to support themselves. These young people often worked long hours, as well as the time they spent on their academic and practical studies. Those aspiring nurses, who are continuing their studies in this environment, are clearly to be admire for their dedication. But it’s a deplorable way to treat the future skilled medical staff which Britain needs, especially with its aging population.

And the situation has not been helped by the concern of university management and administrators for their own enrichment at the expense of teaching staff. I understand that many of the lecturers at universities are actually poorly paid. Quite a number actually work only part-time, because full-time positions are rare and extremely difficult to get. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a procession of university chancellors awarding themselves salaries in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. This mirrors the way business management has consistently voted massive pay rises for themselves, while cutting investment and freezing pay or even finding ways to deliberately underpay their employees. Like zero hours contracts.

But despite the precariousness of university finances, thanks to Thatcherite educational policies, the government is determined not to give financial support to those failing. Which means that if they go under, tens of thousands of students will have racked up tens of thousands in debt for zilch.

The introduction of market forces and the privatisation of Higher and Further Education is a failure. It’s leaving universities in financial trouble, forcing some lecturers and other non-management staff to accept poor wages and job insecurity, and leaving students with a mountain of debt which many will find impossible to pay off.

It’s another example of the utter failure of Thatcherism, despite its continuing loud promotion by a shrilly intolerant media and political establishment. It’s time to bring it to an end, and get rid of it. All of it, including the parties supporting it – the Brexiteers, the Tories and the Lib Dems. Get them out, and a proper Labour government in.

 

 

 

Labour MP Richard Burgon Warns that War with Iran Could be Worse than Iraq

July 23, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Monday, 22nd July 2019, also carried a very important piece by Chris Green, ‘Iran conflict could become ‘worse than Iraq war”, reporting the views of Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, on the consequences of war with Iran. The article, on page 6, ran

A full-blown conflict between the US and Iran with Donald Trump in charge as President could prove to be worse than the war in Iraq, a senior Labour MP has warned.

Richard Burgon, the shadow Justice Secretary, said the UK risked being drawn into a conflict between Iran and the US as Mr Trump’s “sidekick”.

Comparing the deteriorating political situation to the build-up to the Iraq war, he said Boris Johnson and Mr Trump could act in concert in the same way as Tony Blair and George W. Bush did.

He called for the next prime minister to focus on “de-escalation” and “conflict resolution” rather than allowing the UK to become “messengers” for the US administration.

“If we end up in a conflict backed by Donald Trump then I think it would not only be comparable with Iraq, in fact it could be even worse than Iraq, and that should really scare everybody,” Mr Burgon told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

He added: “We need sensible negotiations. We’ve got a really important part of play diplomatically in this. We can use our negotiating weight.

“I think that our government has international respect and this country has international respect in a way that Donald Trump doesn’t.

“I think we need to use that for the purposes of conflict resolution and for the purposes of making sure this doesn’t escalate out of control.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also spoke out about the crisis over the weekend, accusing the US President of fuelling the confrontation by “tearing up” the Iran nuclear deal.

Burgon and Corbyn are exactly right, as I’ve said many times before in posts about the possibility of war with Iran. Iran is like Iraq in that it’s a mosaic of different peoples. Just over 51 per cent of the population are speakers of Farsi, the ancient language of the poet Saadi and the Iranian national epic, the Shah-Nama. But the country is also home to Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, Reshtis, Luris, Bakhtiaris and various Turkic-speaking tribes. Some of these peoples have very strong nationalist aspirations for an independent homeland. The Kurds have been fighting for theirs since before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, while there was also a series of jihads by some of the Turkic nomad peoples, after the Iranian government confiscated part of their tribal lands for settlement by Farsi speakers. The Arabic-speaking province of Khuzestan is also under very strict military control, and conditions in the camps for the oil workers there are similar to those concentration camps. In addition to a very strong military presence, the inmates are kept docile by drugs supplied by the Pasdaran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. While the majority of the population are Twelver Shi’a, there are other religions. Three per cent of the population are Armenian Christians, and there are also communities of Jews and Zoroastrians, the followers of the ancient Persian monotheist religion founded by the prophet Zoroaster/Zarathustra. Tehran also has a church and community of Anglican Christians.

If, God forbid, the US and Britain do invade Iran, the country will descend into a chaos of ethnic violence and carnage exactly like Iraq. But perhaps, due to the country’s diverse ethnic mix, it could even be worse. The Anglican Church in Iran has, naturally, been under great pressure. If we do invade, I’ve no doubt that they will be targeted for persecution, as will the Armenian Christians, simply because their religion, Christianity, will be taken to be that of our forces. They’ll be killed, tortured or imprisoned as suspected sympathisers.

And any war we might fight won’t be for any good reason. It won’t be to liberate the Iranian people from a theocratic dictatorship or promote democracy. It will be for precisely the same reasons the US and Europe invaded Iraq: to seize that country’s oil industry and reserves, privatise and sell to multinationals its state enterprises, and create some free trade, low tax economy in accordance with Neocon ideology. And as with Iraq, it will also be done partly for the benefit of Israel. The Israelis hated Saddam Hussein because he sided with the Palestinians. And they hate Iran precisely for the same reason.

If I recall correctly, Burgon was one of those accused of anti-Semitism, because he said that Israel was the enemy of peace, or some such. It’s a controversial statement, but it’s reasonable and definitely not anti-Semitic. Israel is the enemy of peace. The expatriate Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, very clearly and persuasively argues in his book, Ten Myths about Israel, that throughout its 70 year history Israel has manufactured causes to go to war with its Arab neighbours. It has never been serious about peace. And that’s particularly true about Iran. Netanyahu was chewing the scenery in front of the UN a little while ago, arguing that the Iranians were only a short time away from developing nuclear weapons. It was rubbish, as Netanyahu’s own armed forces and the head of the Shin Bet, their security ministry, told him. In fact, the evidence is that Iran kept to the nuclear treaty Trump accuses them of violating. They weren’t developing nuclear weapons, and commenters on Iran have said that when the Iranians said they wanted nuclear energy to generate power, they meant it. Iran’s main product is oil, and developing nuclear power for domestic use would mean that they have more to sell abroad, thus bringing in foreign cash and keeping what’s left of their economy afloat. And if we are going to discuss countries illegally possessing nuclear weapons, there’s Israel, which has had them since the 1980s. But as they’re the West’s proxies in the Gulf, nobody talks about it or censures them for it. Presumably it’s anti-Semitic to do so, just like it’s anti-Semitic to criticise or mention their ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

I think Burgon, or someone else like him also said that conquering Iran would not be as easy as defeating the Iraqis. The Iranian economy is stronger and more developed – it was under the Shah the most westernised and industrialised national in the Middle East. And its armed forces are better equipped.

I am not impressed by their seizure of our tanker, but I think it’s simply a case of tit-for-tat after we seized theirs off Gibraltar. And despite the noise from the Tories about calming the situation down, there are strong forces in the Trump’s government and the general Republican party agitating for war. Just as I’ve no doubt there is also in the Iranian government.

Such a war would be disastrous, and the looting of the nation’s industries, resources and archaeological heritage would be simply massive theft. And the destruction of the country’s people and their monuments, as happened in Iraq, would be a monstrous war crime.

The warmongers in the Republicans and Tories must be strongly resisted, and thrown out of office. Before the world is thrown into further chaos and horror.

Prayer for Peace between America, Iran and the Middle East

June 23, 2019

On Fridays, it seems, Trump did something unexpected and pulled back from starting a war with Iran. The past week or so he’s been blaming the Iranians for a series of explosions that have destroyed tankers in the Persian Gulf. Then the Americans shot down an American drone which they claim had entered their airspace. This is naturally denied by the Americans. Trump was all set to order retaliatory action against several Iranian military positions, but cancelled the order. He states he did so because the bloodshed involved – it’s estimated the action would have killed 150 people – was too high. His security minister, Mike Pompeo, however, is still pushing for some kind of war with Iran, and the Orange Generalissimo has said that he’s still willing to use armed force to stop the Iranians developing a nuclear bomb. There are still real tensions, and the very real danger of war breaking out.

I posted up a couple of pieces last week attacking the American right’s warmongering against Iran. As I said, it is a highly authoritarian theocracy, and I don’t doubt that the hardliners in their administration would welcome a showdown with the Americans. They have also shown themselves willing to mount terror attacks, as in the 1980s when they bombed a Berlin cafe used by Kurdish separatists. But it’s total rubbish what Pompeo was uttering about Iran sponsoring al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda are Sunni militants, who hate Shi’a Muslims with a vengeance. As Iran is a Shi’a nation, there is absolutely no chance of any cooperation between them. Quite the opposite in fact. Just like Saudi Arabia, another militant, intolerant Sunni nation, and ISIS would also like to destroy Iran.

If America does invade Iran, it won’t be to liberate the Iranian people. It’ll be for the same reasons Iraq was invaded: to seize their oil, state industries and set up the kind of extreme free trade tariff system that the Neocons want to impose on America. And the results will be the same: mass carnage, sectarian and ethnic civil war, the destruction of the country’s precious antiquities and cultural heritage, the economy will be utterly destroyed. Ordinary folks’ businesses will go under and there will be mass unemployment. Women will lose whatever rights and freedom they have, Christians, Jews and particularly Baha’is will suffer massive persecution as a reaction to the invasion. The public will lose whatever welfare and health services the state provides. And the chaos and instability will spread throughout the region. The Iraq war forced seven million people out of their homes. How many more will be turned into refugees if America starts a war with Iran?

But this won’t matter, as the American war machine will have conquered another country in the developing world. The Americans and Saudis will have stolen their oil, the multinationals the state industries and bonyads, Islamic charitable foundations, and the Israelis will have the destruction of an hostile state.

But fortunately, despite the forces pushing for war, Trump decided against it. Just as Jeremy Hunt has been calling for a deescalation of tensions in the region. And I hope this continues, and sanity prevails against the warmongers.

I found this prayer in The Methodist Service Book (Peterborough: Methodist Publishing House 1999). It’s for the Good Friday service, and calls for peace between the followers of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam, where Abraham, known as Ibrahim, is revered as a major prophet. The prayer runs

Eternal God,

bless all who look to Abraham

as the father of faith.

Set us free from prejudice, blindness,

and hardness of heart,

that in accordance with your will and guided by your truth

our life together may be for the glory of your name;

we ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Peace/salaam to everyone at this time, regardless of their religious or non-religious views.

 

 

Corbyn Is Quite Right to Demand Evidence against Trump’s and Tories’ Warmongering Accusations against Iran

June 16, 2019

A further two oil tankers have been destroyed by mysterious explosions in the Persian Gulf in addition to those that were blown up a week or so ago. As I write  nobody has come forward to claim responsibility. But Trump and the Tories already know who’s responsible: Iran. According to Mike’s account of this, the evidence for this is that the Iranians removed a mine that had attached itself to a tanker. Oh yes, and the United Arab Emirates claimed that the explosions were the work of a ‘sophisticated state actor’. And that’s it. Now it seems contrary to commonsense to me that the Iranians would be responsible for the bombings, if they had helped get rid of an explosive device. But as the saying goes, ‘no good deed goes unpunished’. Against this monumental lack of evidence, Corbyn has been one of the few voices of sanity against Trump and the Tories screaming that the Iranians must be responsible. He’s asked for more evidence and for Britain to ease tensions, rather than join the military escalation after Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement with Iran. So the usual right-wing loudmouths, hypocrites and warmongers, like former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, have immediately denounced him as siding with the Iranians. According to them, he’s some kind of traitor working for them against us, because he appeared several times on Iran’s Press TV.

Well, as Mike pointed out in his article about this, Corbyn did appear on Press TV. But as various people on Twitter have pointed out, he stopped going on it and taking their money in opposition to its ‘anti-West bias’. And far from turning a blind eye or worse to Iran’s atrocious record on human rights, he called 51 early day motions against the Iranian government on this issue. He is the seventh in the number of MPs, who have made the most condemnations of Iranian human rights abuses, ahead of 648 other members of the House. See the tweets reproduced in Mike’s piece by Tory Fibs. And the peeps on Twitter have also supported Corbyn’s call for more evidence by pointing out how their previous accusations of responsibility for attacks by various countries have also been false. Jewish Voice for Labour reminded people about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the Americans claimed that the Viet Cong had attacked an American warship as a pretext for entering the Vietnam War. The truth was that they hadn’t. It was an outright lie. Chuka Umunna’s Flip-Flops pertinently tweeted

The people slagging off Jeremy Corbyn for this tweet are the same people who cheered for the Iraq War when Tony Blair, George W Bush and John Bolton insisted Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Don’t be fooled again.

A war with Iran will make the war with Iraq look like a pillow fight.

And Nadeem Ahmad tweeted

Jeremy Corbyn was right about Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestine and he is right about Iran.

Britain needs Corbyn to be our Prime Minister. #Iran

They’re absolutely right. As Greg Palast pointed out in his book, Armed Madhouse, the Gulf War and the invasions of Iraq have had precious little to do with protecting democracy or advancing human rights. Saddam Hussein had zero weapons of mass destruction. It was purely about advancing western multinational corporate interests. The Neocons wanted to seize Iraq’s state industries and remove its tariff barriers, in order to create the kind of low tax, free trade economy based on absolute private industry they want for America. And the Americans and Saudis both wanted to seize Iraq’s oil reserves. The Neocons also wanted him gone because he supported the Palestinians against the Israelis.

The result of this has been absolute chaos and carnage. Before Hussein’s overthrow, Iraq was one of the most prosperous and secular states with the highest standard of living in the Middle East. Christians and other religious minorities were tolerated and had a higher degree of equality than in other Arab states. Healthcare and education were free, and women were also free to pursue careers outside the home. After the invasion, Iranian industry was comprehensively devastated as the state enterprises were privatised and sold to the multinationals and the Americans and Saudis seized the oil industry. They had it written into the country’s constitution that the oil industry could not be renationalised. The removal of the tariff barriers meant that the country’s domestic industry was deluged by cheap foreign products dumped on their markets. Their businesses could not compete, and there was a wave of bankruptcies. Unemployment shot up to over 60 per cent.

The secular state collapsed, so that women once again found it difficult and dangerous to pursue a career. Healthcare has been privatised. And there was civil war between Sunni and Shi’a to the point where Peace Walls of the type used to separate Loyalist and Republican communities in Northern Ireland had to be put up for the first time in Baghdad. The American army and mercenary companies ran amok. The mercenaries ran prostitution rings and shot Iraqi civilians for sport. The American army collaborated with Shi’a death squads in killing Sunnis. The invasion created the conditions for the rise of Daesh and their creation of an extreme theocracy. They destroyed precious archaeological and cultural monuments and treasures, including historic mosques and churches. This is apart from the destruction caused by the American forces, including Babylon when they occupied it. In Mosul Daesh filmed themselves destroying the pre-Islamic artifacts in the museum. They also went on a reign of terror killing Sufis, Shi’a and oppressing Christians and Yezidis, as well as executing gays and ordinary Muslims, who wanted to live in peace with those of different faiths. The Yezidi women were seized and sold as sex slaves. At least a quarter of a million people were killed as a result of the allied invasion, and seven million displaced.

And this is all set to repeat again in Iran. Only it may very well be worse, as Chuka Umunna’s Flip-Flips has pointed out.

Iran is a mosaic of different peoples. The majority religion is Twelver Shi’a, and 51 per cent of the population speak Farsi, the country’s official language. But there are also Kurds, Baluchis and Arabs, as well as other ethnic groups speaking languages relating to Turkish. Three per cent of the population are Christian Armenians, and there are also Zoroastrians, who practise the ancient monotheist religion of the Persian Empire, and Jews. There are also Baha’is, a religion founded in the 19th century, but which is regarded as a heresy by many Muslims and viciously persecuted by the regime. There is also an Anglican church in Tehran, whose clergy and congregation are indigenous Iranians.

Now I have absolutely no illusions about the Iranian regime. It is a theocracy, which limits women’s roles and rights. There is massive corruption, and trade unions, strikes and political opposition are all banned. The oil workers in the Arab-speaking part of the country are kept in conditions described as those of concentration camps, and kept docile by drugs supplied and distributed by the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards.

But the country does have a democratic component. Four seats in the country’s parliament, the majlis, are reserved for the non-Muslim minorities, and women possess some rights. Below the Supreme Leader, the religious head of state, is an elected president. Before the Islamic Revolution, Iran was the most industrialised and advanced economy in the region, and I have no doubt that it is still one of the leading nations in the region today. And there is growing popular discontent against the theocrats and their corruption.

And the American Neocons would dearly loved to invade the country. Some of this doubtless comes from the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the overthrow of the Shah, who was the West’s ally in the Middle East. The Shah had gradually become an absolute monarch after the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, in the 1950 in a CIA and British backed coup. He was overthrown because he dared to nationalise Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became BP. I don’t doubt that the Americans,  Saudis and general western oil interests want to seize the Iranian oil industry, just like they wanted Iraq’s. I also don’t doubt that they’d like to get their mitts on the 51 per cent of the Persian economy controlled by the state and the bonyads, the Islamic charitable foundations. They and the Israelis also wanted to topple the Iranian state because they are vehemently hostile to Israel and support the Palestinians.

And you can’t trust anything the Israelis says about Iran either.

A few years ago, Netanyahu was jumping up and down in front of the UN and anybody else, telling them that the Iranians were close to creating nuclear weapons to be used against them. It was all a lie, as even the head of one of Israel’s spy agencies, the Shin Bet, and several of their generals said. And despite the propaganda, Iran actually treats its Jewish citizens quite well.

And the American Neocons very definitely want to invade Iran. 

In the 1990s the Neocons drew up a list of seven nations they wanted to overthrow, including Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia, and Iran. It’s a plan that’s been carried out by successive American leaders, including Barack Obama and the ‘Queen of Chaos’ herself, Hillary ‘Killary’ Clinton.

If the West invades, the result will be exactly the same as the invasion of Iraq. There will be massive economic dislocation, the state and bonyad sector will be privatised and seized by multinationals. The oil industry, once again, will be looted and seized by the Americans and Saudis. The economy will collapse and there will be massive unemployment. And the country will also descend into a massive civil war between the various ethnic groups. The Kurds in the north have been fighting a war of independence in the north since before the Islamic Revolution. And some of the nomadic, Turkic-speaking peoples have also fought similar wars after their ancestral lands were seized for Farsi colonization. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, will die or be forced out of their homes. Jews, Christians and other religious minorities will also be persecuted in the religious backlash.

And the country’s immense archaeological and cultural heritage will be placed in danger.

Iran is an ancient country with a history going back almost to the origins of civilisation itself. This was shown in the 1950s with the excavation of Hasanlu, a settlement that dated back to the 9th century BC.

The ancient settlement of Hasanlu.

For centuries the Persian Empire was one of the superpowers of the ancient Near East, conquering the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires and challenging Egypt. The conquests of the Persian emperor, Cyrus, including Babylonia and Jerusalem, are recorded in the Cyrus Cylinder. This is in the British Museum, but was loaned to the Iranians a few years ago.

The Cyrus Cylinder

Among other monuments are a series of reliefs celebrating the exploits of the ancient Persian emperors at Behistun. These include a depiction of Darius receiving foreign dignitaries.

Iranian Relief showing the Emperor Darius

Other reliefs show the symbols of Zoroastrianism, the country’s ancient, indigenous religion, and its god, Ahura Mazda.

Persia continued to be a major centre of culture, art, science and literature after the Islamic conquests. Great literary works include the Shah-Nama of Firdawsi, his epic of the country’s mythic history, the poetry of Sa’adi and the Rubaiyyat of Omar Khaiyam. But Khaiyam was also a leading mathematicians and scientist. Persian artists also excelled in the miniature and book illustration, as the illustration below shows. It’s of the Prophet Mohammed attended by angels. Islamic law forbids the depiction of the Prophet, so Persian artists showed him with his face veiled.

Iran also has some of the most spectacular and holiest mosques in Shi’a Islam, which include similar depictions of Mohammed and Ali, the First Imam. Iranian art was also major influence on the Moghul art of India, and for centuries Farsi was also the language of diplomacy in parts of India.

It’s possible to go on and on about Iran’s rich culture and heritage, which is threatened by Trump’s and the Tories accusations, accusations which seem to be leading up to a pretext for war.

The Iranian state is perfectly capable of terrorism. In the 1990s they bombed a cafe used by Kurdish nationalists in Berlin. And more recently they attacked a British warship, and captured its crew before releasing them.

But there is no evidence they’re behind these attacks. It looks like the Americans and the British Neocon right in the Tories are trying to foment a war fever against Iran. But every opportunity should be taken to prevent a war, which will lead to further, massive carnage and bloodshed in the Middle East, the destruction of the Iranian economy and industry, and what democratic freedoms the Iranian people do possess. As well as the destruction of priceless archaeological monuments and treasures of art, literature and architecture, which will not only impoverish Iran, but also human culture globally.

Against these horrors, Corbyn is quite right to demand further evidence.

For further information, see:

Voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/06/15/hypocrites-challenge-corbyns-call-for-evidence-in-tanker-controversy/

All the illustrations with the exception of the Cyrus cylinder come from Royal Persia: Tales and Art of Iran, Carella Alden (New York: Parents Magazine Press 1972).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jodi Magness’ Book on Archaeology of Early Islamic Palestine in Oxbow Book Catalogue

March 31, 2019

I also found Jodi Magness’ Archaeology of the Early Islamic Settlement in Palestine (Eisenbrauns 2003), listed in the bargains section of Oxbow Book News for Spring 2019. The blurb for this goes as follows

Archaeological evidence is frequently cited by scholars as proof that Palestine declined after the Muslim conquest, and especially after the rise of the Abbasids in the mid-eighth century. Instead, Magness argues that the archaeological evidence supports the idea that Palestine and Syria experienced a tremendous growth in population and prosperity between the mid-sixth and mid-seventh centuries.

It’s hardback, and is being offered at £14.95, down from its publication price of £42.95.

Magness is an Israeli archaeologist, and I’ve read some of her books on the archaeology of Israel. This is interesting, as it adds yet more evidence against the Zionist claim that there was no-one living in Palestine before the arrival of the first Jewish colonists in the 19th century. I don’t know how far back they extend this claim, because obviously Palestine was inhabited at the time of the Crusades, otherwise there would have been no fighting in the Holy Land when the Crusaders conquered from the Muslims. In his book, Ten Myths About Israel, Ilan Pappe thoroughly demolishes the myth that Palestine was uninhabited, and cites works by a string of other Israeli historians against the assertion that it wasn’t, made by the Israeli state.

I’m also not surprised that it flourished after the Islamic conquest. Before the Muslims conquered the region, they were held by the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern Roman empire. This was declining like the western Roman empire, although unlike the west it struggled on until the fall of Constantinople itself in 1450. During the late Roman and Byzantine period, I understand that the empire’s population and towns shrank, with the exception of Constantinople itself. There was also severe persecution as the Greek Orthodox and associated Melkite churches attempted to suppress the Syriac and Coptic churches, who were viewed as heretics. The result of this was that the persecuted Christians of these churches aided and welcomed the Muslim conquerors as liberators. Their incorporation into the emerging Islamic empire made them part of a political and economic region stretching from Iran and parts of India in the East to Spain in the West. This would have stimulated the provinces economically, as would a century of peaceful, or comparatively peaceful rule following the Muslim conquest.

Handbook of Disability History in Latest Oxbow Book Catalogue

March 31, 2019

I got the latest issue of Oxbow Book News, for Spring 2019, through the post the other day. Oxbow are specialist booksellers and publishers for archaeology and history. The Book News is really a catalogue of what they have in stock. And in the latest issue was The Oxford Handbook of Disability History, edited by Michael Rembis, Catherine J. Kudlick and Kim Nielsen (Oxford: OUP 2018). The blurb for it in the catalogue runs

Disability history exists outside of the institutions, healers, and treatments it often brings to mind. It is a history where the disabled live not just as patients or cure-seekers, but rather as people living differently in the world. The Oxford Handbook of Disability History is the first volume of its kind to represent this history and its global scale, from ancient Greece to British West Africa. The twenty-seven articles, written by thirty experts from across the field, capture the diversity and liveliness of this emerging scholarship.

Unfortunately, this book is going to be well beyond most people’s pockets. It’s hardback, and the listed price is £97.00, which means that it’s only really going to be affordable to the very affluent. On the other hand, you might be able to order it from your local library, assuming that the Tories haven’t shut it down already.

What is interesting is what its publication on its own says about this as an emerging area of scholarship. It says that the history of disabled people themselves is coming to be recognised as a field of historical research and endeavour by itself, alongside other disciplines in social history like Black, women’s, and gender history. It’s possible that this is part of a change in general cultural attitudes towards the disabled, in the way that the Black civil rights and feminist movements directly caused the emergence of Black and women’s history. Unfortunately, despite this apparent change in academic attitudes, popular attitude towards people with disabilities still has some way to go. We still have the Tories closing down services for disabled people in the name of austerity, efficiency and all the hypocritical cant about concentrating resources where they’re really needed. And we still have the wretched Tory press and media demonising them as welfare scroungers. A week or so ago Zelo Street put up a post about the Spectator’s Rod Liddle attacking people with ME as malingerers, who didn’t have a real illness. To which the answer is, no, Rod, it is, they are, and you’re a soulless Murdoch hack. This wasn’t the first time he’s taken a swipe at the disabled either. A few years ago he wrote a piece about how he’d like to get a disability, that would allow him to get off work without really being disabled. Once again, he went for ME and fibromyalgia. I’ve known people with ME. They’re not malingerers, and it’s a real illness which leaves them wiped out through chronic fatigue. And it’s a long time since doctors seriously doubted whether it really existed. I think that stopped with the end of the 1980s. But obviously not in Liddle’s squalid excuse for a mind. And if you need convincing that fibromyalgia is a real disease, go over to Mike’s blog and look up some of the posts, where he mentions the suffering it’s caused Mrs. Mike. This is real, genuine pain, and definitely not imaginary. Unlike Liddle’s pretensions to objective journalism.

This looks like it could be a very interesting volume. It’s too bad it’s price puts it beyond the reach of most of us. Hopefully this will lead to further scholarship, some of which will be aimed at a less restricted audience beyond academia, and will be at a more affordable price. And I hope some of it is also taken up by activists, who use it to challenge the assumptions of Liddle and the rest of the close-minded bigots in the right-wing press and Tory party.

Ilan Pappe’s Demolition of the Myths of Modern Israel and Its Ethnic Cleansing of the Palestinians

March 28, 2019

 

Ilan Pappe, Ten Myths About Israel (London: Verso 2017)

Ilan Pappe is an Israeli historian and activist, who has extensively researched and documented Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from its foundation in 1948 till today. Because of this, he was subjected to abuse and academic censure by the authorities and his university. He now teaches, I believe, at Exeter University. He has been a signatory of several of the letters from academics and leading members of the Jewish community defending Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters from the charges of anti-Semitism.

This book tackles the ten myths Pappe identifies as central to the history of modern Israel and its continuing dispossession of its indigenous people. The blurb for the book states

In this groundbreaking book, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the Occupation, the outspoken and radical Israeli historian Ilan Pappe examines the most contested ideas concerning the origins and identity of the contemporary state of Israel.

The “ten myths” that Pappe explores – repeated endlessly in the media, enforced by the military, accepted without question by the world’s governments – reinforce the region status quo. He explores the claims that Palestine was an empty land at the time of the Balfour Declaration, as well as the formation of Zionism and its role in the early decades of nation building. He asks whether the Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948, and whether June 1967 was a war of “no choice”. Turning to the myths surrounding the failure of the Camp David Accords and the official reasons for the attacks on Gaza, Pappe explains why the two-state solution is no longer viable. 

The book is divided into three parts. Part 11, ‘Fallacies of the Past’, contains the following chapters attacking these particular myths.

  1. Palestine was an empty land.
  2. The Jews were a people without a land.
  3. Zionism is Judaism.
  4. Zionism is not colonialism.
  5. The Palestinians voluntarily left their homeland in 1948.
  6. The June 1967 War was a war of no choice.

Part II, ‘Fallacies of the Present’, has the following

7. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

8. The Oslo mythologies.

9. The Gaza mythologies.

Part III ‘Looking Ahead’

10. The two-states solution is the only way forward.

Conclusion: The Settler Colonial state of Israel in the 21st First century.

There’s also a timeline of Israeli/Zionist history from the 1881 pogroms in the Russian Empire to 2015 and the fourth Netanyahu government.

This is a short book, the actual text taking up 153 pages. Although it is properly documented with notes and index, it’s clearly written and seems to be aimed the general reader, rather than an exclusively academic audience. Much of it will be familiar to readers of the blogs of the great Jewish critics and activists against Zionist racism, like Tony Greenstein, Martin Odoni and David Rosenberg. He points out, for example, that Zionism was a minority movement amongst Jews before 1948, and that it was preceded by Christian Zionism, which wished to see the Jews return to Israel in order to hasten Christ’s return to Earth and the End Times, as well as more immediate religious and geopolitical goals. Some hoped that the Jews would convert to Christianity, while others, like Palmerston, believed that a western Jewish presence in the Holy Land would help shore up the decaying Ottoman Empire. Others associated it with restoring the glory of the Crusades. Most Jews at the time, however, were much more eager to remain in the countries of their birth. For Reform Jews and the Socialists of the Bund, this meant fighting for equality as fellow citizens and adopting wider European secular culture to a greater or lesser extent so that they could fully participate in the new societies from the Enlightenment onwards. So determined were they to do so, that Reform Judaism removed altogether references from their services to the return to Israel. They also rejected the idea of a Jewish state because they felt its establishment would cast doubt on their loyalties to their mother countries as proper English or Germans. Orthodox Judaism remained far more conservative, rejecting the Enlightenment, but still determined to remain in their traditional homelands because Israel could only be restored through divine will by the Messiah. Until he came, it was their religious duty to wait out their exile.

Nor was Palestine remotely empty, despite the Zionists maintaining that it was – ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’, as the Zionist maxim ran. 18th and 19th century European travelers noted that Palestine was very definitely occupied, and that ten per cent of its population was Jewish. Zionist settlers there found to their shock and discomfort that there were Arabs there, with whom they were going to have to live. And that these Arabs weren’t like them. Which shouldn’t really be surprising. However marginalised eastern European Jews were, they were still part of European society and so were bound to have certain aspects of their culture in common with other Europeans. As for the Palestinians themselves, they were perfectly willing to provide shelter and help to the early Jewish settlers when it seemed that they were simply migrants, who were not intending to colonise and displace them. They only became hostile, ultimately turning to violence, when it became clear just what the Zionists’ intentions towards them were. Pappe also points out that at the time the first Zionist communities were being founded, Palestinian society was undergoing its second wave of nationalism. The first was the general wave of Arab nationalism from the 19th century onwards, as the Arabs became conscious of themselves as a distinct people with the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire. The second was when the individual Arab nations, such as Syria and Egypt, became conscious of themselves and began demanding their separate independence. And these new, emerging Arab nations included Palestine.

The book also shows how Zionism is colonialism through comparing Israel with other White nations, like those of  North and South America, New Zealand and so on, where the indigenous people were massacred and their land seized for White colonisation. He  then shows how Zionist leaders such as David Ben-Gurion had planned in 1948 to cleanse what they could of the Israel state they were creating of its Arab population in order to ensure that Jews were in the majority. Thus Palestinian towns and villages were razed and their people massacred. At the same time, the Israelis spread propaganda that the Palestinians had somehow voluntarily left their homes, rather than fled. He also argues that the Israeli government was determined to exploit diplomatic and military tensions with Nasser’s Egypt and Syria in 1967 in order to manufacture a war that would allow them to seize the West Bank and the holy places of west Jerusalem, with their rich archaeological sites. Pappe shows that, whatever their composion, whether Labour, Likud, or, as in 1967, a coalition of parties across the Israeli political spectrum, successive Israeli government have pursued a policy of securing the greatest amount of land for Israel with the least amount of Palestinians. This has meant redrawing and redefining the boundaries of what is Jewish territory, with the intention of forcing the Palestinians into minuscule cantons or bantustans, to use the word applied to similar settlements in apartheid South Africa. The Palestinians were to have some autonomy within them, but only if the acted as Israel’s peacekeeper within those territories. This was the real intention of the Oslo Peace Process, which was unacceptable to Yasser Arafat and the Arab leadership because far from improving conditions for the Palestinians, it actually made them much worse. It was a deal that the Palestinians could not accept, hence the breakdown of the talks and the eruption of the Second Intifada.

Pappe describes the Israeli attacks on Gaza as an ‘incremental genocide’. He states that he has been reluctant to call it thus, because it’s a very loaded term, but can find no other way to reasonably describe it. Each stage begins with a Palestinian rocket attack, which kills very few Israelis, if any. The Israelis then launch massive counterattacks, killing hundreds, with names like ‘Summer Rains’, ‘Autumn Rains’, and then ‘Operation Cast lead’, which the Israelis claim are just reprisals against Palestinian terrorism. The goal is supposed to be the removal of the Hamas government in Gaza. While Hamas are an Islamic organisation, they were democratically elected and their rise was initially aided by Israel, who believed that the real threat to their security was the secular, nationalist Fatah.

The chapter arguing against Israel as a democracy shows that it cannot justly be considered such given the apartheid system that dispossesses and marginalises the Palestinians. Part of this apartheid is based on willingness or suitability for military service. Rather like the future Earth of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, civil rights are connected with national service. The Israelis disbar the Palestinians from serving in the armed forces on the grounds that the Palestinians would be unwilling to join them. But even here the Palestinians do the unexpected: a majority of them have shown themselves willing in a poll to join the Israeli army.

Pappe considers that the two-state solution, as a realistic solution to the Palestinian crisis, is near its end. Its only real purpose was to give the Israelis a justification for seizing the most land while dispossessing the indigenous people, who lived there. It will eventually fall, one way or another, because the Israelis are determined to colonise the West Bank and the siege of Gaza. He also makes the point that no discussion of the issue of human rights in the Middle East, in nations like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for example, can be complete without including the 100 year long persecution of the Palestinians. At the same time, the West allowed Israel to emerge as a settler colonial state, at a time when settler-colonialism was being abandoned, partly out of guilt over the Holocaust. Germany in particular contributed a large amount of funding to the new state. But the foundation of Israel hasn’t solved the problem of anti-Semitism, only increased it. The discrediting of the ten major myths about Israel should ensure better justice for the Palestinians, and a fitting, proper end to the legacy of the Holocaust.

It’s a very effective demolition of the myths Israel uses and exploits to support its own existence and its policies towards the Palestinians. For example, Israel claims that its occupation of the West Bank is only temporary, while the facts on the ground amply demonstrate that it intends to be there permanently. Pappe is also extremely critical about the use of the Bible and archaeology to justify Israel’s occupation of Palestine. He seems to support the Biblical minimalists assessment that the Bible isn’t a reliable source of historical information. I don’t think this can be reasonably maintained, as while archaeology can’t be used to establish whether some episodes in the Bible are historically true, it does seem clear that ancient Israel undoubtedly existed, at least after the Exile and probably before then. But he certainly raises proper moral questions about the use of archaeology to justify the removal of Palestinian communities and their transformation into Israeli settlements on the grounds that they are really ancient Israelite towns and villages.

Pappe has always maintained that his countrymen are decent people, who just need the situation properly explained to them. He attempted to do this himself by holding open evenings at his home every Thursday night, in the Israeli village in which he lived. During these evenings anyone could come to his home and ask him what was really going on. These evenings eventually grew to such an extent that, despite the real anger and hostility against him by the academic and political establishment, he had 30-40 people in his front room. In the book he also properly pays tribute to the courage and determination of those Israelis, who are determined to challenge their country’s attacks on the Palestinians. If there is to be hope for the Palestinians, then they should surely play a part on the Israeli side.

I don’t know if there will ever be proper justice for the Palestinians. The Israel lobby has shown itself to be determined and expert at the demonisation of its opponents here in the West. That’s been shown in the recent expulsions of prinicipled anti-Zionists and anti-racists like Tony Greenstein, Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Mike and now Jackie Walker on trumped up charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ from the Labour Party. But there are signs that the Israel lobby is losing its grip. They’re turning from Jews to Christian Evangelicals in America for support, while Ireland has recently passed legislation supporting the BDS movement. These are signs for hope. But the process will be long and difficult. This book, however, helps provide the means by which more people can fight back against Israeli and establishment propaganda to support a proper peace with justice, dignity and proper autonomy for Jews and Palestinians in a single state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I’ Newspaper on Labour’s Plans to Liberate University Regulator from Market Forces

February 16, 2019

Today’s I for Saturday, 16th February 2019 has an article by Florence Snead on page 4 reporting Labour’s plans to overhaul the universities regulator, and remove the free market ideology currently underpinning its approach to higher education in the UK. The piece, entitled ‘Universities ‘should not be left to the mercy of market forces’ runs

Labour has unveiled how it would overhaul the higher education system as it claimed the system’s new regulator was “not fit for purpose”.

The shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner will criticize the Office for Students – established by the Government in 2018 – in a speech today at the annual University and Colleges Union conference.

She will say the regulator represents a system “where market logic is imposed on public goods” and where “forces of competition run rampant at the expense of students, staff and communities.”

Labour said it wants the regulator to report on diversity in university staff and student bodies and to take action to make universities “genuinely representative of the communities they serve”.

Staff should also be represented on the regulator’s board to ensure their views are heard, it added.

The party said it would also ban vice chancellors sitting on their own remuneration committees.

Ms Rayner is also expected to address the issue of universities being on the brink of bankruptcy, as previously revealed by I.

“Students would be left with immense uncertainty about their futures and entire communities would lose one of their major academic, economic and social institutions.”

Universities minister Chris Skidmore responded: “Universities know they can’t trust Corbyn as his plans would crash the economy, mean less investment in our higher education, compromising its world class quality”.

Actually, if anything’s trashed our world class education system, it’s been the Thatcherite programme of privatization and free market ideology. Scientific research at UK universities has been hampered ever since Thatcher decided that university science departments should go into partnership with business. Which has meant that universities can no longer engage in blue sky research, or not so much as they could previously, and are shackled to producing products for private firms, rather than expanding the boundaries of knowledge for its own sake. Plus some of the other problems that occur when scientific discoveries become the property of private, profit driven industries.

Then there’s the whole problem of the introduction of tuition fees. This should not have been done. I was doing my Ph.D. at Bristol when Mandelson and Blair decided to do this, and it’s immediate result was the scaling down of certain departments and shedding of teaching staff. Those hardest hit were the departments that required more funding because of the use of special equipment. This included my own department, Archaeology, where students necessarily go on digs, surveys and field expeditions. This means that the department had to have transport to take its staff and students to wherever they were excavating, provide digging equipment, although many students had their own trowels. They also needed and trained students in the use of specialist equipment like the geophysical magnetometers used to detect structures beneath the soil through the measurement of tiny changes in the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field, as well as labs to clean up and analyse the finds, from the type of soil in which they were found, the material out of which the finds were made, chemical composition of various substances, like food residue in pots, so you can tell what people were eating and drinking, and the forensic examination of human and animal remains.

I’ve no doubt that this situation was made worse when Cameron and Clegg decided to raise tuition fees to their present exorbitant level. Which has meant that students are now saddled with massive debt, which may make it difficult for some ever to afford to buy their own homes. Student debt was already an issue just after I left college, when the Tories decided to end student grants. After the introduction of tuition fees it has become an even more critical issue.

Then there’s the whole issue of proper pay and conditions for university lecturers. This is nowhere near as high as it should be. A friend of mine in the ’90s was one of the Student Union officers at our old college/uni. He told me one day just what some of the highly skilled and educated lecturers were earning. And it was low. Many of them were on part-time work, and I think the pay for some of them was at average wage level or below. And that was then. I’ve no idea what it’s like now. I’ve come across reports of a similar crisis at American universities and colleges, where the pay for the managers has skyrocketed while that of teaching staff has fallen catastrophically. And this is all part of the general pattern throughout industry as a whole, where senior management has enjoyed massively bloated pay rises and bonuses, while staff have been laid off and forced on to short term or zero hours contracts and low pay.

All this has been done in the name of ‘market forces’ and the logic of privatization.

I am not remotely surprised that British higher education is in crisis, and that an increasing number of colleges and universities are facing bankruptcy. This was always on the cards, especially as the population surge that inspired many colleges and polytechnics to seek university status on the belief that there would be enough student numbers to support them, is now over. Market logic would now dictate that, as the universities are failing, they should be allowed to collapse. Which would deprive students and their communities of their services.

The structure of British higher education needs to be reformed. The entire Thatcherite ethic of privatization, free markets, and tuition fees needs to be scrapped. Like everything else Thatcher and her ideological children ever created, it is a bloated, expensive and exploitative failure. My only criticism about Corbyn’s and Rayner’s plans for the unis isn’t that they’re too radical, but that they’re too timid.