Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

Anton Petrov’s Tribute to Veteran Cosmonaut and Space Artist, Alexei Leonov

October 16, 2019

Last Friday, 11th October 2019, Alexei Leonov passed away, aged 85. Born on 30th May 1934, Leonov was one of the first Russian cosmonauts and the first man to walk in space. His obituary in yesterday’s I, written by Nataliya Vasilyeva, ran

Alexei Leonov, the legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space 54 years ago – and who nearly did not make it back into his space capsule – has died in Moscow aged 85.

Leonov, described by the Russian Space Agency as Cosmonaut No 11, was an icon both in his country as well as in the US. He was such a legend that the late science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke named a Soviet spaceship after him in his sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, the 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two.

Leonov staked his place in space history on 18 March 1965, when he became the first person to walk in space. Secured by a tether, he exited his Voskhod 2 space capsule. “I stepped into that void and I didn’t fall in,” he recalled later. “I was mesmerised by the stars. They were everywhere – up above, down below, to the left, to the right. I can still hear my breath and my heartbeat in that silence.”

Spacewalking always carries a high risk but Leonov’s pioneering venture was particularly nerve-racking, according to details that only became public decades later. His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. He had to open a valve to release oxygen from his suit to be able to fit through the hatch. Leonov’s 12-minute spacewalk preceded the first American spacewalk, by Ed White, by less than three months.

Leonov was born in 1934 into a large peasant family in western Siberia. Like countless Soviet peasants, his father was arrested and shipped off to Gulag prison camps under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, but he managed to survive and reunite with his family. 

The future cosmonaut had a strong artistic bent and even thought about going to art school before he enrolled in a pilot training course and, later, an aviation college. Leonov did not give up sketching even in space, and took coloured pencils with him on the Apollo-Soyuz flight in 1975.

That mission was the first between the Soviet Union and the US, carried out at the height of the Cold War. Apollo-Soyuz 19 was a prelude to the international co-operation aboard the current international Space Station.

Nasa offered its sympathies to Leonov’s family, saying it was saddened by his death. “His venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extra-vehicular activity that makes today’s Space Station maintenance possible”, it said in a statement.

“One of the finest people I have ever known,” the Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote. “Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you.”

Russian space fans have been laying flowers at his monument on the memorial alley in Moscow that honours Russia’s cosmonauts. Leonov, who will be buried today at a military memorial cemetery outside the Russian capital, is survived by his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren. 

Anton Petrov put up his own personal tribute to the great cosmonaut on YouTube yesterday, 15th October 2019, at his vlog, What Da Math. Petrov posts about astronomy and space, and his video yesterday placed Leonov in his context as one of a series of great Soviet science popularisers before Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene or Carl Sagan. Petrov shows the stunning paintings done by Leonov with his friend, the science artist Andrei Sokolov. He describes how Leonov’s spacesuit expanded so that he couldn’t enter the capsule, and was forced to let some of the oxygen out. As a result, he nearly lost consciousness. This showed both the Russians and Americans that spacesuits had to be built differently. He also describes how Leonov, during his 12 minutes in space, was profoundly struck by the profound silence. It was so deep he could hear his heart pumping, the blood coursing through his veins, even the sound of his muscles moving over each other.

Petrov states that the Russian cosmonauts did not enjoy the same celebrity status as their American counterparts, who could live off book signings. Many had to support their families with other work. In Leonov’s case, it was painting. He illustrated a number of books, some with his friend Sokolov. These are paintings Petrov uses for the visuals in his video. He considers these books the equivalent to works by modern science educators like Carl Sagan. They were meant to encourage, inspire and educate. Sokolov’s and Leonov’s art was not just beautiful, but very accurate scientifically and included some SF elements. Some of these elements were borrowed by other science fiction writers. the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 is somewhat similar to one of Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings. This became a joke between the two, with Leonov creating a miniature version for the great American director to keep. Kubrick also borrowed many of the ideas for the movie from the Russian film director, Pavel Kushentsev. An extremely talented cameraman, Kushentsev made films about the first Moon landing, the first space station and the first man in space decades and years before they became reality. And all of his movies were scientifically accurate. Some of his movies are on YouTube, and Petrov gives the links at his site there for this video.

Petrov explains that he is talking about these men because their era has ended with Leonov’s death. Leonov was the last of the five astronauts on the Voskhod programme, and so all the men who inspired youngsters with amazing paintings and film are now gone. He considers it unfortunate that some of their experiences in the last days of their lives were not very happy. They did not live to see the future they depicted, and their paintings were not appreciated by the modern generation. Kushentsev said before his death,

Popular science is dying, because there is no money. No demand. Nobody wants to educate. Everyone just wants to make money everywhere possible. But one mustn’t live like this. This is how animals live. Men have reached the level of animals – all they want to do is eat and sleep. There is no understand that this humanity has passed a certain phase of evolution. We must understand the direction of this evolution. For this, we need culture, we need knowledge. 

Petrov believes Kushentsev’s criticism of modern Russian society also applies more broadly to the modern generation in the West, to all of us as well. We are all doing what he said we shouldn’t – just living for the money, to eat and sleep. Unfortunately, according to Petrov, nothing has changed in the 20 years since his death. But there are people out there in the world working to change this, to produce culture, to inspire and share knowledge. But sometimes the world crushes them, simply because it can. But Petrov says that, like those Soviet men before him, despite not being a famous astronaut or talented artist, or even someone who has very good diction, he will continue doing his part of sealing the hope for humanity, continue the work of these great men and inspire new generations to do things, believe in science and create a better world. Because as Leonov once said,

the Earth was small, light blue and so touchingly alone. Our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word ’round’ meant until I saw the Earth from space. 

Petrov concludes ‘Goodbye, comrade, and thank you for all the paintings.

This is the first of two videos about Russian art from that era of space exploration. I’ll post the other up shortly.

I don’t feel quite as pessimistic as Kushentsev. Brian Cox, who’s now taken Sagan’s place as the chief space broadcaster on British television, has attracted record audiences for his stage presentation about science and the universe. There is a massive interest among the public in space and space exploration. At the same time, there are a number of really great science vlogs and channels on YouTube. Petrov’s is one, but I also recommend John Michael Godier and the Science and Futurism channel, presented by Isaac Arthur.

Sokolov’s and Leonov’s paintings, they are of a universe of rich, vibrant colour. Spacesuited figures explores strange, new worlds, tending vast machines. They stand in front of planetary landers somewhat resembling the American lunar module. Or crawl across the landscape in rovers, gazing at horizons above which hang alien, often multiple, suns. The best space art shows worlds you’d like to visit, to see realised. These paintings have this effect. It’s a pity that on the blurb for this video over at YouTube, Petrov says that these paintings come from old postcards, which are difficult to come by. It’s a pity, as they still have the power to provoke wonder and inspire.

I’m not sure Leonov himself was quite so pessimistic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main space museum was closed, and many of its exhibits sold off. Before it finally closed its doors to the public, they held a rave in it. I think Leonov was in attendance, sitting at the back with his wife. Someone asked him what he thought of it all. The old space traveler replied that they had found graffiti on the walls on Babylon complaining about the behaviour of the younger generation. ‘It is,’ he said, ‘the young man’s world’. It is indeed, and may cosmonauts, space pioneers, scientists and artists like Leonov, Sokolov, Kushentsev and Kubrick continue to inspire the young men and women of the future to take their strides in the High Frontier.

Elderly Rabbi Arrested at Extinction Rebellion Protest

October 16, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Tuesday, 15th October 2019, carried an article by Jennifer Logan reporting that an elderly rabbi had been arrested by the rozzers after praying at an Extinction Rebellion protest in London. The article ran

A rabbi who was arrested after kneeling and praying in the middle of a road during the Extinction Rebellion protests in London said yesterday that he was “standing up for his grandchildren.”

Police have now arrested 1,405 people in connection with the protests, which will continue tomorrow when activists are understood to be planning to block roads outside MI5 on what will be the seventh day of direct action over the global climate crisis.

Jeffrey Newman, the Rabbi Emeritus of Finchley Reform Synagogue in north London, was protesting alongside about 30 Jewish activists. He was arrested near the Bank of England as hundreds of people descended upon the financial centre for a second week of protests.

The 77-year-old, who was wearing a white yarmulka branded with the black Extinction Rebellion logo, said: “I see it as my religious and moral duty to stand up for what I believe in, and what I care about, for my grandchildren.

“I haven’t tried to involve the synagogue, because if you are asking for permission, you might not get it. I think it’s much more important to do what I’m doing.”

After last week’s protests, which blockaded Parliament and targeted City Airport, protesters are now focusing on the City of London over financial backing for fossil fuels. They claim that trillions of pounds are flowing through financial markets to invest in fossil fuels which damage the climate.

Extinction Rebellion said dozens of activists were due to appear in court this week, including trials connected with previous action in April.

I have to say that Extinction Rebellion aren’t exactly my favourite protest group, because their demonstrations seem to inconvenience the general public more than the politicians and the big corporations behind the fossil fuel industries and global warming. But they have a very, very good cause. Meteorologists, ecologists, along with other scientists and broadcasters like Sir David Attenborough have been warning for decades that unless something is done, our beautiful world may very well die and humanity along with it. When I was studying for my doctorate in Archaeology at Bristol Uni, one of the postgraduate seminars in the department was by an archaeologist on the impact of climate change on human cultures throughout history. He was particularly concerned about drought and desertification, which certainly has catastrophically affected human civilisations around the world. One of the most dramatic examples was the abandonment of the Amerindian pueblo cities in the Canyon de Chelly in the American southwest around the 12th century AD. The pueblo cultures had created an extensive irrigation to supply water to their crops in the southwestern desert. However, in the 12th century that part of America entered an extremely dry period during which the available water dried up. Civilisation was not destroyed, as the Amerindian peoples themselves survived by retreating to more fertile areas. Nevertheless, it resulted in those pueblos, which had survived for centuries, being abandoned.

And now we face a similar crisis in the 21st century, thanks in part to global warming and an increasingly intense demand for water. Back in the 1990s one edition of the Financial Times predicted that climate change and competition for water resources would be the major force for war in the 21st century. In West Africa one of the reasons for the conflict in the north of Nigeria, for example, between Christians and Muslims is the desertification of the traditional grazing territory of nomadic pastoralists. These are mainly Muslim, who have been forced to move south onto land belonging to mainly Christian peoples in order to feed their flocks. The result has been ethnic and religious conflict. But it’s important to realise that the roots of this conflict are primarily ecological. It is not simply about religion. Examples of desertification and global dry periods in the past have been used by the Right to argue that the current climate crisis really isn’t as acute as scientists have claimed. It’s just the world’s natural climatic cycle repeating itself. This certainly wasn’t the view of the archaeologist giving that talk at uni, who warned that there was only a finite amount of water and urged us all to use it sparingly.

It was interesting to read the good rabbi’s concern for the planet and his grandchildren. People of all faiths are now worried about climate change. One of the priests at our local church preached a very long sermon on Sunday, no doubt partly inspired by the coming Extinction Rebellion protests, on the need to save the planet. I’ve no doubt that the involvement of practising Jews in this protest, and others, will cause something of a problem for some of the propaganda used to attack Green groups. Because there was a very strong ecological aspect to Nazism, the Right tries to close off sympathy for Green politics as a whole by smearing it as a form of Nazism, even when it’s blatantly clear that they aren’t. But the IHRC definition of anti-Semitism states that it is anti-Semitic to describe a Jew as a Nazi. Which is going to make it rather difficult for the organisations and rags that follow this line to claim that Jewish Greens are somehow supporting Nazism for getting involved in protests like this.

But it seems the cops are becoming very heavy-handed in their treatment of protesters. Mike over on his blog condemned the arrest of a 91/2 year old gentleman on another climate protest. This spirited old chap used the same explanation for his actions as Rabbi Newman: he was worried for the future of his grandchildren. Or great-grandchildren. He was arrested because he was caught protesting outside the Cabinet Office, and so frightened that doughty defender of British freedom, Boris Johnson. Yeah, our current excuse for a Prime Minister, who seems to fancy himself as the heir to Julius Caesar, Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and Winston Churchill, was ‘frit’ – to use Thatcher’s word – of a 91 or 92 year old gent. Mike concluded of this gentleman’s arrest

Conclusion: John was committing an offence against nobody but Boris Johnson. A Boris Johnson government is an offence against the very environment in which we live.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/09/92-year-old-man-arrested-while-supporting-extinction-rebellion-because-the-tories-dont-like-it/

As ever, Mike is correct. In a subsequent article he showed that the Tories are far more likely than Labour to vote for policies that actively harm the planet. BoJo himself ‘was also among 10 ministers who received donations or gifts from oil companies, airports, petrostates, climate sceptics or thinktanks identified as spreading information against climate action.’ Mike’s article was based on a Guardian piece, that developed a scoreboard for the parties’ and individual politicians’ voting record. The Tories on average scored 17. Labour scored 90, and Jeremy Corbyn 92. Mike’s conclusion:

if you want a government that acts against climate change and to protect the environment for you, your children and future generations, you need to vote LABOUR.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/10/12/worried-about-climate-change-then-dont-vote-tory/

And we have to stop the cops being used as BoJo’s private police force, so that no more decent people, including senior citizens and members of the clergy of this country’s diverse religious communities, are picked up because they dare to frighten BoJob and his wretched corporate backers.

Richard Dawkins Promoting Atheism at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature

October 7, 2019

This week is the Cheltenham festival of literature. It’s an annual event when novelists, poets, illustrators and increasingly TV and radio personalities descend on the town to talk about and try to sell the books they’ve had published. There can be, and often are, some great speakers discussing their work. I used to go to it regularly in the past, but went off it after a few years. Some of the people turn up, year in, year out, and there are only so many times you can see them without getting tired of it.

Dawkins, Atheism and Philosophical Positivism

One of the regular speakers at the Festival is the zoologist, science writer and atheist polemicist, Richard Dawkins. The author of Climbing Mount Improbable, The River Out Of Eden, The Blind Watchmaker and so on is appearing in Cheltenham to promote his latest book, Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide. It sounds like a kind of successor to his earlier anti-religious work, The God Delusion. According to the accompanying pamphlet for the festival, he’s going to be talking to an interviewer about why we should all stop believing in God. There’s no doubt Dawkins deserves his platform at the Festival as much as any other writer. He’s a popular media personality, and writes well. However, his knowledge of philosophy, theology and the history of science, which forms the basis for his attacks on Christianity, is extremely low, and defenders of religion, and even other scientists and historians, who are just interested in defending their particular disciplines from factual mistakes and misinterpretations, have shot great holes in them.

Dawkins is, simply put, a kind of naive Positivist. Positivism was the 19th century philosophy, founded by Auguste Comte, that society moved through a series of three stages in its development. The first stage was the theological, when the dominant ideology was religion. Then came the philosophical stage, before the process ended with science. Religion was a thing of the past, and science would take over its role of explaining the universe and guiding human thought and society. Comte dreamed of the emergence of a ‘religion of humanity’, with its own priesthood and rituals, which would use sociology to lead humanity. Dawkins doesn’t quite go that far, but he does believe that religion and science – and specifically Darwinism – are in conflict, and that the former should give way to the latter. And he’s not alone. I heard that a few years ago, Alice Robert, the forensic archaeologist and science presenter, gave a speech on the same subject at the Cheltenham Festival of Science when she was its guest director, or curator, or whatever they term it. A friend of mine was less than impressed with her talk and the lack of understanding she had of religion. He tweeted ‘This is a girl who thinks she is intelligent.’

War of Science and Religion a Myth

No, or very few historians of science, actually believe that there’s a war between the two. There have been periods of tension, but the idea of a war comes from three 19th century writers. And it’s based on and cites a number of myths. One of these is the idea that the Church was uniformly hostile to science, and prevented any kind of scientific research and development until the Renaissance and the rediscovery of ancient Roman and Greek texts. It’s a myth I learnt at school, and it’s still told as fact in many popular textbooks. But other historians have pointed out that the Middle Ages was also a period of scientific investigation and development, particularly following the influence of medieval Islamic science and the ancient Greek and Roman texts they had preserved, translated, commented on and improved. Whole books have been written about medieval science, such as Jean Gimpel’s The Medieval Machine, and James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers. Hannam is a physicist, who did a doctorate in examining the development of medieval science, showing that, far from retarding or suppressing it, medieval churchmen were intensely interested in it and were active in its research. Medieval science was based very much on Aristotle, but they were well aware of some of the flaws in his natural philosophy, and attempted to modify it in order to make it conform to observed reality. The Humanists of the Renaissance, rather than bringing in freedom of thought and scientific innovation, were actually a threat. They wanted to strip philosophy and literature of its medieval modifications to make it correspond exactly with the ancients’ original views. Which would have meant actually destroying the considerable advances which had been made. Rather than believe that renaissance science was a complete replacement of medieval science, scholars like Hannam show that it was solidly based on the work of their medieval predecessors.

Christian Theology and the Scientific Revolution

The scientific revolution of the 17th century in England also has roots in Christian philosophy and theology. Historians now argue that the Royal Society was the work of Anglican Broadchurchmen, who believed that God had created a rational universe amenable to human reason, and who sought to end the conflict between the different Christian sects through uniting them in the common investigation of God’s creation. See, for example, R. Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press 1972).

Christian Monotheism and the Unity of Physical Law

It is also Christian monotheist theology that provides one of the fundamental assumptions behind science. Modern science is founded on the belief that the laws of nature amount to a single, non-contradictory whole. That’s the idea behind the ‘theory of everything’, or Grand Unified Theory everyone was talking about back in the 1990s. But this idea goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Aquinas said that we must believe that the laws of nature are one, because God is one.  It’s the assumption, founded on Christian theology, the makes science possible.

Atheist Reductionism also a Danger

When The God Delusion Came Out, it was met by a series of books attacking its errors, some of them with titles like The Dawkins Delusion. The philosopher Mary Midgley has also attacked the idea that science can act as a replacement for religion in her books Evolution as a Religion and The Myths We Live By. On page 58 of the latter she attacks the immense damage to humanity atheist reductionism also poses. She writes

Both reductive materialism and reductive idealism have converged to suggest that reductivism is primarily a moral campaign against Christianity. This is a dangerous mistake. Obsession with the churches has distracted attention from reduction employed against notions of human individuality, which is now a much more serious threat. It has also made moral problems look far simplar than they actually are. Indeed, some hopeful humanist reducers still tend to imply that, once Christian structures are cleared away, life in general will be quite all right and philosophy will present no further problems.

In their own times, these anti-clerical reductive campaigns have often been useful. But circumstances change. New menaces, worse than the one that obsesses us, are always appearing, so that what looked like a universal cure for vice and folly becomes simply irrelevant. In politics, twentieth-century atheistical states are not an encouraging omen for the simple secularistic approach to reform. it turns out that the evils that have infested religion are not confined to it, but are ones that can accompany any successful human institution. Nor is it even clear that religion itself is something that the human race either can or should be cured of.

Darwin Uninterested in Atheist Campaigning

Later in the book she describes how the Marxist Edward Aveling was disappointed when he tried to get Darwin to join him in a campaign to get the atheist, Bradlaugh, to take his seat as a duly elected MP. At the time, atheists were barred from public office by law. Aveling was impressed by Darwin’s work on evolution, which he believed supported atheism. Darwin was an agnostic, and later in life lost belief in God completely due to the trauma of losing a daughter and the problem of suffering in nature. But Darwin simply wasn’t interested in joining Aveling’s campaign. When Aveling asked him what he was now studying, hoping to hear about another earth-shaking discovery that would disprove religion, Darwin simply replied ‘Earthworms’. The great biologist was fascinated by them. It surprised and shocked Aveling, who hadn’t grasped that Darwin was simply interested in studying creatures for their own sake.

Evolutionists on Evolution Not Necessarily Supporting Atheism

Other evolutionary biologists also concluded that evolution has nothing to say about God, one way or another. Stephen Jay Gould stated that he believed that Darwinism only hinted at atheism, not that it proved it. Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who published his own theory of evolution in Zoonomia in 1801, believed on the other hand that the development of creatures from more primitive forebears made the existence of God ‘mathematically certain’.

Frank H.T. Rhodes of the University of Michigan wrote in his book Evolution (New York: Golden Press 1974) on its implications the following, denying that it had any for religion, politics or economics.

Evolution, like any other natural process or scientific theory, is theologically neutral. it describes mechanisms, but not meaning. it is based upon the recognition of order but incorporates no conclusion concerning the origin of that order as either purposeful or purposeless.

Although evolution involves the interpretation of natural events by natural processes, it neither assumes nor provides particular conclusions concerning the ultimate sources or the significance of materials, events or processes.

Evolution provides no obvious conclusions concerning political or economic systems. Evolution no more supports evolutionary politics (whatever they might be) than does the Second Law of Thermodynamics support political disorder or economic chaos. 

(Page 152).

Conclusion

I realise that the book’s nearly 50 years old, and that since that time some scientists have worked extremely hard to show the opposite – that evolution support atheism. But I’ve no doubt other scientists, people most of us have never heard of, believe the opposite. Way back in 1909 or so there was a poll of scientists to show their religious beliefs. The numbers of atheists and people of faith was roughly equal, and 11 per cent of the scientists polled said that they were extremely religious. When the poll was repeated in the 1990s, the pollsters were surprised to find that the proportion of scientists who were still extremely religious had not changed.

Despite what Dawkins tells you, atheism is not necessarily supported by science, and does not disprove it. Other views of the universe, its origin and meaning are available and still valid.

The Babylonian Condemnation of Libel and Slander

October 3, 2019

A few days ago I put up a few verses from the Old Testament, Exodus and Deuteronomy, which condemn telling lies. This was for the benefit of certain individuals, like Rachel Riley, who have been all too happy to make false accusations of anti-Semitism against others. When they themselves are criticised, however, they falsely accuse their critics of libelling them and threaten them with court action. Riley has done this to Mike and 16 others, after they blogged about how she and Tracey-Ann Oberman, in their view had bullied a sixteen year old schoolgirl with anxiety. The girl had put up a post supporting Jeremy Corbyn. This was then criticised by the two, who said they were going to ‘re-educate’ her and demanded that she meet them in London. The girl couldn’t as she had to be in school. They then accused her of anti-Semitism, and encouraged their supporters to pile in. When Mike put up his account of this sordid incident, Oberman appeared and claimed it was libelous. When Mike asked what was libelous about it, he received no reply. He was then informed that Riley was taking him to court.

The Babylonians, like the Hebrews, also condemned libel and slander. Their precept against it is preserved in the Counsels of Wisdom, a collection of short moral adages. These appear to have been copied sometime between 700 and 400 BC, although the texts themselves may date back to the period 1800-1000 BC. It runs

Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report,

Don say evil things, speak well of people.

One who utters libel and speaks evil,

Men will waylay him with the retribution of Shamash.

D. Winton Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (London: Thomas Nelson & Sons 1958) 106.

Shamash was the Babylonian sun god.

Similar sentiments are expressed in the Ancient Egyptian The Teaching of Amenemope. The scroll of this held by the British Museum may date back to 1000-600 BC, but there is a fragment written on a potsherd which may date back 1100-946 BC. The precept against libel runs

Injure not a man, with pen upon papyrus-

O abomination of the god!

Bear not witness with lying words,

Nor seek another’s reverse with thy tongue.

(Page 182).

Thus, what Riley and Oberman appear to be doing to silence their critics, who seem to be mostly supporters of the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn, is utterly wrong, even by Babylonian and Ancient Egyptian standards as well as those of Ancient Israel and today.

 

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.

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).