Posts Tagged ‘‘1984’’

‘1990’ – The BBC’s anti-Socialist 1970s SF Drama

July 27, 2017

Looking through the chapter on British television in John Clute’s Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia (London: Dorling Kindersley 1995), I found this entry for the forgotten SF drama 1990. Produced by Prudence Fitzgerald, with scripts mainly written by Wilfred Greatorex, this ran for 16 episodes from 1977 to 1978. Clute writes

In 1990s totalitarian Britain the welfare state is all-powerful. A maverick journalist helps infiltrators from the freedom-loving United States, and assists British rebels in fleeing there. Intended as a dire warning of trade-union socialism, the series’ caricatures in fact make the venture risible. (P. 101).

The Wikipedia entry for the series also adds the following details along with other information on its plot, characters, cast and crew:

The series is set in a dystopian future in which Britain is under the grip of the Home Office’s Public Control Department (PCD), a tyrannically oppressive bureaucracy riding roughshod over the population’s civil liberties.

Dubbed “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six” by its creator, Wilfred Greatorex, 1990 stars Edward Woodward as journalist Jim Kyle, Robert Lang as the powerful PCD Controller Herbert Skardon, Barbara Kellerman as Deputy PCD Controller Delly Lomas, John Savident, Yvonne Mitchell (in her last role), Lisa Harrow, Tony Doyle, Michael Napier Brown and Clive Swift.Two series, of eight episodes each, were produced and broadcast on BBC2 in 1977 and 1978. The series was never repeated but was released on DVD in 2017. Two novelisations based on the scripts were released in paperback by the publisher Sphere; Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990, and Wilfred Greatorex’s 1990 Book Two.

and includes this description of the show’s fictional background to its vision of a totalitarian Britain:

Exposition in this series was mainly performed by facts occasionally dropped into dialogue requiring the viewer to piece together the basic scenario.

This state of affairs was precipitated by an irrecoverable national bankruptcy in 1981, triggering martial law. In the general election, only 2% voted. The economy (and imports) drastically contracted forcing stringent rationing of housing, goods and services. These are distributed according to a person’s LifeScore as determined (and constantly reviewed) by the PCD on behalf of the union-dominated socialist government. As a consequence, the higher-status individuals appear to be civil servants and union leaders. An exception to this are import/export agents, which appear to be immune to state control due to their importance to the remnants of the economy. The House of Lords has been abolished and turned into an exclusive dining club. State ownership of businesses appears to be near-total and prohibition of wealth and income appears to be very high. The reigning monarch is male due to the unfortunate death of the previous monarch (queen Elizabeth the 2nd) but his identity is never made clear. The currency is the Anglodollar (replaced the pound sterling in 1982 due to economic collapse) which appears to have little value overseas due to the international boycott of British exports. The armed forces have been run down to the extent that they are little more than an internal security force. This is made clear in one episode where the RAF is depicted as consisting of little more than a handful of Harrier Jump Jets and a few dozen counter-insurgency helicopters. Despite this National Service has been re-introduced (via the Youth Behaviour Control Act 1984 which enforces conscription and Genetic Crimes Act 1985, which makes sexual offences punishable by hanging). It is said that in 1986 two Army Generals and a retired Air Chief Marshal attempted a coup against the government, but it failed.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1990_(TV_series)

There’s also a Wikipedia entry for Greatorex, the show’s creator, which states

Wilfred Greatorex (27 May 1921–14 October 2002)[1] was an English television and film writer, script editor and producer. He was creator of such series as Secret Army, 1990, Plane Makers and its sequel The Power Game, Hine, Brett, Man At The Top, Man From Haven and The Inheritors.[2] He also wrote the screenplay for the 1969 film Battle of Britain.[1] He was described by The Guardian newspaper as “one of the most prolific and assured of television script-writers and editors from the 1960s into the 1980s”.[3] Starting off as a journalist, he got his big break as a TV writer on Lew Grade’s ATV service writing dramas about journalism, such as Deadline Midnight and Front Page Story.[3]

As a TV script editor he also worked on series such as Danger Man[1] and was also creator/producer of The Inheritors, Hine and The Power Game.[1] Papers discovered at a Norfolk auction house in 2011 reveal that ‘Hine’ had a budget of £84,000, the equivalent of close to £1m some forty years later.

In 1977, he came up with the dystopian drama series 1990 for BBC2, starring Edward Woodward. Greatorex dubbed the series “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six”.[4] Over its two series it portrayed “a Britain in which the rights of the individual had been replaced by the concept of the common good – or, as I put it more brutally, a consensus tyranny.”[3] The same year he also devised (with Gerard Glaister) the BBC1 wartime drama Secret Army. The show later inspired the sitcom parody ‘Allo ‘Allo!.[5]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilfred_Greatorex

The show’s clearly a product of the extreme paranoia that gripped the Tories in Britain during the mid-1970s. The total collapse of the economy seems to have been inspired by the country’s bankruptcy in the mid to late 1970s, when the country was forced to go to the IMF. It also shows the fears that the Labour party was planning some kind of extreme left-wing coup. This was the decade when the Times was urging the formation of a national government, and various figures in intelligence and politics were considering organizing a military coup against the minority Labour government. Ken Livingstone also states in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, that MI5 had also compiled a list of subversives, including journalists, politicians and trade unionists, who were to be rounded up and interned in a camp somewhere in the Hebrides. Behind much of this paranoia was the belief, held by James Jesus Angleton, the head of the CIA, and many others in the Tory party, including Maggie Thatcher, that Harold Wilson was a KGB spy.

The series has long been forgotten. I can’t remember ever hearing or reading about it, apart from the entry in Clute’s Encyclopedia and the Wikipedia pages. The show was clearly quite successful at the time, as it lasted two seasons, but I can’t remember anyone I knew having watched it, or even mentioning it in the school playground.

Nevertheless, this is interesting, as the series was clearly written from an extreme right-wing stance, albeit one of that was shared by much of the Tory media during the 1970s. It definitely shows the alarm the Tories and a large section of the middle class clearly felt at trade union militancy and the Labour left’s desire to extend nationalization, as well as the experiments with worker’s control under Tony Benn. In fact, despite the accusation often heard during the ’70s and ’80s that Labour wanted to nationalize everything, the party only wished to take into public ownership 25 more companies. This is far from complete nationalization. As for worker’s control, this was confined to three firms, which were failing anyway. These eventually collapsed, but many of the workers involved in these projects felt that the experiments had been worthwhile and had shown that workers could run businesses.

And it also shows how blatantly biased the BBC could be against the Left.

There’s been considerable discussion on blog’s like mine and Mike’s about the Beeb’s bias against the Labour party and especially Jeremy Corbyn. Mike’s put a number of articles commenting on this bias. The BBC claims it is impartial, and whenever anybody complains about the bias in its programmes, as Guy Debord’s Cat did recently, they receive a bland, and slightly pompous reply telling them that they’re wrong. Researchers at Cardiff, Edinburgh and Glasgow universities have found, however, that the Corporation is far more likely to interview, and treat respectfully the opinions offered by Conservative MPs and experts from the financial sector, than trade unionists and members of the Labour party. Barry and Saville Kushner have commented on how the Beeb uncritically accepts and promotes the idea of austerity in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, to the point of shouting down anyone, who dares to disagree. There’s even been a book published exposing the Corporation’s bias, The BBC and the Myth of Public Service Broadcasting.

The existence of this explicitly anti-Socialist SF drama shows how far back this bias goes. In many ways, I’m not surprised. The corporation is largely staffed by members of the upper middle class. It’s one of the country’s central institutions, and so reflects the views of the established political, business and media elites. Hence it shared the British right’s groundless fears of some kind of radical socialist takeover in the 1970s, and their bitter hatred the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn today.

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Jimmy Dore Show: US Begins Bombing in Somalia Again, Because Oil Found

April 19, 2017

This is yet another video about the expansion of the American war machine and war propaganda by the Jimmy Dore Show. In this video, he discusses the report that AFRICOM, the part of American High Command responsible for Africa, has decided to put troops back into Somalia after 24 years. The troops are apparently there at the request of the Somalian government, and will be there for training purposes. The article does reveal that American troops have also been deployed several times within that space of 24 years in minor missions, such as scouting for bombing sites.

The US troops are being deployed to help the Somali government against the Islamist group, al-Shabaab. The article states that al-Shabaab, although sharing a similar Islamist ideology with ISIS and al-Qaeda, aren’t actually part of those organisations. Most of the time, they’ve been confined to Somalia. They arose after a long period of stable anarchy ended when a new government fought a war to gain power. It was this war that produced them. On those rate occasions when al-Shabaab has spread abroad, it’s mostly been into Kenya in reprisal for attacks made by the Kenyans and the African Union.

Dore makes the point that they’re not part of ISIS and al-Qaeda, but the American government has claimed that they are so that they can used the license granted to George Bush to fight terrorism. Dore states that this is indeed Orwellian. It’s endless war for endless peace, one of the slogans of Oceania in 1984.

So if al-Shabaab aren’t really an international terrorist organisation, what’s the real reason Trump’s sending troops there? You need to ask! It’s oil. Massive reserves have been found by BP off the country’s coast. In Puntland province, the reserves are sufficient to make the country one of the top 20 oil producing countries. Dore against makes the point that whenever there’s a war in the Middle East or Somalia, it’s all sponsored by Saudi Arabia about the petrodollar.

Dore is joined on the programme by Steffi Zamora and Ron Placone, whose voice can be heard off-screen. They make the point, with Dore, that there is no anti-war party in America. Both Republicans and Democrats are strongly in favour of war. The Democrats so much so, that when anti-war protesters turned up at their convention they turned the lights out and sound cannons on them, and painted them as riotous – throwing chairs around – and misogynist. But as Steffi Zamora reminds Dore’s viewers, the people of America are very strongly opposed to war. But the media does not want to show this. MSNBC, and news anchors like Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes are not going to say anything against more war. Dore also makes the point that YouTube are also trying to drive out those voices on the internet that oppose the war by demonetising them, in order to starve them of the advertising revenue that sustains them. What they’re getting isn’t sufficient to support their show, but they thank everyone who is supporting them. And, faced with silence about the war from the mainstream media, he asks the rhetorical question if it’s any wonder people are now getting their news from YouTube.

American State Censored TV Programme on American Nerve Gas Atrocity in Laos

February 13, 2017

I’ve blogged before about the way the Thames TV documentary, Death On the Rock, about the killing of an IRA terror squad by the SAS in Gibraltar, angered Maggie Thatcher so much that she destroyed Thames. The documentary presented evidence that the British army knew about the group’s movements, and could have picked them up peacefully at any time. They deliberately chose not to. The shootings were therefore a targeted assassination, with the SAS acting as a South American-style death squad.

This was, of course, too much for Maggie. She had Thames’ broadcasting licence removed, and they were replaced by Carlton. This is something to remember the next time John Humphries or anyone else at the Beeb tells you that she never interfered with the state broadcaster, and that this only began under Blair. I’m not arguing that Tory Tony didn’t interfere or throw his weight around with the Beeb. And there’s plenty of evidence that Maggie also had programme censored. She had the documentary, ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, produced by Panorama, censored because it argued that the Conservatives had been infiltrated by card carrying neo-Nazis, just like the Labour party had been infiltrated by Militant. Perhaps in Humphries’ case, the Conservatives didn’t interfere with the news coverage, because they didn’t need to. It already reflected their own bias.

Such censorship isn’t confined to Britain. It also happened in America. William Blum, a very long time critic of US foreign policy, has a section describing the censorship of a documentary on American television in 1998 in his book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower (London: Zed Books 2014). The company aroused the ire of the political, economic and media elite because it dared to tell the truth about a US gas attack in Laos that resulted in the deaths of civilians and American servicemen. He writes

In September 1970, American forces in Laos, acting under “Operation Tailwind”, used aerosolized Sarin nerve agent (referred to also as CBU-15 or GB) to prepare their entry in an attack upon a Laotian village base camp, with the object of killing a number of American military defectors who were reported to be there. The operation succeeded in killing in excess of 100 people, military and civilian, including at least two Americans. How many died before the attack from the gas and how many from the attack itself is not known.

Sarin, which was developed in Germany in the 1930s, can kill within minutes after inhalation of its vapor. A tiny drop of it on the skin will do the same; it may even penetrate ordinary clothing. It works by inhibiting an enzyme needed to control muscle movements. Without the enzyme, the body has no means of stopping the activation of muscles, and any physical horror is possible.

When the invading Americans were making their getaway, they were confronted by a superior force of North Vietnamese and communist Pathet Lao soldiers. The Americans called for help from the air. Very shortly, US planes were overhead dropping canisters of sarin upon the enemy. As the canisters exploded, a wet fog enveloped the enemy soldiers, who dropped to the ground, vomiting and convulsing. Some of the gas spread towards the Americans, not all of whom were adequately protected. Some began vomiting violently. Today, one of them suffers from creeping paralysis, which his doctor diagnoses as nerve-gas damage.

This story was reported on June 7, 1998, on the TV programme “NewsStand: CNN & Time”, and featured the testimony of Admiral Thomas Moorer, who had been Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1970,, as well as lesser military personnel, both on and off camera, who corroborated the incidents described above.

Then all hell broke loose. This was a story too much in conflict-painfully so-with American schoolbooks, Readers Digest, the flag, apple pie and mom. It was damage-control time. The big guns were called out-Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Green Beret veterans, the journalistic elite, the Pentagon itself. The story was wrong, absurd, slanderous, they cried. CNN retracted, Moorer retracted, the show’s producers were fired…lawsuits all over the place.

Like the dissidents who became “non-persons” under Stalin, Operation Tailwind is now officially a “non-event”.

Notwithstanding this, the program’s producers, April Oliver and Jack Smith, put together a 78 page document supporting their side of the story, with actual testimony by military personnel confirming the use of the nerve agent. (pp. 139-141).

This is truly Orwellian. Orwell, of course, based 1984 on Stalin’s Russia, and the way party functionaries rewrote history to suit the needs of the party and Stalin. The most famous example of this was the way the regime turned Trotsky from a hero and co-author of the Revolution with Lenin, to its arch-enemy and betrayer.

This incident shows how the American military-industrial complex and its puppets and paid shills in the media are quite prepared to do the same, and vilify and expel anyone who commits the same cardinal crime of exposing state lies and atrocities.

Cockburn and Sinclair in their book, End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, describe the way the American military and media have managed news reporting to support the Iraq invasion, up to and including the killing of journalists. Now the situation seems ready to get worse under Fuhrer Trump. But this would have been under Bill Clinton’s presidency. And Blum’s book shows that the corruption goes back further than that, right back to the Second World War.

It really makes you start to wonder how free the American press and media is, or if it ever was.

Newt Gingrich Wants to Introduce Thought Crime for Muslims

July 17, 2016

Here’s another video from The Young Turks, discussing another step in the downward path of American politics towards authoritarianism and repression. After the horrific terror attack in Nice on Friday, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representative under George Bush senior and Clinton, and Trump’s possible Vice President, has finally decided that the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to Muslims. He made a speech declaring that Muslims, who believe in sharia law should not be allowed into the country. Those who do, madrassas that teach it, and Muslims, who look up jihadist websites, should be expelled.

John Iadarola, Bill Mankiewicz and Jimmy Dore talk about how undemocratic this is. They point out that this is thought-crime, like the absolute control by the state of people’s opinions and ideas in Orwell’s 1984. Gingrich also stated that this should apply not only to Muslims, but to people with Muslim backgrounds. They also point out he want to criminalise people, who go to hardline Islamic websites no matter how much time they spend there. Cenk Uygur, one of the other anchors, is from a Turkish Muslim background, and they have all looked at hardline Islamist websites while doing research for news stories. Therefore, Cenk and they would be expelled under Gingrich’s legislation. They also point out that America is should be in no danger of having a theocratic government, as the Constitution stipulates that America is a secular state. Furthermore, that looseness with which that part of the legislation is framed would permit anyone, to have someone they disliked deported simply by hacking into their computer or sending them a link on their email. If someone wanted to get rid of a noisy neighbour, they could rickroll them with a link to an Islamist website, and whoa! The next thing that person’s on the plane.

Muslims themselves constitute less than three per cent of the American population. They also point out that if you ask immigrating Muslims if they believe in sharia government, they will deny it simply to get in, even if they do believe it. Furthermore, he points out that many American Christians also want a Christian theocratic government. They also state that a Muslim spokesman for one of the American thinktanks has stated that there are too many people, who know nothing about Islam, telling Muslims what their faith should be. Dore compares the Islamic sharia to Roman Catholic canon law, the body of religious law that governs the Roman Catholic church and its believers faith and practice. He claims that canon law in effect sanctions the abuse of children, because the church claimed that all the priests guilty of the crime would be punished according to canon law, when they were let off. Dore also wonders how many Muslims know about sharia law, considering very few Roman Catholics in practice know about canon law. The Turks also cite an unnamed atheist, who said that he considered American Muslims westernised, and so not the threat that the Right believes they are.

After coming out with this very hardline attack on American Muslims’ civil rights, Gingrich gave another interview backtracking somewhat, and claiming that he had a been misrepresented in the media storm that followed. He then claimed that devout Muslims, who were loyal to America, should have their rights absolutely protected, along with those of their children and other relatives.

Here’s the video.

In fairness to those, who do fear the imposition of sharia law, there have been instances in recent American history where a cult has tried to take over a community and turn it into a theocracy. The last time this occurred was in the 70’s and 80s, when one of the Indian gurus tried to take over a town in Oregon and turn it into a theocracy, ruled by his cult and followers. It failed, because the traditional townspeople resisted and invoked the Constitution. This was, however, one of the New Religious Movements based on Hinduism, rather than Islam, and I haven’t heard of Muslims, or mainstream Hindus either, for that matter, trying to anything like that.

The German counter-terrorism legislation did provide for the immigration authorities to question Muslim migrants if they believed in theocratic government. This is because the German system has government as the Basic Law as its fundamental article of state. This was introduced as part of the denazification programme after the War, and bans any party or organisation that does not recognise democracy. It was invoked in the 1970s to ban the National Democrats, a Neo-Nazi outfit, and then in the 1990s to ban an Anarchist review and a range of Anarchist organisations. However, a few years ago, the Week reported that the Germans were considering removing questions about support for sharia government from the immigration forms, because Muslim immigrants would lie about their support. Quite simply, it didn’t stop terrorists entering the country. I also think they were going to drop it because the question was itself anti-democratic, and they were afraid that heavy-handed policing tactics like this were alienating German Muslims, and driving them towards the Islamists.

As for the question of Roman Catholic canon law and Islamic sharia law, this has been an issue in parts of Canada. I think there was a movement up there in certain provinces, which recognised Roman Catholic canon law and Jewish Beth Din courts as legally recognised authorities governing the faith and practice of those religious communities. This became intensely controversial when a Canadian Muslim wanted sharia law and courts also recognised. He was challenged by a number of organisations, including associations of female former Muslims, who were deeply concerned about the treatment of women under Islamic religious law. I don’t know, but I think the situation may have ended with the Canadian government repealing the legislation granting secular legal authority to all religious courts, regardless of which religion, they belonged to.

I have to say that Gingrich’s comments simply look to me like another embittered, racist Republican trying to compete with Trump, whom The Turks point out is the master of stupid racism. They point out that the Republicans now appear to be a stupid, cartoonish party, and that the only thing they have going for them is that they are competing against Shrillary. All this is true, but displays of prejudice like Gingrich’s and Trump’s are serving to chip away further at the American traditions of free speech and tolerance. They are acting as an endorsement to the increasing racism, and there is a real danger that such intolerance will turn more Muslims towards militant, intolerant forms of Islam as a response to the hostility shown to them by mainstream society.

Vox Political on the Questionable Effectiveness of Privacy Safeguards In the Government’s Snooper’s Charter

March 1, 2016

This is another very interesting and telling piece from Mike over at Vox Political. The government has promised to tighten up the provisions to safeguard privacy in its act giving the intelligence services greater powers to intercept and store personal information from the internet, according to BBC News. It’s been described, rightly, as a ‘snooper’s charter’. It’s been on the table for months, along with cosy reassurances from the government that everything will be fine and this is nothing to worry about. It’s rubbish. Clearly, this is a threat to the liberty and privacy of British subjects. Once upon a time the intelligence services had to take a warrant out from the British government in order to tap phones. This piece of legislation gives them free warrant – or freer warrant – as an increasing amount of legislation over the years has gradually extended their ability to tap just about everyone’s electronic communications. This is dangerous, as it effectively makes everyone automatically suspect, even if they have done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago I posted up a piece I found in William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, about the way the EU a few years ago condemned Britain and the US for spying on EU citizens. The European authorities were, at least at that time, particularly concerned about the way the US was using intercepted information for corporate, industrial espionage, not to counter any terrorist threat. So there’s a real danger that the British authorities will do the same. A long time ago, in that brief, blissful gap between the Fall of Communism and the War and Terror, the spooks at MI5 and MI6 really didn’t know what to do. The old Soviet Communist threat had evaporated, dissident Republican groups were still around, but Sinn Fein was at the negotiating table and there was a cease fare. And Osama bin Laden had yet to destroy the World Trade Centre and try to kill the president. Prospects looked bleak for Britain’s spies. It looked like there might be cutbacks, job losses. George Smiley, James Bond and the others might be faced with going down the jobcentre. So the intelligence agencies announced that they were going into industrial espionage. Lobster covered this revolting development, with appropriate boastful quote from the agencies concerned. So, if you’re a struggling businessman somewhere in Britain and the EU, with little capital but some cracking ideas, be afraid. Be very afraid. Because this bill will result in the Americans stealing your idea. Blum gave the example of a couple of German and French firms, include a wind-power company, who found their secrets passed on to their American rivals.

Mike also adds an interesting piece comparing the supine attitude of our own legislature to that of South Korea. The opposition there has been engaged in a week-long filibuster to talk their electronic surveillance bill out of parliament, to deny it any votes and any validity whatsoever. Bravo to them! Now if there’s a country that has rather more need of such a bill, it’s South Korea. They are bordered on the north with a totalitarian state that has absolutely no respect for the lives of its people, and which makes terrible threats of military action backed by nuclear warfare. It is run by a bloodthirsty dictator, who has killed members of his own family with extreme overkill. Really. He shot one of his generals to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun.

I got the impression that South Korea is like Japan. It’s an extremely capitalist society with the Asian work ethic. And it is extremely anti-Communist. I can remember being told by an spokesman for the Unification Church, who came into speak to us in the RE course at College, that the anti-Communist parts of Sun Myung Moon’s creed were nothing special, and were part of the general anti-Communist culture of South Korea. I honestly don’t know whether this is true, or whether it was then – this was the 1980s – and isn’t now. But clearly, the South Korean have very good reasons to be suspicious of espionage for their northern neighbours.

But their equivalent of this law is too much for them. And it should also be for us, if we genuinely value our privacy and civil liberties. But I’m starting to ponder whether we truly do. John Kampfner in his book ‘Freedom for Sale’ describes in depth the way Tony Bliar and Broon massively expanded the intelligence gathering powers of the authorities in this country, transforming it into something very like Orwell’s 1984. I kid you not. One local authority affixed loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras on particular estates, so they could order you around as well as keep you under surveillance. Pretty much like the all-pervasive televisions in Orwell’s Oceania. Kampfner also called into question the supposed traditional British love of freedom. He argued that it was actually much less than we really wanted to believe. Blair and Broon made no secret of what they were doing, and the British public in general bought it. Partly spurred on by the hysterics of the populist press, with Paul Dacre, Murdoch and the like demanding greater and more intrusive police powers to fight crime and terrorism.

Even Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, was shocked at how far this process went. In the 1990s he went on a tour of China. When he came back, he was shocked by the ubiquitous presence of the CCTV cameras. Alan Moore, the creator of the classic dystopian comic and graphic novel, V for Vendetta, said in an interview that when he wrote the strip in the British anthology comic, Warrior, back in the 1980s, he put in CCTV cameras on street corners, thinking that it would really frighten people. Now, he observed, they were everywhere.

I’m very much afraid that everywhere we are losing our liberties, our rights to freedom of conscience and assembly. That they’re being stripped from by a corporatist elite in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but which is really a façade for a military-industrial complex determined to control, and control absolutely and minutely. And what makes the blood really run cold is the sheer apathy of the great British public to this process.

I’ve been mocking Alex Jones of the conspiracy internet site and programme, Infowars the past couple of days, putting up pieces of some of his weird and nonsensical ranting. Jones is wrong in so much of what he says. He’s a libertarian, looking in the wrong direction for the threat to freedom. But fundamentally, he has a point. There is a campaign from the corporate elite to strip us of our freedoms. And our leaders – in the parliament, the press and the media, seem quite content to do little about it.

Secular Talk on the Iranians Raising the Bounty on Salman Rushdie by $600,000

February 27, 2016

Private Eyatollah

The cover of Private Eye for Friday 13th March 1989. If you can’t read the caption, one mullah is saying to the Ayatollah, ‘Have you read the book?’. He replies, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

Kulinski in this clip discusses a report in the Guardian that a group of 40 newspaper and other media companies in Iran have clubbed together to raise the money offered under their government’s fatwa for killing Salman Rushdie by a further $600,000. The fatwas was imposed way back in 1988 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for Rushdie writing the book, the Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah considered blasphemous against Islam. Kulinski points out that it hasn’t just been Rushdie whose life has been put in danger by the fatwa. The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Kirigashi was fatally stabbed in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator, Ettore Caprioli, was also the victim of a stabbing, though mercifully he survived. Aziz Nessin, the Turkish translator, survived an arson attack on an hotel in which 37 other people died in 1993. William Nyegard, the Swedish translator, was also attacked in 1993. He was shot three times in Oslo, though thankfully he too survived. And last year, 2015, Iran withdrew from the Frankfurt book fair because they had announced that Rushdie was speaking.

Kulinski states that the Iranians have the attitude that they’re being oppressed, because of their offence at Rushdie’s book. He points out that for civilised people, the solution to such a difference of opinion is to argue about it, and then move on. He states very strongly that the reason why the Iranians aren’t doing this is because they know their arguments are weak. This is why they have to force it on children when they’re young. He also points out that the younger generation in Iran is also disgusted by this. Iran is a very young country, and most of them are much more liberal than their elders. ‘Tick tock,’ he says, ‘the clock is ticking. Times running out for you.’

I’m reblogging this as there’s much more going on here than simply a revival of anti-Rushdie feeling in Iran. In fact, the evidence points the other way. If these media companies have decided to band together to add even more money to the fatwa, then it shows very effectively that few people in Iran are interested in killing the author. Again, thankfully.

The book has been a source of tension between Islam and the secular West almost from the first. Not all Muslims are as extreme as the Ayatollah, but many, perhaps the majority, do resent what they see as an attack on their religion. The book’s Islamic opponents have also pointed out that Viking Penguin was also ambivalent about publishing the book. The publisher’s advisors told them three time that it would result in serious trouble, including mass protests. These were eventually ignored and overridden. Roald Dahl, the renowned children’s author, speaking on Radio 4 several years ago, also felt that the book should not have been published given the hatred and violence that this had caused. He did not consider it great literature, and felt it should be pulped.

The outrage caused by The Satanic Verses is also a major cause of the current surge of anti-western and Islamist Muslim activism. Outrage at the book prompted Muslims to band together for pretty much the first time in protest, organising demonstrations and book burnings. And the preachers of hate used it as a pretext to attack Britons and British society in general. I can remember Kalim Saddiqui speaking in his mosque on a documentary shown late at night on the Beeb, The Trouble with Islam, in which he described Britain as ‘a terrible killing machine’ and stated that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ When the documentary-makers picked him up on this, he blustered that it was about the Satanic Verses, which had been published in preparation for a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ He was, of course, talking poisonous rubbish.

In fact all the people I know, who’ve actually read the book, tell me that it’s not actually blasphemous. I know a lecturer in Islam, who actually got his students to read the book when he was teaching in Pakistan. They’d been talking about how the book was blasphemous, so he asked them if they’d read it. When they said they hadn’t, he asked them if they would, and gave copies to them to read. They carried them home in brown paper bags so no-one would see them. When they’d read the book, he asked them again if they thought it was blasphemous. They said, ‘No’.

There were very cynical, political reasons for the Ayatollah’s decision to put a price on Rushdie’s head. He was afraid he was losing Iran’s position as the premier Islamic revolutionary regime to others, like Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In order to try and whip up some more popularity, he resorted to that classic Orwellian technique: the five minute hate. This is the episode in Orwell’s classic 1984, where ‘Big Brother’ orchestrates a wave of hatred against a traitor figure for about five minutes. It’s very, very much like the way Stalin whipped up hatred in the Soviet Union against Trotsky, who was accused of all kinds of treachery and perfidy against the state and its people. Khomeini was doing the same here, but with Rushdie as the hate figure.

The fatwa didn’t work as well as the Iranians hoped it would, though I have Iranian friends who feel that the Satanic Verses was deliberately published by the British government to sever relations with Iran. After about a decade or more, the Iranians announced that, while the fatwa couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be lifted, they weren’t going actively going to enforce it.

Then a few years ago, more money was placed on the price. This was after the rioting around the world against the film, The Innocence of Muslims, which was a genuinely blasphemous attack on Mohammed. The film, however, was the group of expatriate Egyptians and nothing to do with Salman Rushdie. Again, it looked like a cynical attempt by the Iranian revolutionary authorities to gain some kind of political advantage, which they felt they had lost.

And now this. And everything about this says exactly the same to me: that this is nothing but a cynical attempt to exploit Rushdie’s notoriety to marshal support for the regime. Except that I don’t know how successful they’ll be. Not very, is my guess. They weren’t before, despite the vicious attacks on Rushdie’s publishers and translators. After all, they had to drop it as a dead letter for several years. And Kulinski is right about the Iranian population. They are on average very young. Most of the population is under 30. This generation doesn’t remember the Shah or the Islamic Revolution, and Rushdie to them is nothing but decades old news.

Now I don’t share Kulinski’s atheism. I think that people have the right to bring their children up and have them educated in their faith, and I don’t see it as brainwashing. But I do share his feelings that if the Iranians are resorting to violence, or advocating it, then it does mean that they don’t have confidence in their own ability to confront and overcome Rushdie in the realm of ideas. Which is itself astonishing, considering the rich heritage of Islamic philosophy. But then, I don’t think combating Rushdie’s ideas are what the fatwas is intended for. As I said, I think it’s an appeal to raw emotion simply to bolster the regime.

So why would the Iranian state and authorities need this renewed campaign against Rushdie? It might be because the young general is much less religious, and more secular. Atheism is expanding across the Middle East, including Iran. This is pretty much what you’d expect when religion, or indeed any ideology, becomes oppressive and the source of violence instead of peace and prosperity. Christopher Hill, in one of his books on what he called the English Revolution, his term for the British Civil War notes that the religious violence in Britain in the mid-17th century led to a similar growth in atheism and unbelief. And Iran many people resent their lack of political and social freedoms, and the immense corruption of Islamic clergy, who have enriched themselves through backhanders from commerce, industry and control of the bonyads, the religious trusts, which manage about 50 per cent of the economy, including the oil industry. All this growth in atheism is very, very clandestine. Atheism and apostasy are capital crimes in many Islamic countries, and so people have to be very careful about who they talk to about this issue. Even social media is very carefully monitored. ISIS in Syria kept the facebook and twitter accounts of a female anti-Islamist activist open long after the woman herself had been captured and murdered by them, as a honey trap to catch other anti-Islamist dissidents. And Nokia sold software across the Middle East to the despots and autocrats enabling them to hack into people’s mobiles in order to spy on them. So it’s still incredibly dangerous. Nevertheless, atheism and general disaffection against these regimes is growing. So I’m very sure that the Iranians have raised the fatwa bounty once again, because they hear the ticks of the clock sounding out the final moments of their regime only too well.

The Nixonian Politics of David Cameron

February 10, 2016

Shark Hunt Pic

As I mentioned a few blog posts ago, I’ve been reading through the works of the great Gonzo journalist and drug fiend, Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson was part of the Hippy scene in the 1960s, and knew Ken Kesey and Jefferson Airplane. He was politically liberal, and had a visceral hatred of the Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, George Dubya and, quintessentially, Richard M. Nixon. Thompson covered the Watergate trials and its aftermath, writing some truly blistering pieces on the man, who has become the epitome of American political corruption.

Now, it seems, history is repeating itself here in Britain, and we have another politico who shares many of Nixon’s worst characteristics – paranoia, a need to spy and control the lives and beliefs of ordinary citizens, and whose policies favour the rich at the expense of the poor.

I found these telling passages about Nixon, which so resonate with the current situation in Britain, in Thompson’s 1974 piece about Watergate, ‘Fear and Loathing in the Bunker’, reprinted in the collection, The Great Shark Hunt.

Thompson believed that Nixon’s corruption had done some good by shaking average Americans out of their political apathy, particularly regarding the massive rise in the unequal tax burden between rich and poor:

The Watergate spectacle was a shock, but the fact of a millionaire President paying less income tax than most construction workers while gasoline costs a dollar in Brooklyn and the threat of mass unemployment by spring tends to personalise Mr Nixon’s failure in a very visceral way.

Rises in petrol prices, mass unemployment and a leading politician, whose a millionaire, who pays less tax than blue collar workers. Well, that all sounds like Cameron. He is an old Etonian toff, and he has radically shifted the tax burden onto the working class.

And on the totalitarian character of Nixon’s administration:

George Orwell had a phrase for it. Neither he nor Aldous Huxley had much faith in the future of participatory democracy. Orwell even set a date: 1984 – and the most disturbing revelation that emerged from last year’s Watergate hearings was not so much the arrogance and criminality of Nixon’s henchmen, but the aggressively totalitarian character of his whole administration. It is ugly to know how close we came to meeting Orwell’s deadline.

Meanwhile in Cameron’s Britain, we’re still on the journey there. Cameron is the man, who introduced secret courts, and has massively extended the remit of the intelligence services and the secret state to spy on British citizens. He also wishes to get rid of the European human rights act, and replace it with a much weaker British bill of rights. And, of course, he and his fellow authoritarians, including Jack Straw, wish to water down massively the Freedom of Information Act, so that the public doesn’t get hold of any information that might embarrass him and the other poor dears in his wretched and corrupt administration.

Well, at least they impeached Nixon. For whatever reason, at least two members of the press kept up and did the job of bringing him down. Our modern media seem just about ready to roll over for him, including the BBC.

Nixon Cameron Pic

MI5 Tapped Everyone’s Phones Over Past Ten Years

November 5, 2015

I’ve just caught this snippet on BBC Breakfast News. They claimed that it’s been revealed that MI5 have kept records of the phone calls made by everyone in Britain for the past decade.

Now this truly boggles the mind, as I was taught at school that there are about 60-65 million people in the UK. It seems incredible to me that the security services could record even a small fraction of the total population’s phone calls, let along everybody, and find enough computer memory space to store them for as long as they have.

It’s also extremely worrying. I’ve been blogging a lot recently about the growth of the surveillance state, and the threat this poses to the personal liberty of all us in the UK. This is further confirmation of that, and shows just how paranoid the authorities are.

Now I don’t dispute the fact that the security services have a right and a duty to spy on those, who can be reasonable suspected of terrorism or supporting terrorist groups, as well as foreign spies. But this has to be matched with proper checks so that innocent people are not targeted and placed under suspicion. This new statistic seems to indicate that the authorities view everyone as some kind of potential terrorist or subversive. If that’s the case, it shows a dangerous need amongst our leaders to control, monitor, and stifle just about everyone in the UK on the grounds that they present some kind of threat.

It also shows how weak and ineffective the government’s claims that their reforms to the justice system, and expansion of the powers of the secret state, won’t constitute a threat to our traditional liberties. Much was made in the Tory press about New Labour’s Marxist drive to stifle free speech and democracy. The Tories and their Lib Dem enablers have gone much further, and set up a system of secret courts. They also wanted to give the security state even further powers to seize people’s records of what they’ve been looking at online over the past year, but were forced to climb down in anticipation of another battle with the Lords.

One upon a time, the state was supposed to get a warrant from the Home Office before they started tapping people’s phones. Those days, it seems, are now long gone. Everyone is being monitored, and so everyone is apparently viewed as potential suspect. We really are heading towards the kind of society Orwell warned against in 1984. And Big Brother has been listening to our phone calls for the last ten years.

The Young Turks: Verizon Patents Device to Spy on You for Advertisers

October 31, 2015

I post a similar piece from The Young Turks a little while ago on the way the American government was going to place tracking devices in people’s home appliances – TVs, washing machines, freezers, and so on, which would allow them to keep tabs on them. In this report from 2012, the Turks reveal that Verizon has patented a device which allows the TV to spy on you in order to target advertising. For example, if the camera picks up sounds of arguing, you’ll get an advert for marriage counselling. If they see ‘cuddling’, your TV will show an advert for contraceptives.

This is a serious potential infringement of civil liberties, and it’s not the first. The Turks reveal that four years previously another company had patented a similar device. Verizon are able to do so, unlike the government, which needs a warrant, because they’re a private company.

As the Turks point out, this has serious implications. They raise the obvious question: does anybody really believe that the government isn’t going to use this technology? They are, unfortunately, extremely pessimistic about the possibility of citizens resisting what Benjamin J. Grimm, your ever-lovin’ Thing, would describe as ‘a revoltin’ development’. They believe it’ll take a couple of scandals, and even, then the evidence is that people are so habituated to such surveillance, that they won’t resist.

This is one more step towards Orwell’s 1984. In Orwell’s dystopian classic, the government monitors and controls people through cameras, including in their television. Orwell’s novel was based on Stalinism and the idea of a totalitarian ‘socialist’ state. This technology is being developed for private industry, and no doubt will be adopted by our increasingly Right-wing government to protect private industry and the exploitation of the poor and unemployed by the upper classes.

Here’s the video:

Dan Cruikshank on ISIS’ Attack on Ancient Monuments

June 24, 2015

Next Tuesday the Beeb is showing a programme by Dan Cruikshank on the threat posed to the great antiquities and priceless monuments of Middle East by ISIS. It’s entitled Dan Cruikshank’s Civilisation under Attack. The blurbs for it in the Radio Times state

Islamic State have declared war on some of the planet’s most important architectural sites, with jihadi fighters seemingly set on destroying the wonders of the ancient world. Dan Cruikshank charts the likely course of the militant group’s advance, investigating why it is happening. (p. 86)

and

Watching the videos here of Islamic State fighters taking sledgehammers and drills to Assyrian reliefs in Nimrud – then blowing up the whole site – is hard. Similar attacks in Mosul, Nineveh and Hatra have brought global condemnation, and now the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra lies under IS control.

Dan Cruikshank talks to Islamic scholars about the claimed rationale behind the IS actions and what, if anything, can be done to challenge it. ‘Are we prepared to use armed force to protect the cultural heritage of all humanity?’ demands one expert. But it turns out to be not nearly that simple, in a programme that can offer few answers. (p. 83.)

The programme’s on BBC 4 at 9.00 pm, if you can bear to watch the footage of this gratuitous vandalism.

Cruikshank is an architectural historian with a deep appreciation of the glories of the world’s architectural heritage, not just that of Britain. A few years ago he presented a series, in which he toured the globe’s great buildings and monuments, including those of Iraq and Afghanistan. These included either Babylon or Nineveh, where he was horrified to find how botched and tawdry the ‘restoration’ performed by Saddam Hussein had been. The monument had been partly restored using modern brick stamped with the late dictator’s own name. I’ve got a feeling this was slightly before the West’s invasion of Iraq, as he stated his own, real fears about the threat a war in the country posed to the survival of these precious antiquities. He also talked to one of the leaders of the Christian community in Iraq about the deterioration in relationships between them and their Muslim compatriots. The interview was quite strained, with ominous pauses where the bishop appeared to be thinking very carefully indeed about how to explain his people’s embattled situation. He explained that relations between Christians and Muslims had previously been quite harmonious. Tensions had increased, with members of the Christian church physically assaulted, with the threat of invasion from the West.

Alas, Cruikshank’s fears have been borne out. Christian communities throughout Iraq and the Middle East have been attacked and expelled by ISIS as part of their radical Islamisation of the territories they capture. And it’s not just been Christians that have suffered. They’ve also attacked, brutalised and enslaved the Yezidis, and have killed Muslims, whose religious views differ from and are opposed to their own. I’ve blogged before about how many Islamic clergy have been murdered and mosques demolished by ISIS, simply because they dared to have a different conception of Islam.

And in addition to destroying churches, and ancient Assyrian monuments, they’ve also destroyed historic Islamic shrines, again because they are ‘un-Islamic’, according to their twisted ideology.

All this is a deliberate attack on an ancient heritage that belongs to the world and specifically to the peoples of the countries ISIS have conquered and brutalised. These monuments are a threat, as they show just how ancient the history and culture of these peoples are. Archaeologists and historians of the ancient Near East, such as Georges Roux in his Ancient Iraq have noted, for example, that the style of housing used by the ancient Babylonians is very much the same as that traditionally used in Iraq. The forensic scientist and Egyptologist, Dr Jo-Anne Fletcher, made the same point about the type of houses built and used by modern Egyptians. This is also very similar to those built by their ancient predecessors thousands of years previously.

In language, too, there is considerable similarity and some remarkable survivals from the ancient cultures. Akkadian, the language of the Assyrian Empire, was, like Arabic and Hebrew, a Semitic language. And there are still words in modern Arabic, which are clearly derived from, if not exactly the same, as those uttered by the Assyrians. Certain customs and cultural practices have also survived down the centuries from the ancient past. In the programme about Palmyra, Cruikshank pointed to a relief, which showed a group of veiled women riding camels or mules. This, he pointed out, showed how ancient the veiling of women was in the Middle East. It certainly does. Respectable married women were required by law in ancient Assyria to veil themselves in public.

ISIS’ destruction of these monuments is a deliberate attempt to erase the history and cultural identity of Iraq and Syria. It’s the same totalitarian strategy pursued by Hitler and Stalin, in their brutal campaigns to remodel Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, so that no trace of their former cultures could survive to challenge the regime. And the cultural vandalism didn’t stop there, but was also imposed on the nations they conquered. Hitler, for example, had the Paris metro destroyed, as he had claimed that Berlin was the only city in the world that had such an underground railway system. This was clearly belied by the existence of the French system, and so it had to be destroyed. And as Orwell stated in 1984, that classic SF dystopia, if you want to control the future, you have to control the past. Hence the Ministry of Truth, which existed to rewrite history in order to satisfy the ideological and propaganda needs of Big Brother’s tyranny.

Orwell based his book on Stalin’s Russia. Since then, Communism has fallen, although Putin seems determined to revive some of Stalin’s reputation and his brutal methods. And ISIS have now succeeded the Nazi and Stalinist regimes as destroyers of culture and history in the pursuit of totalitarian power.

They haven’t always been able to get their own way, however. There has been the odd case where the local people have protested so strongly against their attempts to destroy one of their country’s monuments, that ISIS have been forced to retreat. One of these cases was when the locals gathered round to protect an historic minaret.

Their actions stand in stark contrast to far more enlightened approach of the early caliphs. What made medieval Islam such a powerful cultural and scientific force in global society, was its willingness to seek out, absorb, and assimilate the learning of the peoples they had conquered. This was then synthesized and built on, with the result that Muslim scholars made astonishing advances in astronomy, medicine, physics, mathematics, philosophy, chemistry, historiography – the philosophy of history – and even in areas ISIS utterly detest, such as musical theory.

ISIS, by contrast, are destroyers, and their deliberate and calculated attack on these ancient monuments has left the culture of the world and the Muslim and Arab peoples themselves badly impoverished.