Posts Tagged ‘Arab Spring’

Empire Files: Saudi Arabia’s History of Thuggery

January 17, 2016

Yesterday I put up a number of posts criticising and attacking Saudi Arabia and its brutal use of the death penalty, following the complaint of the Saudi Foreign Minister, al-Jubair, that the kingdom had an image problem because of it, and moaning that people should respect their use of the death penalty ‘Because it’s the law’. This is another, very informative, and grimly fascinating video discussing Saudi Arabia’s long history of repression, violence and brutality from its very foundation. The video’s from Empire Files, which is another news agency specialising in criticising and documenting the corruption and political oppression committed by the American Empire.

Presented by Abby Martin, the video begins with shots of the western great and good meeting and praising various Saudi royals, mentioning the country’s election to the UN Human Rights Council. It then goes on to discuss the Saudi use of public executions. Among the crimes liable to the death penalty are atheism and adultery. 43% of all executions are for non-violent drug offences. It also discusses the execution of Ali al-Nimr, a democracy protester, by crucifixion and beheading. These cases are judged in secret courts, and other punishments include amputation and whipping.

The programme also goes on to examine the almost complete absence of rights for women in Saudi Arabia. Despite having been given the right to vote, women in Saudi Arabia require the permission of male relatives or guardians to go to school, work or even receive medical treatment. They may also be punished for their own sexual assault. The video cites a rape case, where the victim received more lashes than her attackers. Women constitute only 17% of the Saudi work force. 77% of female graduates are unemployed.

The kingdom has also been actively clamping down and suppressing protesters and activists campaigning for democracy. Many of these have been arrested and tried in secret courts. The punishments include execution, or transferral to re-education centres. The attacks on democracy campaigners escalated after 9/11. Before hundreds were being arrested. Now it’s thousands. Furthermore, no civil rights organisations are allowed in the country.

The programme then moves on to describe the history of the kingdom. It’s an absolute monarchy, ruled by a single dynasty. The current king’s personal wealth is estimated at $18 billion. Despite the obscene wealth of its rulers, 20% of its population live in abject poverty, with a youth unemployment rate of 30%.

Thirty per cent of the country’s population is composed of migrant workers, who are virtually slaves due to the system of kafala, sponsorship, through which they are imported. The programme describes their exploitation, with 15 – 20 hour working days, maltreatment, confiscation of passports on arrival, and adverts for runaway labourers and domestic workers, similar to those for de jure slaves in the American West.

Martin then talks to the Saudi dissident, Ali al-Ahmed, the head of the Gulf Institute. Al-Ahmed states that part of the problem is that the country’s vast wealth is confined to the king, his relatives and cronies. The present king can in no way be described as a great reformer. He imprisoned his four daughters for 14 years, and to this day no-one knows what happened to them. The king is an absolute monarch. The Saudi parliament is only partially elected. It is also partly appointed, and wields no power. As for the judicial system, al-Ahmed describes it as medieval and tribal. It deliberately excludes women, blacks, ordinary people and the Shi’a. It is similar to ISIS. And the bond between Saudi Arabia, America and the West is money. Bill Clinton and George Bush have both visited Saudi Arabia, probably secretly looking for Saudi sponsorship for their election campaigns. Al-Ahmed states that this should be investigated by the FBI. It appears to be a case of the Saudis trying to buy off prospective American presidents in the aftermath of 9/11.

The kingdom itself was founded after 20 years of warfare and campaigning by Ibn Saud, who declared himself king in 1925. Ibn Saud was aided in his rise to power by a religious militia. These later revolted, and so Ibn Saud had them massacred. The conquest of what is now Saudi Arabia was complete by 1932. Ibn Saud tried, and failed, to conquer and incorporate what is now Yemen.

The Saudi family struck oil after World War I, and invited the Americans in to exploit it. The Americans were only too pleased, after having been shut out of the rest of the oilfields of the Middle East by the triumphant European colonial powers. The American oil company, Chevron, staked its claim to the Saudi oilfields in 1933. This resulted in the formation of Arab-American Oil – Aramco. Despite the name, Aramco was 100 per cent owned by the Americans. It is the property of four American oil companies, including Chevron and Mobil. These oil companies paid a small proportion of their profits to the Saudi royal family as royalties.

Italian bombing during the Second World War severely disrupted oil supplies. In 1943 President Roosevelt declared that the defence of the Saudi oilfields was a national priority. Two years later, in 1945, Roosevelt signed a treaty with the Saudis giving them American protection in exchange for oil. This was the start of the network of American army and naval based in the country. In 1953 15,000 or so oil workers went on strike, demanding a union. The monarchy responded by assassinating the leaders and promulgating a royal decree banning working class organisations. In 1962 a left-wing revolution broke out in Yemen. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK responded by supporting the royalist counterrevolution.

The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West has not gone untroubled, however. There was a rift following the foundation of Israel. In response to Israeli victories during the Arab-Israeli wars, the Saudis launched their oil embargo, sparking the energy crisis of the 1970s. This did not, however, bother Nixon and Kissinger very much. If the worst came to the worst, they planned on bombing the kingdom in order to secure the vital supplies of oil. In the event, they didn’t need to take such drastic action. The Saudis were alarmed by the spread of Communism. So Nixon and Kissinger convinced the Saudis, along with the UAE, Qatar and Bahrein to back their war on Communism and specifically the conflict in Vietnam.

In the 1980s Saudi Arabia was the major backer of the Mujahideen. In 1979 there was a religious uprising in imitation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was suppressed, and the 60 leaders executed. Saudi Shi’a were also attacked for celebrating a Shi’a religious festival. Following the killing of a student, there were mass demonstrations by the Shi’a, women’s organisations, the Communist party and the religious community. In retaliation, the Saudis deployed 20,000 soldiers, strafing the Shi’a communities with helicopter gunships. And Ronald Reagan pledged his support in suppressing any revolution. Saudi Arabia was, of course, the major American base in 1990 for the Gulf War.

The Saudis’ response to the Arab Spring was, predictably, also harsh. The regime issued a ban on all journalism that dared to question or criticise the monarchy, and the internet was subject to even heavier censorship. Saudi troops helped to crush the Arab Spring in neighbouring Bahrein. Despite this, people are still fighting and dying for their right to freedom in the east of Saudi Arabia. There was another uprising in 2013 following the shooting of another young person. Saudi Arabia has also responded to the threat by making massive purchases of arms. It is the biggest customer for American weapons, having bought $5.5 billion of them c. 2012. The kingdom is also a major financier of al-Qaeda and ISIS. This was admitted by Hillary Clinton in documents revealed by Wikileaks. They are estimated to have given $100 billion to terrorists.

They also had strong links to the 9/11 hijackers. 28 pages of the official inquiry into 9/11 remain classified, but the leader of the inquiry has stated that the material points to Saudi Arabia as a major funder. Nevertheless, the current crisis in the Middle East has alarmed them so much, that the Saudis have held secret meetings with Israel. The Saudis have also been active trying to suppress the rebellion in Yemen. So far, half of those killed have been civilians. Saudi arms have levelled the ancient and historic city of Sanaa, and there are cases where civilians and rescue workers have been attacked and killed.

This is a brutal, authoritarian and cruel absolute monarchy, responsible for the savage suppression of human rights and democracy throughout the Middle East. It is scandalous that the West continues to support this murderous regime, although not surprising given the vast profits from and the dependence of the West on Saudi oil, while western arms manufacturers make money from selling to them.

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Former South African MP Andrew Feinstein on Global Arms Trade

January 2, 2016

I received this fascinating comment from Michelle Thomasson on my last post, in which I put up a meme about how the banks, businesses and governments profit from war at the expense of the people, who actually have to live, fight and die through them. She writes

In November I helped host a discussion at the House of Commons on the Ethics (!!) of the UK Arms Trade, one of the speakers was Andrew Feinstein a politician in South Africa (he worked against apartheid), but in the last 10 years has undertaken very brave research re the shadow world of the arms trade, the information he relates in this short clip is hair-raising: https://youtu.be/2F6J4Xvdkuo

For a fuller speech from him and more on the hidden dynamics within politics, here is an extended speech from Andrew a couple of weeks later at Medact:

These clips are grim, but immensely informatiove in giving an overview into how immensely profitable, pernicious and massively corrupt the global arms trade is, and how that corruption infects government at the highest possible levels. The first clip is audio only, but still well worth listening to. The second is rather long at 27 minutes, and has video. They both cover much the same ground, though the second adds a few more details, including Feinstein’s own experience as a South African politician being thrown out of government because of his opposition to a massively corrupt arms deal cut by Thabo Mbeki.

Feinstein is South African, Jewish and a former ANC politician, serving his country in its parliament for seven years. After he was forced out of government by his country’s president, he started making a documentary, The Shadow World, which is both a book and a film, on the global arms trade. He states in these clips that Europe is experiencing its highest level of militarism in peacetime for seven years. This militarism is supported by the global arms trade. The global trade in arms is worth $1.5 trillion. The small arms trade is smaller and less profitable, but worth a whopping $8.5 billion. Nevertheless, it is responsible for tens or hundreds of thousands of violent deaths through the world. The United States is the leader in this trade by a massive margin. Its arms sales make up as much as the rest of the world combined. Other leading countries involved in the trade are Germany, Britain, Japan and a number of others. As many of these countries are on the UN security council, there is a general unwillingness and inability to hold the arms trade to account. And the main customer for British weapons is Saudi Arabia, despite that country’s appalling lack of human rights.

Feinstein goes on to state that arm dealing operates on a continuum between the legal to the illegal. In practice, all arms deals involve some kind of illegality. He describes his meeting with the 77 year old man, whose fellow arms dealers described as ‘the most dangerous man alive’. After failing to track him down, he eventually found him on Facebook. This man was an unreconstructed Nazi, who began his career aged 18 in an office run by a former Nazi officer in post-War Germany. At one point the man told Feinstein to his face that many of the world’s problems would have been solved, ‘if Hitler had been able to continue his work’. Feinstein states that he didn’t tell him that as well as being Jewish, his mother was a holocaust survivor.

Feinstein asked the dealer if his Nazi views ever presented a problem in this business. The man looked at him as if he was stupid, and pulled out from his wallet a stack of cards showing that he was an official in the American Department of Defense and in USAID, the American aid agency, for Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Liberia, amongst other nations. He also stated that UN arms embargoes were good for business. He describes them as practically dollar signs, as that means the dealers can charge more.

By and large the arms dealers operate above the law. The trade comprises 40% of all corruption cases worldwide, and 50% of American corruption cases. This corruption is not incidental, but built into the trade’s very structure. It is responsible for the erosion of democracy and state’s internal stability, as well as damaging to their citizens’ health, prosperity and wellbeing. The dealers owe their massive power to the revolving door between them, the arms manufacturers, government and the civil service. This door is so fast, that its changes are impossible to track. One of Feinstein’s media colleagues tried in the US, and gave up after 18 months. And just to show how seriously the Land of the Free treats peaceful negotiation compared to the trade, there are less US diplomats across the globe than personnel on a single US aircraft carrier.

The trade is critical in securing party funding. Hence it operates in a parallel legal universe. Of the 502 violations of UN arms trading laws, only two have resulted in any legal consequences. One of these was the massive al-Yamamah arms deal between Britain and Saudi Arabia, negotiated by Thatcher, which earned her and her disgusting progeny, Mark, a nice little kickback. Mark Thatcher, aka ‘Thickie Mork’, got his own private jet, painted in whatever colour or design the little so-and-so wanted. This was being paid for by the British taxpayer until 2007. Other notorious deals included Iran/Contra, in which the Americans supplied arms to the Islamic Revolutionary Regime in Tehran, and the Contras in Nicaragua. One of the worst aspects of the arms trade is that the weapons often end up in the wrong hands, or turned against the very western countries which sold them. For example, when America started bombing Gadaffi’s Libya in the last stages of the war, the gun installations they attacked were those they had previously sold them. And immediately after the revolutions in the Middle East during the Arab Spring, Dave Cameron was in the region, including Egypt, trying to sell the new governments arms.

Feinstein also describes the massive arms deal that saw him forced out of office. He was head of the oversight committee when Mbeki struck an arms deal worth $10 billion, as well as $300 million in bribes. He was thrown out, and the two anti-corruption agencies in South Africa closed down because he refused to drop the investigation into the deal. This was an arms deal encouraged by Tony Blair. Jacob Zuma, Mbeki’s successor, was also involved, but was let off. The judge who did so was appointed to the high court two weeks later.

Feinstein includes in the final part of his talk a discussion of how arms dealing harms countries’ medical provision for their peoples. At the same time Mbeki was making his deal, he announced that there was no money for the retroviral drugs to treat those suffering from HIV. As a result, 365,000 South Africans died of AIDS in five years, and tens of thousands of babies were unnecessarily born HIV positive. Feinstein concluded his speech by stating that we needed to work to close down the trade’s massive corruption, and make sure that what remained of it was highly regulated.

Watch and listen to his talk yourself, and be informed about how vile and pernicious the trade is. The parapolitics magazine, Lobster, also has numerous articles on the arms trade and Iran/Contra, as well as criticism of Tony Blair.

What’s the Real Reason We’re Bombing Syria?

December 9, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political reported yesterday that Britain had bombed a Syrian army base, apparently in retaliation for criticism by Assad. See the article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/08/cameron-orders-attack-on-syrian-army-retaliation-for-assad-statements-veterans-today/. This has provoked a storm of protest. Amongst those criticising the attacks are veteran broadcaster and naturalist, David Attenborough, (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/david-attenborough-laments-dreadful-uk-bombing-campaign/). Most movingly, a group of British veterans have thrown their medals on the ground outside 10 Downing Street as their protest against the bombings. (See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/12/09/syria-air-strike-protest-ex-soldiers-throw-their-medals-away/). This must surely show how iniquitous many feel the bombs are, when some of Britain’s bravest and most gallant squaddies and ossifers feel that this act has disgraced them, so that they feel they cannot wear the medals they have won with the pride they deserve.

I’m left wondering why we really bombed the Syrian army, and whose side we’re really on. Criticism by the country’s dictator, but not actual military aggression, seems a flimsy excuse to start bombing his country and killing his armed forces. If we did that every time a foreign head of state criticised us, we’d have to start bombing just some of our closest allies and collaborators in the EU, like France, Germany and Spain, long before we got to the really verbally hostile nations, like Iran or North Korea.

So why did we do it?

It could just be that Dave Cameron has decided that he just wants to bomb Assad. He wanted to start bombing him after the Arab Spring broke out, and it looked like democracy was finally going to sweep away all the dictators, absolute monarchs, theocrats and other tyrants throughout the Middle East. That dream, unfortunately, went unrealised. Years later it looks very much like we were better off not toppling Assad, because if he had gone, it’s likely that Syria would be in the hands of ISIS or al-Qaeda by now.

And for all that Assad is a genuinely nasty piece of work, the Syrian Ba’ath regime is like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq – a secular state with some degree of genuine religious pluralism. Christians, for example, could serve in the Syrian government, in sharp distinction to the theocratic autocracy in Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states, which are absolute monarchies. These nations reserve power, and in the case of Saudi Arabia, refuse to tolerate, any other religions, including different Islamic sects. Only Wahhabi Islam is tolerated.

I blogged today about a piece in the New Eastern Outlook that argued that ISIS was really the Saudi army in disguise. Shorn of its religious trappings, ISIS was a tool by which the Saudis hope to annex and control the oil wealth of the other Middle Eastern nations. This seems to me to be exactly right. As I wrote before, Greg Palast points out in his book, Armed Madhouse, that the Saudis wanted Iraq invaded so that they and the Americans, their partners in Amerco, the Saudi oil combine, could seize that country’s vast oil reserves, the second largest in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia itself. And it was one of the reasons why the West invaded Iraq twenty five years ago, after George Bush snr told Saddam Hussein that there would be no opposition to his annexation of Kuwait.

The anti-War protesters shouting ‘Gosh, No! We won’t Go! We won’t die for Texaco!’ were right. Absolutely and unequivocally.

So what’s the reason we’re going into Syria now? Cui bono? Apart from the Saudis.

Years ago I read a book by an other with a very Islamic name, which claimed that the 7/7 bombings were another false flag operation. It claimed that they were set up by Britain’s intelligence forces in order to provide further spurious justification for Britain’s military involvement in the Middle East. This was part of a broader strategy of misinformation and staged enemy actions which included the war in Bosnia in the 1990s and the invasion of Afghanistan. The real reason for all these invasions was to permit NATO to seize control of the vital oil pipelines running from Afghanistan, across the Middle East, and into the Balkans. Interestingly for a book written by some of Islamic heritage, it argued that some of the atrocities committed by the Serbs in Bosnia, such as the mass murder of Bosnian civilians in a concentration camp, did not occur, but were manufactured by the Allies. I am extremely sceptical of this claim, as it sounds too close to Holocaust denial and the type of stories retailed by the anti-Islamic extreme Right.

The book sounds like a British version of the American ‘Troofer’ conspiracy theories, which allege that the American intelligence agencies, or in some of the nasty anti-Semitic versions going the round, Israel’s Mossad, were really responsible for the destruction of the Twin Towers back in 2001. I find that extremely unlikely. It’s part of the American Conspiracist fringe and its Islamic counterparts. Such theorising is very common in parts of the Islamic world. John Timpson in his book on Iran noted how common it was over there. It’s not hard to see why. Conspiracy theories, like those about 9/11, Jewish bankers or secret deals with alien beings, are created by the powerless and disenfranchised to explain bewildering and apparently inexplicable events. They flourish in states where government is closed and autocratic. Like the Middle East and other parts of the developing world, dominated by powerful factions, and where government may be absolute, secretive and extremely repressive.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a kernel of truth in their somewhere, hidden amongst the paranoia. The invasion of Iraq did have nothing to do with combating al-Qaeda. It was mainly an attempt to seize their oil, as well as prevent Saddam Hussein supplying arms and aid to the Palestinians. As well as a giant experiment in free market economics and massive corporate pilfering by the Neo-Cons. Now it seems that the Saudis are also funding, supplying and controlling ISIS as a way to seize more nation’s oil industries. It looks very much like the War on Terror really is just a War for Oil, just as the Greens was back in the 1990s told us the first Gulf War was when they lambasted it as a ‘resource war.’

So, after bombing Assad’s army, is Cameron going to urge us, perhaps a few weeks, months or a year or so from now, that we now need to put ‘boots on the ground’ to join the 70,000 ‘moderates’ everyone else says isn’t there, in order to save the Syrian people from Islamist tyranny? Unfortunately, I can see that happening, just as I think that if he does, the real reason will be to seize, sorry, protect the Syrian oil wells, refineries and pipelines.

I may well be wrong, but this is the way I can see this war developing. And I’m already sick of it.

Danielle La Verite Raises Questions about William Hague

March 2, 2015

In this video, Danielle La Verite makes some interesting points and raises some good questions about the former leader of the Conservatives, William Hague. She notes that unlike Gideon and IDS, Hague is actually properly qualified: he’s got a first in PPE – Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He was also caught committing electoral fraud when he was part of the Oxford Conservative Club. He was found stuffing ballot boxes in order to fix the results in favour of his faction. She notes that he had a lot of directorships, of which he divested himself when he became leader of the Tories, one of which was in JCB. That’s the firm that makes mechanical diggers. She also jokes about how he couldn’t bury the story about him sharing a hotel room with a young, male researcher.

More seriously, she discusses Hague’s statement that he was extremely disheartened by the vote against his motion to invade Syria. She asks if this was because he was disappointed that he couldn’t kill millions more people. She also tackles his statement at the Tory party conference that the majority of people in this country share Tory values. She states, using some extremely colourful language, that he must be mentally challenged if he thought this. And she points out that he is one of the one per cent, the super-rich who exploit everyone else.

Finally, she starts speculating about his possible connections to the paedophiles in parliament. She says she has seen lists of MPs, who are paedos. He isn’t on any of this lists, but she noted that he left government at the same time many of the paedophiles did, and wonders if this is because the parliamentary investigation started coming too close for comfort. Here’s the video below.

Now in all fairness, I don’t think Hague should have ever been accused of being gay, simply because he shared a hotel room with another man. It isn’t remotely uncommon for people away together to share hotel rooms as a way of saving on expenses when they’re not having any kind of sexual relationship.

It’s the same with the suggestion of connections to paedophiles. As it stands, this is just nasty innuendo. On the other hand, given that so many MPs are alleged to have been paedophiles, it is reasonable to ask how much Hague knew about this as head of the Conservative party.

On the other hand, the fact that Hague was caught and prosecuted for electoral fraud when he was just a student, does indicate a complete lack of any sense of fair democratic procedure. It partly explains why the Tories were so eager to copy the Repugs in America and start gerrymandering the rules on electoral registration, so as to disqualify the groups that didn’t vote for them.

As for his zeal in wishing to invade Syria, this was all part of the Arab Spring. It broke out unexpectedly, and the western powers were under pressure to support this supposedly new, democratic uprising by taking military action against the dictators. And Assad is indeed a brutal thug. Innocents were being rounded up, imprisoned and tortured. However, what has emerged against him, the various Islamist groups that have started butchering Christians and sworn to exterminate Assad’s fellow Alawites, as well as liberal Muslims, are far, far worse.

And Hague has certainly been extremely keen from the start to send in the army. He tried to send the SAS into Tripoli in Libya, and they were defeated.

As the rise of Isis has shown, continued occupation by the West under the guise of the War on Terror has actually radicalised and alienated much of the region against us. Isis and the other Islamist factions are brutal, but what is needed is not brutal military action, but an intelligent campaign to win hearts and minds. The actual numbers fighting for Isis is actually very small. Where they have gained the support of local people is in restoring order, including necessities like water and electricity, after the disruption of the war.

Similarly, in Lebanon during the Civil War, Hezbollah partly owed its large following due to the fact that it responded to provide aid during emergencies quicker than the western secular organisations. And the same was true of the FLM in Algeria.

If we wish to combat the militant Islamists, we had actually better start doing something for the people of those countries we’ve invaded and occupied. Instead, western companies have used the invasion to enrich themselves and strip their assets. We do need a military presence in the area, but warmongering alone will just make the situation worse.

Adam Curtis and Brooker’s 2014 Wipe: Putin and the Postmodern Politics of Control through Confusion

January 26, 2015

Charley Brooker

Charley Brooker: Master of the Baleful Gaze of Criticism

‘Confuse your enemy and you confuse yourself!’

-General ‘Mad Bloody Butcher’ Cheeseman, The Fall of the Mausoleum Club, (Radio 4, 1985).

I found Charley Brooker’s review of last year, Newswipe 2014, over on Youtube. Assisted by Philomena Cunk and Barry Shitpeas, Brooker casts his jaundiced eye over last years’ events, and inveighs against the horrors and stupidity therein, both of themselves and in the media, that reported them. Brooker’s comments are masterpieces of highly inventive scorn and outrage. Cunk and Shitpeas, for their parts, are highly intelligent people, who satirise the news by posing as complete morons for whom even a relatively straightforward film like ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ is beyond their comprehension.

Brookers’ angry nihilism, in which he sees recent events and the latest offerings of the world’s celebrity-obsessed media as proof that we live in an absurd, pointless universe, wherein human civilisation is a bad joke about to collapse, and Cunk and Shitpeas’ faux naïve and inane comments are amusing enough. What lifts the show into another dimension entirely is a short film by Adam Curtis, on the way politicians are using the feelings of helplessness created by the terrible events replayed across our TV screens as an instrument of control.

Curtis is the director of the superb documentaries The Living Dead, The Century of the Self, The Power of Nightmares, All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, and How We Lost Our Dreams of Freedom. These explored how politicians used and abused theories of history, psychology, game theory and simplified models of human behaviour based on computer models, to boost their own power, while depriving the people they claim to represent of the power to change their destinies and better their lives. In this film, he explores how politicians, both those in Putin’s Russia and in Britain, have created an absurd, meaningless view of contemporary events in order to maintain their power by keeping their peoples deliberately confused and off-balance.

Tserkov, and the Politics of Spectacle and Subversion

This tactic was invented in Russia by Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Tserkov, who has spent 15 years aiding Russia’s elected tsar. Tserkov was an avant-garde artist, and important elements from Conceptual art into Russian politics. The Soviet Regime has staged and promoted a series of gatherings and spectacles as part of its campaign to mobilise Russian support. But he has also gone further, giving funding to groups directly opposed to his master and each other, from Neo-Nazi stormtroopers to Human Rights activists. He has also deliberately let everyone know he has done this. This has produced a radical destabilisation of the opposition, as it is no longer clear what is authentic and genuine, and what is carefully staged propaganda. The result is an enervating feeling of defeat.

Tserkov has even found a way to profit from the terrible civil war now raging in Ukraine. Last year he published a short story about how politicians could practise what he called ‘non-linear warfare’. In this, the gaol is not to win the war, but to use it to spread further confusion. The aim is to create a situation in which no-one really knows who the enemy is, or why they are fighting.

Cameron’s Absurd Government and the Politics of Despair

Curtis goes further, and argues that a similar condition is present in this country. Although not deliberate, the confusion created by politicians’ contradictory policies and actions has had the same result. He identifies Cameron as the British counterpart of Tserkov’s shape-shifting, non-linear politician, and gives the following examples of his government’s contradictions and confusion:

* Aging deejays are prosecuted for their historic crimes, but not the bankers, whose actions have created the current global economic mess.

* We are told that President Assad is evil. However, his Islamist enemies are worse, so we end up bombing them, thus helping Assad.

* George Osborne says that the economy is booming, but wages are going down.

* Gidiot says that they are cutting the national debt, but the deficit has actually increased.

*The government is pursuing a policy of austerity, taking money out of the economy. They are, however, putting it back in through ‘quantitative easing’.

Quantitative easing is the massive subsidy and bail-outs the taxpayer is giving the banks. It amounts to £24,000
per family. This has not gone to the poor, but to the richest five per cent. It is the biggest transfer of wealth, and could be a real scandal, but nobody knows anything.

Because there is no effective counter-narrative offered to the above policies, the public similarly feels defeated, disempower. The response is ‘Oh dear’.

But, says Curtis, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Baudrillard

Tserkov’s Co-Option of the Society of the Spectacle

From here, it looks like Tserkov took hold of the Society of the Spectacle, and adopted it as a deliberate policy. The Society of the Spectacle was a theory developed in the 1960s by Baudrillard, the French postmodern philosopher. Baudrillard believed that capitalism survived ideological attack, by taking over its opponents weapons and then re-presenting them as spectacles. The forms had been preserved, but their ideological power had been drained and discarded. Way back in the ’90s, one of the small press magazines devoted to the weird and bizarre gave the Glastonbury Festival as an example. When it started, it was very definitely a fringe, countercultural event. It’s very existence was a challenge to mainstream culture. Now it is very much a part of that same mainstream culture. Instead of seeing the bands for free, you are now charged tens, sometimes hundreds of pounds for a ticket.

The former Soviet Union, like all totalitarian regimes, had a deliberate policy of staging fake demonstrations and events in support of the regime. There’s an old story from a very public school teacher, who organised a trip for her girls to the former USSR. One of the planned outings for the day was disrupted by a noisy Soviet peace demonstration. The headmistress duly complained to the authorities, who reassured her, ‘Do not worry, ma’am. This spontaneous display of the people’s anger will end at 2.00 pm precisely’.

Subverting Situationism

Where Tserkov differs is that he has gone beyond this, using the ideas of Situationism and turning them back on themselves. The Situationists were hippy anarchists, who organised a series of spectacles to subvert mainstream, ‘straight’ society. Malcolm McLaren, the founder of the Sex Pistols, claimed to have been a Situationist, but this was just a bit of self-aggrandising hype on his part. The tactic hasn’t gone away with punk and the hippies. It’s still used by contemporary anarchists to use comedy, humour and spectacle to satirise and subvert capitalism and its organs of oppression and control. Tserkov has learned from this, and turned it against the opposition, using the very methods of liberation from capitalism and the state as weapons for their preservation and extension.

Non-Linear War, Vietnam, ‘ Nomad’ and ‘Deathlok the Demolisher’

As for Tserkov’s theories of non-linear war, you can trace these back to the feelings of disempowerment and confusion in 1970s in America created by Vietnam and Watergate. The Vietnam War presented ordinary, patriotic and freedom-loving Americans with terrible reports of their country’s atrocities against another people, all in the name of freedom. Despite the unequal status between the two countries, the war dragged on for decades, and the American public saw the friends and relatives killed, and many of those that returned home stricken with terrible physical and psychological injuries. This result was a feeling of anomie and despair. The nation’s self-confidence took a further blow with Watergate, when even the supreme leadership were shown to be corrupt.

Captain America Forswears his Country

That feeling of alienation and national disenchantment found expression in the comic strips of the day. American comics began to explore political issues, including racism, feminism and the abuse of the media to aid in crime and foment hate. It was perhaps expressed most forcefully by the actions of that most patriotic superhero, Captain America. The Captain is a symbol of everything good and noble in American society. In the strip, he had been created as a super-soldier to fight the forces of evil in the shape of the Third Reich, a storyline followed in the recent film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Faced with his country’s corruption, the Captain changed his name and costume to become ‘Nomad’, a superhero without a country.

Deathlok

Deathlok: Robocop against an Anonymous Enemy

Post-Vietnam disillusionment and confusion found further expression in another Marvel strip, Deathlok the Demolisher. Deathlok was a cyborg created from the mechanical reanimation of an American army officer. The strip was set in a future America devastated by a terrible war, in which whole cities have been abandoned. To fight the war, the government has taken to creating cyborg soldiers, vicious killing machines like Deathlok, which are engineered to enjoy killing and maiming. A battle with a rival cyborg destroys the mechanisms controlling Deathlok, allowing the human side to reassert itself, and the man inside to go on a quest to recover his humanity. In flavour, the strip very much resembled Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, with its cyborg hero, robotic killing machines and a city devastated by crime and political neglect. Unlike Robocop, which came out later, the strip made it deliberately unclear what the point of the War was, or even who soldiers like Deathlok had been created to fight. The suggestion was that it had all somehow been staged by the government, to divide, terrorise and rule.

There are no cyborgs slugging it out on the streets of Moscow or Kiev, but the depiction of ‘non-linear war’ looks exactly like the shattered America in Deathlok.

Tory Lies Drawing

Shifty Cameron, Austerity and the Enrichment of the already Wealthy

As for Cameron, he is indeed a protean, shape-shifting politicians, adopting guises only to abandon them when he got into power. Remember when he said that ‘this would be the greenest government ever?’ It didn’t take long for that to go once he got his foot through the front door of No. 10, along with his promises about the health service and the abandonment of the market economy so proclaimed by his mentor, Philip Blond, in his book, Red Tory.

The transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich is not confusing by any means. It’s been a feature of American politics for decades, where the government has pursued a policy of austerity for the poor, and subsidies and tax breaks for the rich. It’s only confusing because the extremes of poverty and wealth created by the banking crisis has thrown into very acute relief.

Assad, Islamism and the Paradoxes of the Modern Middle East

As for Assad, this is the product of Western politicians genuinely not understanding the politics of the Middle East. They pursued idealistic goals that ran in direct contradiction to the perceived good of the nations to which they were applied. Assad and his counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were dictators, who held power through terror and brutality. Western governments see themselves as defenders of democracy and freedom, and so felt bound to support the popular revolts that broke out in the Middle East during the ‘Arab Spring’. Yet however undemocratic these regimes were, they were also secular, Westernising regimes that ostensibly promoted liberal policies of religious tolerance and personal freedom and relative gender equality to an extent which the Islamic and Islamist regimes that sought to replace them did not. The result has been the volte-face from seeking to oust Assad, to trying to combat his enemies in order to preserve his secular, Ba’ath regime.

Time to Reject Failed Neo-Liberalism

All of this has had a disempowering effect, because the parties have moved so close together, that there is little apparent difference between them. They are still attempting to apply discredited economic and foreign policies, while hiding their failures.

It’s long past the time when this situation changed, and politicians began thinking out of the Neo-Liberal box.

Not Just Russians: Britain’s Webcam Computer Spies

November 23, 2014

One of the major stories over the past week or so has been that a Russian website is showing hacked images from webcams from around the world, including about 600 or so from Britain. This has naturally caused alarm at the way the potential exists for people’s private computers to be attacked and used to spy on them.

The Russians, however, are not the first or only people to have developed and used such software. In its ‘In the Back’ section for the 22nd August – 4th September issue of this year, Private Eye published a story about the use of similar software developed by a British company. This was being used by the Bahraini government to spy on and persecute dissidents. Here’s the story.

Bahrain Shower

New documents reveal that expensive British spy software – marketed as a means of tracking “paedophiles and terrorists” – has been used by the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior to hack the phones and computers of activists and lawyers.

The software, sold by Gamma Group, a company based out of serviced offices in Winchester, works by sending malware called FinSpy to “target” computers and phones (see Eyes 1368 and 1351). This allows content to be harvested and turns the computer or phone into a mobile spying device by secretly activating the microphone and webcam and intercepting Skype calls.

Gamma Group, which had not applied for an export licence from the UK authorities, denied last year that is product was being used in Bahrain. A spokesman told the Observer: “It appears that during a demonstration one of our products was stolen and has been used elsewhere. I believe a copy of FinSpy was made during a presentation and that copy was modified and then used elsewhere.

However, new documents obtained from the Gamma Group customer support server include logs sent to Gamma, showing a list of Bahraini targets and whether or not all their files had been “archived” – in other words, pinched Gamma says it only sells to government agencies.

Mohammed Al-Tajer, Bahrain’s leading human rights lawyer, has been on the wrong end of Gamma-inspired snooping. Having once defended a group of Shia Muslims accused of throwing a petrol bomb at a police car, and having also published evidence of torture of detainees, shortly before Bahrain’s Arab Spring uprising, in January 2011, he received a recording of himself having sex with his second wife, accompanied by a message telling him to watch his step. The new documents show that, on the same day in January, Gamma spyware was successfully installed on Al-Tajer’s computer, archiving all his files, in contravention of illegal privilege and most likely turning his computer into a mobile spying device.

In April 2011, Al-Tajer was then arrested and held by the Bahraini Ministry of the Interior for four months. Every morning he was made to stand against a wall and was beaten until he fainted. A subsequent report5 into the security services, commissioned by Bahrain’s King Hamad Al-Khalifa and carried out by human rights lawyers and others, found evidence of widespread torture, including “beating; punching; hitting the detainee with rubber hoses (including on the soles of the feet), cables, whips, metal, wooden planks or other objects; electrocution; sleep-deprivation; exposure to extreme temperatures; verbal abuse; threats of rape; and insulting the detainee’s religious sect Shia).” It also found evidence of deaths at the hands of the security forces.

In late 2011, Bahrain thought it had better do something to reform its police forces, bringing in a hired hand from overseas to ensure the force met international codes of practice. It wasn’t long before this new adviser was hailing the “substantial progress” being made, detailing a “new police code of conduct” and “comprehensive programme of training in human rights”, adding: “I am bewildered by the level of criticism aimed at a nation that has acknowledged its mistakes, but has plans in place to put things right.”

This state of bewilderment was presumably nothing new to the adviser, John “Yates of the Yard” Yates (for it was he”, who as Met Police assistant commissioner in London had overseen the Met’s brilliant early phone-hacking investigation and had personally declared that there were only a “handful of victims”. He later resigned when the number approached 4,000.

Even after Yates had begun his reforms in Bahrain, Al-Tajer continued to receive text message threats from anonymous telephone numbers; and in June 2012 the sex recording was finally published on YouTube, as was footage of Al-Tajer eating and praying.

Yates told the Eye he had never heard of Mohammed Al-Tajer (he was only the leading lawyer defending police cases, after all), nor of Gamma Group, and that he had had no operational involvement in police matters, acting solely as a “strategic adviser”.

* The hacker who posted internal Gamma documents on the internet showing how it FinSpy, aka FinFisher, software had been sold to the oppressive regime and used to spy on the Bahrain Independent Commission of Investigation (BICI), which was investigating torture and killings in the country, also revealed that the kit wasn’t quite as effective as Gamma likes to claim.

“After infecting a target’s [computer]the targets [sic] works for few days only then he never comes online and we have to infect him again,” the Bahrainis complained. “We can’t stay bugging and infecting the target every time since it is very sensitive. And we don’t want the target to reach [sic] to know that someone is infecting his PC or spying on him.”

I can’t say that the information that webcams could be hacked came as news to me. I can remember being told by a member of staff in one of Bristol’s computer shops that they had a friend, who was a hacker. This individual used to tap their victim’s webcams, so he could see them through the computer. The staff member, who told me this, didn’t approve of it himself, and really didn’t want anything to do with such activities. Nevertheless, hackers were still doing it.

This is very much the world of 1984, where Big Brother used the televisions in people’s homes to spy on them. In the case of the Russian hackers, despite their protestations that they are doing it to make people aware of the existence and the dangers posed by the software, it looks to me very much like the Russian secret services making veiled threats about their capability for cyberwarfare, espionage, and ability to intimidate foreign nationals in their own homes.

As for Gamma Group and the Bahrain government, Britain has, unfortunately, a long history of supplying arms and spying equipment to oppressive governments around the world, including the Middle East. This includes BAE selling weapons banned under international law, like electronic batons and shields, to places like Saudi Arabia. Gamma Group is merely the latest to join this long and infamous list.

Other foreign companies are no better. Nokia sold software it had developed to allow governments to hack into and monitor private mobile phones to various despotic governments in the Middle East, including Iran.

This does, however, raise the chilling question of whether this software is being used domestically to gather information on people the British and American states consider politically awkward. The Snowden revelations showed the truly massive extent to which both countries’ secret services were monitoring and spying on the phone calls and electronic communications of their citizens. The Coalition has attempted to censor politically inconvenient websites, like Pride’s Purge, using legislation it has attempted to pass under the pretext that this would protect children from internet paedophiles. The police have also been used by UKIP and fracking companies to harass and intimidate Green protestors and documentary film-makers.

How do we know that the Tories and their corporate backers aren’t using this already to track and monitor left-wing groups and individuals they consider subversive?

Peace, Love and Lebanese Rockets

October 22, 2014

The Lebanese Rocket Society

Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige
Soda Film + Art
Arabic with English, French and Arabic subtitles
Running time 95 minutes.

Lebanon Rocket 1

With the news full of the horrors of ISIS and their genocidal war in Iraq and Syria, I thought I’d turn to a far more optimistic and inspiring episode of recent Middle Eastern history: how a group of Lebanese students in 1962 were inspired to join the nascent space race and begin building their own rockets. It’s a piece of history that has been all but forgotten. The film not only documents the rise and fall of the Lebanese space programme, but the film makers’ own attempts to jog people’s memories of it on Lebanese radio. They then turned the rocket programme into an art project, constructing a full-scale statue of one of the rockets, which they presented to the Lebanese Armenian college at the centre of the rocket programme. They also made their own version of the Golden Record, the disc containing the sounds of Earth, which was carried into space on the Voyager 2 probe destined to leave the solar system for the depths of interstellar space and possible contact with aliens. In the hands of the film’s producers, the record held the sounds of Lebanon.

They also created an animated film, by Ghossein Halwa, depicting what Lebanon might be like in 2025, if the programme had continued. In Halwa’s film, the Lebanon of the near future is a prosperous, bustling space age state. Space technology has given the country security by allowing it to guard its borders against foreign invasion. It has also contributed to the country’s material wealth by discovering oil reserves off its coast. Beirut and its suburbs are a true, futuristic city like the vast megalopolis’ in Japanese manga films and the SF classic, Blade Runner. Vast space craft, Arab versions of the Space Shuttle, are launched to explore the depths of space. But it’s also a fun a place, where you can trip the light fantastic in zero-gravity nightclubs.

Lebanon Rocket Cartoon

One of the new generation of spacecraft from the alternative Lebanon of 2025.

The Founder, Manoug Manougian

The programme was the brain child of Manoug Manougian, a professor of mathematics at Haigazian college, an Armenian college in Lebanon. Manougian’s interest in space travel seems to have been sparked, like many a child’s, by reading Jules Verne. Now teaching maths at university in Tampa, Florida, he says during one interview that it may not be accident he ended up there. Verne made it the location for his astronaut’s journey into space in his Voyage to the Moon as it was at the right latitude for launching a flight to the Earth’s companion world. Inspired by the achievements of the Americans and Russians, Manougian was inspired to begin his own experiments. He and a group of his students began making and launching a series of rockets. At first these were tiny ‘baby rockets’, not much larger than fireworks and about the same size as some of the model rockets hobby rocketeers enjoyed by hobby rocketeers. The rockets became increasingly larger and more sophisticated, until they reached the end of what could legally be built. The fuel used by the rockets was strictly limited to the armed forces. Furthermore, there was a problem with funding as any further increase in size would make the rockets prohibitively expensive for a small, civilian project. Manougian’s group had caught the interest of the Lebanese army under Captain Wehbe, who stepped in to give the young rocketeers the money and equipment they needed.

Involvement with the Army

The alliance with the army brought its own problems, however. Manougian and his students were only interested in peaceful research. The college’s founder, a Protestant pastor, was very much afraid that the rocket would be used as a weapon, and was initially strongly opposed to the research. He resolved to put a stop to it when he saw his own 12 year old daughter come out of one of the campus’ laboratories, her forearms grey from mixing the rocket fuel. He decided to go round and tell Manougian to put a stop to it.

He was persuaded otherwise by the massive publicity the programme was giving Lebanon and his college. The newspapers were full of stories about Manougian and his band of space cadets. Other, similar groups sprang up elsewhere in Lebanon. One such was a group of 13-15 year old boys, who launched their own baby rockets. The Lebanese also received international assistance and co-operation from France and America. Col. Wehbe attended a course on rocketry and the American space programme in Florida. He also attended the launch of a French experimental rocket in North Africa.

International Tensions and War

The programme was doomed by the political tensions in the Middle East. The film makers point out that the 1960s was a period of tension and conflict between the superpowers, America and Russia, and their allies and clients in the Arab world. Against them was Arab nationalism, led by the Egyptian president Abdel Nasser, which briefly resulted in the union of Syria and Egypt, and the anti-imperial forces. Lebanon was buzzing with spies and political intrigue. One of the speakers recalled how one frequent drinker at a hotel bar in Beirut was none other than Kim Philby, the notorious British traitor. The Lebanese’s success in building larger and more sophisticated missiles attracted attention and alarm from other nations. Their last missile was to have a projected range of 500 km, bringing into range Cyprus, Syria and Israel. Manougian’s rocketeers received a sharp message from their diplomatic staff in Cyprus. The British authorities were understandably annoyed after they made a mistake with one of their rocket’s trajectory, so that it almost landed on a Cypriot fishing boat.

Other Arab nations were also keen to acquire Lebanon’s success and expertise. Manougian recalled how he was approached at an official party by another Armenian, whom he didn’t know. The man asked him if he was looking for funding. When Manougian said he was, the unknown man replied that he knew someone who wanted to meet him. And so Manougian found himself driving through Beirut with the man at 2.30-3.00 O’clock in the morning, before ending up at hotel, in front of which was a crowd of people. He was then approached by the heir of one of the other Arab states, who asked him if he’d like to come and do the same in his country as he’d done for Lebanon. Manougian states that he felt it would have been impolite to refuse the offer, and so simply replied that he’d have to think about it. He then fled back to Texas to complete his education, explaining that at the time he only had a B.A., and not even an M.A.

The Army’s Takeover and End of the Project

With Manougian absent, the rocket programme began to experience a series of disasters. Three of the rocketeers were badly burned in an accident when the perchlorate rocket fuel being mixed exploded. The College decided the rocket programme was too hazardous, and so had them removed from campus. it was then gradually taken over by the Lebanese army. Manougian, Joseph Sfeir and the other leading rocketeers were peaceful visionaries, but the army made it clear that they had always been interested in developing it as a weapon. They just didn’t tell the project’s civilian leaders. Well, said one of the officers, if you told Manougian it would be all over Haikazian college, and if you told Sfeir, it would be all over his home province. Under the army’s control, the tests became more secret and closed to the public, unlike the earlier launches. Eventually the project was closed down due to international pressure. One of the rocketeers identified the French as responsible. Another recalled how he knew the then-president personally, and asked him, which country was responsible. ‘Was it from the north?’ he asked. ‘From the north, from the south, and elsewhere’, came the reply. Clearly Lebanon’s success at creating such a missile had made a lot of people understandably very nervous.

The film laments how very, very few Lebanese now remember the programme, despite the massive publicity it had at the time. They feel that the 1967 War and the losses of Arab territory to Israel and subsequent conflicts have blotted out all memory of the programme, and made Arabs afraid to dream and strive for utopias. There is very little Science Fiction in the Middle East, they opine, because there’s always the danger that someone in the future will consider it subversive.

Peaceful Idealism

What actually comes out of the film, in contrast to the militarism and political intrigue, is the peaceful idealism and patriotism of the projects leaders and founders. Manougian states that Lebanese Armenians are very loyal to their adopted country for taking them in after the Armenian massacres that occurred throughout the Turkish Empire and the Middle East. It’s a situation the film’s producers strongly sympathise with. One of them has an Armenian grandparent, while the other is part Palestinian. They see the space programme as what their country, and the Arab peoples themselves, can achieve if only they dare to dream and look for utopias. The film was made in 2009-10, during the Arab Spring, which they hail as the Arab people once more daring to dream of better societies without tyrants or despots. As for Manougian, he is still very much a visionary and campaigner for peace. He’s active in a project, ‘Peace through Education’. The film makers hoped by making the film they would restore its memory. The sculpture of the rocket was painted white to show that it wasn’t a real missile, and taken through the streets of Beirut to Haikazian College to show what Lebanon had achieved peacefully, through idealism.

The Lebanese Rocketeers – The Arab ‘Mice that Roared’

The film and its rocketeers remind me somewhat of the Ealing comedy, the Mouse on the Moon. This was the successor to the comedies about the minuscule state of Little Fenwick, an English village that manages to gain independence from the rest of the UK, Passport to Pimlico and The Mouse that Roared. The Mouse on the Moon chronicles the events as Little Fenwick joins the space race, rushing to land on the Moon ahead of the Americans and Russians. Apart from well-known Ealing stars like Margaret Rutherford, it also has Bernard Cribbins, known to grown-up children of a certain age as the narrator of The Wombles, and to a new generation of children as one the friends of David Tenant’s Doctor. It shows what small nations and ordinary people can do with skill, vision and military backing. Sadly, from the perspective of 2014 the film’s optimistic embrace of the Arab Spring seems misplaced. The despots throughout the Middle East have either successfully clamped down on the civil rights movements, or else the dissident movements themselves have led to the raise of dangerous and unstable Islamist militias. Egypt’s brief experiment with the democracy and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood has collapsed, and the country is once more under the control of the army. Nevertheless, for a brief moment another world of peace and freedom seemed possible.

Human Progress Made when Peoples and Cultures Come Together

The other point that comes out of the film is the amazing advances in science and civilisation when difference peoples and cultures come together in peace to try to learn from one another. Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Levant. It’s a mosaic of different peoples and religions, including Christians, Muslims and the Druze, a highly unorthodox form of Islam. Islam was able to make great strides in science in the Middle Ages, because the early caliphs were keen to draw on the knowledge and expertise of their empire’s subject peoples. The caliph Al-Ma’mun founded a bayt al-hikma, or House of Wisdom dedicated to science and medicine. They drew on Greek, Persian and Indian science and mathematics, and employed Christians, Zoroastrians and Hindus, as well as Muslims, to translate scientific and medical works into Arabic. Al-Ma’mun himself sent a scientific mission of scholars, including the pioneering mathematician al-Khwarizmi, who gave his name to word ‘algorithm’, to acquire scientific knowledge and texts from the Byzantine Empire, the Greek Empire of the East. Western science, in its turn, because massively enriched from the 12th century onwards when European scholars acquired copies of the lost Greek classics and Arabic scientific and medical texts. Peaceful contact between nations and cultures, and the great advances they could make by learning from each other, is now threatened today by the rise in militant xenophobia and, in the Middle East, by the genocidal Islamism of groups like ISIS.

Bill Hicks’ Vision – ‘We Can End World Hunger and Colonise Space’

This film shows the opposite, of what can be achieved through peaceful co-operation. It goes some way to proving the point the late comedian, Bill Hicks, used to make at the end of his gigs. Hicks used to state that if the world spent the amount of money it spends on arms instead on developing, we could feed the world. ‘Not one person would starve. Not one. And we could go and colonise space, in peace, together.’

Bill Hicks sadly died of cancer, but the dreams lives on.

Here’s the great man in action, taken from Youtube.

ATVOD Begins Internet Censorship

June 28, 2014

Amnesiaclinic, one of the commenters over on Vox Political, posted this video from Not UK Column News as a comment to Mike’s article on the conviction of Cameron’s aide for possessing paedophile material. The video is by the two or three leaders of UK Column, a website which includes videos, critically examining and reporting current events. It seems to be part of the British Constitution Group, an organisation which believes that the British constitution has been undermined and corrupted by the rich and powerful. I really don’t know who British Constitution Group are, nor what, if any, their political affiliation is. A casual glance at their website shows that they are concerned with the destruction of the NHS, and also with the apparent theft and kidnapping of children by NATO officials. If this is the case, then they’re really similar to organisations like Index on Censorship, which report suppressed or censored news.

The two male presenters in this video, with a female co-presenter looking on from the rear of the car, describe the way ATVOD, the statutory body regulating On-Demand Video, has decided that because they have videos which they consider to be ‘television-like’ on their Youtube Channel, Not UK Column News therefore constitutes an On-Demand Video service which needs to be regulated. They therefore hit them with the legal paperwork requiring them to register with them. Rather than submit to this attempt at censorship, UK Column News has simply taken down its videos from Youtube. They take the view that this is the beginning of the censorship of the Internet.

The two presenters state that ATVOD was initially set up in 2003 to stop TV companies putting on their websites material which was unsuitable for broadcast. This largely seems to have been pornography. The two UK Column presenters note that ATVOD’s material about itself discusses its work in closing down and protecting children from on-line porn. Peter Johnson, the head of ATVOD, was a former member of the British Board of Film Classification. The UK Column people state that the boundaries of the sexual content that is considered permissible in film has expanded, and so it seems that Johnson has simply jumped from regulating the pornographic to the political. The other head of ATVOD is Rachel Evans, a woman, who holds a long, long line of directorships. So long, in fact, that it takes about five minutes for one of the presenters to read them out. They remark on the fact that in her list of directorships and official positions, she does not mention that she was part of Liberty, a group that campaigned for paedophiles. They also remark that while ATVOD claims that the majority of the board adjudicating a case must be independent, in practice they are anything but. The so-called independent members have strong links to the broadcasting companies. Indeed, key BBC personnel had a role in formulating the body’s policies, and then, when it came to regulating the Beeb over a particular case, the Corporation was eventually acquitted. It’s clearly a case of conflict of interest, but not according to ATVOD, which insists that it is independent. The two state that Johnson himself admitted that ATVOD’s role is essentially to police the established broadcasters’ competitors. They see ATVOD as having moved far beyond its original remit to suppress any competition to the main television, no matter how small or trivial they are.

They also point out that by ATVOD’s own admission, the scope of the laws which regulate On-Demand Video providers are unclear, and ATVOD itself has no clear guidelines on this issue, as it states that these arise as each individual, different case is dealt with. They therefore see this as an admission that ATVOD are basically making them up as they go along. If this is all true, then ATVOD is something of a kangaroo court, whose lack of precise legal boundaries make it a threat to free speech and discussion in this country.

This is vitally important at this particular time. Last Sunday there was a demonstration by 50,000 people, including MPs and media ‘slebs, against government austerity. Despite the fact that it was held right outside Broadcasting House, it was not covered in anything except a derisory way by the media in this country. It was not mentioned in the papers, and only received the barest moments of coverage on the BBC’s rolling news channel and radio. This looks like a concerted attempt by the British media class to avoid covering anything that might send Cameron and his cronies into ‘a fearful bate’, as the great philosopher and educationalist Nigel Molesworth would sa. Even if it is only incompetence, an excuse I find much less than plausible, it still shows the vital necessity of alternative sources of news outside the official channels controlled by the Beeb and the empires of Murdoch, Dacre, Desmond and co. The grand hope of the Libertarian Net pioneers when it was set up was that the web would allow ordinary citizens to circumvent the restrictions of tyrannical and repressive governments. See the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, as an example of this. During the Arab Spring and the Green Revolution in Iran, dissidents used social media and the internet to get around official censorship. It’s why the Internet and the freedom of information it represents is feared by the Communist authorities in Beijing, who have erected the Great Firewall of China. The same attitude appears to be shared by the Internet regulators here in the UK. A number of left-wing websites have warned that the British authorities would try to clamp down on websites offering critical political material. Pride’s Purge was hit a while ago, when the Net authorities tried to restrict access because the site contained ‘adult content’. Well, it does in the sense that it deals with politics, which is a business for adults, rather than the kind of material sold on the tops shelves of newsagents or broadcast by Richard Desmond’s specialist TV station.

This is a warning: the authorities are trying to close down dissent, and the two from UK Column News are correct when they state that this is the thin end of the wedge. Here’s the video, and see if you agree with them.

A Resource for Contemporary Arab Politics: A Brutal Friendship by Said Aburish

October 4, 2013

London: Indigo 1998.

Aburish Cover

Although this book was published over fifteen years ago, it is still highly relevant for providing the historical background to the Arab Spring and contemporary events in the Arab world. Aburish’s book traces the history of the bloody relationship between the Western powers and their client regimes in the Middle East. The book describes how the conquering British and French in the 19th and 20th century carved up the Middle East into its present mosaic of state and supported various political movements and politicians in these countries in order to maintain their control and overlordship. This continued even after former decolonisation. Leadership of the free world then passed from Britain to America, who manipulated the Middle East during the Cold War in order to check Russian influence. Oil also played a major part in the political economy of the Middle East, with Britain and America supporting some highly repressive and deeply authoritarian regimes, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to keep the oil flowing. Arab leaders, who revolted against their neo-colonial overlords were ousted, frequently through coups and assassinations. Among the various assassinations arranged by the Western powers was a plot in the 1950s to kill Iraq’s anti-Western leaders. The assassin was sponsored by the CIA, and, although the plot failed, was able to escape to Syria. The assassin? Saddam Hussein.

Aburish shows how the new political divisions and regimes created and imposed by the Western imperialists were often deeply resented by the indigenous peoples, and responsible for further hatred and violence within those nations. The Prime Minister of Iraq in the early 1950s was described in glowing terms by Western politicians and the press. He was, however, so hated by the Iraqi people that not only was he literally torn apart by a mob during a revolution, but they also ran over the pieces in a car. The atrocities committed by the Maronite Phalange in Lebanon during that nation’s Civil War in the 1980s also have their roots in Western diplomacy. When the British and French divided the Middle East during the Mandate, they enlarged the area under Maronite jurisdiction far beyond that people’s traditional homeland. When Lebanon was created, the Maronites were the largest single religious group in Lebanon, and so were given a leading position in that nation’s complex political structure. Demographic changes between the ’20s and the 80’s saw the Maronite population reduce in comparison with the Muslim sects. Fearing losing control of their nation and their expanded heartland, the Maronites reacted with appalling savagery. Aburish describes the notorious massacres they committed on the Muslim inmates of the refugee camps.

He also describes the Orientalist prejudices of the Western, particularly British, explorers and diplomats, who created the modern Near East. These, such as the great, pioneering British lady explorer, Gertrude Bell, preferred Bedouine nomads and tribal warriors to modern, educated middle class Arabs. They saw the desert warriors as representing the true, noble Arabs, while reviling what they saw as the corruption of urban society, like Beirut and its fleshpots. I can believe this. One contributor to Lobster was a colonial civil servant, who believed he had seen serious electoral fraud in Nigeria in the run-up to the Biafran War. He was bitterly critical of the aristocratic British colonial officers, whom he states were looked up as ‘polo-playing pr*cks’ by their subordinates. These had far more affection for the feudal Fulani than for the settled, agricultural Nigerian peoples. During the War, Britain secretly supplied arms to the Muslim Fulani against Christian Nigerians in order to keep the oil supplies flowing. I can believe that the British officer class were closer to the Fulani than the other Nigerian peoples. The Fulani were pastoralists with a feudal social structure. The officer class of the British army has also largely been drawn from the aristocracy, and with the same love of equestrianism and horsemanship the British army and the Fulani emirs and their warriors shared similar social classes and outlook.

In the last chapter, Aburish criticises the attitude of Arab expatriates in London ‘the Beiru-on-Thames syndrome’. He objects to the way they have taken over Western attitudes towards their peoples and society, and considers that they form a new slave class.

The anti-Islam blogs have frequently criticised liberal, pro-Arab journalists, such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk, for their support of the Arab Spring, and the deeply illiberal Salafi regimes that have arisen from it. Although it was written over fifteen years ago, this book shows why so many liberals did have such high hopes of the liberal movements that ousted the previous secular dictatorships: these regimes were so horrific, and did little but enrich themselves while serving the West. Western friends of the Arabs, like Fisk, therefore hoped and expected that these regimes would be removed by a new class of politicians, who would truly lead their people to dignity and independence. Unfortunately, this hasn’t occurred, and the Middle East still remains a bloody battle ground.

If you want to know more about the Middle East, and the background to the current events and bloodshed, then I recommend this book.

Cameron’s Campaign against Syria: Two Quotes from 19th Century Germany

September 3, 2013

I found these quotes from two of the great figures of 19th century Germany, the Prussian minister and statesman Bismarck, and the prophet of atheism, Friedrich Nietzsche.

‘From this window I look down upon the Wilhelmstrasse and see many a cripple look up and think that if that man up there had not made that wicked war I should be at home healthy and strong.’

– Bismarck, reflecting on the soldiers, who came back maimed from his wars.

‘They say I good cause justifies any war, but I say unto you, a good war justifies any cause’.

-Friedrich Nietzsche, Also Sprach Zarathustra.

It strikes me very hard that the Coalition are hoping that their calls for action against Syria and a military strike against it, would allow them to ride a surge of patriotism and increase their popularity. As the vote against it and mass demonstrations proved, the public and their elected representatives are extremely cautious and opposed to further military intervention in the Middle East. This is due to the revelations of forged intelligence and sheer propaganda to justify the invasion of Iraq by Bush and Blair, the sight of the coffins of fallen soldiers coming back to Britain through Wotton Bassett and the return of often horrifically maimed and traumatised troopers from Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve also no doubt that a considerable number of the British public are also concerned about what other taxes will be imposed, and services cut, on the pretext of paying for this new military adventure. The countries that were expect to flourish into mature, liberal democracies in the Arab Spring now have either Islamic, theocratic governments, or are falling into chaos, like Egypt. And after all of this, still Cameron and the Coalition push for further action in the Middle East.