Posts Tagged ‘Flood’

Vox Political on Chilcot’s Damning Verdict on Blair, and What His Readers Think

July 7, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has reblogged a piece from the Guardian by Owen Jones, laying out how damning the Chilcot report is of Tony Blair and his decision to lead the country into war. Owen Jones is a fine journalist, who clearly and accurately explains the issues. I’ve read and quoted from his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, which is very good, and has rightly received great praise. He also has another book out The Establishment: Who They Are and How They Get Away with it. I’ve been thinking about that one, but have avoided buying it so far on the grounds that it might make me too furious.

Mike also asks what his readers think of the Iraq War. He asks

Do any of you believe the war was justified, as Ann Clwyd still does (apparently)? Have any of you come to believe that? Did you support the war and turn away? Do you think Saddam Hussein had to go, no matter the cost? Do you think the war contributed to the rise of new terrorist groups like Daesh – sometimes called Islamic State – as laid out in the ‘cycle of international stupidity’ (above)? Do you think it didn’t? Do you think Blair wanted a war because they put national politicians on the international stage? Do you think he improved or diminished the UK’s international standing? Do you think the UK has gained from the war, or suffered as a result?

The Issues, Arguments and Demos against the War at its Very Beginning

Okay, at the rest of alienating the many great readers of this blog, I’ll come clean. Back when it first broke out, I did support the war. I can’t be a hypocrite and claim that I didn’t. This was despite many other people around me knowing so much better, and myself having read so much that was against the war. For example, one of the 1.5 million or so people, who marched against the war was my local parish priest. One of my friends was very firmly against the war. I was aware from reading the papers and Lobster that the dodgy dossier was fake, and a piece of propaganda. I also knew from watching Bremner, Bird and Fortune that there was absolutely no connection between Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’ath regime, which was Arab nationalist, and the militant Islamism of Osama bin Laden, and that absolutely no love was lost between the two. And as the war dragged on, I was aware from reading Private Eye how so much of it was driven by corporate greed. The Eye ran a piece reporting on how Bush had passed legislation, which gave American biotech companies the rights to the country’s biodiversity. The Fertile Crescent in the Middle East in Turkey, Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt and what is now Israel, as well as Arabia and Iran, was the location for the very first western civilisations. Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I believe, were the very first centres where humans settled down and started domesticating wheat. The ancient grains that supported these primitive communities, like emmer and so on, still exist in abundance in these countries, along with other crops and plants that aren’t grown in the west. They represent a potentially lucrative field for the biotech companies. And so the American biotech corporations took out corporate ownership, meaning that your average Iraqi peasant farmer could be prosecuted for infringing their corporate copyright, if he dared to continue growing the crops he and his forefathers and mothers had done, all the way back to Utnapishtim, Noah and the Flood and beyond. More legal chicanery meant that American corporations could seize Iraqi assets and industries for damages, even if these damages were purely speculative or had not actually occurred. It’s grossly unjust, and aptly illustrates how predatory, rapacious and wicked these multinationals are.

And then there were the hundreds of thousands killed by Islamist militants, Iraqi insurgents, and the bodies of our squaddies coming back in coffins, along with a line of the maimed and mentally scarred.

All this should have been a clear demonstration of how wrong the war was. And it is a clear demonstration of its fundamental wrongness.

Hopes for Democratic Iraq Despite Falsity of Pretext

But I initially supported the war due to a number of factors. Partly it was from the recognition that Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug. We had been amply told how brutal he was around Gulf War I, and in the ten years afterwards he had brutally suppressed further rebellions – gassing the Kurds and murdering the Shi’a. In the aftermath of the invasion, UN human rights teams found the remains of his victims in vast, mass graves. The Financial Times also ran a piece on the massive corruption and brutal suppression of internal dissent within his regime. So it seemed that even if the reason for going to war was wrong, nevertheless it was justified because of the sheer brutality of his regime, and the possibility that a better government, freer and more humane, would emerge afterwards.

That hasn’t happened. Quite the reverse. There is democracy, but the country is sharply riven by ethnic and religious conflict. The American army, rather than acting as liberators, has treated the Iraqi people with contempt, and have aided the Shi’a death squads in their murders and assassinations of Sunnis.

Unwillingness to Criticise Blair and Labour

Some of my support for the war was also based in a persistent, uncritical support for Blair and the Labour party. Many of the war’s critics, at least in the West Country, were Tories. The Spectator was a case in point. It was, at least originally, very much against the war. So much so that one of my left-wing friends began buying it. I was highly suspicious of the Tory opposition to the war, as I thought it was opportunist and driven largely by party politics. When in power, the Tories had been fervently in favour of war and military action, from the Falklands, to Gulf War I and beyond. Given their record, I was reluctant – and still am very reluctant – to believe that they really believed that the war was wrong. I thought they were motivate purely from party interests. That still strikes me as pretty much the case, although I will make an allowance for the right-wing Tory journo, Peter Hitchens. Reading Hitchens, it struck me that his opposition to the war was a matter of genuine principle. He has an abiding hatred of Blair, whom he refers to as ‘the Blair creature’ for sending so many courageous men and women to their deaths. He’s also very much a Tory maverick, who has been censured several times by his bosses at the Mail for what he has said about David Cameron. ‘Mr Slippery’ was one such epithet. Now Hitchen’s doesn’t respect him for liberal reasons. He despises him for his liberal attitudes to sexual morality, including gay marriage. But to be fair to the man, he is independent and prepared to rebel and criticise those from his side of the political spectrum, often bitterly.

The Corrosive Effect of Endemic Political Corruption

My opposition to the war was also dulled by the sheer corruption that had been revealed over the last few decades. John Major’s long administration was notorious for its ‘sleaze’, as ministers and senior civil servants did dirty deals with business and media tycoons. Those mandarins and government officials in charge of privatising Britain’s industries, then promptly left government only to take up positions on the boards of those now private companies. Corporations with a minister or two in their back pocket won massive government contracts, no matter how incompetent they were. And Capita was so often in Private Eye, that the Eye even then was referring to it as ‘Crapita’. Eventually my moral sense was just worn down by it all. The corporate plunder of Iraq just seemed like another case of ‘business as usual’. And if the Tories are just as culpable as Blair and his allies, then there’s no reason to criticise Blair.

The Books and Film that Changed my Attitude to the War

What changed my attitude to the Iraq War was finally seeing Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 on Channel 4, and reading Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the Counterpunch book End Times: The Death of the Fourth Estate, as well as Bushwhacked, a book which exposes the lies and sheer right-wing corruption of George W. Bush’s administration. Palast’s book is particularly devastating, as it shows how the war was solely motivated by corporate greed and the desire of the Neocons to toy with the Iraqi economy in the hope of creating the low tax, free trade utopia they believe in, with precious little thought for the rights and dignity of the Iraqi people themselves. End Times is a series of article cataloguing the mendacity of the American media in selling the war, US politicians for promoting it, and the US army for the possible murder of critical journalists. Other books worth reading on the immorality and stupidity of the Iraq War include Confronting the New Conservativism. This is a series of articles attacking George W. Bush and the Neocons. Much of them come from a broadly left-wing perspective, but there are one or two from traditional Conservatives, such as female colonel in the Pentagon, who notes that Shrub and his coterie knew nothing about the Middle East, and despised the army staff, who did. They had no idea what they were doing, and sacked any commander, who dared to contradict their stupid and asinine ideology.

And so my attitude to war has changed. And I think there are some vital lessons that need to be applied to the broader political culture, if we are to stop others making the same mistakes as I did when I supported the war.

Lessons Learned

Firstly, when it comes to issues like the invasion of Iraq, it’s not a matter of ‘my party, right or wrong’. The Tories might be opposing the war out of opportunism, but that doesn’t mean that supporters of the Labour party are traitors or somehow betraying the party by recognising that it was immoral, and that some of the Tories, who denounced it did have a point.

Secondly, the cynical attitude that all parties are corrupt, so it doesn’t matter if you turn a blind eye to Labour’s corruption, is also wrong and misplaced. Corruption has to be fought, no matter where it occurs. You almost expect it in the Tory party, which has always had a very cosy attitude towards business. It has much less place on the Left, which should be about defending human rights and those of the weak.

Blair: Liar and War Criminal

And so I fully support the Chilcot report, and Jeremy Corbyn’s denunciations of Blair. He was a war criminal, and surely should have known better never to have become embroiled in the Iraq invasion. I’ve heard the excuse that he joined the war only reluctantly and was a restraining force on George Dubya. It’s a lie. He was eager to join the invasion and get whatever he thought Britain could from the spoils. And the result has been 13 years of war, the destruction and occupation of an entire nation, and the spread of further chaos and bloodshed throughout the Middle East.

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Poverty and Foodbanks in Bridgwater

December 15, 2014

Yesterday I put up a post about how my parents had heard a talk by a charity worker in Bristol about the immense growth in poverty in Bristol during the Christingle service, put on by the different churches in my part of Bristol. The speaker was from the Crisis Centre, which provides hot meals, a food bank and a refuge for abused women on Stapleton Road in Bristol’s inner city. The speaker stated that they were serving 600 hot meals a day. They had seen a thirty per cent rise in the people coming to them for food over the past two years. Two thirds of those were not unemployed, but people in work, but paid wages too low to support themselves or their families properly.

Yesterday we had relatives from Bridgwater round for Sunday lunch. Mum mentioned the talk by the charity worker at the Christingle service, and asked them what it was like down their neck of the woods.

The news was similarly not good.

They didn’t know much, only that demand for food was so high that the local food bank had run out. Mum seems to believe that this isn’t the first time it’s happened either.

Bridgwater’s a small but historic town in Somerset. It was the town where the rebels supporting the Duke of Monmouth stayed during, and were subsequently tried by Judge Jefferies for treason after the Battle of Sedgemoor during the ‘Pitchfork Rebellion’ of 1685. During the Middle Ages it and Dunster were two of the ports of the realm in Somerset. Archaeologists have found items and sites in the town dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and there was a Roman settlement in what was the site of the Gerber foods factory. It has, unfortunately, something of a reputation for urban blight. There used to be a cellophane factory just outside the town, which left a nasty stink hanging over it. More recently it was no. 45 in the book Crap Towns. Despite this, it is still a town that has a lot of potential.

The news about the immense demand on the food bank there shows just how far poverty has bitten into this part of rural Somerset. And if it’s affected Bridgwater, it’s also taken its toll on the other comparable towns round about.

There’s still a lot of anger in that part of Somerset about the flooding caused by government cutbacks to the flood defences around the Parrett.

Never mind Cameron’s promises of more money and increased funding to save Britain from further inundation, this is what the Tories really feel about poverty in rural England.

Human Fertility and the Problem of the Origin of Religion

June 2, 2013

One of the other arguments I had with the atheists on this blog a few years ago was about the role of human fertility as the origin of religion. According to one atheist, religion evolved so that humans would have more children. It’s easy to see how this idea came about. There are religions that encourage their members to have many children. In the West, Roman Catholicism is the best known example. In the ancient world, including the Bible, people hoped that God or the gods would provide them with many children and as well as abundant crops and livestock. Children and descendants and agricultural fertility were not just benefits, they were absolute necessities as famine and starvation were all too real. One estimate of child mortality in the ancient world at the time of Carthage suggests that 5-6 out of ten children died in infancy. People, tribes and states thus wished to have plenty of children not just to remain wealthy, powerful, with a strong army and an abundant labour forces, but also simply to survive. The Canaanite religion of ancient Syria made the conflict against sterility and death part of its religion. In its mythology, Baal fought a long battle against his adversary, Mot, whose name meant sterility or death.

There are certainly scholars of religion, such as John Bowker, who do consider the encouragement of fertility as the origin, but not the total explanation, of religion. In his article, ‘Religion’ in The oxford Dictionary of World Religions, states ‘Religions are the earliest cultural systems of which we have evidence for theprotection of gene-replication and the nurture of children.’ This is true even of those religions that consider celibacy to be a higher vocation. Boker himself is certainly not uncritical of this explanation. He states clearly that ‘there is much that is clearly wrong’, and has written a book tackling the subject, Is God a Virus? Genes, Culture and Relgion. His view is that genetic inheritance and Darwinian evolution can only explain the emergence of humans capacity for certain activities and behaviours. This accounts why religions frequently share similar features. It does not, however, determine what people do with this biological preparedness.

Religions are also multi-faceted and include a number of different features. This means it is difficult for materialist explanations of religion to reduce its origin and function to any single factor. Early attempts to explain religion materialistically viewed them as attempts by early humans to explain natural phenomena. The sociologist Emile Durkheim believed religion served to organise society and create a vital sense of social solidarity. The view that religion emerged to encourage fertility appears to have been advanced in the 1990s as an attempt by socio-biology and later evolutionary psychology to provide an explanation of religion in accorance with evolutionary biology. This view also has its flaws. Bowker himself was aware that this evolutionary biological theory of the origin of religion was problematic and had its opponents. One of the problems of this view is the role of asceticism in many religions. If religion evolved solely to encourage increased reproduction, it would not explain the ascetism that also forms part of many faiths. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism, for example, have members who withdraw from the world to lead celibate lives. In Christianity this includes the clergy in Roman Catholicism, and the higher clergy in eastern Orthodoxy. Monasticism is a part of both Christianity and Buddhism, while Hinduism has sadhus, yogis and yoginis, ascetics, who pursue their devotions in solitude. The ancient Babylonians also had orders of priestesses, who were required to remain celibate. They were aware of the dangers of overpopulation, and these religious orders, as well as disease, natural disasters and infertility, were viewed as being divinely established to prevent it.

The Atrahasis epic, the earliest flood myth from Mesopotamia, states that the humans were originally created by the gods to do their work for them. Over the centuries humanity increased so that

‘Twelve hundred years had not yet passed
When the land extended and the people multiplied.
The earth was bellowing like a bull,
The gods got distressed with their uproar.’

The gods then attempted to reduce humanity’s numbers with disease, followed by a drought. Humans go on breeding, however, and soon are reduced to starvation and cannibalism. People are forced to eat their children. The gods then send a flood to wipe them out completely, but the god Ea warns, and so saves, Atrahasis. The epic ends with Ea advising the mother-goddess Mami/ Nintu on how the danger of overpopulation is to be avoided in the future through the Malthusian checks of sterility, infant mortality and celibacy. He says to her

‘O Lady of Birth, creatress of the Fates…
Let there be among the people bearing women and barren women,
Let there be among the people a Pahittu-demon,
Let is seize the baby from the mother’s lap,
Establish Ugbabtu priestesses, Entu priestesses and Igisitu-priestesses.
They shall indeed be tabooed, and thus cut-off child-bearing.

Now this awareness and desire to avoid overpopulation is just one aspect of Babylonian religion. Nevertheless it, and asceticism and celibacy in other religions, as well as the incredibly varied nature of religion and religious experience, suggest that while fertility generally remains an important part of religion, it cannot be considered its origin.

Sources

John Bowker, ‘Religion’, in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1997) xv-xxiv.

Anton Jirku, The World of the Bible (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1967)

Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq 3rd edition (London: Penguin 1992).