Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

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.

Advertisements

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 2

October 13, 2013

In the first part of this post I discussed the way successive administrations since Mrs Thatcher – those of john Major, Tony Blair, and now, possibly, the coalition, had planned to introduce ID cards. Privacy campaigners such as Simon Davies have opposed them, because of the immense potential they represent for human rights abuses, the mass surveillance of the population, and discrimination against immigrants and minorities. I posted it as a response to Mike’s piece on Vox Political, which I reblogged, on Theresa May’s latest campaign against illegal immigration, and the fears landlords and immigrants’ rights groups have about the terrible effect this will have on them. The landlords in particular were concerned that this would lead to the introduction of 404 European document-style ID cards. In this part of the post I will discuss the dangers ID cards present, and their failure to do what is often claimed for them, such as to prevent crime and illegal immigration.

It looks like illegal immigration will be the platform by which ID cards will be introduced in this country. Mike and a number of other bloggers have commented on the way recent statements and policies by coalition ministers to combat illegal immigration suggest that they plan to introduce ID cards as part of their campaign. Illegal immigration has been the main issue driving their introduction in Europe, America and some developing nations. Davies book on the growth of the surveillance society in Britain notes that as the European Union dissolves borders in Europe, so the police were given greater power to check people’s ID. As for fears that ID cards will somehow stop illegal immigrants from claiming benefits, this has been disproved in Australia. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australia Card found that of 57,000 people, who overstayed their visa in New South Wales, on 22 were illegally claiming Unemployment Benefit.

Anti-racism campaigners are right to worry that ID will increase discrimination. ID cards carrying information on the bearer’s ethnic groups or religious beliefs have been used to discriminate against minority groups in many countries. The Japanese were accused of racism when they passed legislation forcing all foreigners to carry ID cards. The French police were similarly accused of racism in demanding Blacks and Algerians carry and produce ID cards. This was one of the reasons behind the race riots in France in the 1990s. In Greece, the authorities were also accused of using the religious information on the card to discriminate against those, who were not Greek Orthodox. Down Under, Aboriginal and Jewish Australians joined the campaign against the Australia Card from fear that they would also suffer discrimination. A few thousand miles across the Pacific in New Zealand, Kiwi trade unions and civil liberties groups also feared ID cards would lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor.

Contrary to the frequent claims made by various Right-wing governments like Thatcher’s, Major’s and Blair’s, ID cards don’t actually stop welfare fraud. Says Davies ‘the key area of interest lies in creating a single numbering system which would be used as a basis for employment eligibility, and which would reduce the size of the black market economy’. In Oz, the Department of Social Security stated that much less than 1 per cent of overpaid benefits came from identity fraud. The true figure for such crime is probably 0.6 per cent. Most fraudulent or overpaid benefit claims – 61 per cent – came from the non-reporting of variations in the claimant’s income.

ID cards also don’t stop crime. This is again contrary to the statements made by governments wishing to introducing them. The problem is not the identification of criminals, but in collecting sufficient evidence and successfully prosecuting them. The Association of Chief Police Officers in Britain concluded in 1993 report that burglaries, street crime and crimes committed by people impersonating officials could be reduced through ID cards. They did not, however, present any evidence for this. The Association did fear that the introduction of ID cards would make relations between the police and the general public worse. Davies considered that only a DNA or biometric database could possibly link perpetrators with their crimes.

The introduction of ID cards do, however, increase police powers. Police routinely ask for ID cards in all the countries that have them, and detain those, who don’t possess them. In Britain the wartime ID cards were removed in 1953 after a High Court judge ruled that their routine demand by the police was contrary to the spirit of the National Registration Act, and adversely affected the good relations between police and the public.

In fact, instead of helping to combat crime, ID cards actually help it. ID cards provide a ‘one-stop’ proof of identity, and this can and is used by criminal gangs in their crimes. The technology used to manufacture the cards is now available and used by such organisations. As ordinary organisations, such as companies and the state civil service increasingly rely on ID cards as the unquestioned proof of an individual’s identity, so they abandon the other systems used to check it that they have been using for decades. As a result, crimes using fake identities are actually easier with ID cards.

ID cards are a real danger to the privacy of personal information. About one per cent of the staff of companies involved in collecting the personal information used to construct the relational databases used in such cards are corrupt and prepared to trade confidential information. Each year, one per cent of all bank staff in Europe are dismissed for corruption. This is a minuscule percentage, it is true, but nevertheless it still presents a danger to the privacy and safety of the public. In Britain, computer crime amongst the civil services own ID staff massively increased in the 1980s and 1990s. The National Accounting Office estimated in March 1995 that hacking, theft and infection by viruses were all increasing on the IT network in Whitehall. In one year, for example, hacking rose by 140 per cent and viruses by a massive 300 per cent. Of the 655 cases of hacking in the Whitehall network identified by the NAO, most involved staff exceeding their authority to obtain the personal information of members of the public, which was they then passed on to outside individuals.

ID card schemes also tend to be much more expensive than governments’ estimate and allow for. Once again, Australia provides a good example of this. When introducing the Australia Card scheme, the Ozzie government failed to take into account training costs, and the expenses coming from administrative supervision, staff turnover, holiday and sick leave, as well as compliance, the issue of the cards overseas and fraud. They also underestimated the costs of issuing and maintaining the cards and how expensive they would be to private industry. In the first part of this post I mentioned how leading Australian bankers and financiers, such as Sir Noel Foley, were openly hostile to the scheme. This is not surprising, as the Australian Bankers’ Association estimated that the ID card their would cost Ozzie banks A$100 million over ten years. The total cost of the cards to the private sector was estimated at A$1 billion per year. At the time Davies was writing, the cost of the card system in the UK had not taken into account of administration and compliance costs. These could be as high as £2 – £3 billion. When Tony Blair launched his scheme to develop biometric ID cards, there was further embarrassment to the government when it was revealed by the papers that the scheme had also gone massively over its budget due to problems in developing the technology.

Another factor against the cards is the distress and inconvenience caused to the individual by their accidental loss or destruction. About five per cent of ID cards are either lost, damaged or stolen every year, and it can be several weeks before a replacement is received.

Governments have frequently insisted that ID cards will be voluntary. This was the stance taken by Tony Blair’s government on them. It is misleading. There is a tendency for them to become compulsory. Even in nations where they are voluntary, there is considerable inconvenience if they are not carried, so that they are actually compulsory in practice if not in law.

ID cards also have a tendency to become internal passports as they acquire other uses through function creep. These will include all government and a significant number of important, private functions.

Finally, opponents of ID cards object to them because they feel that they damage national identity and personal integrity. The movements against ID cards in America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand called attention to the fears of ordinary people that the introduction of such cards would reduce them to mere numbers. They were a symbol of oppressive authority, and represented popular anxieties that their countries were ruled, not by elected officials, but by bureaucracies driven by technology.

Actually, reading through all the considerable negative aspects of ID cards and the list of the dangers and damage they represent to society and the safety and privacy of its members, I can see why the Coalition government would see no problem in introducing them. After all, such schemes are inefficient, corrupt and massively expensive. They expand the power of the state and the police at the expense of the individual, and are used to persecute and victimise minorities and the poor. Pretty much like all the Coalition’s policies, then. And ID cards are exactly like IDS welfare schemes and workfare in that, undercover of eliminating welfare fraud, which they actually don’t do anything about, they’re really about controlling the movement of labour.

So, corrupt, authoritarian and discriminatory: just right for Theresa May and the rest of the Coalition then!

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.

Staring into the Abyss: The Return of the Colonels to Greece?

September 30, 2013

Pride’s Purge has posted this disturbing piece, Far-Right Coup in Greece in the Offing?, on an ultimatum delivered to the Greek civilian government by the country’s Reservist Special Forces demanding the dissolution of the current government, the nationalisation of German-owned businesses and the expulsion of immigrants. The Purge’s article begins:

‘(Not satire – it’s the result of pointless austerity to pay back non-existent debts to reckless bankers)

A very worrying announcement has just been made by the Greek army Special Forces Reserve Union in Greece after increasing violence between neo-fascist Golden Dawn supporters and the government.

A bulletin was posted on the SFRU website yesterday which included a demand for the immediate resignation of the democratically elected Greek government, the seizure of German owned business and repatriation of immigrants.’

He then gives a rough translation of the Reservists’ demands.

The article can be read at http://tompride.co.uk/far-right-coup-in-greece-in-the-offing.

Now this is extremely worrying, and should put everyone involved in left-wing politics in Europe on the alert. It looks like the army, or at least a section of it, once again wants to take power in Greece, just as it did in the 1970s. Their seizure of power was the result of a deliberate ‘strategy of tension’ planned and executed by Fascist groups and parties in collaboration with sympathetic extreme Right-wing elements in the state. One of the chief agents in this was an Italian neo-Fascist called Della Chiaei, who has to be one of the most vile characters ever to stalk the Post-War political fringe. Della Chiaei hated the post-War, bourgeois democratic Italian republic. He later said of himself that ‘others coloured their nausea with red. I coloured mine black’, meaning that like the extreme Left, he was sickened by modern Italy, but turned to Fascism rather than revolutionary socialism. Fascist ‘strategy of tension’ consisted in promoting political break down and establishing a state of emergency by infiltrating radical Left-wing groups and directing them towards terrorism. The resulting chaos and panic provides the Fascist sympathisers in the state with the opportunity of declaring a state of emergency, seizing political power and establishing a Fascist dictatorship with the consequent dismantling of any human rights or democratic political institutions. Della Chiaei began his career infiltrating a Bakuninite anarchist group, and encouraging them to engage in a bombing campaign. When his campaign of ultra-Right terrorism failed to result in a Fascist coup in Italy, he went off to do the same in Greece. The result was the military coup and the notorious ‘rule of the Colonels’. According to Purge’s article, the Reservists state that they are demanding these policies as a result of their battles with the Fascist Golden Dawn. Although the army’s opponents in this case are Neo-Fascists, rather than the extreme Left, it still seems very much to me that a similar ‘strategy of tension’ is being enacted there.

And if it happens in Greece, it will start to happen elsewhere as well. Despite Mussolini’s initial statement, history has proved that Fascism is very much for export. Della Chiaei went all the way round the world, including to South America, working for extreme Right-wing dictatorships. I was talking about the current European political situation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he was worried that were seeing the end of the democracy in Europe. Right-wing parties, and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic organisations are on the rise all over Europe, from Jobbik in Hungary and the Front National in France. Some of this is simply a reaction to mass, extra-European immigration, particularly from the Islamic world. It is also a reaction to the failure of Neo-Liberalism to provide jobs and opportunities for the poorest in society. Capitalism appears to have failed, Communism was discredited when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many of the European Socialist parties have taken over Neo-Liberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. The Financial Times reported in its magazine right at the beginning of the Millenium in 2000 that many Germans were disillusioned with the Socialist SPD in Germany following Gerhard Schroder’s cuts in benefits. The result is that for some disaffected Europeans, the extreme Right becomes a credible political alternative, and a channel for their resentment at a global economic order that has no time for them.

At the moment, with the exception of the Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Fidesz parties, the explicitly Fascist parties in Europe are miniscule. The actual long-term membership of the BNP in Britain is minute: about 200 people. Most of its recruits leave after about 2 years, as by and large they have no interest in Fascist ideology. They join it mostly because from an hostility to non-White immigration. The problem is, the Nazis were also a fringe policy until the financial crash of 1929. In an interview on the BBC Alan Moore, the writer of the V for Vendetta graphic novel, said that he was worried about the current government. This wasn’t because the Coalition were Fascists, but because the current austerity programme mirrored Weimar Germany. While I disagree with many of Moore’s views, here he is absolutely right. The news of a possible coup in Greece is extremely worrying. We urgently need to guard against its emergence there, and in the rest of Europe.

Revealed: ConDem ‘vendetta’ against citizens it believes are livestock

September 16, 2013

This is another highly thought-provoking piece from Mike detailing the similarity between the Condem regime and the fictional, Fascist Future in Alan Moore’s graphic novel and movie, ‘V for Vendetta’. The parallels include the involve of Big Business in an autocratic regime, deliberately racist policies aimed at racial minorities, gay men and women, and the use of humans for medical experimentation. All of this occurred under Fascist regimes, and particularly and most notoriously under Hitler’s Third Reich. It is also happening in Greece today, and coming back in Hungary under the Fidesz and Jobbik parties.

Much of ”V’ for Vendetta’ also reflects the time it was written: the era of Reagan and Thatcher. Both of these back extreme, Right-wing dictatorships, particularly in South America. Thatcher’s Conservative party also had extensive link with the Far Right, both at home and abroad, as extensively documented by the parapolitical magazine, Lobster. It was also the period when the use of Nazi scientists by post-War American administrations, and the knowledge they brought with them was also being increasingly uncovered and the subject of controversy. The most famous of these were the rocket scientists brought to America under ‘Operation Paperclip’. It also included medical information acquired from the human experimentation in the concentration camps, some of which had been used for teaching purposes in British medicine. FOI releases later revealed the extent of human experimentation by American scientists and doctors in the post-War period.

In Britain the prospect of anarchy and social disintegration in the 1970s saw the formation of extreme Right-wing paramilitary groups, formed to seize power and clamp down on Left-wing unrest. Francis Wheen’s book on paranoia in the 1970s, ‘Strange Days Indeed’ shows how widely this fear of a left-wing takeover was in establishment circles. The Times, for example, demanded the formation of a coalition government of national unity, formed from the middle of the road of the three main parties. Other members of the establishment openly supported the formation of the Right-wing paramilitaries and their plans to seize power. The 1970s had also seen the rapid rise of the National Front to the position where, by the end of the decade, to many people it looked set to take over from the Liberals as Britain’s third political party. This made the Fascist future described in Moore’s comic strip extremely plausible. It was Science Fiction as ‘the literature of warning’ of an all-too possible future.

Vox Political

It has been rumoured that V for Vendetta ‘Guy Fawkes’ masks are to be banned from large-scale public demonstrations in the UK.

They have already been banned in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

The masks were adopted by the loosely-affiliated protesters Anonymous as a clear indication of members’ feelings towards a Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government whose actions, they believe, have been increasingly fascist.

These people have a point.

Has anyone read V for Vendetta lately? An early chapter, ‘Victims’, provides the historical background to the fascist Britain of the story – and provides very disturbing parallels with the current government and its policies.

In the story, there is a recession and a nuclear war. Fortunately, in real life we have managed to avoid the war (so far) but the recession of 2007 onwards has caused severe hardship for many, with average wages cut by nine per cent (in real terms)…

View original post 1,261 more words

Private Eye on the Right-Wing Press’ Attacks on the European Court of Human Rights after the SAS Shooting of the IRA in Gibraltar

August 13, 2013

Looking for more information yesterday on Private Eye’s account of how Thames Television lost its broadcasting license due to Thatcher’s anger at its documentary, ‘Death on the Rock’, I came across a piece in its ‘Hackwatch’ column reporting the attacks by the Right-wing press on the European Court of Human Rights for their judgement on the actions of the SAS. It ran:

Hackwatch: Rock Bottom Revisited

In February 1989 the Eye published Rock Bottom, a pamphlet about the SAS shooting the previous March of three IRA bombers in Gibraltar. Its main conclusions were:

1. That the terrorists’ plan to set off a bomb in Gibraltar on 8 March had been well known to intelligence officers in Britain and in Spain, who closely followed the three from Malaga to Gibraltar and never once lost sight of them.

2. The Det Chief Inspector Joseph Ullger, head of Gibraltar special branch, had admitted at the inquest that the terrorists had been allowed on to the Rock without hindrance, though the authorities knew what they looked like, what passport aliases they were travelling under and what car they were driving.

3. That the failure to stop and arrest the terrorists before they got to Gibraltar was crucial to the entire operation. Either the authorities knew there was a bomb in the car and that the terrorists could detonate it, in which case they were putting a substantial section of the Gibraltar population at risk; or they thought or knew there was no bomb in the car (as there wasn’t) in which case there was no danger of a bomb being detonated.

4. That the only realistic conclusion from these facts was that the terrorists had been deliberately allowed into Gibraltar so they could be killed by the SAS – and that this was unacceptable lynch law.

5. That the lynching had been covered up by the British government, especially at the Gibraltar inquest.

6. That the government was supported to the full in its cover-up by its agents in the press, notably the Sun and the Sunday Times, which waged an hysterical campaign against one of the few attempts in the British media properly to report what went on Gibraltar: Thames TV’s Death on the Rock.

The majority verdict of the European court of human rights goes along with points one, two and three. The court refused to accept point four, the ‘execution plot’ theory, but could provide no other reason the terrorists were not arrested at the border.

One reason for the court’s failure to explain such an inexplicable lapse by the authorities was lack of information. Pre-planning by British intelligence about what it would do to the terrorists once they arrived at Gibraltar was specifically barred from the inquest by a flow of our old friends, “public interest immunity certificates” (gagging orders). The judges did not demand a lifting of the gagging orders, even if they were empowered to do so. Accordingly, without the necessary intelligence information, they were reluctant to jump to the “trap” conclusion reached by the Eye.

The European court of human rights was set up after the war, among others by Winston Churchill, as a “bulwark against fascism”. A majority verdict finding the British government guilty of breaching article two – the right to life – might be expected to be greeted in Britain by a moment of humility, even apology. Instead the air has been thick with the delicious noise of law ‘n’ order fanatics denouncing the due process of law and order.

The Sun launched into a vitriolic attack on the court (urging its readers to ring in and abuse any court official they could find who spoke English, which some of them did in racist language embarrassing even to the Sun editors).

The judges who voted with the majority were denounced one by one. In Lithuania, for instance, the Sun shrieked on 28 September, “three people had been sentenced to death for murder” (no doubt the Sun forgot its many angry campaigns for the return of capital punishment in Britain). Greece was savaged for imprisoning Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Luxembourg “five prisoners were held in solitary confinement over the legally allowed limit” and in Spain “prisoners were beaten with truncheons”. Civil liberties campaigners in Britain can look forward to future Sun campaigns against the imprisonment without trial of hundreds of people seeking asylum to Britain or the new “head-opener” truncheons so eagerly wielded by the British police.

Why had the judges done such a terrible thing? Alan Clark in the Mail opined: “We have never been forgiven for leaving the ERM.” But Peter Hitchens, political correspondent of the Daily Express, had discovered the real reason. “Could it be,” he asked, “partly because these judges are infected by the sort of ‘correctness’ which has spread into the governing class from the campus revolutionaries of the sixties”? (including even perhaps the vigorously correct York organiser for the International Socialists in the mid-1970s -a certain P. Hitchens).

But no one could touch the master. Andrew Neill filled his column in the Daily Mail (26 Sept) with a hymn of hate against the judges, and followed this up with an almost identical piece in the Sunday Times (29 Sept). Once again Neill singled out the Thames programme Death on the Rock for special abuse, especially for its use of witnesses. Among matters not mentioned in either article were

1. The huge sums in libel damages paid out by the Sunday Times for the hysterical abuse of honest witnesses to the programme. (Neill faces yet another action from Carmen Proetta for shooting his mouth off recently in the Irish media).

2. The payment by the Sunday Times of £2,000 to a convicted drugs smuggler for “information” to smear one of the Gibraltar witnesses. (The information never materialised and the prisoner hopped it with his loot to the Cost del Sol).

3. The denunciation of Neill and his Insight editor by at least three Sunday Times journalists who complained that their reports and assessments on the ground were twisted to feed the paper’s vendetta against Thames TV.

4. The fact that the award-winning Death on the Rock was subjected to one of the most thorough independent investigations in the history of the British media – and commended and cleared of all the serious charges. The investigation was headed by Lord Windlesham, a former Tory minister’.’

Private Eye, 6 October 1995, p. 11.

The shooting of the IRA terrorists by the SAS was therefore the action of a death squad, rather than soldiers governed by the rule of law. The government covered this up using gagging orders, and when the European court of human rights nevertheless ruled against it, the Right-wing press subjected the court to a campaign of denunciation and abuse. The worst of these propaganda pieces was written by Andrew Neill, now appearing as the fair and balanced host of the BBC’s Daily Politics.

The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Response to ‘Loki’

July 10, 2013

‘Loki’ has posted this comment on my blog piece, The Medieval Christian Origins of Western Democracy: Part Two:

The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Let’s deal with the individual statements in the post.

Firstly, the point

‘The government of the USA is based partly on Rome’s model, which is centuries older than Jesus. Direct democracy existed in Athens, Greece centuries before Christ was even born.’

I don’t dispute that. Indeed, I say that the Patristic writers, such as St. Augustine, took their contract view of the origins of society from classical writers, like Plato. Furthermore, when constitutional writers and political theorists like Algernon Sidney went on to discuss these issues in the 17th and 18th centuries, they frequently made use of events in the classical past. Sidney uses Roman history to justify popular rebellion against a tyrant. The anonymous author of England’s Misery and Remedy cites classical authorities, such as Camillus and Pliny. So no, I don’t actually deny that modern democracy is based on ancient Roman and Greek precedents.

However, there are strong differences between ancient democracy and our own. Ancient Greek society was strongly oligarchical. Women, slaves and resident aliens – metics – did not possess the right to vote. Neither labourers, artisans or merchants. When Aristotle talks about democracy in The Politics, he actually refers to the condition where the vote is still restricted to individuals with incomes from their land, in other words, leisured gentlemen. He did not believe that the hoi polloi – ordinary people, who had to work for their living – should have the vote as they did not have the time or education to devote to politics.

Now we come to your second point:

Christianity was a speedbump for Western democracy, not it’s origin.

Firstly, this assumes that the autocratic character of medieval and early modern politics was solely due to Christianity. This is not the case. Christianity may have reinforced the power of the king through St. Paul’s dictum that rulers should be obeyed, but democracy or popular politics had declined in the ancient world before Christianity became the state religion. To most people in the early modern period, when modern theories of government were being formed and constructed, democracy was a failed experiment. It was associated with political instability and civil war. If you remember, the first Roman Emperor, Philip Augustus, took power after a series of popular rebellions, which he put down. He closed the political clubs, though to prevent anyone becoming suspicious of his own political ambitions, called himself ‘First Citizens’ – princeps, rather than a title like ‘king’. The period of democracy in Athens was actually quite short-lived, perhaps only twenty years or so. More recently a book has been published stating that the ancient Greek’s legacy to medieval Europe wasn’t democracy, but sacral kingship. As for medieval feudalism, Fernand Braudel and other historians of medieval European society have shown that it arose through the retreat of the ancient Roman senatorial aristocracy to their estates on the one hand, and the military aristocracies of the invading barbarians on the other. Economic and social forces from the Second Century onwards worked to force the free Roman classes into a position where they were no better than slaves. The result was the rise of feudalism, where political power and military service are collapsed together in the power of the local landlord. By the 16th century, the view had arisen that nations were free to choose whichever system of government most suited them. However, they felt that monarchy was the best, as it gave the king absolute power to check dangerous rebellions and threats to public order. In practice it was expected that the monarch would not do so, and would respect his subjects’ liberty and property.

The Reformation and Wars of Religion brought issues of government, its forms and the power of monarchs and their legitimacy to a head. As a result, theologians and political philosophers drew on ancient and Biblical history to explore these issues, and this included arguing for representative government and popular liberty.

So no, I don’t deny that modern American democracy is ultimately based on that of ancient Greece and Roman. However, these classical precedents were revived, modified and expanded in the largely Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.