Posts Tagged ‘Noah’

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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Norman Finkelstein on the Coming Break-Up of American Zionism: Part 2

May 28, 2016

What changed Jewish attitudes to Israel was the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. The Americans saw Israel very much as a kind of outpost of American interests in the Middle East, and identified its people with great American heroes like Davey Crockett, and the struggle of the Texans for independence from Mexico. There was an equivalence between Israel’s soldiers and the heroes of the Alamo. The Israelis were invested with all the heroic values Americans believed characterised themselves, and from it being unpatriotic to support the Israelis, it became the reverse. It was super-patriotic to support them.

Crucial to this was the Israeli claim to have practised ‘purity of arms’. Unlike Vietnam, where the Americans were losing and committing terrible atrocities, the Israelis were winning without committing massacres and other breaches of human rights. This record has gradually darkened as the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours continued. The classic case of the ‘bad war’ was Lebanon, where the Israelis killed tens of thousands of people, the majority of whom were civilians. But as historians like Benny Morris examined Israeli’s own history and war record, it became increasingly clear that Israel at its foundation had not practised ‘purity of arms’. In fact, if anything, the record of the Israeli army had actually improved and become cleaner over time.

And just as more was known and published about Israeli massacres of Palestinians and ethnic cleansing, so more information appeared about the regular use of torture by the Israelis. Previously the very few people writing and reporting on this were a Communist, a Trotskyite and an industrial chemist. They were marginal figures, whose work it was easy to shrug off and dismiss. But more and more Jews and Israelis brought to light information on torture. As Jews began their investigations, so it encouraged international groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to become involved. These had originally remained aloof from examining Israel’s record in this regard, partly from entirely noble reasons: accusing Jews of torture was too much like the accusation made against the Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust. And then the use of torture reached truly epidemic proportions of tens of thousands of detained Palestinians in the 1990s during the Second Intifada.

At the same time, Israeli politics has also become more corrupt and sleazier. Finkelstein states that Israel’s founders were idealists, who believed in the Jewish state as an ideal, and lived austere lives. They were not concerned with their own enrichment. As a result, Israel was one of the most transparent – that is to say, not corrupt, countries. Yitzhak Rabin, for example, was forced out of office in the 1980s because his wife was found to have an American bank account. There was nothing in it, but the simple fact that she had it was enough to torpedo Rabin’s stint in office. Now, Finkelstein states, hardly a day goes by without an Israeli politicians appearing in the papers because of a financial or a sex scandal.

The views of the Israelis as the injured party in the conflicts with the Palestinians, who were always provoked into war, has also been reversed. The previous received wisdom was that it was the Israelis who always made peace overtures, which were rejected by the Palestinians, ‘who never missed a chance to miss a chance for peace’. In fact, the historical reality is the exact opposite. Finkelstein quotes a book, 800 pages in length, by an Israeli scholar at one of the country’s institutes for military strategy. This academic went through everything that was written on the various Arab-Israeli wars and their causes, and found that in all of them it was the Israelis, who were the aggressors, and the Palestinians, who wanted peace. Which was nearly always rejected.

And the views of the New Historians, like Benny Morris, about how Israel from the first advanced a programme of ethnic cleansing – ‘population transfer’, in the coded jargon of the generals and politicos – and apartheid against the Palestinians has gradually entered mainstream Israeli scholarship. The lie that the Palestinians were ordered to flee their villages by the invading Arab armies was exposed by Benny Morris, who found that no such call actually took place. Finkelstein makes the point that you can now read a mainstream Israeli history school textbook, and it’s very little different from what left-wing, dissident historians have been saying. At the same time, it’s now accepted that what the Israelis are inflicting on the Palestinians through their systematic discrimination is indeed apartheid. It’s actually been described as such by the Israeli paper of record, Ha’aretz. And when Ha’aretz uses the term, you know that attitudes have changed.

As a result, American Jews, and especially young American Jews, have been increasingly indifferent and distanced from Israel, despite the AIPAC and the official Israel lobby.

Finkelstein’s talk lasts for about 1 hour and 22 minutes, or thereabouts. After this is there’s about another hour or so where he answers questions from the audience. These cover topics such as the religious dimensions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the historical friendship between Muslims and Arabs, and Finkelstein’s work exposing the ‘Holocaust Industry’ – the exploitation of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Nazi genocide for the profit of the campaign’s leaders and the Jewish organisations. This is particularly odious to Dr Finkelstein, as it demeans the real human suffering of the true victims, who all too often don’t see a penny.

One of those asking the questions is a young woman from a very Christian background. She states Dr Finkelstein has not tackled the spiritual motives at the heart of Zionism. She admits she does not know much about the conflict between the Israelis and the Arabs, but is impressed by the strong similarities between Judaism and Muslim, Arab culture. She understands from the people at her Presbyterian church that the Jews have a very strong urge to settle in the land of their ancestors, based on the Covenant between the Lord and Abraham. Finkelstein replies to this by saying that the reason he did not discuss it, as once you start invoking religion you put it beyond the possibility of reaching a political solution. He states that if someone came up to you and said that, according to the Bible, you should move out of your house because it was of great spiritual significance to them, you would not do so. At this point, some of the audience clap and cheer. He shuts them up, stating that although he’s an atheist, he has no wish to damage other’s faith. He also states that she must be aware that during the period of slavery, the Southern lawyers defending the institution did so using tracts from the Bible about Ham, whose descendants were forced to serve Noah’s other sons, because he saw his father naked when drunk. Finkelstein states that the justices, who ruled against slavery did not tackled the religious arguments, but simply ruled according to secular law.

The girl responds by making a comment about Arab terrorism. This is answered in turn by an Arab member of the audience, who understandably denies that his people are terrorists. He states that they are loving people, and advises her to read the book L’Amite Judeo-Arabe by a French author, which details the long friendship between Jews and Muslims. It was the Islamic world, he states, which took the Jews in and protected them after they were expelled from Europe. Later, another audience member, a Palestinian, adds further information to this. He is a Palestinian, and states that in his village there were Jews, who had Arab names, just as there were throughout the Arab world from Yemen to Iraq. There was no spiritual animosity between them. Indeed, he states that the desire of the Jews to possess the land seems to start in the Bible 3,000 years ago, and then absolutely nothing until the foundation of Israel. He argues very strongly that the conflict between the Isrealis and the Palestinians is not religious.

ISIS’ Destruction of the Cultural Treasures of Iraq

March 16, 2015

One of the most shocking events of ISIS’ occupation of parts of Iraq was their destruction of Assyrian antiquities kept in a local museum a fortnight or so ago. This shocking destruction of priceless cultural treasures, which have immensely enriched our understanding of the history of that ancient country, was broadcast around the world. The smashing of the artefacts is not, of course, as great or as serious an atrocity as the Islamist State’s terrorisation of Iraq’s people, the capricious, brutal murder of their captives or the sale of captured women into sex slavery at their markets. It is nevertheless a truly shocking outrage and an assault on history and culture itself.

ISIS claimed to have smashed the ancient statues and works of art because they claimed they were idols. I think I recognised some of the statues from their photographs in books I’ve got here at home. One statue wasn’t a god, but was the image of one of the Assyrian kings or officials. The Victorian archaeologists, who pioneered the excavation of ancient Assyria and Babylon also encountered problems where the local people mistook some of the massive statues they uncovered for the idols of the ancient giants wiped out by Noah’s flood, or else of Nimrod himself, who is also mentioned in the Qu’ran.

Austin Henry Layard mentions the alarm and excitement that greeted the excavation of one of the great Assyrian winged bulls in his 1867 book, Nineveh and its Remains.

On the morning following these discoveries, I had ridden to the encampment of Sheikh Abd-ur rahman, and was returning to the mound, when I saw two Arabs of his tribe coming towards me and urging their mares to the top of their speed. On reaching me they stopped. ‘Hasten, O Bey’, exclaimed one of them – ‘hasten to the diggers, for the have found Nimrod himself. Wallah! it is wonderful but it is true! we have seen him with our eyes. There is no God but God’; and both joining in this pious exclamation, they galloped off, without further words, in the direction of their tents.

… As soon as the two Arabs I had met had reached their tents, and published the wonders they had seen, every one mounted his mare and rode to the mound to satisfy himself of the truth of these inconceivable reports. When they beheld the head they all cried together, ‘There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet!’ It was some time before the Sheikh could be prevailed upon to descend into the pit, and convince himself that the image he saw was of stone. ‘This is not the work of men’s hands,’ exclaimed he, ‘but of those infidel giants of whom the Prophet, peace be with him! has said, that they were higher than the tallest date tree; this is one of the idols which Noah, peace be with him! cursed before the flood,’ In this opinion, the result of a careful examination, all the bystanders occurred.

The news of the discovery of the massive head in Mosul caused some concern amongst the town’s Muslim leaders, who feared that it was indeed the ancient prophet Nimrod. Layard describes how he had to go to the town to talk to the local governor and persuade him that it was not so, and that the remains would be treated with appropriate respect.

As I had expected, the report of the discovery of the gigantic head, carried by the terrified Arab to Mosul, had thrown the town into commotion. He had scarcely checked his speed before reaching the bridge. Entering breathless into the bazaars, he announced to every one he met that Nimrod had appeared. The news soon got to the ears of the Cadi, who called the Mufti and the Ulema [cadi- Islamic judge, ulema – Muslim clergy] together, to consult upon this unexpected occurrence. Their deliberations, ended in a procession to the Governor, and a formal protest, on the part of the Mussulmans of the town, against proceedings so directly contrary to the laws of the Koran. The Cadi had no distinct idea whether the very bones of the mighty hunter had been uncovered, or only him image; nor did Ismail Pasha very clearly remember whether Nimrod was a true-believing prophet, or an infidel. I consequently received a somewhat unintelligible message from his Excellency, to the effect that the remains should be treated with respect, and be by no means further disturbed; that he wished the excavations to be stopped at once, and desired to confer with me on the subject.

I rode to Mosul at once and called upon him accordingly. I had some difficulty in making him understand the nature of my discovery. At last he was persuaded that I had only discovered part of any ancient figure in stone, and that neither the remains of Nimrod nor of any other personage mentioned in the Koran had been disturbed. However, as he requested me to discontinue my operations until the excitement in the town had somewhat subsided, I returned and dismissed the workmen, retaining only two men to dig leisurely along the walls without giving cause for further interference.

Layard himself remarks on just how awesome the statue was, and does not sneer at the local people for their reaction to it.

I was not surprised that the Arabs had been amazed and terrified at this apparition. It required no stretch of imagination to conjure up the most strange fancies. This gigantic head, blanched with age, thus rising from the bowels of the earth, might well have belonged to one of those fearful beings which are described in the traditions of the country as appearing to mortals, slowly ascending from the regions below.

Indeed, Layard states that he himself used to contemplate the sublime and truly awesome power of these statues.

There are a number of complex issues and problems with archaeology in the developing world, including Islamic countries. Much of it is carried out by Western nations, and at first little or nothing was published about the discoveries in the local languages. You can imagine that this would result in a lack of connection between the local peoples and archaeological projects and their findings, if not disaffection and hostility. Edward Said criticised the Western obsession with ancient Egypt for leading to an attitude of complete disinterest with the modern country and Islamic culture. The veteran British Egyptologist, John Romer, echoed these sentiments in his series Great Excavations. Looking around one an ancient Egyptian site, Romer remarked that there had once been an Islamic town, that had been completely cleared away in order to excavate the ancient remains, and casually picked up a piece of 12th century Islamic pottery lying on the ground.

Since the 19th century, much of the archaeological investigations in these countries have been done by the indigenous peoples themselves. In Egypt this was pioneered by Zakaria Goneim. There is the problem that pre-Islamic history and culture in the Gulf Arab states is regarded as the Juhailiyya – the period of pre-Islamic ignorance or darkness. There is a feeling that investigation of the pre-Islamic past is thus somehow contrary Islam. As a result, archaeologists have had to be very careful in the excavation and display of the remains. One archaeologist working in Saudi Arabia writing in Current Archaeology a few years ago, praised the Saudi king for allowing and patronising such excavations, while also discussing the restrictions placed on exhibition of the artefacts uncovered by the need to avoid religious offence. This was especially acute in cases of religious figures, or the nude human form, particularly female. The latter most definitely could not be placed on display.

Some of the secular leaders in the Middle East have also used archaeology to support and bolster the country’s national identity. As many of these countries, like Iraq, are the creation of the Western powers, it is not hard to see how an archaeology that supports this identity could also be rejected and attacked as part of Western imperialism and dominance in the region. And where the country was ruled by a secular dictator, it also isn’t surprising that religious extremists should see the ideological emphasis placed on ancient remains as an attempt to undermine their nation’s Islamic culture.

Even so, it is depressing and shocking that a century after Layard and the other great archaeologists uncovered these awesome and majestic remains, that archaeology and its priceless historical treasures should still be the target for such rage and destruction.