Posts Tagged ‘Sweden’

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.

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Gove Versus Reality

September 28, 2013

I’ve reblogged a piece from The Uphill Struggle and one of the comments on it criticising Michael Gove’s contemptuous attitude to the profession and pointing out just how hard teachers really work. This was in response to Gove’s plan to increase their workload, showing that he doesn’t have any appreciation for the true amount of work teachers already put in. The Uphill Struggle herself is a teacher, and the comment I reblogged was from a teaching assistant. My posts can be found here, at https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/an-open-letter-to-michael-gove/ and here, https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/a-learning-support-assistant-on-the-lack-of-government-support-given-to-them/ respectively.

I also found this short film, Michael Gove Versus Reality on Youtube. The film is only 6.44 minutes long. In that short space of time, it manages to refute every aspect of Gove’s education policy. It disproves his selective use of statistics, which ostensibly show that Britain’s educational performances is declining. According to the Ontario professor shown in the film, actually Britain’s educational performance had improved. The apparent decline is simply due to the number of countries included in the statistics doubling. It also refutes the Tories’ claim that academy schools and the effective privatisation of education automatically leads to an increase in quality. Gove cites Sweden has one example, but any increase in educational standards there has been accompanied by concerns about greater social exclusion and increasing division. Gove also tries to cite American Charter Schools as also examples of better educational performance through schools, which are independent of the public (state) school system. Yet the statistics there show that 47 per cent of Charter Schools are no different in their educational results from state schools. Indeed 37 per cent of Charter Schools are actually worse than those in the state sector.

The video also shows that, despite Gove’s rhetoric about the nobility of the profession, teachers actually feel that the minister does not respect and value them, and the majority of the profession feel demoralised because of Gove’s negative attitude. It considers that the true motive behind Gove’s reforms are not a concern to raise standards, but to lower teachers’ wages and working conditions. Of course the true motive is profit. He wishes to privatise education, so that it can be run for profit by private companies. Gove has challenged the teaching unions with the accusation that their opposition to his reforms are ideological. This shows that the opposite is true: it is Gove’s reforms that are ideological. The video is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6PRKaNVvUc. I also include it here below.

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Regarding Gove’s claim that the academies somehow outperform British state schools, in some parts of Britain the opposite appears to be demonstrably true. In Somerset all the failing schools are academies. Some of this may simply come from the fact that the system was introduced by Labour to transform failing state schools. The point remains that if this was the originally intention, then it has not been fulfilled. The schools are still failing despite their independence from state management. I’ve no doubt a similar situation also prevails in other parts of the UK as well.

A Comment on Nazi Germany

August 7, 2013

‘A country is not only what it does-it is also what it puts up with, what it tolerates’,

Kurt Tucholsky, German satirist, died in Sweden.

It’s relevant to today, with Cameron’s campaigns against the poor, the unemployed, the disabled and long term sick.

Shirin Ebadi and the Regime’s Oppression of Working-Class Iranians

June 1, 2013

It’s the centenary this week of the death of the British Suffragette, Emily Davidson. Davidson protested against the exclusion of women from the franchise by jumping in front of the King’s Horse at the Derby. More recent historical research has suggested that she actually hadn’t wanted to commit suicide, and fell, rather than deliberately jumped. Regardless of her precise actions, her death has become one of the most notorious events associated with the campaign for votes for women. The BBC and a number of other media have been running features commemorating the event and the Suffragette campaign over the past week or so.

Shirin Ebadi and the New Suffragettes

The Independent newspaper has been running a series, ‘The New Suffragettes’, on contemporary women campaigning for women’s rights. Yesterday’s (Friday, 31st May) edition featured the Iranian judge and social campaigner, Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi was the country’s first female, appointed by the Shah. She lost that position following Khomeini’s Revolution in 1979. She was also dismissed from her position on another prominent legal organisation because it was considered that her gender was unsuitable for such a position of authority. She has campaigned for divorced women in Iran to gain custody of their sons, as well as their daughters, and has set up a number of NGOs to improve conditions for women and the poor in Iran. She has particularly campaigned against the persecution of Iranian dissidents. She also campaigned for the release of the Canadian Iranian young woman, who was brutally imprisoned in Iran a few years ago. She has lived in exile in London after attempts on her life, sponsored by the Regime, and the savage beating of her husband. In the article she described her shock when reading transcripts of a recorded meeting between members of the Iranian secret police. Reading the report, she came across a statement there was a piece where one of the government thugs said, ‘And the next one’s Ebadi’. It made it all too clear that she was one of those marked for death.

Despite this, she is still very much a Muslim. She stated in the interview that the low position of women in Middle Eastern society was not due to Islam, but to these nation’s traditional patriarchal culture. The Independent noted that despite official hostility, she is a real heroine to many Iranians and has been greeted by cheering mobs when she has appeared to speak to them.

Ebadi and Swedish Journalistic Colleague on Right-Wing Oppression in Iran

A year or so ago I came across a book written by her and a Swedish journalist in one of the bargain bookshops in my home town. It was written from a left-wing, Social Democratic perspective. I seem to recall that her co-writer belonged to one of the unions or other left-wing organisations in Sweden. The book was an attempted to describe the regime’s oppression of the Iranian working class. It also attempted to argue that the Iranian regime was not attempting to buid nuclear weapons, and that there should therefore be no military action taken against the country. The first point was made abundantly clear by her descriptions of thuggery, arrest and violence against Iranian factory workers, truckers, busmen and trade unionists. The second argument I found much less convincing. Her point was that in Iran much, if not most of the oil revenue is exported to gain foreign currency. The Iranian regime is trying to develop nuclear power to lower domestic oil consumption, so that more can be sold abroad. The Iranian government is, however, aggressively anti-Semitic and has made a number of vicious threats against Israel, America and their European allies. It also has developed missiles with capable of reaching Vienna. Even if the primary purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme is to provide electricity, the possibility is all too real that it could be diverted to military purposes.

Ebadi and her co-writer were critical of contemporary Western writers on Iran, who glowingly described the life-style and attitudes of the westernised middle class. If I recall correctly, they viewed this as extremely condescending and culturally imperialist. They also attacked such attitudes for excluding the mass of the Iranians, the ordinary Iranian working class, who were not westernised.

Suppression of Worker’s Organisations by Revolutionary Regime

In the first half of the book she described how the fragmented Iranian radical left, which at one time consisted of 74 different organisations and groups, was suppressed by Khomeini and his followers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Their members were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and killed, or forced into exile. As I mentioned, Ebadi herself is still a devout Muslim, and denounced this as un-Islamic. She is critical of the radical Marxist Iranian group, the MEK, as it is militantly atheist and deliberately broadcasts and publishes blasphemous material in order to offend Muslims. Trade unions and other working class political organisations are banned. Their members are harrassed and imprisoned under trumped-up charges of colonialism or collaboration with imperialism. Wages for Agha and Begum Average Iranian are kept appallingly low, and working conditions are horrendous. The only working-class organisations that are permitted are factory shuras (councils). These deliberately include both employees and employers, and exist to promote the regime’s version of Islam in the workplace. Ebadi and her fellow author state that these councils have been compared with the DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), the labour organisation the Nazis introduced to replace trade unions and control the German workforce. In the last days of the Shah, according to Ebadi, the regime was so terrified of armed revolution that soldiers were stationed in the factories to prevent the workers from rising up. The contemporary Revolutionary regime has done exactly the same.

The ‘Millionaire Mullahs’

She describes the close alliance between the merchants of the Tehran Bazaar and the governing ulema. This has produced a new class of ‘millionaire mullahs’. This is the English translation of a Farsi term, which literally means ‘the son of a mullah who becomes a prince’. Although private property is sanctioned and protected in Iranian Revolutionary law, the country’s economy is dominated by the bonyads, Islamic charities that own large sectors of Iranian industry, including oil. The largest of these is the ‘Foundation for the Poor’, part of whose remit is to provide subsidized housing. As a result, there is massive corruption, with the mullahs exploiting their control of these bonyads and their industries to enrich themselves.

Working-Class Protest Action

As a result of this, there is massive discontent among ordinary, working class Iranians. Strikes and industrial action are brutally suppressed. In one case, Tehran’s busmen attempted to form a union and were arrested and imprisoned. Nevertheless, some concessions have been wrung out of the authorities when members of a particular factory or industry have had all they can take. These then organise mass protests, sometimes numbering thousands. These then force their way into the management’s offices, or those of the officials in charge of that particular industry.

Poor Conditions and Violence Towards Women

Women have particularly suffered under the Revolutionary regime. They are paid less than men, and in addition to working long hours are also expected to cook the meals and do the housework at home. There is also high male unemployment. This has resulted in a rise in domestic violence as unemployed men take out their frustrations on their wives.

Ahmadinejad’s Attempts at Reform Blocked by Regime

Ebadi recognises that Ahmadinejad himself comes from a poor background, and was serious about improving conditions for the Iranian working class. He made a speech during his election campaign in which he promised that he would put more on the sofiyeh, the cloth spread on the grounds on which Iranians place their food, like the dinner table in Europe. His attempts at reform have been stifled, and will continue to be thwarted, by the structure of the Iranian state and its component institutions. The Pasdaran – The Revolutionary Guards – and the Regime’s theocratic governing bodies are directly involved and profitting from the exploitation of the working class. As a result they have more than once block Ahmadinejad’s attempts to improve matters, and arrested or removed from office his allies.

Corruption and Exploitation by Liberal Politicians

Ebadi is critical of the apparently liberal politicians and members of the ulema, including the former president Rafsanjani. Rafsanjani is a pistachio merchant, and notoriously corrupt. He and the other liberals are, according to the book, interested solely in pursuing their own commercial profit and careers. She recalls the outrage felt when the regime agreed to meet with striking workers in one of the nation’s football stadiums. The politicians promised political and economic improvements – raised wages, better conditions. In the event, when the meeting finally occurred the workers found instead that it was being staged as a propaganda event to promote Rafsanjani’s political career.

Dispossession and Oppression of Ethnic Minorities

The regime has also worked to oppress and dispossess the country’s numerous ethnic minorities. The Farsi-speaking population accounts for only about 51 per cent of the population. Other ethnic groups include Kurds, Luris, Baluchis, Turkic-speaking peoples, including nomads, and Arabs in Khuzestan. These people’s have seen their homelands seized and settled by Farsi Iranians. Some of these areas, such as Resht in the north, and Khuzestan in the west, are rich in natural resources. The industries in these areas are run by Farsis, and frequently employ only Farsis, so the indigenous peoples are excluded from enjoying the benefits of their own homelands. A similarly policy has been pursued in China in Sinjiang, so that Han Chinese have settled and dominated industry in the homeland of the Muslim Uighurs. It is this policy that is responsible for the discontent and jihadist violence amongst the Uighurs.

Exploitation in the Oil Industry

Khuzestan possesses considerable oil reserves, and a result is one of the major centres of the Iranian oil industry. Working conditions are appalling, with migrant workers housed in camps surrounded by armed guards. Wages are slightly higher than in the rest of the country, but are still insuffient to support the workers. Many have become heavily in debt to support themselves, and drugs are widely used. The Regime and the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guards, are heavily involved in this trade. The book includes a statement by an oil worker that while there, he saw the column bringing the drugs flanked by guards from the Pasdaran.

Iranian Fascist, Question of Support by Leftists like George Galloway

The picture of the regime presented by the book is one of a brutal suppression. It is a regime that would be denounced as Fascist, as well as racist and colonialist if it occurred in a western country in the Americas or Europe. Ebadi herself and her Swedish co-writer come across very much as very left-wing. They are pro-Iranian, and definitely anti-racist. The book raises an important question, notably the support the Regime has enjoyed from members of the European far Left. The most prominent Left-wing politician in this regard is George Galloway, the former Labour MP and one of the founders of the Respect Party. Galloway now has a job as a presenter on Iranian Press TV. He previously supported Saddam Hussein, and there’s a clip of him hailing the deceased dictator for, amongst other qualities, his indefatiguability. It would seem from Ebadi’s and her colleague’s book that Galloway abandoned his socialist principles a long time ago to support an oppressive regime that attacks the Iranian working class and brutalises and dispossesses its ethnic minorities.