Posts Tagged ‘‘The Case against Blair’’

The Ancient Near East’s Influence on Roman and Ancient Greek Law

June 3, 2017

I’ve written several pieces about the possible origins of western democracy, not in ancient Greece and Rome, but in the ancient Near East. Early civilisations like Sumeria and Mari had popular assemblies and councils of elders, which voted on issues, while the karem, or chamber of commerce, also influenced royal decisions. Apart from being of interest in itself, the existence of these institutions in the political systems of the ancient Middle East, is something of a challenge to people like Boris Johnson. Johnson’s a public schoolboy, and so is steeped in the Classics. As shown in his TV series a few years ago about the splendour of the Roman Empire, he seems to believe that everything great and noble in the world came about through ancient Rome and its predecessor, Greece.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found this entry for Raymond Westbrook’s Ex Oriente Lex: Near Eastern Influences on Ancient Greek and Roman Law (Johns Hopkins University Press, HB £38.50). This says

Throughout the twelve essays that appear in Ex Oriente Lex, Raymond Westbrook convincingly argues that the influence of Mesopotamian legal traditions and thought did not stop at the shores of the Mediterranean, but rather had a profound impact and the early laws and legal developments of Greece and Rome as well. A preface by editors Deborah Lyons and Kurt Raaflaub details the importance of Westbrook’s work for the field of classics, while Sophie Demare-Lafont’s incisive introduction places Westbrook’s ideas within the wider context of ancient law.

As I said before, perhaps if there was great appreciation of the achievements of the ancient Near Eastern world, and the debt that the modern West owes to its civilisations, there would be greater reluctance amongst the political and military class to invading and destroying these countries.

The Iraq invasion created the chaos that spawned ISIS, which, along with al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa, have destroyed millennia of culture and history, as well as butchering those regions’ people.

But the Americans and British have also done their share of cultural vandalism. Nicholas Wood and Annabelle Pellens in their book The Case Against Blair, describe how the Americans levelled the ancient city of Babylon in order to use it as military base.

Now imagine the sheer outrage from Classicists like BoJo if the same thing was done to the ruins of Athens. Not that Greece isn’t seeing it’s ancient heritage destroyed by Neoliberalism, as museums are closed, archaeological sites looted and antiquities sold off due to the EU’s austerity programme. And for all his avowed enthusiasm for the Classical world, I haven’t heard BoJo speak out against that, either.

It’s long past time that a halt was called to imperialism, neoliberalism, and the destruction of the world’s cultures, and the massacre and exploitation of its peoples.

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The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.

Blair Should Be Thrown Out of the Labour Party for Urging People to Vote Lib Dem or Tory

April 24, 2017

Mike also put up a piece yesterday commenting on the news that the former Labour leader, Tony Blair, had urged people to put party differences aside and vote for a Conservative or Lib Dem candidate if they have an ‘open mind’ about the Brexit deal. He said he wanted to maximise the number of people willing to stop May ‘steamrolling’ a hard Brexit.

Mike quotes a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn, who said

“On 9 June, we will either have a Labour government or a Tory one. If you want Brexit to be used to turn Britain into a low-wage tax haven, vote Tory. If you want a Britain for the many not the few after Brexit, vote Labour. The choice is clear.”

This is absolutely correct. If you vote Tory, you will be voting for more poverty, more starvation and more privatisation of the NHS, all to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven. Lobster examined the source of Tory funds a few years ago. Guess what? They’re not coming from their grassroots members. Membership of the party was falling, and some branches were closed to new members. Others had closed entirely. And the grassroots members were complaining that they were being ignored by the party bosses. The Tories simply don’t have enough coming in from party subscriptions to support them. At the moment it seems that the party is being funded primarily by American hedge fund managers in London.

Mike also states, quite correctly, that Blair should be thrown out of the party for encouraging people to vote against it. He’s right. This is against the Labour party constitution. He also states he agrees absolutely with Eoin Clark that Blair’s administration was far better than the Tories under May. Well, you really can’t argue against that.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/04/23/tony-blair-should-be-drummed-out-of-labour-after-urging-voters-to-support-other-parties/

But this latest comment shows how tenuous Blair’s own connection to the Labour party was. Lobster and other political commenters have made the point that Blair and the New Labour coterie’s support for the Labour party was only tribal, not ideological. Blair himself also seems to have said that he joined the Labour party because he believed he had a better chance at promotion within it than any of the others. Once in power, he threatened to tear the party’s heart out by cutting ties with the trade unions, despite the fact that the Labour party was partly founded by them in order to represent the interests of British working people. He also ditched the Labour party’s commitment to nationalisation, Clause 4, and continued the Tories’ policy of privatisation, including the NHS. He was essentially a Tory entryist, and this latest pronouncement shows he still has the same mercenary attitude to politics.

And this is quite apart from the fact that he took us into an illegal war with his and Bush’s invasion of Iraq, a war that has killed and displaced millions of people across the Middle East and destabilised the entire region. There are very good reasons for having him indicted as a war criminal. See the book by Nicholas Wood and Anabella Pellens, The Case Against Blair: War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005 (London: South Hill Press 2005).

Blair did some very good things when he was in power. But he also managed to destroy much of Labour’s grassroots support, and pioneered some of the policies that have been continued so disastrously by Cameron and May. In some ways, his present disloyalty to the party he led is the least of his crimes. His actions in the Middle East alone mean that he should not be allowed anywhere near power, nor be listened to by anyone ever again.

Books on the Criminal Psychology of Tony Blair

April 10, 2017

Looking through the politics section of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham the other day, I also found two books arguing that Tony Blair was malign and psychologically unfit for office. One was by the Old Labour MP, Leo Abse, the other by the founder of the SDP and now Lib Dem, Dr David Owen. Abse’s book, the Politics of Perversion, used psychoanalytic theory to argue that Blair had the ruthless psychology of a clinical pervert. Owen’s book, the Hubris of Power, argued that Bush and Blair had spent so long in power, that they had become arrogant, believing they could get away with anything, no matter how unjust or despicable.

I only casually flicked through them, but just looking at Blair’s single-minded promotion of the Iraq Invasion, which in turn involved peddling lies, deceit and the persecution of dissenting officials – to the point where one of them, Dr David Kelly, took his own life – strongly bears this out. Wood in his book The Case against Blair, which argues that the former Labour leader should be prosecuted for war crimes for his role in the Iraq invasion, in one chapter compares Blair to Hitler. Both could be charming, a trait that in Hitler’s case masked his utter ruthlessness and which seemed to do the same in Blair’s case. I realise it’s a case of Godwin’s Law, but it is warranted. Blair’s participation in the Iraq invasion has also resulted in horrific crimes against humanity. And many clinical psychopaths can be extremely charming as they manipulate those around them without scruple or conscience.

Owen points out in his book that Bush and Blair aren’t the only leaders to be overwhelmed by power and a sense of their own importance. Indeed not. Maggie Thatcher also had the utter conviction that she was right and above criticism, whatever horror she and her government committed. And if she, Bush and Blair became intoxicated with power, you wonder what Owen thinks of the present incumbent of the White House. Trump is, after all, a massive megalomaniac who insists that everything he’s doing is ‘the best ever’, and insults, mocks and threatens anyone, who dares to say otherwise.

The Iraq invasion, which Blair ordered despite a million or so Brits marching against it and the opposition of 100-150 MPs, is doubtless the worst decision Blair made. It has resulted in at least 100,000 Iraqi casualties, the displacement of around 7 million people, and the descent of the region into carnage and civil war.

But this isn’t the only decision that Blair made that has actively harmed people. Domestically, Blair wanted to carry on the Tory project of privatising the NHS. His government set up the Work Capability Tests, which had also been urged on the Tory government by Unum, the American insurance fraudster, and its president, John Lo Cascio. These tests assume that most disabled people seeking government aid are malingerers, and so should be thrown off benefit. The result has been an increasing number of disabled people, who have died through starvation and misery. It was also Blair’s administration, that ended tuition fees, thus saddling millions of British students with thousands of pounds worth of debt.

This does not excuse the Tories from continuing these policies and massively expanding them in their turn, so that the death toll from those thrown off various disability benefits now adds up to several tens of thousands. But it does show that there was a ruthless streak in Blair, which did not care about the harm he caused, so long as he continued to get Tory votes and the approval of the Tory press for carrying out Tory policies.

Abse and Owen were right. And Blair is now trying to get back into politics, by positioning himself as representing the political middle ground. He wasn’t. Blair was a political extremist. The Tories at the time complained that his privatisation of the NHS was far more extreme than they had dared to perform through fear of criticism from Labour. His domestic policies continued the growth in poverty and disease, which began with Thatcher and which have received a massive boost by Cameron, Clegg and May. And his participation of the Iraq invasion destroyed a relatively wealthy, secular Middle Eastern state, with a good welfare state, high status of women, and religious toleration for the benefit of Israeli hawks, Saudi and American oil interests, and American multinationals, keen to loot the country and its natural and biological resources.

Blair’s policies were wicked, and he should not be allowed to return to power, whatever charming mask he’s now adopted to fool people into thinking he is the face of moderation.