Monday, April 30, 2007

Pirates and Emperors

Friday, April 27, 2007

2007: Forty years on

"2007 marks the 40-year anniversary of the Six Day War, in which the Israeli army took military control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem...This situation has continued to the current day despite Israel being in violation of international humanitarian law and over 60 UN resolutions."

-Enough! Occupation

Mission Statement

We want to break the siege of Gaza. We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation. We want to uphold Palestine's right to welcome internationals as visitors, human rights observers, humanitarian aid workers, journalists, or otherwise.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Anzac Day

Mustafa Qadri reflects on 25 April 2007:

...the Gallipoli invasion was a shining beacon of reckless, negligent planning by ill-informed civilian decision makers who had no direct involvement in the exercise of the military excursion.

Does this sound familiar? It should. On 19 March 2003, the United States, with limited support from a few other nations, invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq. The key reason given was that Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was a security risk to the world. US civilian decision makers hoped a successful invasion of Iraq would act as a catalyst for change throughout the Middle East. Whether this change would be in the form of the creation of ‘Western-style’ democracies or simply just pro-Western regimes is a whole other matter. Regardless, the Iraq invasion has cost the lives of several thousands. A respected Lancet study puts the figure of Iraqi deaths alone at around 650,000.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Cabo da Roca

Some say it's conscious,
But all without conscience.
Maybe it's drowning?
A victim of its own success.

Bring me the ocean.
Show me our blood.
Without all our courage,
It may well all flood.

(the western most point in mainland Europe)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Boris Yeltsin - lest we forget his crimes

Joseph Stiglitz, former Chief Economist at the World Bank, had this to say about Yeltsin in his book Globalization and its discontents:

[I]n Russia, President Yeltsin, with enormously greater powers than his counterparts in any Western democracy, was encouraged to circumvent the democratically elected Duma (parliament) and to enact market reforms by decree... the government, pressured by the United States, the World Bank and the IMF to privatise rapidly, had turned over its State assets for a pittance...

Privatization, accompanied by the opening of the capital markets, led not to wealth creation but to asset-stripping. It was perfectly logical. An oligarch who has just been able to use political influence to garner assets worth billions, after paying only a pittance, would naturally want to get his money out of the country. Keeping money in Russia meant investing it in a country in deep depression, and risking not only low returns but having the assets seized by the next government, which would inevitably complain, quite rightly, about the "illegitimacy" of the privatization process. Anyone smart enough to be a winner in the privatization sweepstakes would be smart enough to put their money in the booming US stock market, or into the safe haven of secretive offshore bank accounts. It was not even a close call; and not surprisingly, billions poured out of the country…

Those who benefited from the largesse of the state, or more accurately from Yeltsin’s largesse, worked hard to ensure Yeltsin’s reelection.

More on Yeltsin's disastrous legacy from The Guardian here. For a bit more detail on Russia's post-Soviet era finanicial crisis under Yeltsin's stewardship read this excellent piece from Eric Toussant. I particularly like the section where he quotes the Financial Times's response to the oligarchs' takeover of Russia's assets (which caused Russia's economy to go into free fall):

At the root of the problem is Russia’s flawed privatisation process. Because the division of the spoils was so chaotic - and so profoundly unjust - Russia’s rulers will always have a powerful weapon to use against its capitalists. Ultimately, there are only two ways to end this standoff: grant an official amnesty, at least for the oligarchs’ economic crimes, or take their property away. It is a choice between accepting gross inequality and imposing yet another revolution. Neither option is appealing. But having tried the latter in 1917, Russia might find it safer this time to find a way to live with its unsavoury oligarchs" (FT 21 July 2003).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Operation Iraqi Liberation - David Rovics

A state for all its citizens

Arab-Israeli politician Azmi Bishara has caused a stir by demanding that Arab citizens of Israel be afforded the same rights as Jewish ones:

Israel has given such strategic significance to this campaign because it understands only too well that the NDA has placed its finger upon the very contradiction that Zionism cannot resolve. And it has done so not through armed struggle, or calling for "throwing Jews into the sea," but through practicing their democratic civil rights to institution building, party building, and eloquent and impassioned liberal humanist and democratic discourse. Moreover, NDA demands have not only called for full equality of the Palestinian Arab citizenry, but have also included the demand for the state to recognize its Arab citizens as a national minority living in its homeland. This is intolerable for Zionism because it subverts the current Zionist narrative of exclusive Jewish rights to historical Palestine, and affirms that Palestinians were not just "non-Jews" living in Eretz Yisrael before it was "redeemed," but were a people who were repeatedly and systematically forced off their land throughout the years to create the "Jewish democratic state" in the first place.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Malcolm!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Alan Johnston

On reflection I think the title of my last post was a little vague. If Johnston is dead I think it might be the beginning of a new dark chapter because it would be the first time as far as I am aware that a foreign hostage in Gaza has been willfully murdered. Hitherto hostage taking has been used to garner international media attention on the situation in Gaza. It has not been used as a device to punish Western interference as has occurred in Iraq and occasionally elsewhere.

Of course none of this excuses the kidnapping of Alan Johnston. But it ought not be used by the Israelis and the West as a licence to continue to condemn the population of Gaza to a life of military occupation, death and poverty. The sad irony is that because of the Israeli occupation - which involves Israel's exclusive control of the airspace, coast and borders around Gaza - it is impossible for the Palestinian Authority to maintain law and order.

The first step towards ending the chaos is ending the embargo on the Palestinian Authority and ending the occupation.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Beginning of another dark chapter?

Has the BBC's Alan Johnston been killed in Gaza? If he has it is one of the darkest days for international journalism and the Palestinian cause. Johnston has been a strong advocate for Palestine and the last person any militant group ought to be killing.

According to Ynet News, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for Johnston's murder. This comes as a surprise as Al Qaeda has not hirtherto had a presence in the Occupied Palestinian Terriories, despite Ariel Sharon's earnest attempts to link the two in his rhetoric. Indeed Al Qaeda recently condemned Palestinian political groups such as Hamas for seeking to appease Israel. Moreover, affiliation with Al Qaeda is a rather flexible thing. For example, if a Muslim decides to use violence to get their message across and expresses sympathy for Osama bin Laden, this would be enough to be considered affiliated to Al Qaeda.

The fog of any war is always thick, but in a place like Gaza it's close to blinding.

Meanwhile, two more civilians are murdered during internal clashes at Khan Younis in Gaza.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

How much for an Iraqi or Afghani life?

If you're lucky, $2,500. Here's some more from the World Socialist Web Site:

Of the 496 claims, only 164 resulted in cash payments to surviving family members. In about half those cases, the US accepted responsibility for the death of a civilian and offered “a compensation payment”. In the remainder, the Pentagon issued “condolence” payments—discretionary payments limited to $US2,500 and offered “as an expression of sympathy” but “without reference to fault”. In total, $32 million had been handed out in blood money—a derisory sum compared to the immense suffering the US occupations have caused.

The documents ( provide a chilling record of hundreds of civilians—men, women and children—who have been killed or maimed in shootings and bombings, and the devastating impact on their family and friends. The onus is on the victims to prove their claim. The legal responses reveal the same callous indifference to Iraqis and Afghans as that displayed by the US forces involved in the incidents. Many are simply pro forma rejections. There is no indication of disciplinary action against those responsible for the deaths.

The wolf at the World Bank

There seems to be something of a revolt on foot at the World Bank against its Bush-appointed president, Paul Wolfowitz...

Now, having sown the wind, Wolfowitz has reaped the whirlwind. The controversy over how his girlfriend landed a good job and huge salary increases has brought to the surface long-submerged but deep-seated resentment from almost every quarter.

Perhaps I'm too naive and should be more realistic and stop questioning authority, but maybe there is something wrong with appointing someone whose last major 'project' has led to the death of around 650,000 Iraqis?

The greatest crisis of our times

John Pilger writes about the coming war with Iran:

The Israeli journalist Amira Hass describes the moment her mother, Hannah, was marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen. “They were sick and some were dying,” she says. “Then my mother saw these German women looking at the prisoners, just looking. This image became very formative in my upbringing, this despicable ‘looking from the side’.”

It is time we in Britain and other Western countries stopped looking from the side. We are being led towards perhaps the most serious crisis in modern history as the Bush-Cheney-Blair “long war” edges closer to Iran for no reason other than that nation’s independence from rapacious America.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poverty in Gaza

You know things are bad when the Jerusalem Post reports that malnutrition is common place in the Gaza Strip:

About 10 percent of Palestinian children suffer permanent effects from malnutrition, according to a survey published Wednesday, a result of widespread poverty in the West Bank and Gaza.

The root cause is poverty, according to Khaled Abu Khaled, who directed the study for the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. He said the numbers are up slightly over the past two years.

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics, since 2005, 50.1% of children in Gaza live in poverty. 13.2% suffer from stunted growth. Meanwhile, the international embargo of the Palestinian Authority continues and Israel and warring Palestinian political factions continue to murder civilians.

UPDATE: According to the BBC, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given assurances that BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was kinapped a month ago, is alive. There's a good commentary on the kidnap from The Guardian's Rory McCarthy.

Different captives, different standards

While Downing Street 'admits' it was a mistake to allow the British sailors to sell their stories to the media, an Iranian diplomat recently released from captivity in Iraq, claims he was tortured and US officials were present. It may just be that the real mistake was trying to compare Iran's treatment of Britons with the treatment of Iranians by Britain's American ally. Some useful background here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The true face of the war on terror

Mustafa Qadri writes for New Matilda:

Part of the thinking in the West may be that Musharraf provides stability in a volatile region of the world. But by investing too much in Musharraf as an individual agent of stability, Pakistan’s Western allies are actually consolidating his grip on power instead of developing institutional stability in the country. Rather than being a vanguard against religious fanaticism and militancy, Musharraf is actually creating a vacuum in legitimate authority that is improving the prospects of a militant Islamist takeover.

Sunday, April 08, 2007


by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

300 update

An excellent, no punches pulled, review of 300 by the Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Byrne. Another good review here.

Glaring contradiction

The Australian reveals:

Hicks's graphic account of his treatment by the Americans, contained in a sworn statement to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in Britain to support his bid for British citizenship, is at odds with the assertions in his Guantanamo Bay plea agreement that he was not mistreated by the US. It also explains why the US has banned him from talking to the media for a year. Hicks's story, detailed in the affidavit obtained by The Weekend Australian, is not one the US Government is keen to have re-told.

Orwell would be proud of the Australian and American governments which claim to be the guardians of civilisation, while simulatenously offending every civilised notion of justice in their treatment of David Hicks.

Meanwhile, the Opposition remembers to keep its moral outrage in the closet. While on radio earlier in the week Rudd faced the following question:

Do you believe the David Hicks guilty plea is justice served or justice denied?

RUDD: What I am very careful about commenting on is that Mr Hicks, advised by his legal advisers, has taken a course of action in Guantanamo Bay and that has been part and parcel of the process before the US Military Commission. Once that process is concluded, once Mr Hicks is returned to Australia there may be then an opportunity for a broader debate on these matters, but I think we’ve got to be very mindful of the legal process which is still on foot.

On its face a very sound response, much like Hick's plea bargain. Operative phrase, 'on its face'.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Sober realities of Afghanistan

Last night I went to hear Ahmed Rashid and Hamida Ghafour speak at the Frontline Club. It was a night for sober contemplation of the ineptitude and outright corruption of outside actors (the US, NATO, Pakistan, the Saudis) and local warlords in Afghanistan.

Rashid explained that 80% of funding provided to reconstruct Afghanistan either went to foreigners working in Afghanistan or was embezzled by politicians and warlords. The amounts given to Afghanistan were a drop in the ocean compared to other humanitarian missions such as East Timor (which isn't exactly a resort-like location these days) and Kosovo. The Pakistan Army is assisting the Taliban as it is still unwilling to let go of the Frankenstein it so lovingly created previously, even though it is now a major American ally. And the Taliban are far from a homogenous bunch, instead consisting of a complex mixture of hardcore and more realist Pashtuns, many of the latter merely being people who feel it is more wise to stick to the Taliban than the American-backed Government because when the Americans and NATO leave, and they most certainly will, the Taliban will get back into power. Current polls in major European NATO countries indicate that a majority of the population want their soldiers out of Afghanistan, so there might be some credence to this mode of thought.

Most alarmingly, Rashid said that if America invades Iran, this might cause fissures between Afghanistan's Shia and Sunni, something that hitherto has not appeared in any major way. It would also increase hostility to the Western presence in Afghanistan.

Hamida described the difficulties of being a woman reporter in Afghanistan, particularly as an expatriate Afghan who also has to face the resentment of those Afghans who were not lucky enough to leave the country before it was destroyed by decades of civil war. It is easy enough for her to interview other women, but often not as easy to speak to the major actors in Afghanistan who are almost always men.

Both noted that most Afghans are strongly in favour of a productive Western presence in the country, such is the desperation and devastation in Afghanistan. I would add that there is a moral obligation for the West to invest in Afghanistan. Pakistan, and the Gulf Arab states which exported their petro dollars and young men to Afghanistan during the civil war, have a similar moral obligation.

Hamida has also just published a memoir of her life and work as a journalist in Afghanistan. Check it out.

The Battle of Thermopylae in the 21st Century

History is used to make points about the present. The target audience for 300 is young north american males - the cannon fodder of the war on terror. This movie has numerous messages, some of them subtle, some of them not subtle.

The subtle ones relate to the racial and sexual imagery. Heroism is manly and straight. Cowardice is effeminate and gay, and historical accuracy be damned if it conflicts (All the evidence suggests Xerxes was a bearded, average height, fairly austere dressing emperor, not a naked giant who wore nothing but gold jewelry and wanted to give Leonidas a massage). Heroism is white, cowardice is brown and black, and historical accuracy be damned (I don't see any reason the Spartans would have been lighter-skinnned than the Persians, though I could be missing something. They seem to have chosen Africans to play Persians - or paint white people black - and men and women from the British Isles to play the Greeks). Heroism is about killing large numbers of inferior opponents. The point of life is glory, and a glorious death. Military people can be trusted, but others cannot...

Justin Podur reviews the latest Hollywood blockbuster propaganada film, 300.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Still waiting...

Monday, April 02, 2007

Have a cold shower

Some much needed perspective is necessary to understand the current crisis over Iran's capture of the British naval personnel. Perhaps the best way to begin to understand is to reverse the roles. Imagine if a bunch of Iranian sailors were captured somewhere between the high seas and British territorial waters. What would the media's response be? The obvious answer, and perhaps you would share this sentiment, is that they had no right to be there in the first place. They would most certainly be paraded on international television. The Prime Minister would condemn this latest act of aggression by Iran. And Iran would profess that it is quite unlawful for Britain to detain their sailors who were merely undertaking a routine exercise in the high seas. Now this scenario immediately appears absurd because one cannot think of a circumstance where Iranian military assets would be roaming around the waters surrounding Western Europe. And that absurdity is at the heart of the present situation.

Lost in the present debate is the simple question, what righ does Britain have to be in the Persian Gulf in the first place? Please, spare me the patronising and naive talk about United Nations Security Council resolutions, of maintaining international peace and security, or even that the Iraqi Government, which was installed by the Americans and the British, invited the British into their waters. Of course, don't even try to mention that none too little matter of American deisgns over Iran, how it is an open secret that, at the very least, Pentagon planners are drawing up targets for a possible American invasion of the country.

Yes the capture of the British sailors has been something of a gold mine for Iran also. Iran is not your standard victim, if it is one at all. But the point is none of this would have happened if Western nations did not interfer in the geopolitics of the region. Let us not forget that most of the borders and nation states of the modern Middle East were created by the British, with some help from the French, after World World One.

If you don't want your sailors being captured, then go back to Britain.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A special kind of attention

One day I was walking through Geneva. It was a lovely bright day...

The sun was out...

...the birds were chirping in the trees and the ducks were enjoying the calm waters.

Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, was shooting hoops with wings (presumably from heavan, but possibly from hell or purgatory).

And the Broken Chair monument to victims of land mines was striking a powerful pose.

Then suddenly I heard a noise from up above.

Out in the distance, from the direction of Mount Blanc, I saw a little fly-like object floating toward me.

Quite quickly this object turned into a black helicopter with no apparent markings on it. For a moment it hovered above my head before disappearing behind me. As I turned around to leave I realised I could see most of the inside of the Chinese Embassy to the World Trade Organisation from where I was (I didn't take any photos of that, I'm afraid).

I felt special all day!

David Hicks: guilt by incarceration

Brett Solomon, Executive Director of GetUp! writes:

This morning came the news that David Hicks has pleaded guilty. We should not be surprised.

After the legal drama in his initial hearing today, David Hicks surely would have reflected on the fact that years after his initial plea of innocence, he was still locked in a cell 1.8m². Any normal Australian, facing a system weighted so heavily against them and broken by five years of unimaginable privation, is likely to have signed a document that would get them out of Guantanamo – regardless of their guilt or innocence.

David Hicks’ guilty plea is not justice served, nor does it necessarily reflect Hicks’ guilt – it is simply further evidence of a rank system, and Australians can smell it from afar.

Almost every eminent jurist and legal body in the country has condemned a tribunal that has more in common with a circus than justice. Australian and international jurists agree this system was designed to guarantee convictions. It should come as no surprise, then, that it has. It reflects a system that is no more than justice on the make – offending basic legal principles of independence and impartiality.

This is evidenced by the shenanigans at today’s arraignment. Hicks’ civilian lawyer was dismissed as he refused to sign a document that compromised his own ethical standards. It would also be highly unusual in any normal court for a counsel to question the presiding judge over their impartiality – as Major Mori had to, concerning Judge Kohlmann’s rulings.

This is what happens in a flawed system where the tribunal, the "jury", the chief prosecutor, the charges and the plea agreements are determined by the executive branch of government – the same Administration with so much invested in Hicks’ conviction.

The Federal Government should not think today’s guilty plea lets them off the hook. They have diminished Australia by legitimising an unfair system by allowing an Australian -- guilty or innocent -- to languish in detention for five years, only to face a severely compromised legal process.

When John Howard sifts through his mail this weekend he’ll find over 10,000 GetUp! postcards from residents of his own electorate angry at his disregard for basic Australian rights -- a sentiment they are likely to carry with them to the ballot box later this year.

The key question now is: will David Hicks be home by then and, of equal importance, under what conditions?