Middle East

British politics&Middle East&News media09 Jul 2005 10:11 am

And after the shock… the analysis.

I found these articles especially interesting, and surprisingly outspoken at a time when such sentiment is easily quashed for being “inappropriate”.

“The prime minister’s early return to Westminster was a fitting response to the carnage unleashed on the capital. It was the only hint of personal responsibility for our entanglement in a war that has made prime targets of innocent Britons.” – Faisal Bodi, The Guardian

“You talk about al-Qaeda. Have you forgotten who has bred al-Qaeda? … It’s the illegitimate child of America and Israel, but you name it Islam. This savagery is not Islam. It is coming from inside of you and it is now punching you. … You train terrorists and state terrorism.” – Ayatollah Emami-Kashani, BBC

Soundtrack to this post: I Fire Myself – Mary Timony

American politics&Middle East&Pop culture01 Apr 2005 05:20 pm

I thought I’d spotted one of the BBC’s traditional April fool joke stories here:

US army to produce mid-East comic

The article describes how America’s latest propaganda efforts in the Middle East are targeted at young people. It claims a US government website is seeking storylines:

“In order to achieve long-term peace and stability in the Middle East, the youth need to be reached… A series of comic books provides the opportunity for youth to learn lessons, develop role models and improve their education.”

Ha ha, oh yes, very funny. Comics to brainwash the young! Arf. Satirical and close to the bone, but obviously not true. Nice try, Beeb. You nearly had me there. April Fool! (etc)

Then I noticed the story was dated 31 March.


Activism&British politics&Middle East20 Mar 2005 05:06 pm

London – 19 March 2005

Middle East02 Feb 2005 01:49 am

An Iraqi view of Sunday’s election:

Dahr Jamail’s Iraq Dispatches

I won’t quote any of it here, as there’s not a disposable word in it. I urge everyone to read it at source.

See also this post by Ka.

British politics&Human rights&Middle East26 Jan 2005 01:25 am

The remaining British inmates of Guantánamo Bay prison have been released at last. Feroz Abbasi (age 24), Richard Belmar (age 25), Martin Mubanga (age 32) and Moazzam Begg (age 36) were yesterday flown from the Cuba camp to an RAF base just outside London.

But they won’t be getting their home comforts back just yet. Having already been detained without trial for three years, they were immediately arrested under the British Terrorism Act 2000.

Along with its vicious little brother, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, this nasty legislation allows the arrest and indefinite detention of any person, regardless of whether there is a scrap of evidence against them or not. Under these Acts, a person can be locked up and the key thrown away solely on the basis that the Home Office thinks they look like a bad sort. “Muslim” seems frequently interchangeable with “bad sort” for the purposes of these assessments. Rather like it is to the American security services.

Best of all, there was no point arresting them at all. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir John Stevens, “ruled out any prosecution on the basis of material gathered during interviews in Guantánamo Bay… He told The Independent that his officers would have to obtain an admission from the four suspects or find other evidence before the men could be put on trial in this country.”

As well as being idiotic from a crime and punishment perspective, this move is also in contravention of the recent House of Lords ruling, which stated that detention of such “suspects” without enough evidence for charge or trial is illegal.

Returning to Britain would be hard enough for them even without having been arrested. Their anonymous lives destroyed, these men now have to find some semblance of a normal existence. Clinical psychologists working in Guantánamo have expressed serious concerns for the mental health of the prisoners. Professor Ian Robbins assessed the British inmates released earlier and concluded that they exhibited “signs of post-traumatic stress disorder”. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture are sufficiently convinced by allegations of Guantánamo ill-treatment to be providing post-release care to the four men. The founder of the charity, Helen Bamber, has gone on record saying she believes they have been tortured.

And as well as recovering from the mental and physical abuse described by so many Guantánamo prisoners, these men have to contend with the cruel glare of the British tabloids, and the creeping sense of guilt at having got away while former cellmates remain incarcerated.

Remember, these are men against whom no charge has been brought and no proper evidence found. These are men who used to be labelled “innocent until proven guilty” by the judicial system, until post-9/11 Western governments realised they could harness public grief and fear to find a way round that inconvenient legal and moral principle.

It is expected that the four men will be released within the next few days, and will be granted the “freedom” to hide away in remote safe houses until the media gets bored of the story. But this is no consolation to them, to their families or to anyone who feels that justice should not be sacrificed on the altar of Blair’s Bush-worship.

Because, let’s be honest, this whole story is a farce. It looks a lot like our ex-Guantánamo foursome was arrested on arrival for the sake of appearances. Rather than risk humiliating the American authorities by being seen to dismiss the men as harmless, the British government is engaging in a pantomime of arrest and questioning, as though it is seriously worried they might pose some threat. That way, it looks as though the men weren’t illegally arrested, illegally detained, illegally tortured and left permanently scarred by the very killing machine with which their own government is proud to be in cahoots.

This transatlantic sycophancy has got to stop.

Britain’s collective psyche has numerous failings: pomposity, arrogance and a xenophobic superiority complex, and that’s just for starters. But ask a group of older Brits what they perceive their nation’s greatest values to be, and common sense and fairness will rank highly in their answers. It’s a shame this self-image is such a laughable myth.

Blair must stop scampering to serve Bush and big business, and start acting in the interests of the people who are forced to pay for his bombs. Or we must replace him with someone who will.


Internment without trial (Liberty)

Released prisoners: press release (Amnesty International)

About Guantánamo Bay (Amnesty International) (WARNING – harrowing content)

American politics&British politics&Middle East21 Jan 2005 01:20 am

I was going to write about the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners by UK troops, but Swiss Toni has got it covered.

I’ll just add that I find it difficult to believe that any lowly private or corporal would dare to commit acts of torture and humiliation if they were not sanctioned – in fact, encouraged – by commanding officers. These soldiers will be made scapegoats, like the American private Lynndie England and several of her low-ranking, inarticulate colleagues were blamed for flouting orders, not following them. But it’s impossible not to believe that the rot runs very deep indeed, into the very foundations of the military system. Like Swiss Toni and Gerry say, if you train a person to be a cold-blooded killer, don’t be surprised if he or she behaves viciously.

Then I considered writing about Bush’s inauguration. As George Monbiot neatly wrote this week, “On Thursday, the fairy king of fairyland will be re-crowned. He was elected on a platform suspended in mid air by the power of imagination. He is the leader of a band of men who walk through ghostly realms unvisited by reality. And he remains the most powerful person on earth.”

But I was in peals of laughter by the second paragraph of the first news report I read about today’s lavish inauguration.

“The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” Mr Bush said.

This is black comedy, I thought, surely? I couldn’t help picturing furious editors of the Oxford English Dictionary taking out an injunction against such wilfully perverse use of the word “liberty”.

“It is the policy of the US, he said, to support forces of democracy ‘with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world’.”

ENDING tyranny! He really said that!

With my sides now comprehensively split, I decided to move onto another, less bleakly hilarious topic. Well, less hilarious. Equally bleak.

How about speculation that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, goaded on by the US administration?

The long-awaited Iraqi elections are being imposed by force by an invading nation. It’s no way to nurture democracy. And the very definition of democracy is that the Iraqi people have the right to choose any leader they wish. Given the unpopularity of the occupying army, it seems likely that, left to their own devices, the Iraqi people would largely choose an anti-US candidate.

Now let’s think about this. America have worked hard to colonise what is one of the most strategically important countries in their sights. Are they really going to stand for the election of a socially-minded Iraqi president who sends them packing, sets up a decent welfare state and imposes tax on oil at source to pay for it (a deftly wrought suggestion of Robert Newman’s)? Or are they going to find a way to ensure they get their own way, and first rights to cheap oil, by any means necessary?

Um, can I have a moment to think? Uh…

Mike Whitney writes:

“Civil war can be messy. Inciting religious and sectarian hatreds tends to disrupt the smooth execution of business; like the purging of potential enemies and the extracting of vital resources. Never the less, Rumsfeld is nearly out of options; ‘divide and conquer’ may be all that’s left. If we glance at the last 3 imperial projects; Kosovo, Haiti and Afghanistan, the very same strategy was applied. All three nations have been effectively carved up, delivered to US multi-national corporations, and reduced to warlordism or anarchy. Their outcome sets the precedent for similar results in Iraq. Will Iraq be Balkanized along ethnic and religious lines?

That’s what the Generals are hoping, and their plan is already in full swing.”

And it’s not just America attempting to control the crushed, brutalised state of Iraq. Medialens reports that not only are the US nudging their preferred Iraq presidential candidates forward, so are Iran:

“…[T]he American writer Edward Herman, co-author with Frank Brodhead of the classic work, Demonstration Elections (South End Press, 1984), points out that when an occupying power sponsors an election ‘it is not free and democratic because it was imposed by an external force and did not come from demands from within’. (Email to David Edwards, January 15, 2005) Moreover, because the election is externally imposed, participation can be interpreted as an implicit approval of the occupation, a corrupting factor in the vote.

And of course the 100,000 Iraqis killed under the occupation will not be voting; nor will the unknown thousands languishing without charge in US-run jails. The ongoing conflict will prevent many more from participating – the several hundred thousand refugees from Fallujah, for example, who are currently busy trying to survive. Nor will international observers be able to monitor the election inside the country.

On December 15, the New York Times reported that on a list of 228 candidates submitted by a major Shiite-led political alliance to Iraq’s electoral commission, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s name was entered as No.1. The Times reported that Hakim has close ties to Iran’s ruling ayatollahs…

Unreported by the mainstream US and UK press, another foreign power is also using its influence to push its candidates.

Washington-funded organisations with long records of manipulating foreign democracies in favour of US interests are deeply involved in the election. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) are part of a consortium to which the US government has provided over $80 million for political and electoral activities in Iraq. NDI is headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while IRI is chaired by Republican Senator John McCain.”

Meanwhile, back in Washington, “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world” says Bush.

Freedom. Liberty. Those words which used to mean something light and empathetic and gentle. Which now mean something violent and sly and corrupt.

If I’d thought about it more carefully, I might’ve come up with a proper conclusion. But it’s late, and you know all this already.

NB: For a far clearer commentary on selected highlights of Bush’s speech, I recommend visiting Jenni chez Déesses Démocratiques. And apologies to anyone else who’s written an incisive post on this topic which I may have missed, in my half-awake bookmark-free (grr) state. I plan to be more coherent next time, and it may even be possible for a casual reader to locate the point. Here’s hoping.

British politics&Middle East&Self19 Jan 2005 02:49 am

Hello. I’ve been away for what seems like… ooh, 2½ weeks. Practically a lifetime. (If you’re a mealworm, that is. I’m assuming you aren’t, but this is the anonymous ol’ internet so anything’s possible.)

I’ll be dropping into your blogs just as soon as I can find them – and special thanks go to Firefox for spontaneously deleting all my bookmarks – so expect plenty of irrelevant comments on posts you’d long forgotten.

Normal service on here will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, let’s reflect on the latest evidence that British soldiers have been torturing Iraqis and wonder just how much an invading force has to do before its leaders are tried for war crimes.

Until next time… take care of yourselves, and each other.

American politics&Middle East&Pop culture18 Dec 2004 01:43 pm

I wrote it off as a sick, badly-timed joke at first. Then I saw it in print with my own eyes.

Hollywood producers are making No True Glory: The Battle for Fallujah with Harrison Ford as a heroic General in charge of the attacks. The film is based on a forthcoming book by pro-war journalist Bing West.

What are the chances of an Iraqi production company filming a huge multi-million dollar blockbuster presenting the insurgents as heroes, to even out the cinematic shaping of history?

Zero? Close enough. There’s no money, no access to resources, no stability. When you’re worrying about personal safety and whether the electricity will ever be reconnected, your priorities probably don’t stretch to feelgood cinema. And hey, it’d be murder trying to find a safe location to film in. The Americans will at least be able to make their production from the comfort and safety of a fully-functioning, financially stable country. Well OK, a fully-functioning country.

Back in Fallujah, the US army claims the battle has been won. A resounding victory for truth, honour and justice. It’s all over bar the clearing up. Strange, then, that people living in Iraq tell such a different story. “Goodbyes in Iraq are always sincere…because the possibility of never seeing one another alive again is very real. Our eyes tell it all to one another.”.

Arts&Middle East07 Dec 2004 03:49 pm

Just been made aware of a film called About Baghdad. No idea why I hadn’t heard about it before.

It was made by an exiled Iraqi writer called Sinan Antoon, who returned to Baghdad in July 2003 to see what had happened to the city since the outbreak of the latest war. So far, I’ve only seen the 15 minute trailer (downloadable from the official website) and it’s compelling viewing. It’s been nearly 18 months since the film was made, so things must’ve changed a lot since then. Anger has no doubt increased in the months following the film’s production. But its contents still give a rare, important insight into the opinions of those in the war-torn city. Mainstream news isn’t exactly packed with Iraqi primary sources. But you know that already.

If you have 15 spare minutes, take a look at the trailer (MP4 format) and let me know what you think of it.

American politics&British politics&Corporate&Global politics&Middle East05 Dec 2004 04:14 pm

Last April, human rights journalists and protesters Ewa Jasiewicz and Pennie Quinton forced their way into the Iraq Procurement 2004 conference.

The official conference website announced it would “bring to life the enormous trade and investment potential of Iraq making it the event for any forward thinking business looking to secure contracts, establish trade partnerships and explore the numerous investment opportunities available within the region”.

Jasiewicz and Quinton took disruptive action because they claim the government-approved pillage and privatisation of post-war Iraq by Western big business is illegal. They are not alone in believing such activity is theft.

This protest successfully led to the evacuation and suspension of the conference. Jasiewicz and Quinton were arrested for aggravated trespass.

But recently, the Crown Prosecution Service made the surprising decision to drop charges against them. This decision was seen as politically-motivated. So Jasiewicz and Quinton are opting to take the government and the organisers of the conference to court anyway. Under Section 23 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, they are entitled to do so.

As if any more proof were needed that “war is a racket” (as Major General Smedley Butler puts it), take a look at this:

Bet On Iraq

I’ve read this page several times and my jaw drops further each time. See what you think.

The site’s tagline is “Because liberty breeds prosperity.” It sets out the case that Americans should buy the Iraqi dinar now, while it is devalued by the destruction of the country, in order to profit later when it is rebuilt to the pattern of American democracy.

The people who set up the site call themselves “freedom loving Americans that believe a liberated, resource rich Iraq can become a force in the world economy”. Read the site and you’ll see just what kind of “freedom” they love.

It says “After years of trade sanctions, and rampant counterfeiting, the Iraqi Dinar has plummeted from its pre-Gulf War value of over USD$3, to mere fractions of one US cent.” No moral position is taken on this. Americans are not asked to reflect on the devastation their country’s actions have wreaked on Iraq, just to keep in mind the possibility of profiting from it.

Or, in their words, ” We simply trust that the seed of freedom, implanted more than a year ago with the fall of Saddam’s regime, has germinated in the hearts of the majority of the Iraqi people. We see this as a wondrous thing, with tremendous possibilities.”

Possibilities for whom? Americans, of course.

The “freedom” the site talks about is the freedom of Western corporations and Western currency speculators to colonise Iraq’s economy. It makes no allowances for the “freedom” of Iraqis to decide how they want their post-Saddam country to work. According to this site, economic prosperity for Iraq equals market capture by Western corporations, offering only a Western-style lifestyle, in a Western-style capitalist democracy. Iraqis apparently have access to no “possibilities” beyond these.

Here is their chilling guide to future markers of prosperity:

“You see people drinking locally bottled, genuine Pepsi Cola; not the ersatz they’d been consuming for years. They are buying their cars from Baghdad Mitsubishi.

Their highly educated engineers, no longer waiting tables or driving cabs, are engineering. The world’s 2nd largest oil reserve is producing more efficiently. Higher quality crops are being harvested, in larger numbers.”

According to this, prosperity will come as a result of Iraq’s own Muslim culture being subdued and Western consumerist culture being imported. Its oil production will presumably be subjected to the sort of “effiency” measures which allow America first rights of access, and price each barrel in dollars, not (Saddam’s preferred) euros. And Iraq’s pre-sanction level of prosperity is edited out of history. The site admits UN sanctions destroyed the economy, hence the devalued dinar, but somehow still fails to join the dots. Saddam’s dictatorship is apparently responsible for all Iraq’s problems, even the problems the international community created.

And where did the “engineers… waiting tables or driving cabs” story come from? Iraq had a thriving professional class before the war, and hopefully some of them will survive it. Are the people behind the Bet On Iraq site assuming nobody in America really knows what Iraqi life was like before US-led wars?

Well, yes they are.

But even if you buy into this myopic, xenophobic “there is no way but our way” belief system, there’s another problem. Aren’t Iraqis fighting to the death to rid their country of the pirates who seek to plunder their resources and crush their society into a mirror image of the West? Isn’t that what the “insurgents” are doing right now?

No, don’t be silly. They’re just trying to clear room for the Fallujah branch of Starbucks. See:

” This is no pipe dream. This is a genuine possibility, with remarkable ramifications. Organizations like Operation Iraqi Children working with the US military, are helping to shape a new generation of freedom loving Iraqis. It won’t be long before these kids take their place in society. They will recall their childhood as the time when powerful Americans released them from the grip of a bloodthirsty madman, and gave them the tools and support to build a peaceful, prosperous society to call their own. Evidence suggests they will run with it.”

May I draw your attention to the use of the phrase “to call their own”? Orwellian doublespeak doesn’t come much purer than that.

In case you were in any doubt, the site also shows a cute picture of an Iraqi girl in a headscarf smiling while holding an American flag aloft. That proves the Iraqi people really don’t mind America and Britain bombing and looting their homeland. Phew, what a relief!

You can order your Iraqi dinars directly through the Bet On Iraq site. Good luck with the whole sleeping at night thing.

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