Middle East

American politics&British politics&Middle East&News media30 Nov 2004 01:53 pm

The US army has again been accused of using napalm in Iraq.

America is the only country which still uses the weapon. Last August, they admitted having used it in Iraq already.

As Blair stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush on Iraq, the British government must necessarily be considered complicit with any such use. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, was yesterday asked a question in Parliament about the recent Ukraine election. This question incorporated a query about the use of napalm in Iraq. Like the true politician he is, Straw answered the part about Ukraine and neither acknowledged nor responded to the other question. More on all this here.

If that’s too ‘unofficial’ a source for you, try this. The Marines’ military report on Fallujah is now online. It has a lot to say about the 60 mosques it claims were “used for military purposes”, meaning they forfeited their protection under international law. But it also admits that the number of non-Iraqi fighters in Fallujah is very low, contradicting earlier statements suggesting the city had been besieged by substantial numbers of foreign “terrorists”.

Meanwhile, some Arab news sources claim 70% of Fallujah is now controlled by the Mujahideen. In addition to 1,200 Iraqi “insurgent” deaths during this latest Fallujah campaign (the official US figure), we learn that 129 US soldiers were killed in the month of November alone. And it’s not just American soldiers who are losing their lives over this fiasco.

And the Bush PR offensive has been going just as badly as his Iraq military offensive. The International Red Cross has accused the American government of using methods “tantamount to torture” in its Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The continued detention and mistreatment of these prisoners without trial, charge or evidence has been angering Muslims (and non-Muslims) worldwide ever since the camp was created. Needless to say, this latest confirmation of the world’s fears further exacerbates an already delicate international situation.

The British Ministry of Defence has become so rattled by the number of soldiers’ families who are speaking out publicly against the war, it has issued a D-notice prohibiting the press from reporting on such protests.

Yesterday, the British Embassy in Iraq warned that security in Baghdad is now so bad that even trying to leave the country by plane is out of the question.

And now the British charity Medact have called for an inquiry into the shattered Iraqi healthcare system. Their official statement says “”The war is a continuing public health disaster that was predictable – and should have been preventable… Excess deaths and injuries and high levels of illness are the direct and indirect results of ongoing conflict.”

What else needs to happen before our government stops lapdancing for the American dollar and realises its mistake?

American politics&Human rights&Middle East&News media27 Nov 2004 03:07 pm

Oxford English Dictionary definition:


noun a person who uses violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

— DERIVATIVES terrorism noun

I was reading an American blog the other day and was surprised to note that the writer had called all Iraqi people fighting back against US soldiers “terrorists”.

Poised to leave a comment highlighting this inadvertent error, a worrying thought suddenly occurred to me. Perhaps there was more to this writer’s use of language than a shaky grasp on his mother tongue. Perhaps he genuinely thought Iraq was a country comprised of terrorists, not ordinary people.

Does any 21st century westerner really hold such a shallow concept of ‘foreign’ countries, I wondered? Quotation from blogs like this sounds like satire, a classic pastiche of the “them and us” mindset of previous generations. Surely such xenophobic misconceptions about other members of the human race have been consigned to history, along with the burning of heretics?

So I decided to look around for proof, to see how widespread this blanket “terrorism” misconception was.

Blogs are a great place to start research of this kind, because that’s where ordinary people feel free to express their ideas without censorship, commercial incentives or political expediency. Blogs had to be my first stop.

Reading… and more reading

And it didn’t take long before I found more evidence of confusion. This writer is convinced that “The Marines are steadily and successfully killing terrorists and breaking things in Fallujah.” This one announces proudly “Operation Hurricane Blows Away 60 Terrorists”. I don’t doubt that both bloggers are certain of the accuracy of their descriptions.

On the other hand, one blog entry dated June 2004 (i.e. before the latest Fallujah offensive) discusses the contradictory use of language. The writer is posting from Iraq. “The subject of terrorism was breached, and Amin grew quickly frustrated. He felt the US was being hypocritical in calling Arabs who fight against them terrorists. ‘They are fighting to protect their city… why don’t the Americans call soldiers from Honduras here terrorists?’ He continued, ‘They are fighting Iraqis…but they are not called terrorists? What is the difference?'”

Back to the other view. This blogger says the massacre of Fallujah’s remaining citizens is justifiable because they are “vermin”. Those who haven’t succumbed to foreign threats or been hounded out of their homes have only themselves to blame. “At this point, it appears that the only people left in Fallujah are those who support the terrorists. Those who fled earlier are willing for the Marines and Iraqi forces to reduce the city to rubble, if necessary, to get rid of the vermin that infests it.”

In the 1930s, Third Reich propaganda and ‘news’ described the Jews in similar terms of sub-humanity and infestation, softening up the German public for genocide. Such use of language is chillingly familiar to those conversant with Holocaust history. As this messageboard poster notes, “The propaganda of Dr. Goebbels and Vichy France kept calling the French Resistance ‘terrorists.'” Presumably that comparison didn’t occur to everyone.

One blogger goes a step further and derides the entire Muslim religion in a single stroke. Despite US and UK governments stating openly that there is absolutely no link between the World Trade Center attacks and Iraq, and the fact that there have been no Iraqi nationals involved in any terrorism in America, this blogger has picked up an illogical idea and run with it. “It is evident that ‘liberals’ in the media have ‘forgotten’ that the US was attacked and that thousands of American civilians were killed by ruthless, immoral, moon-god worshiping swine.” Oh yes, moon-god worshippers. Damn those pesky amnesiac liberals.

See, it’s OK to slaughter Iraqi civilians. They’re ‘them’, the dangerous, unknown other. They’re not human, they’re “terrorists”, “swine”, “vermin”. Pass the salt.

Where does such breathtakingly arrogant ignorance come from? How does any educated adult labour under the misapprehension that all Arabs are terrorists, all resistance is terrorism and all those who do not acquiesce to foreign occupation are “vermin”? How does any semi-educated person conclude that reactively fighting against a foreign army invading your city is the same thing as proactively creating violent disturbance in an attempt to achieve political aims by intimidation?

Actually, forget education. How could anybody of sound mind possibly blur these concepts?

News available in every colour! As long as it’s red, white and blue

One look at the mainstream American media answers that. This conceptual confusion is everywhere because it’s the official American truth.

Here’s an excerpt from a New York Post column:

“Since the political decision to stop short in Fallujah last April, the terrorists had bragged to the world that the city would never fall to the infidel. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his thugs turned Fallujah into a vast dungeon, complete with torture chambers and execution halls. The terrorists stockpiled weapons and ammunition, welcoming thousands of international “Jihadis” and using the city as a base to spread terror across central Iraq…

Fallujah became the new world capital of terror. And Allah’s butchers proclaimed that they’d slaughter U.S. troops in the streets, if they tried to enter the city.

Guess who’s dying now?”

The writer stops short of yelling “Three cheers for mass bloodshed!”, but only just.

Everywhere you look is the fresh footprint of new bogeyman Al-Zarqawi and his mythical “thousands of international Jihadis”. He’s been wheeled onto the media stage in the absence of Osama bin Laden. The “torture chambers” and armies of foreign “thugs” mentioned above are a propaganda fantasy denied even by soldiers currently posted in Iraq. Nobody’s seen any evidence of his presence in Fallujah and nobody really believes he’s in control of the city. But never let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

This journalist perpetuates the myth that al-Zarqawi is running a “network” operating from Fallujah. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian whom Iraqi citizens maintain is nothing to do with their resistance against US occupation. Many believe even his presence in Iraq is a US fiction designed to justify the destruction of civilian towns. It’s impossible for us to know which version of events is true, if either, but it is indubitably not the cut-and-dried issue these media reports claim. As this blogger points out, truth is a scarce commodity in war, particularly where it concerns the infamous al-Zarqawi.

This report also frames the Fallujah conflict in terms of good and evil. It states “In Fallujah, valiant American heroes search for ammunition and find much in the terrorist-infested city… Valiant US Marines move toward the center bringing justice to terrorists. Only the MSM would try to bring portray this crushing of terrorism as a defeat.” John Wayne’s heroic silhouette is almost discernible behind the text, like a watermark.

The Washington Times overlooks the thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, but shrieks “Terrorists kill dozens in Iraq attacks”. Another writer quotes US puppet “minister of provincial affairs” Wael Abdel-Latif in calling the Iraqi resistance “terrorists”. At no point does the article admit that the interim Iraqi government has been put in place by the invading country and thus hardly speaks for the ordinary citizens of Iraq.

You’re either with us or against us

Heard that the International Red Cross and Amnesty International have condemned the US/UK attacks for destroying medical supplies and killing medical personnel? Thank goodness the NY Post is here to put us straight. “U.S. and Iraqi forces are attacking on multiple axes, keeping the terrorists off balance. Key sites within the city already have been seized — including a hospital that cared more about propaganda than its patients.”

Heard the one about Al Qaeda having links with Iraq? Well yes, we know it’s a fabrication put around in rumour form because it is perceived as helpful to the US government, and the media knows this too. But it doesn’t stop some journalists from dropping the name of Al Qaeda into their Iraq news stories as though it is fact.

They may as well just call all opposition “Satan” – like Lt. Col. Brandl did in his pre-attack army peptalk – and be done with it.

Somewhere along the line, “Al Qaeda” has become shorthand for “terrorist”, and “terrorist” has become shorthand for “anyone who tries to stop us”. Distinct, unrelated concepts have been whizzed up into a single meaningless froth. News is now served as a low carb smoothie and there’s only one flavour on the menu.

OK, there are exceptions. Pockets of critical thinking do remain. Some mainstream journalists are not afraid to question the US-led war effort. Open-source news agencies such as Indymedia do report on controversial issues such as US use of chemical weapons in Fallujah. And these sources are vital, because they show us an angle we wouldn’t otherwise see. In Europe, dissent is slowly becoming more widespread even in mainstream publications. But in America, it seems those whispering misgivings about the war are frequently drowned out by those banging drums in favour of it.

It’s hardly surprising. Try to see all sides of the crisis in America and you’re immediately labelled as unpatriotic. Every day we’re reminded by American media: The USA is eternally on the side of justice, truth, compassion, selfless sacrifice for duty. We’re always fighting for oppressed people’s benefit, not our own. We’re the world’s policeman, always ready with a friendly smile and a stack of lovely, liberating bombs.

As Lynne Cheney said in a recent interview, “Well, but Matt, you’re being awfully relativistic here. I mean, the insurgents are killing Iraqis by the hundreds, Iraqis by the thousands. It’s not as though this is a matter between just ‘on the one hand on the other hand.’ We are on the side of freedom.”

So… now what?

This manipulation of words and the consequent reduction of complexities to Manichean polar opposites amounts to a war on language. How can we reinstate joined-up thinking to a defiantly simplistic debate?

Our mainstream media won’t point out their own mistakes. Our governments aren’t going to jump in to correct misconceptions which help with their propaganda efforts. Those who benefit from the butchered language of 21st century war reporting aren’t going to volunteer to defend accuracy. Hell, they’re propagating this nonsense.

Bloggers, armchair pundits and outraged citizens: I think the reality check may be down to us. Because if not us… then who?

Middle East17 Nov 2004 07:34 pm

Formal confirmation was received today that Margaret Hassan has been murdered in Iraq.

Irish-born Mrs Hassan was married to an Iraqi man, who has made an emotional plea for her body to be returned. She had lived in Iraq for 30 years, held an Iraqi passport and had converted to Islam. As director of aid agency Care International’s Iraq operations, she was well loved and respected in her area for her hard work on behalf of Iraqis.

Mrs Hassan was kidnapped by an unknown group. After a harrowing month in captivity, she was shot.

News of her murder has met with worldwide disgust. The Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement in which it said “Mrs Hassan had served the Iraqi people tirelessly for most of her adult life and it is appalling her goodness has been repaid with murder.

Iraqis have also been swift to condemn the killing, ensuring their horror and disbelief at the crime will be heard by those who cannot easily distinguish between the labels ‘Iraqi’ and ‘terrorist’.

Journalist Robert Fisk has today questioned the information surrounding Mrs Hassan’s murder in The Independent (you’ll need BugMeNot for a login).

Our thoughts go out to Margaret Hassan’s husband, family and friends, and to all victims of violence in Iraq.

American politics&Human rights&Middle East&Religion16 Nov 2004 01:04 am

American Marines have been filmed shooting injured Iraqis at point blank range.

The picture below was taken of one such incident. It took place in a Fallujan mosque.

click photo to read ITN news story

That’s right. In a mosque. If there could possibly be a more inappropriate place to showcase wanton disregard for Muslim life, I can’t think of it. If there’s any image more likely to launch hitherto moderate Muslims into fanatical vengeance fantasies, I can’t imagine it.

(Christians might like to imagine how they’d react to footage of a wounded, dying Western man being shot at point blank range by a group of Arab soldiers on the altar of a church. This doesn’t even take into account the separate horror Muslims will feel at soldiers trampling over prayer rugs with their dirty boots, or the thoughtless, careless way in which such sacred buildings are summarily destroyed.)

One incident was shown on ITN news this evening, with just the soundtrack of the killing heard clearly, but with the picture paused as it was “too distressing to be broadcast”.

In another incident, also shown on British TV tonight, soldiers are seen discussing how a shot Iraqi has fallen between two buildings and cannot escape. One soldier walks up to the gap, aims at the injured man, shoots, and walks away saying “He’s done”. This footage was broadcast in Australia and other countries days ago and has whipped up a storm of outrage trailing right across the planet.

Fallujah is broken, smashed, smelling of “broken corpses and decaying flesh” , with no water or electricity or food. We hear that 50 doctors and nurses have tried to enter but that 17 of these were shot dead by US troops while crossing the River Euphrates. We hear today that the journalist who made that report has been shot by US soldiers.

We hear stray dogs and cats are eating corpses in Fallujah because the bodies aren’t being cleared away. That Iraqi blogger also makes the following claims:

“They report today that Asma Khamis al-Muhannadi, a doctor who witnessed the US and Iraqi National Guard raid the general hospital said, “We were tied up and beaten despite being unarmed and having only our medical instruments.”

She said the hospital was targeted by bombs and rockets during the initial siege of Fallujah, and troops dragged patients from their beds and pushed them against the wall.

Al-Muhannadi went on to say that all of them were put under intense inspection and, “Two female doctors were forced to totally undress.”

She continued on, “I was with a woman in labor,” she said, “The umbilical cord had not yet been cut. At that time, a US soldier shouted at one of the (Iraqi) national guards to arrest me and tie my hands while I was helping the mother to deliver. I will never forget this incident in my life.””

We hear that Amnesty expresses concerns about violation of international laws in Fallujah, that the Red Cross and Red Crescent have been denied access because the US says it is capable of treating any remaining civilians, despite the vast numbers of innocent people who have bled to death or died as a result of lack of access to basic medical care.

We learn that typhoid is spreading in “ghost town” Fallujah and that puppet president (unrecognised by Iraqis) Allawi laughably insists there has been not a single civilian loss in Fallujah. No wonder he’s so unpopular with his people. Not even Rumsfeld or Hoon are brazen enough to make that bold a claim. Conservative estimates are currently around 2,000 Iraqi dead. The distinction between “insurgent” and “civilian” is impossible to make.

Military families, traditionally pro-war and pro-government, have made unprecedented breaks with convention by protesting about the Iraq campaign vociferously. A few days ago, families of dead Black Watch soldiers forced their way to Downing Street’s steps to hand in a wreath of protest. Soldiers and their families have spoken out so strongly against this war that the Ministry of Defence scarcely knows how to handle the sudden abandonment of protocol.

And meanwhile, Iraqi sources say the Fallujah massacre has only inspired the able-bodied men of Iraq to fight all the more against their unwanted occupiers. They intend to fight to the death.

This is a war waged without reason, without humanity and without a hope of succeeding in its professed aims. A few years ago, a lot of Muslims disliked the West’s foreign policy, but only a handful of crazed extremists ever took violent revenge. Today, watching thousands upon thousands of people being killed, their homes destroyed and an entire city reduced to rubble, how many more will be preparing to fight back? With pride, life and hope obliterated so publicly and so humiliatingly, what do these nations have to lose by fighting us back? Aren’t these ideal conditions for destructive hate and suicidal vengeance to flourish?

As a global population, we have never been more at risk. Let’s not kid ourselves: we are all pawns in our governments’ callous, acquisitive war games and we will be the ones who have to pay for their greed.

This senseless killing must stop now and those responsible must be brought to justice. If you oppose this war, please make sure your voice is heard.

American politics&British politics&Global politics&Middle East12 Nov 2004 05:31 pm

Blair and Bush gave their press conference a short while ago. They talked alarmingly about bringing “a peaceful two-state solution” to the Middle East by any means necessary (“We will do whatever it takes” – Bush), their War On TerrorTM and the forcible imposition of democracy on other states.

One journalist asked if Iraqis or Palestinians decided to elect a leader who was not friendly to the US/Europe (aka “the Free World”), would Bush and Blair intervene to prevent this? Bush claimed he didn’t understand what was being asked. Blair insisted every single person in the world wants democracy. Neither answered the actual question.

I hope the world realises that the majority of British people do not support Tony Blair’s thugs ‘n’ jackboots foreign policy.

Brits, if you want to see this man relegated to the after dinner speech circuit instead of sending your sons and thousands of Iraqis to their deaths, you know what to do.

American politics&British politics&Middle East&News media11 Nov 2004 05:08 pm

Dying to be free
“In another demonstration of their commitment to freedom, the first goal of the U.S. soldiers in Fallujah was to ambush the city’s main hospital. Why? Apparently because it was the source of the “rumours” about high civilian casualties the last time U.S. troops laid siege to Fallujah, sparking outrage in Iraq and across the Arab world. “It’s a centre of propaganda,” an unnamed senior American officer told The New York Times. Without doctors to count the dead, the outrage would be presumably be muted”Naomi Klein, 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

Cartoon news
“Over on ITV (November 10, 18:30), it is Cartoon Time as anchors Nick Owen and Andrea Catherwood stroll down the catwalk to bring us the latest news from Fallujah. This was explained with the help of computer animation: cartoon Humvees trundled along streets and cartoon tanks blasted snipers in cartoon buildings.

It is indeed like a cartoon – the US and UK governments keep running in mid-air, though any pretence of legal and moral justification has long since fallen away. But they do not fall because we have no democracy, no political opposition to establishment control, and no freedom of speech.

For highly-trained, highly professional journalists the issue is more complex – there are caveats, nuances. But in truth, in their minds, this is just another campaign in the West’s permanent Just War. There are different units, different campaigns, different enemies – but it’s basically always the same righteous, liberating Just War.” –
Medialens, 11 November 2004 – click to read article.

”The Butcher of Fallujah”
“Former US intelligence asset turned prime minister without a parliament Iyad Allawi – widely known in Baghdad as “Saddam without a moustache” – has got himself another title: the Butcher of Fallujah. On Sunday, before co-launching with the Pentagon the biggest urban war since the storming of Hue in 1968 Vietnam, Allawi installed de facto martial law in Iraq for 60 days. Historians and political scientists are breathlessly trying to explain to the world that no democratic election can possibly be preceded by a state of siege.

To add insult to injury, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld is saying that Allawi is responsible for all major military decisions regarding Fallujah: only the Bible Belt may be gullible enough to believe that an Iraqi civilian without an army rules over the Pentagon. So it’s the Vietnam tragedy all over again, replayed as farce – a biblical crusade in Mesopotamia. Those who learned their lessons from history know full well what happened after Hue.” Pepe Escobar, Asian Times 10 November 2004 – click to read article.

American politics&Asia Pacific&Human rights&Middle East08 Nov 2004 11:39 pm

Here’s a bedtime story.

Imagine China is the world’s biggest superpower. (It will be one day anyway.)

Imagine one day the Chinese government decides it doesn’t like the way America is being run. It decides that capitalist so-called democracy doesn’t suit its vision of the world. Imagine it’s annoyed with the way the American government interferes with its economic plans and its trade ambitions. It quite likes the look of America’s assets, the wealth and resources of that country. It likes the geographical location too, the way it provides easy access to the resources of Canada and South America.

Imagine China doesn’t believe in America’s god. (It doesn’t.)

Imagine it starts a propaganda campaign in China to win over the people. It tells them all about America’s human rights abuses – every country has some to pull out of the bag – and whips up patriotic Chinese fervour for what it claims is China’s superior, freer way of life. It points to a recent terrorist atrocity in China, done by some extremist Westerners as revenge for what they think is brutal Chinese foreign policy in Christian countries, and it claims that this was undertaken by a powerful organised network of Christian fundamentalists. Despite the fact that all Western countries condemned the attack, including the countries the Western terrorists came from, the Chinese people believe this version of events. It tells the Chinese people that Christian fundamentalism is the biggest ever threat to world safety. It warns the world that unless it takes action, Christian terrorists are going to destroy everyone. It tells the Chinese that Christian fundamentalists hate them because they are free.

Imagine this expansionist project meets great resistance from the rest of the world, but China uses its vast size and influence to intimidate some countries into joining in. It uses its sophisticated media and diplomatic channels to decry and deride those nations who refuse to get involved, calling them part of an axis of evil, or spineless, or disloyal, or ungrateful for past help. It embarks on trade restrictions and economic blackmail, or thinly veiled threats of attack, to those countries who do not offer help.

Imagine it enlists those allies it has managed to win and invades America. It bombs the American people into submission, removes Bush from power, imprisons him and installs a puppet leader who will run the country and its terrified people exactly as the Chinese government order. It drops leaflets on Americans, in English, explaining that the Chinese are liberating them and that they must make no attempts to resist if they wish to live.

Imagine some outspoken American people say “We weren’t happy with Bush, that’s true. He locked people up without trial in Guantanamo Bay. He allowed torture to be a legitimate military technique. He imposed draconian new laws to restrict civil liberties. He changed our constitution to restrict states’ rights to govern themselves. He cut taxes for the rich, lost us jobs, increased our national debt, squandered our money on weapons of mass destruction and reduced access to welfare. Hell, he wanted to reverse some women’s rights and he imposed his religious beliefs on all of us. But you Chinese people can’t just march in here and take over our country. That’s not freedom. That’s dictatorship.”

Imagine that plea has no effect. The Chinese government says “This is for your own good. Comply or you will be destroyed.”

Imagine the Chinese military campaign devastates rural areas and cities alike with aerial bombs and expensive weapons systems, killing hundreds of thousands of American citzens, destroying buildings, hospitals, water supplies, and bridges. It sparks a wave of American fury but doesn’t care. It insists it is liberating ordinary Americans. “We are not your enemy”, it says. “We are freeing you from Bush’s evil grasp. You should be grateful.”

Imagine the Chinese war machine keeps going until it dominates the whole country. All except a couple of cities. Imagine one of those cities is Chicago.

Imagine that almost all of Chicago has evacuated in fear or been killed. A hardcore 10% of the population either refuse to leave, or can’t because they’re old, sick or incapacitated. Those remaining who are able-bodied decide they aren’t going to stand for the Chinese aggression. They are going to fight back.

Imagine the American resistance fighters in Chicago try everything they can to defend their city against the Chinese takeover. Some of them manage to steal some weapons and bombs while the Chinese army aren’t looking, and mount attacks on Chinese soldiers. These Americans are dying in large numbers but still refuse to give up. They intend to fight to the death for the cause they believe in, for American freedom and autonomy to run their country the way they see fit. They refuse to recognise the new Chinese-authorised American president and vow to rid America of their violent invaders.

Imagine they are so desperate they resort to suicide bomb attacks on Chinese soldiers. They are so maddened by the drive to save their people and city they’re prepared to guarantee their own deaths if it’ll take out just one or two or three of these violent occupiers in the process. Imagine how desperate a person has to be to consider that a worthwhile sacrifice.

Imagine the Chinese government pulls a few international strings, twists a few arms and secures extra troops from one of its allies. It plans an enormous campaign to devastate Chicago and crush the American resistance. It tells the world media “These Chicago insurgents are terrorists. These terrorists are using Chicago as their base. We need to rid the country of these evil terrorists so we can free it. We need to kill these terrorists to protect the American people. We need to destroy Chicago in order to save it.”

Imagine Kofi Annan, the leader of the UN, intervenes at this point, telling the Chinese government to cancel the invasion of Chicago, that its plans are inadvisable and destructive. The Chinese government replies “But we’re just following the orders of the new American president.” The world knows this is ridiculous, as the new American president is nothing more than a figurehead put in place by the Chinese themselves. But the world media don’t dare to speak out, because they’re owned by multinational corporations who have a vested interest in maintaining Chinese hegemony. So they report it from the Chinese angle regardless of their own misgivings, calling the American resistance fighters “terrorists” and “rebels” and “insurgents”. They say the Chinese soldiers are “just working to make America a better place, to guarantee the safety of the elections next spring”.

Imagine a large number of Chinese soldiers aren’t happy with the orders their leaders are giving. Whole regiments are convinced that they have been sent to fight an unjust war, that they are being used as pawns in the economic games of corrupt rich men. They watch their Chinese friends dying, watch American civilians and children dying, feeling in their hearts that the killing they are being asked to do is wrong. Great numbers of them become convinced they’re being lied to by their leaders, but have no way of refusing to act out their orders. So they have to go ahead with the campaign despite these misgivings, but they are deeply distressed about it.

Imagine the Chinese army bombards Chicago with bombs, bullets and bayonets. It even invades a Chicago hospital, tying up and blindfolding all the staff who surrender and killing anyone who doesn’t. The Chinese army turns off the Chicago power and water supplies for days at a time, to wear down the few surviving Americans. Disease and suffering is rife. The American leader imposes a curfew so no man between 15 and 55 can leave their homes between certain hours, effectively permitting the Chinese soldiers to shoot on sight any man they see walking outside, regardless of whether he poses a threat.

Imagine the Chicago resistance still refuse to give in. They keep fighting until they can’t fight any more. They do this because they believe they are fighting for America, for freedom, for Jesus, for their families, for what they believe is right. They refuse to give in until the Chinese occupation leaves their country, even though they know they don’t have a hope in hell of beating 20,000 troops. They are prepared to fight to the death.

Imagine all this is happening right now. Imagine this is real.

Are these Chicago citizens terrorists? Or freedom fighters?

Before we go to sleep tonight, let’s reflect on this and be glad it’s just fiction.

And be grateful we aren’t spending the night in Fallujah.

American politics&Audience participation&British politics&Europe&Global politics&Human rights&Middle East&Race&Religion&Self07 Nov 2004 02:00 pm

Those of you who have trawled through the comments on this blog may be familiar with Katy, the Texan Republican who disagrees with me on every conceivable point. Well, Katy’s written an extensive refutation of my Goodnight America post in her own blog here.

Being up for a squabble, and clinically unable to leave her opinions on Jesus, racism and Bush unchallenged, I confess I responded in similar detail. That response is below.

I warn you: they’re quite long posts. And I still can’t work out how to modify my template for the cutaway technique, even by following the idiot-proof instructions. (I’m blaming the template itself for having tricksy style sheets, naturellement.) So it’s just a big slab of text. Whole paragraphs of the stuff.

But if you enjoy watching war-loving Christian Republicans and bleeding heart British socialists crossing swords, maybe you’ll think reading it is time well spent. It’s your call.

In an earlier post, Jon kindly remarked on my “patience” in responding to another commenter’s dissent. Ha. Jon, I wonder if it’s not so much patience as a natural extension of my British politeness. We apologise when other people push us in the street. (Seriously. We do!)

Besides, while it might be tempting for all sides to take the “Is your head full of marshmallows, dipshit?” angle, that would just shut closed minds even tighter. In all honesty, I’m often shocked at views like Katy’s, but it’s best to hear them. We each surround ourselves with like-minded people, so it’s easy to float along in an ideological bubble. At least this way nobody fools themselves that the world is anything other than a big argumentative soup. Er, so to speak.

American politics&Audience participation&British politics&Europe&Global politics&Human rights&Middle East&Pop culture&Race&Religion&Self&The art of blog07 Nov 2004 01:16 pm

My original post: Goodnight America
Katy’s detailed rebuttal: The Reckoning
This post is my response.

Hello Katy,

You’ve clearly spent time on this and I’m honoured you felt the opinions of an “ill-tempered brat” warrant such detailed attention. I’ll do my best to reply in similar depth.

Before we start, I cant help noticing you refer to me as ‘him’, ‘he’, ‘lad’, ‘fellow’ etc. Mine’s an anonymous blog and my profile contains no reference to my gender. It’s interesting that you made an assumption without checking either way. Then again, this scant regard for research sets the tone for the rest of your post. (It’s a serious comment as well as a cheap shot.) Let’s move onto the main business.

Firstly, I agree with your assertion that evangelical Christians are not guaranteed to vote Republican. Obviously not. But most strict evangelical Christians do, and this is the platform the Republican party uses in its election campaigns. Please bear in mind I was differentiating evangelicals from all other branches of Christianity. That’s an important point, and you’d be misinterpreting my words if you assumed I was referring to every type of Christian. Indeed, plenty of Christian Americans (and other nationalities) have no problem with homosexuality, gay marriage and so on. Evangelicals don’t normally approve, but that is only one branch of Christianity. And my point was specific to this branch.

Naturally, every Christian believes they have the ‘right’ interpretation of the Bible. I was educated at Christian schools and am consequently very familiar with the Bible. We could debate Biblical ‘meaning’ for ever and still never agree, as the book contains innumerable contradictions and allegories. Don’t forget it was written in ancient Greek and Hebrew, so unless we speak either of these languages fluently, we can’t ever be 100% sure that the translations we use encapsulate all the subtleties of the original text. I’m well aware of that particular Leviticus quote but, as I say, you can ‘prove’ anything you like with the Bible. If you’d really like to get into a detailed scriptural debate then I’d oblige, but we aren’t likely to change each other’s minds even if we try. Besides, I’ll happily respect your interpretation if you respect other people’s. I’m sure we fundamentally disagree on more or less everything, but I wouldn’t call an alternative view “stupid” the way you do.

Back to Jesus. I wouldn’t call Jesus a ‘liberal’ in the modern American sense, no. I did, however, say he was one of the most tolerant left wing (in the British sense) figures in history. And I stick by this. This theory stands even if someone is not personally a Christian. History describes Jesus as a pacifist socialist (as we define that), regardless of whether you believe he’s the son of God or not. According to the New Testament, Jesus openly consorted with people whom his society despised as immoral. Isn’t that a pretty strong message to Christian bigots? How can any Christians condemn others for doing things they consider sinful when Jesus is quoted saying “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”? How can they defend rabid warmongering if Jesus said “Turn the other cheek” and “Love thy enemy”? I could go on indefinitely but, like I said, we’d probably still never reach an agreement. Perhaps you could check non-Evangelical sources like this Christian pacifist site for an alternative viewpoint to your own.

You rightly point out that not all evangelicals are Republicans, but then fall into the same trap of generalising about liberals. Not all liberals believe in abortion. Not all liberals believe in same sex marriage. Like all other belief systems, there’s an element of disagreement among the people you call ‘liberal’, just as the Christian churches are forever arguing amongst themselves about points of doctrine. That’s human nature. I’d love governments to “leave God and politics apart”, as you say. That would fix the problem I wrote about in the first place.

Hip hop and racism
I’m a big fan of hip hop, so I’m glad you brought that up. Although I’m not sure why you did, as it doesn’t seem to relate to anything I said. Are you citing rappers as the opposite of evangelical Christians? Why? Where’s the link? I note you’ve already posted an opinion on what you consider black racism in an earlier post on your blog, so perhaps it’s an obsession of yours. OK, let’s discuss it with reference to rap.

We’ll disregard for a moment any rap lyrics written by white, Hispanic, Asian and European artists, even if they are equally violent. You’re talking about African American rappers, so I’ll refer to this area alone.

You’ve conveniently managed to ignore the 98% of lyrics which are not in the ‘gangsta’ genre and which don’t advocate violence against anyone. You’ve ignored all examples of poetry, incisive social commentary, lyrics which speak of peace, against violence and in support of racial harmony. You’ve ignored the party anthems and the love songs. You’ve ignored joyful pop grooves and mournful emotional explorations. You’ve even misinterpreted some of the lyrics you actually quote which, when read or heard carefully and in context, you’d realise are spoken in character or as a narrative commentary on social events. But I guess that’s because hip hop is nothing to do with your world, and ignorance breeds fear and mistrust.

Brand Nubian were a militant Nation of Islam crew who loved the controversy their extreme lyrics generated. So what? You’re overestimating the power of music, and underestimating the intellect of the young people who listen to it. I don’t agree with racial separatism or racial supremacy in any form, but I don’t take personal offence at the views of Louis Farrakhan or those who agree with him either. I don’t take offence at your opinions, extreme though they are. Differences of opinion are healthy, so long as everyone has the right to reply.

At this point, I’m tempted to reel off a whole page of racist or religion-intolerant lyrics by white artists, but then I’d be sinking to the same simplistic, blinkered level. So let’s just concentrate on African American rappers.

Such selective accusations of racism are often made when hip hop is discussed by white people who are terrified of black people. Why are they so threatened and appalled by the artistic products of young black working class men, while ignoring any dumb chat from white artists? Perhaps because of repressed guilt about the fact that America’s fortunes (and, yes, Europe’s empires) were built on the back of slave labour? Perhaps because they don’t actually know any black people? Who knows. Ordinary Britain is more racially integrated than America, though our elite institutions are just as white-dominated, so it’s difficult to judge from this side of the Atlantic. All I’d say is that the time I’ve spent in America has included a whole stack of gasp-out-loud moments when I witnessed the way some black people were treated by some whites, and how black society is all but invisible in the white areas of even the most equally-proportioned states. I can only assume this cultural divide is responsible for the half-truths and misunderstandings shown by part of the nation towards hip hop, arguably America’s dominant and most innovative popular art form.

Anyway, this racism charge is deceptive. There are several issues you are missing here:

A – On average, African Americans are at a greatly disadvantaged social position in America compared with white Americans. Like most of the developed world, America’s institutions are inherently racist. There are more African American kids in poverty even than Native American kids. The average black American earns 61% less than the average white American. You don’t need me to explain all this, you must know that black people get a much worse deal in your country than white people do, no matter how talented they are. I could write a whole book on this subject, but it’s pretty basic and obvious, so I won’t insult your intelligence by spelling it out.

B – This power structure puts an entirely different perspective on it. Racism by someone in a position of power is clearly oppression. On the other hand, if someone who’s at the bottom of the heap expresses prejudice against white people, that’s not going to set the heads of rich white people rolling down Main Street USA. Black prejudice is every bit as stupid as white racism, and each perpetuates the other. Racism on any level is a divisive, unconstructive attitude and will never build any social bridges. But are you really telling me you can’t understand why some poor black people are angry with white society? If white people had been enslaved, forcibly segregated then supposedly ‘liberated’ a few decades ago, then told they are equal and should quit whining, while still hitting their heads on an invisible glass ceiling that stops them ascending to the top of almost any social or business group – apart from sport and music, two officially sanctioned entertainment roles – wouldn’t white artists start writing a whole lot of angry lyrics about black people? My guess is: yes. This doesn’t make prejudice OK. But such lyrics make up a tiny minority of this music, and are frequently spoken in character form, to make a point via hyperbole, to use extreme imagery to highlight the violence of the criminal justice system, to explore the dangerous conditions of poverty, to satirise the contradictions of modern American life, to construct metaphors for the greed of big business, and a million other things.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever studied literature or poetry to any great extent, but you’ll agree that a poem which contains the words “I killed my mother today” (for example) does not immediately provoke the reader to say “My God! This poet is telling people they should kill their mothers! Why isn’t something DONE about this?” Not if it’s a white poet anyway. Does anyone think the author of a crime novel is ‘promoting’ murder? Does anyone accuse Arnold Schwarzenegger of ‘promoting’ violence, given the excessive bodycounts in his films? No. Artistic licence and deeper levels of meaning are expected from artists. Look for them in rap and you may be surprised.

C – A lot of rappers are young men. A lot of young male African American rappers start life poor, fiercely intelligent and livid at a society which treats them as second best and fights against them attaining power at every turn. A lot of them respond angrily in words. The bottom line is that a lot of kids of all colours and creeds shoot their mouths off, before they grow up and take a more measured approach. That’s youthful passion for you. Yes, some successful rap artists are violent in real life. Most are not – though they or their security team may carry guns because they feel vulnerable, but that’s probably true of most rich celebrities in your country. Unless they actually take a gun and enact those violent lyrics, I’d suggest they’re protected by your comprehensive freedom of speech legislation and their songs should be taken as fiction and a damning indictment of racial tensions in modern America. Which is what they are.

Needless to say, you also miss the point that some black people are also Christians. Sometimes they’re evangelical Christians. So some could theoretically be bloodthirsty neocon bigots too, just like some white people are. Isn’t it a small world?

America and society
I didn’t state that Christians are more interested in money than non-Christians. If anything, I’d say a truly devout Christian should be less interested in material wealth and more in spiritual wealth than the non-religious. My point referred to the hypocritical corporate-biased Christians who are running the country.

As for my two fake commandments, I suggest you read them again. I was pointing out that these DID NOT appear in the Bible, contrary to the behaviour of some of those same professed Christians. It was a wry joke. Never mind.

The ever-escalating American national debt has less to do with foreign aid than pouring endless money into defence spending and tax cuts for the rich. And the main reason so many Africans are starving is because rich countries like ours screw them over via organisations like the WTO and the IMF, and their own corrupt governments collude with ours. If you’d like to research this point further, I can recommend plenty of comprehensive sources. Try George Monbiot’s The Age of Consent, Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival or former World Bank Vice President Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalisation and its Discontents for some initial background on these structures.

And for the last time: the war in Iraq is nothing to do with terrorism. Iraq had no involvement with acts of terrorism against our countries. 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian, as is boogeyman-in-chief Osama bin Laden. Not Iraqi. Why didn’t America attack Saudi Arabia instead? Because Saudi Arabia provides 25% of your gasoline supply and the Saudi royal family have business and personal connections with Bush’s family and friends, amongst other reasons. Again, I could refer you to any number of authoritative sources on the real state of post-invasion Iraq but perhaps these are two of the most eloquent and touching:

Home stretch
Finally, your numbered points:

1 – Unilateral in the sense that the UN, an organisation to which America belongs, did not permit military action in this case. America decided to do it anyway, followed by lapdog Britain. Kerry isn’t the point here. I am referring to international politics, not local.

2 – 100,000 civilian Iraqis and at least 1,000 soldiers have died violently since 2003. The main cause of death in Iraq is now violence, and plenty of Iraqis are blowing themselves up in a deranged attempt to rid the country of what they see as an illegal occupation. Need I say more?

3 – Yes, I’m aware of Britain’s shameful imperial past. If you’re not aware of America’s current imperial ambitions, you should make it your business to find out.

4 – What happened to conscientious objection and standing up against the school bully?

5 – I find it staggering that you’re clearly so unaware of America’s foreign policy, but this may be down to the education system which you referred to in a previous post.

6 – Yes, I call a place deliberately outside US borders where foreigners are detained in violation of international law without trial or charges, due to their Arab ethnicity, a concentration camp. It’s not a metaphor, it’s a direct label. Amnesty International is equally appalled (“cruel, inhuman [and] degrading treatment in violation of international law”, as they put it), and so is the International Red Cross. The treatment of these prisoners should be a stain on America’s conscience. Again, if you’d care to research it properly – i.e. through a balanced variety of independent sources, not just the White House homepage – you’ll learn that a huge number of Arab prisoners in Guantanamo were captured by the Afghan Northern Alliance with a price on each head. These prisoners are not guilty of any act of terrorism. In fact, many of them are men who had been forcibly conscripted to the Afghan army by force and who were captured during US violence in Afghanistan. How’s that for irony?

7 – I do indeed blame the lazy, biased media. But those who do not scratch the surface to find the truth beneath are equally culpable.

Britain never had free gun ownership, so I’m not sure where your odd crime statistic point comes from. Handguns were banned entirely a while ago, but the general ownership of guns has never existed here. In the words of the late Bill Hicks: “In the USA, where guns are not just legal, they’re a way of life, there were 23,000 deaths from handguns. In England, where guns are illegal, there were 14 deaths from handguns. Now let’s go through those numbers again because they’re a little baffling at first glance. England, where no one has guns: 14 deaths. United States… 23,000 deaths from handguns. But there’s no connection… And you’d be a fool and a communist to make one. There’s no connection to having a gun and shooting someone with it and not having a gun and not shooting someone.”

Lastly, I reiterate that Osama’s not worried. Bush isn’t even looking for him. He admitted that a couple of weeks ago.

Thanks for reading and enjoy a peaceful Sabbath.

American politics&Middle East05 Nov 2004 06:16 pm

Yesterday, Israeli news sources announced that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was “clinically dead”. The West Bank and Gaza Strip went into mourning.

Then that information was denied by the French doctors who are treating Arafat. They insisted he was in a “reversible coma”.

The Palestinian envoy to France, Leila Shahid, today added to the confusion by saying Arafat is “at a critical juncture between life and death. The doctors don’t have a diagnosis. All vital organs are functioning… he could or could not wake up.”

So what’s actually wrong with Arafat? Rumours that he was poisoned, has leukaemia or is suffering from cancer have all been categorically denied. Are the doctors really stumped, or are they keeping the nature of his incapacity a secret for some reason?

The implications for Middle East peace are unknown. As Palestine’s figurehead, he is caricatured as a figure of loathing to Israelis and Americans. But to the Palestinians, he is a hero who refused to give up even in the darkest days of (what they see as) Israeli occupation and plunder of lands. Whether Israel and Palestine will be more or less willing to negotiate for peace in the absence of Arafat remains to be seen.

If we thought the situation was inflamed already, we should keep a close eye on it if Arafat does head back to Allah over the next few days.

Incidentally, all pro-Israel Americans should read this post on Arafat (by Safire):
“We have to realize that there are two sides to every story, and that the American side is almost always told from the perspective of rich white men who want to keep a stranglehold on their power.”

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