Saturday 27 February 2010

Birthdays - There Goes Another One

Yes, today is my birthday and very soon I'll be on my way to Brighton to celebrate. But first I'd like to thank friends in London for finding this track for me, by strange Belgian popsters Hormonia. Undoubtedly this evening's partying will be just like this:

Friday 26 February 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - Resort Name Fail

Another brilliant Friday lunchtime distraction, courtesy of Fail Blog:

Thursday 25 February 2010

Pity the Voters of Hampstead and Kilburn

It's not often that those of us in east London get the opportunity to extend the hand of sympathy to the terribly nice liberals of Hampstead. But you've got to feel sorry for the poor bastards at the forthcoming general election.

To begin with, local Labour MP Glenda Jackson has no select committee responsibilities, spoke in only one debate and received answers to only eight written questions in the last year. She also had to repay more than £8,000 in expenses she had wrongly claimed. As a result, shameless eco self-publicist Tamsin Omond, who has a habit of setting up and leading her own organisations rather than working with others, has apparently set up a political party called The Commons (membership and leader: Tamsin Omond) to stand against Jackson, who may be 'London's laziest MP' but at least has the distinction of voting against the Iraq war and the replacement of Trident - although admittedly she also managed to miss almost ever vote on the Climate Change Bill.

Does Jackson need another environmentalist to stand against her? Omond seems to be unaware that there is a Green Party candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn. The trouble is, that candidate is Beatrix Campbell, the journalist and Marxism Today alumni. Campbell gave credibility to the dangerous nonsense about Satanic abuse of children in Newcastle and was a supporter of Professor David Southall, the paediatrician whose so-called 'evidence' against Sally Clark led to her wrongful conviction. Southall was, of course, eventually struck off for gross professional misconduct. On the other hand, Campbell's views on the anti poll tax movement are truly hilarious, although those on state surveillance, which apparently signals "a wish to contribute to collective safety," are hardly from the Green Party playbook.

Then there's the Tory's Chris Philip. No hope of winning but in 2006, during his election campaign to become a councillor in Gospel Oak, he forgot to pay enough postage on campaign literature sent out to voters, which meant the unsuspecting who took the time to take their card from the Royal Mail down to the local sorting office had to pay £1.21 for a Conservative party mailshot. Nice.

Like I said. Things may be rubbish here in Newham, but they're nowhere near as screwed up as Hampstead.

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Shopper Accused For Photographing His Own Son

I'm not sure who deserves the 'Stupidest Jobsworth in Sunderland Award' more - the Bridges Shopping Centre security guard or the copper outside threatening to make an arrest:

According to his blog, Kevin visited the Bridges Shopping Centre in Sunderland with his son to spend the £10 his father gave the boy on a family visit. While there, he seated his son on a coin-operated train ride and snapped a photo of him with his cameraphone. At this point, a Bridges security guard came by and ordered him to stop taking pictures. He said that it was mall policy, and implied that Kevin was taking pictures because he was a paedophile. Kevin told him that this was ridiculous and took his son to find his wife and get out of the mall. He also took a picture of the security guard "so that if I later wanted to make a complaint to the centre I would be able to identify him."

Outside of the mall, Kevin was stopped by a police constable who had received a complaint from mall security that a suspicious potential paedophile had been taking pictures on its premises. The PC threatened to arrest Kevin "for creating a public disturbance" and ordered him to delete the photo of his son. The PC also averred that the Bridges Shopping Centre is a hotbed of paedophile assaults.

"Ordered him to delete the photo of his son" - using what piece of legislation precisely?

Hat-tip to Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing

Judge 'Baffled' By Simon Singh Chiropractic Case

From Index on Censorship yesterday:

The Lord Chief Justice expressed surprise today at the BCA’s libel suit against Simon Singh. Padraig Reidy reports

England’s most senior judge today said he was “baffled” by the British Chiropractic Association’s (BCA) defamation suit against science writer Simon Singh.

Presiding at the appeal court in London today in a pre-trial hearing on the meaning of words in a 2008 article by Singh criticising chiropractic treatments, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said he was “troubled” by the “artificiality” of the case.

“The opportunities to put this right have not been taken,” Lord Judge said.

He continued: “At the end of this someone will pay an enormous amount of money, whether it be from Dr Singh’s funds or the funds of BCA subscribers.”

He went on to criticise the BCA’s reluctance to publish evidence to back up claims that chiropractic treatments could treat childhood asthma and other ailments.

“I’m just baffled. If there is reliable evidence, why hasn’t someone published it?”

However, Lord Judge stressed that his comments would not affect the judgment of the case before the Court of Appeal.

The Lord Chief Justice was presiding at a pre-trial appeal on meaning in the case of BCA v Singh. Singh is being sued by the organisation for comments in a 2008 article for the Guardian newspaper in which he criticised chiropractic and claimed the BCA promoted “bogus” treatments, despite there not being “a jot” of evidence of their effectiveness.

Judge is part of a panel which also includes the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, and Lord Justice Sedley — one of the most high-powered panels of judges ever to preside on a single case.

Adrienne Page QC, representing Simon Singh, said it was wrong of the BCA to claim that Singh implied it “knowingly” promoted treatments it knew to be ineffective.

“The least likely explanation [of the article] is that the BCA cynically and dishonestly engaged in peddling remedies it knew were of no value,” Page told the court.

Representing the BCA, Heather Rogers QC said the organisation is a respectable one that takes its reputation seriously.

Rogers argued that the use of the word “bogus” suggested that the BCA knew some of the claims made for chiropractic to be false.

Lord Neuberger asked if it was not the case that Singh had outlined his interpretation of the word “bogus” in the original article, where he described how Professor of Complementary Medicine Edzard Ernst had been unable to find any evidence of the effectiveness of chiropractic in over 70 trials.

Rogers conceded that had Singh written that there was “no reliable evidence”, the defamation suit might never have happened.

But Lord Justice Sedley suggested “isn’t the first question as to whether something is evidence that it is reliable?”

Earlier in the day, dozens of Singh’s supporters had gathered outside the court to back the popular author’s right to free expression.

A date has not been set for delivery of the judges’ ruling.

More information from Sense on Science and sign the petition for libel reform here

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Climate Camp - Activists Charged Over RBS Action

We all remember how the police adopted a very low profile at Climate Camp last summer. The Inspectorate of Constabulary, on page 8 of its review of public order policing published in November 2009, even went as far as claiming that "the Metropolitan Police Service policing operation surrounding the Climate Camp at Blackheath in August 2009 demonstrated a tangible success in integrating the findings and recommendations of Adapting to Protest". But as ever, London's coppers have issued one final reminder why, no matter how much they bang on about 'constructive dialogue', you simply can't turn your back on them for a second.

On 1st September last year, seven activists from Climate Camp took part in a largely symbolic protest at the Royal Bank of Scotland, super-gluing themselves to the bank's trading floor. After solvents were used to remove the glue, they were arrested, removed from the building and then promptly de-arrested. End of story, apparently.

Now, nearly six months on and long after the the police's 'positive' response to Climate Camp has become the accepted narrative, the seven have suddenly been charged - just days before the expiry deadline beyond which charges could no longer be brought.

You've got to give it to them - that is how you get to have your cake and eat it. But it's a long way from stopping people seeing the police as utterly untrustworthy.

Dirty Oil: Alberta's Tar Sands Explained

Environmental journalist Andrew Nikiforuk's new book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, explains the impact of tar sands operations in northern Alberta, Canada. Here's a taster:

Monday 22 February 2010

Police Use Armory Of Laws Against Photographer

After a series of embarrassing incidents involving the use of section 44 stop & search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000, including the arrest of a press photographer covering climate change activists at London City Airport and the stop and search of a BBC photographer at St Pauls Cathedral, the head of ACPO Media Advisory Group Andrew Trotter issued guidance to police forces around the country in December 2009, which stated:

Officers should be reminded that it is not an offence for a member of the public or journalist to take photographs of a public building and use of cameras by the public does not ordinarily permit use of stop and search powers.

Within days of this 'clarification', armed police detaining an architectural photographer in the City of London and the message also seems to have gone unheeded in Lancashire. The Guardian reported today on the experience of Bob Patefield, an amateur photographer who along with a friend was stopped three times in Accrington under section 44 and eventually arrested for 'antisocial behaviour', using powers under section 50 of the Police Reform Act 2002. He was held for eight hours.

Lancashire police claim that members of the public were "concerned about the way in which [Patefield] was using his camera," but it seems apparent that the photographer was targeted for knowing his rights and choosing to exercise them. Having failed to get what they wanted under one piece of legislation, they simply picked another - as if the law is a armory of weapons against the public that can be dipped into whenever police officers want to get their own way.

This is from 2008 but involves Police Community Support Officers acting with staggering arrogance:

UPDATE: 24 February

Another incident, this time in Kidlington, Oxfordshire:

Stephen Russell, 59, spotted police swarming Kidlington High Street and, as he had his camera with him, he took four photos because it was unusual to see so much action in the centre of the village.

An officer demanded the ex-RAF engineer deleted the photos, but Mr Russell, of Thrupp, refused because it is not illegal to photograph police in a public place.

One officer then searched him. A form handed to Mr Russell after the incident reveals he was searched using powers under Section 43 of the Terrorism Act.

This legislation gives officers the power to stop and search a suspect ‘they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist’.

Mr Russell said: “They told me to delete the photos and I said ‘no’.

“It is not illegal and he should have known it is not illegal.

“There was nothing wrong with taking photos of police in the street but he would not listen. I thought if I tried to stop him it could turn nasty.”

Sunday 21 February 2010

Met Police's Press Bureau Releases (Some) Information on G20 Protests

Back in later October 2009, I submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Metropolitan Police, asking for “briefings, notes, e-mails or letters prepared by Metropolitan Police Press officers that were produced between 26th March and 8th April 2009 concerning the G20 protests.” It took over three months for the paperwork to arrive, but this week I received five lengthy documents (PDFs below) containing press logs, some e-mails and a couple of briefing papers.

Significant parts, especially around the death of Ian Tomlinson, have been redacted completely, most probably because of the complaint made by the Tomlinson family to the IPCC about the misinformation they had experienced. In November 2009. Ian Tomlinson's son Paul King said:

"We feel that there has been a cover up from the start. The first statement from the police was that they were trying to save Ian’s life while protesters were throwing missiles at them. Then the police liaison officer told us Ian died of “natural causes”. After the video came out, the City of London Police investigator told us that it may have been a protester in disguise who assaulted Ian. Now it has come to light that a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police has given the investigation misleading information. We are asking the IPCC for a full report on what looks like a cover-up."

Even the limited information released by the Met, however, helps to illustrate how the news agenda is set and subsequently how, but for video evidence from the public that contradicted these messages or 'lines', their agenda might have become the accepted version of events on 1st April. I haven't had a chance to read and annotate everything yet, but so far the documents show that:
  • On 31 March, after Chief Superintendent Ian Thomas was doorstepped by the BBC as he left a meeting with Climate Camp representatives at Portcullis House in Westminster, a statement was prepared so that, 'if asked', the Met would say discussions were intended to "put to rest some myths about our policing style" and that "MPS tactics will be entirely proportionate to what we are policing" 1

  • On 1st April, at 12.57pm, the press bureau had received its first complaint from a journalist who had been refused permission to pass through the cordon around demonstrators outside the Bank of England, despite having official accreditation.2 Around 15 minutes later Associated Press reporters had made similar complaints.3 After attacks on the Royal Bank of Scotland, a reporter was told on a 'not for publication' basis that "if people were being contained it was for their own safety, as it is believed missiles are being thrown." 4

  • At 6.35pm, almost six hours after containment had begun, the press bureau offered a statement on a controlled dispersal of kettled protesters, claiming that "portaloos and water were made available" to them5. It also said that containment had been necessary to prevent "widespread disruption through breaking into splinter groups", although notes at 8.16pm from a press briefing by Commander Simon O'Brien quote him saying that "the vast majority of the time [the protest] was lawful" and that a small group "was trying to 'ramp up' the protest and hijack it into violence". O'Brien also claimed that the police were "careful, pragmatic and proportionate in our approach and response and tried to take the temperature out of the crowd dynamic".6

  • At 10.15pm, a statement was offered saying that police had "found a man who had stopped breathing". It also contains the now notorious claim that "officers took the decision to move him as during this time a number of missiles, presumed to be bottles, were thrown at them".7 This comment was repeated the next day by papers like the Telegraph and perhaps surprisingly considering their later coverage, by the Guardian. The statement says that the IPCC was "in the process of being informed" - by 11.30pm this had been changed to "the IPCC has been informed".8

  • At 11.35, press officers had e-mailed a statement describing a "slow dispersal" at the "peaceful" Climate Camp in Bishopsgate.9

  • On 2nd April, the most important story for the Press Bureau was not the death the previous day but a raid on the RAMPart centre in east London, with embedded journalists from ITN and the Evening Standard in tow.10 Later that afternoon, there was a small protest for Ian Tomlinson at the Bank of England that was again kettled.11 At 4.47pm, a note says that "Ch Supt Ian Thomas (Silver) will speak to officers at the Bank of England and explain that the media should be left to get on with their jobs".12

  • On 5 April, the Observer rang an article saying that Ian Tomlinson has been assaulted prior to his death. By this stage, all comment had been passed onto the City of London Police and the IPCC to make. Apart from reproductions of news stories and IPCC press releases, most entries are redacted, although we know, for what it's worth, that the Commissioner saw the video of Ian Tomlinson's assault in the Press Bureau at 6.35pm on Tuesday 7 April.13
More analysis on the information when I have time. My earlier summary of a Freedom of Information release by the Home Offce on the G20 protests is here.


Part 1 [2Mb] Part 2a [890Kb] Part 2b [670Kb] Part 3a [525Kb]
Part 3b [640Kb] Part 4 [2Mb] Part 5 [1.1Mb]


1 Part 1 - Action 4
2 Part 2a - Action 26
3 Part 2a - Action 29
4 Part 2a - Action 34
5 Part 2a - Action 55
6 Part 2a - Action 66
7 Part 2b - Action 66
8 Part 2b - Action 74
9 Part 2b - Action 75
10 Part 2b - Action 23, 29, 30, 36 and 46
11 Part 2b - Action 54
12 Part 2b - Action 57
13 Part 3b - Action 7

Saturday 20 February 2010

A Homage To The Sunday Times' Richard Kerbaj

With not particularly sincere apologies to Richard Kerbaj

Secular feminists ‘damaged’ by 'Decent' link
Allies deplore lack of distance from 'apologists for torture and war crimes'

Friends of a number of leading secular feminist organisations have expressed concerns about their failure to publicly distance themselves from the 'Decents', British former leftwingers whose wholesale embrace of a neoconservative world-view after 9/11 has become increasingly angry and paranoid.

Leading 'Decents' such as Melanie Philips and Nick Cohen have been described as "Britain’s most famous supporters of the War on Terror". Others, such as the bloggers at The Spittoon or Harry's Place, have been accused of vigorously championing the right of Christian fundamentalists in the United States and their followers in Europe to launch an illegal war in Iraq, bomb the shit out of civilians in Afghanistan and create a global network of secret prisons where torture is commonplace.

Activists who have considered themselves allies of groups such as Southall Black Sisters, Women Against Fundamentalism and Women Living Under Muslim Laws, in some cases for many years, described 'association' with the pro-war media commentators and apologists for torture and war crimes, in a campaign of vilification of Amnesty International and Moazzam Begg, as an "error of judgement" that "fundamentally damages" their organisations' reputations.

Speaking in east London, one long-standing anti-racist activist, a humanist and fierce critic of the Archbishop of Canterbury's assertion that sharia law in the UK "seems unavoidable", said:

"I believe the way the campaign against Amnesty International and Moazzam Begg has been conducted fundamentally damages these organisations' integrity and, more importantly, is becoming a threat to our collective ability to properly articulate the defence of human rights. Failing to condemn the antics of Britain’s most famous supporters of the "War on Terror" and refusing to challenge them as they continue to irrationally scream about 'Islamists under every bed', is a gross error of judgement."

Asked to elaborate further or provide evidence for these accusations, he added

"You know, I’ve been concerned about what the pro-war Right and its spokespersons stand for for a long time. But I think the issue that I really have is with allies in secular feminist organisations, because they are a human rights organisations and they should make very very careful decisions about how they associate with people. I can tell you that I asked friends in organisations such as Southall Black Sisters questions about their evidence against Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners that should have been very easily answered".

Another campaigner claimed that many of the 'Decents' have "an agenda that is way beyond concerns about fundamentalism" and have a "set of ideologies that support not only state-sanctioned violence in itself but very very discriminatory behaviour, systematic discrimination against Muslims who don’t agree with them."

To date, only one organisation facing criticism from its friends has sought to disassociate itself from the 'Decents', saying in a statement that it "deeply regrets the attempts of some media commentators and apologists for torture and war crimes to hijack this important debate to smear progressive movements, organisations and individuals".

However, the allegations were described "ridiculous" by another source, who added,

"It's not fair. Just because we make demands of people like Moazzam Begg to disassociate themselves from extremists, that doesn't mean we should be made to do the same".

Fair? Hell no. But smear campaigns - even parodies of them - never are.

Waiting - Five Women's Stories Of The War On Terror

In Waiting, a new play by Victoria Brittain, five women speak and sing their stories telling of the unseen fallout of the war on terror.

Friday 12 March and Saturday 13 March
Purcell Room,
Southbank Centre,
Belvedere Road,
London SE1 8XX | Map

These are stories of real women from cultures as varied as Senegal, Jordan, Palestine and the English Midlands. They mostly came to the UK as refugees, or married refugees, but after 9/11 the world they loved here vanished overnight. One after another they were engulfed by private terror.

Directed by Poppy Burton-Morgan 'Waiting' is a powerful new work of verbatim music theatre, with an original score by Jessica Dannheisser. Performers include Juliet Stevenson, Gemma Jones, classical soprano Anna Dennis and mezzo soprano Carole Wilson, accompanied by cellist Oliver Coates. Video, projection and lighting design is by William Reynolds.

After each performance, Victoria Brittain chairs a debate discussing the issues raised during the evening. The panels include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Gareth Peirce, Manjinder Virk, Riz Ahmed, Salma Yacob, Vanessa Redgrave and Moazzam Begg.

For more information see the South Bank Centre website

Friday 19 February 2010


Another brilliant Friday lunchtime distraction from some people who spend too much time with tiny plastic bricks:

Moazzam Begg: Another Communiqué From The Front Line

Originally I wasn't going to bother commenting on yesterday's statement from Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML), adding their support for Gita Saghal in her battle with Amnesty International (hat-tip to Harpymarx for pointing it out). I didn't see that it added anything new, but mainly I don't understand the tendency of certain NGOs to imagine they are engaged in some kind of international diplomacy, issuing long rambling communiqués like G8 countries at the end of one of those troubled summit meetings, where discussion is euphemistically described as "frank and full".

But WLUML's contribution to the debate - make that lack of a contribution - about Gita Saghal's decision to attack Amnesty International, Moazzam Begg and Cageprisoners in the pages of a Sunday newspaper is particularly expatiative and particularly hypocritical. Aside from providing, at some length, the circumstances of Ms Saghal's suspension and praise for her previous work, the statement mirrors Saghal's own in offering a total lack of evidence for its attack on Begg and yet expresses "deeply regrets [at] the attempts of some media commentators and apologists for torture and war crimes to hijack this important debate to smear progressive movements, organisations and individuals".

Sorry, but as the Americans say, that dog won't hunt. If Gita Saghal has a well-respected expertise and "demonstrated commitment to exposing and addressing fundamentalisms", which I'm sure she does, then there is no way that she can possibly be unfamiliar with the politics and tactics of people like Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Martin Bright, Melanie Philips, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens at the Centre for Social Cohesion or the bloggers at The Spittoon or Harry's Place. Targeting individuals and denouncing progressive organisations for 'collaboration' is hardly a secret, it's their stock in trade - as this article and this one and this one amongst the hundreds I could choose clearly illustrates.

Did Saghal not suspect, even for a second, that the pro-war 'Decents' wouldn't leap at the chance to castigate Amnesty International the moment she spoke to the Murdoch press, or are we expected to believe that an experienced campaigner and activist suffers from staggering naivety? Why not distance herself from them if she too feels an important debate has been hijacked?

Moreover, if WLUML genuinely regrets such tactics, why would Marieme Helie Lucas, its founder and former International Coordinator, even consider joining others in conflating fundamentalist armed groups in Algeria with Moazzam Begg and placing him amongst "perpetrators of violations [who] cannot be considered defenders of rights" - a charge that not even Saghal has accused him of?

I started following this ridiculous affair from the solid secularist position of refusing to take anything on faith alone. Show me the evidence and let me make up my own mind. But instead there has been little more than a stream of smears and innuendo. Moazzam Begg may be far from perfect, but after a year in Bagram and two more in Guantánamo Bay, where the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said there was "credible and consistent evidence" that he had been tortured, at the very least he deserves to be listened to, not vilified.

Looking at the way the attacks on him have been conducted since the article in the Sunday Times appeared on 7 February, however, I'm no longer convinced that 'the very least' is enough. Begg, in his statement on withdrawing from an Amnesty event on Tuesday, said that he “truly cannot understand why this is all happening now, since nothing that has been said in the media is new at all – no new and sensational revelations, no new controversial comments, at least not by or about me.” So unless Gita Saghal, whose actions kick-started the current furore, can come up with something far more convincing than what's been offered so far, then those who loathe the tactics of the pro-war 'left' should, on principle, offer Moazzam Begg their sympathy and solidarity.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Learn to Speak Tea Bag

Planning on visiting the US anytime soon? Then make sure you are prepared for conversations with the teabaggers:

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Amnesty International And The Rights Of Convicted Terrorists

Still nothing from friends who are supporters of Amnesty International's Gita Saghal, so I've been trying to work their position out a step at a time.

Amnesty International is apparently lending "spurious legitimacy to extremists who spurn its values" by allowing Moazzam Begg's to take part in a speaking tour in Europe, one calling for countries to accept non-EU citizens from Guantánamo Bay so that they are not tortured in their own countries and so that the secret prison can finally be closed. This is because Begg, despite calling for exactly what most human rights defenders also agree with and having a unique perspective on Guantánamo after years of detention there, is guilty of two things: not personally passing the 'sufficient liberal credentials' test set by his exacting detractors and being the director of Cageprisoners, who insist that even convicted terrorists are still entitled to human rights. In particular, Cageprisoners stands condemned for publishing information about convicted terrorists on its website.

The entire tour itself, although completely in keeping with Amnesty's long-standing objectives, is condemned for 'collaboration' by association with the Taliban, even though Anmesty actively opposes legislation in Afghanistan providingTaliban figures who agree to cooperate with the Afghan government with immunity to prosecution.

Furthermore, Amnesty International has itself defended the human rights of convicted terrorists before - and like Cageprisoners, it has published details of this defence on its website. What are we to make of this, from 2001:

On 16 May 2001, Timothy McVeigh is scheduled to become the first federal prisoner to be executed in the United States of America since 1963. Amnesty International urges you to prevent this retrograde step by announcing an immediate moratorium on all federal executions.

The crime of which Timothy McVeigh was convicted shocked the conscience of the world and caused immeasurable suffering to hundreds of people - not only the victims and survivors of the bombing itself, but their family members as well.

Such suffering deserves compassion, respect and justice. As an organization that works with and on behalf of victims of human violence on a daily basis, Amnesty International has the utmost sympathy for the families and friends of those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Nevertheless, the organization unreservedly opposes the planned killing of Timothy McVeigh, as it does all executions, in the belief that such a policy represents no more than a continuation of the cycle of violence it purports to confront. By imitating what it seeks to condemn - the deliberate taking of human life - society will once again have allowed violence and vengeance to gain the upper hand. Justice will not have been served.

In a country where judicial killing has increasingly come to be seen as an issue of ''victims' rights'', a growing number of murder victims' relatives are challenging the death penalty. The organization Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, opposing the execution of Timothy McVeigh, has said: "We believe that cold calculated killing by our government, replicating the very act of violence that brought us to pain, dishonors the lives and memories of our beloved. The ritual of executions damages all of us in society, and creates another grieving family. With the focus on putting someone to death, capital punishment makes icons of our murderers, while the lives of victims are forgotten and the needs of survivors are often ignored."

Demanding that a rightwing convicted terrorist has the right to life, no matter how popular his execution may have been in the US, whilst working with an organisation that does the same in forthright terms? What are we to make of that?

Splits in the Judean Peoples Front

I have to admit that I don’t recognise the majority of the names of the 42 Socialist Workers Party members who this week publicly resigned from their organisation, ostensibly in protest at the attempt by the SWP Central Committee to stop prominent member Lindsey German from speaking at a Stop the War meeting in Newcastle.

John Rees, of course, was once a leading party member before rightly taking most of the blame for the Respect implosion and apparently Carole Vincent was on Big Brother, according to work colleagues, but I haven’t watched it since the first series so I don’t know how significant that really is. I know Elaine Graham-Leigh was national treasurer for Respect at the time of its collapse and that Stop the War Coalition national officer Chris Nineham was until recently a SWP central committee member and that he is still listed (along with Noel Douglas and Guy Taylor, who also signed the resignation letter) as a steering group member for the party’s now moribund front-organisation Globalise Resistance.

What I find astonishing, however, is how disingenuous the arguments in their letter are. As Mike Marqusee remarked back in June 2003, the SWP has always, had “an air of unreality in its assessment of events”, but claims in the letter that the achievements of the Stop the War Coalition and Respect were “dependent on an open, non-sectarian approach to joint work with others on the left and a systematic commitment to building the movements” or that “use of disciplinary methods to ‘win’ arguments is completely foreign to the traditions to the SWP” are pure fantasy. They are simply not borne out by the experience of most of the independent left, including the many, many former members of the party.

Many individual SWP members are hardworking, committed and in some cases friends: but the party itself has a long, long history of divisiveness and control freakery with people like Rees, German and Nineham amongst the worst offenders. I therefore have to agree with Mike Marqusee’s essay on democracy and the left, which is definitely worth rereading in full:

Everyone here will have had the experience of attending a meeting ostensibly to discuss or organise an initiative or campaign only to find themselves faced with a block of SWP members who have arrived with a pre-determined line and set of priorities. The non-SWPers present may hold a variety of views or doubts, but these end up rotating around the axis established by the SWP. It’s a lop-sided and ineffectual discussion because a key participant – the SWP – is playing by a different set of rules, and not engaging openly and fully with the debate as others see it.

Mike accurately described the SWP’s “flagrant ethical relativism” in which the interests of the party justify “any behaviour, no matter how dishonest, duplicitous, or destructive to others. In their competition with the rest of the left, in their drive to maintain control (including control of their own members), anything goes.” Now that ethical relativism has been turned on some of its most fervent proponents – and we are supposed to sympathise when they complain about an “authoritarian internal regime”?

I hope that many of those who resigned this week discover that the experience of no longer being “subordinated to short term party-building”, by a leadership that treats them and the rest of the left contemptuously, is an exhilarating one. However, quite where shameless political opportunists, particularly German and Rees, go now is extremely hard to imagine – who on earth would want to work with them considering their appalling track record for domineering behaviour?

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Global Bankers Pilfer 'Climate Camp' Name

In November 2006 the Oxford-based campaign group Corporate Watch published an critique of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which described it as,

"a direct response by corporations to anti-corporate activism and the damage to reputations campaigns were able to cause. It represents a success for corporations in resurrecting their public image and colonising the issue space around the social and environmental impacts of business."

An example of CSR's colonisation of the 'issue space' of envionmental and anti-capitalist activism is the unbelievable decision of the largest foreign bank in Vietnam, HSBC, working with the NGO World Wildlife Fund, to misappropriate the name 'Climate Camp' from activist groups in Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium, England, Scotland and Wales:

HSBC and WWF partner to respond to climate change

HSBC Bank (Vietnam) Ltd. (HSBC Vietnam) and WWF Vietnam have partnered to launch the ‘HSBC and WWF take action on Climate Change Program’, or ‘Climate Camp’, to raise awareness of HSBC staff on the impact of climate change in Vietnam.

The next three months, Climate Camp will raise awareness of global warming among all 1,000 of HSBC staff in Vietnam, as well as provide specialized training to a selected group of staff, through lectures, interactive exercises and field trips. Moreover, it is hoped that Climate Camp will drive them to initiate action plans to respond to climate change in Vietnam, in both their private and professional lives.

The first module of the program will be held this week through two seminars on climate change in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The focus of the programmer will be field trips to visit areas with which have already felt the impacts of climate change and observe WWF’s conservation work, at Tram Chim National Park in the Mekong Delta, scheduled to happen in March.

Ms Trine Glue-Doan, WWF Vietnam Governance and Climate Change Advisor, says, “Climate Camp is a great opportunity to educate and engage the entire HSBC workforce in learning about climate change, its impact on nature and people, and empower participants to respond to climate change.”

“The effects of climate change are already being felt here in Vietnam, where the average temperature has increased by 0.5 degrees celcius in the last 50 years. Storms and flooding are increasing in severity and frequency as a result.” Ms. Glue Doan continues.

Climate Camp is part of wider ranging efforts by both WWF and HSBC to address climate change. It acts as a focus in HSBC’s environmental protection program and furthers extensive WWF education outlets, such as Earth Hour. The camp also reflects HSBC’s commitment in supporting the community where the bank operates.

One of HBBC Vietnam's corporate clients is Formosa Industries Corp (FIC), which is wholly owned by Formosa Plastics Group, Taiwan’s largest industrial conglomerate and one of Asia’s biggest petrochemical groups. FIC's investments in Vietnam include a coal-fired power plant...

You really couldn't make this shit up!

Moazzam Begg Pulls Out Of Amnesty Event

No doubt those who have been attacking Amnesty International for working with former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazaam Begg and Cageprisoners will be rubbing their hands with glee. In order to avoid detracting from the campaign against human rights violations in the name of the 'War on Terror', Begg has decided to pull out of this evening's screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London, where he was due to speak alongside filmmaker Andy Worthington and another former detainee, Omar Deghayes. The documentary focuses on the stories of the two ex-prisoners and a third man, Shaker Aamer, who is still held in Guantánamo.

In a statement reproduced on Pickled Politics, Moazzam Begg has said:

It has been my pleasure to have worked closely with Amnesty since my return from Guantánamo on highlighting the cases and campaigning against the human rights abuses that have occurred in the name of fighting terrorism since the outset of the ‘War on Terror.’ The relationship I have with Amnesty goes back to the years when I was incarcerated in US custody and my father was receiving immense moral and practical support from the organisation – something both he and I will never forget.

It is very unfortunate that this relationship is now being severely tested by both internal and external forces that would like nothing better than to see that work damaged, or even terminated. Since my return I have spoken about and written my views more times than I can remember. My goals for doing this have been to expose the reality of detention without trial, torture, cruelty and dehumanisation and at the same time, develop a nuanced approach to fostering understanding between communities that are increasingly becoming polarised through the language of education, understanding, acceptance and reconciliation.

I do not claim to have all the answers to every question on human rights; five years ago I could not even answer if I was going to live or face execution. But, I truly cannot understand why this is all happening now, since nothing that has been said in the media is new at all – no new and sensational revelations, no new controversial comments, at least not by or about me.

I have just returned from a pan-European tour asking governments to give sanctuary to cleared Guantánamo prisoners who are unable to return to their homes so I find it odd that this argument is occurring now, especially at time when revelations are being made that UK intelligence was fully aware that Binyam Mohamed was being abused. This is something I have said about my own case since my return too – and, I believe, the same will also be revealed about Shaker Aamer, on whose behalf I hope most people tonight will campaign.

I apologise for not attending this evening’s events but I have decided to abstain from taking part only so that the focus is not about my personal beliefs or Amnesty’s internal issues but, that the lives of men who have suffered human rights violations for so many years, as discussed in Outside the Law, are are not overshadowed.

If people are interested in knowing my views regarding all the controversies discussed in the national press last week they be can seen on

I wish this evening’s event and Amnesty UK and Andy Worthington every success.

Moazzam Begg

Monday 15 February 2010

More on Gita Saghal, Moazzam Begg and Amnesty

Yesterday's Sunday Times has returned to its efforts to link Amnesty International with the Taliban, in a piece claiming that Sam Zarifi, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific director, backed Gita Saghal and "has urged the charity to admit it made a 'mistake' by failing publicly to oppose the views of a former terror suspect".

In response, the organisation's interim Secretary General, Claudio Cordone, has sent the following letter:

Your article (‘Second Amnesty chief attacks Islamist links’, 14 February) misses the point.

A central element in the development of our policy and strategies has always been a frank, informed and robustly-argued debate involving people – like Gita Sahgal and Sam Zarifi– who are acknowledged as experts in their fields.

Like with any of our campaigning work, our work with Moazzam Begg in the context of the Counter Terror with Justice campaign was also the subject of a healthy internal debate in which different views were expressed.

In the end, we decided to work with Moazzam Begg to highlight the suffering of those being held at Guantánamo and to campaign for its closure. Nothing has yet come to our attention that would justify us stopping this work.

Lastly, Gita Sahgal was not suspended for voicing her concerns in our internal debates. The suspension is not a sanction. She remains employed on full pay.

Sam Zarifi has also sent a letter to the Sunday Times, which says:

Your recent article mischaracterizes my views.

I have been a part of the internal AI debate surrounding the issue of AI’s collaboration with various groups as part of its campaign to close down Guantánamo.

My opinions have been heard, considered, and where appropriate, implemented.
I do not oppose our current initiative working with Moazzam Begg in the recent European tour seeking to convince European states to receive more of the Guantánamo detainees who cannot be repatriated because of the risk of further human rights abuses.

As I told my programme staff in the internal email leaked to your paper, my concern has been that AI’s campaigning has not been sufficiently clear that when we defend somebody’s right to be free from torture or unlawful detention, we do not necessarily embrace their views totally.

This raises the risk of creating a perception, particularly in South Asia, that AI is somehow pro-Taleban or anti-women, playing into the rhetoric often used against us by governments and groups in the region that wish to deflect our criticism. But any suggestion that our work with Moazzam Begg or Cageprisoners has weakened our condemnation of abuses by the Taleban or other similarly-minded groups does not withstand scrutiny.

I believe that it was wrong to take this debate into the public in the manner and at the time done. And I fully agree with the measures AI has taken in response to the decision to publicize this debate now and in this manner.

This at least appears to clear up a couple of points that I have been waiting for answers to. Firstly, it seems that Gita Sahgal was suspended solely for talking to the Sunday Times because she didn't agree with the outcome of what sounds like a robust internal debate, not as punishment for voicing the concerns within Amnesty.

Secondly, the implication in public statements that Ms Saghal's "highly respected colleagues, each well-regarded in their area of expertise" support her stance does not seem to extend to the director of Amnesty’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, who obviously feels it was wrong to take internal discussions into the public domain and who supports the decision to suspend her.

Separately from the Sunday Times' latest coverage, the website supporting Gita Saghal also has a statement from a number of Algerian women's activists supporting her on for standing up against "fundamentalists who, as perpetrators of violations, cannot be considered defenders of rights." As far as I know, not even Ms Saghal has accused Moazzam Begg of personal culpability in actual human rights violations - her issue is with his views. Isn't conflating the two a rather dangerous road to venture down, one based almost exactly on the George W Bush formula that 'if your not X, you must be Y?

POSTSCRIPT: Anyone wanting to see what providing a platform to an extremist who advocates violence is like, then check this out

After Eight Years, This Is Still What Democracy Looks Like

Eight years ago today, on a grey freezing February morning, almost everyone I know headed into central London for the largest ever political demonstration in the UK, in protest against the impending war in Iraq. Not just the hardened activists and those with a vaguely liberal worldview - everyone.

The numbers were overwhelming. Luckily the friends I was with managed to arrive early enough to avoid the gridlock at Embankment, where marchers still patiently waited when we had already arrived at Hyde Park to hear Jesse Jackson speak. Ultimately we may have been unable to stop Blair's crazed adventurism, but as Euan Fergusaon said in the Observer the following day,

Will yesterday, astonishing yesterday, change anything? The facts are undeniable. Perception is all.

Blair has discovered the truth of this during the course of the Iraq Inquiry. His premiership will forever be defined by the catastrophe of the invasion and its aftermath, not least because he took the country into a war knowing that most people in the country were against it. The proof was there on the streets - and for everyone that took part, it was a proud moment - the most important stand in support of humanitarianism following the horror of the 11 September attacks on New York.

Help build the 'We Are Many' archive of stories and pictures that show how all the small events built up to the largest protest march ever - see and follow @15Feb2003 on Twitter.

Sunday 14 February 2010

We Need Something More Than The Gentle Stroll Of Despair

I know there are political junkies who are practically salivating at the prospect of a general election campaign's intoxicating fix, but I'm just not one of them. Democracy, it strikes me, is rather more complex and demanding than the opportunity to occasionally cast a vote, but at exactly the point when thirty years of free-market orthodoxy seems like so much snake-oil liniment, most people feel powerless to influence anything. The forthcoming election battle resembles a prime-time reality television show, presided over by political commentators sniping at the Westminster parties like even less attractive versions of Simon Cowell. Are you Team Dave or Team Gordon? Remember that voting closes at 10pm on 6 May!

If anything sums up the sense that our role is to provide the audience for a theatrical performance, it has to be the announcement of a demonstration in defence of the welfare state and public services on 10 April. It has been called by 28 national trade unions, who argue that "the idea that state pensions, health care, education and other public services are best provided by society as whole" is under threat and that "we will have a unique chance – just weeks before an expected general election – to make our voices heard".

It's all very laudable - who on the left would disagree with defending public services? But many people had the impression that their voices might finally been heard back in 1997, or 2001, or 2005. Instead, as the organisers acknowledge, "whoever wins the next general election will be looking at the welfare state and public services as a way of cutting public expenditure". That includes the party of government, which presumably must bear the lion's share of responsibility for "our public services... now facing massive cuts and further privatisation" and for the NHS being "privatised behind a smokescreen of choice and competition". No-one seems to want to mention that this also happens to be the political party that the majority of the unions behind April's demonstration will be bankrolling and campaigning for over the next seven weeks.

It may seem rather peculiar that the same unions that failed to demand the promotion of public ownership and an end to privatisation before Labour's 2005 election campaign are suddenly calling a march in protest against the actions of the party they continually prevent slipping into financial bankruptcy. But that's the theatrics of mainstream politics. It's a one-off gesture, rather like last year's pointless Put People First march, which I seem to recall Gordon Brown promised to meet the concerns of. Its demands included investment in and strengthening public provision of essential services and if Brown's promises ever had any semblance of truth about them, this April's march would have been unnecessary.

So once again, we'll take part in a pleasant, 'self-kettled' saunter through London's streets as a substitute for a wider, more dynamic campaign. The march seems designed primarily to convince trade unionists that they can 'make their voices heard' but that ultimately, no matter how terrible Labour may be, the Tories will probably be far worse. With all the chutzpah of the political class, Brown may even sent it a message of support, although I doubt he has quite so much that he'll actually attend, unlike that pair of hypocrites Ed Miliband and Peter Mandelson who popped up at the Wave demonstration in December.

Isolated gestures like a pre-election demonstration may be aimless but they are not the only option. I may have had limited expectations of the moderate liberal politician who was elected US president in 2008, but there are still lessons to learn from Obama's innovative campaign and the way it mobilised thousands of people in what Rolling Stone magazine called "the machinery of hope". There were echoes too of the effectiveness of decentralised grassroots activism, drawn together under a common banner, in the anti-war movement of 2002-2003, at least until the Stop the War Coalition lost its way completely.

Even if it was optimistic to believe that war really could be prevented, or that 'change we can believe in' was possible under an Obama presidency, these campaigns galvanised the belief and optimism of so many precisely because they no longer felt themselves powerless to influence the normally closed world of political decision-making. It really was what democracy looks like - far more than its muted expression in a polling booth on election day.

Never mind the arguments I read so often about whether a 'new workers' party' or a political realignment on the left might be possible - unless we can start to campaign in ways that recapture any sense of hope that change is not only necessary but possible, we are going nowhere. And sadly, yet another isolated, one-shot demonstration and rally in Trafalgar Square is hardly a promising first step.

Saturday 13 February 2010

A Dispiriting Level Of Tedium

I managed to get away from work a little earlier than usual yesterday and caught a screening in Stratford of The Wolfman, which wasn't a complete howler - and I don't mean that in a good way. The less said about it the better. Then it was off to Wanstead Library for a Newham Bookshop event with Richard Wilkinson, co-author of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.

The book argues that almost every social problem common in developed societies - reduced life expectancy, child mortality, drugs, crime, murder rates, mental illness and obesity - has a single root cause: inequality. I'd been looking forward to hearing Wilkinson for a while - the teaser video for the book looks great and Matt Sellwood had interviewed him in Red Pepper in December 2009.

Unfortunately, I haven't read the book yet so I can't review it, but on the strength of yesterday evening's discussion, one of the most tedious and disappointing literary events I have witnessed, I can't pretend I'm now looking forward to doing so.

That Richard Wilkinson came across as an academic delivering a Monday morning university lecture was only part of the problem. As a retired professor of social epidemiology, I suppose he can hardly be blamed for seeming rather dry and precise. But when the audience - predominantly middle-aged, middle-class and members of the Newham branch of the Fabian Society - gave the impression from their questions that they were taking notes in preparation for writing an essay, Wilkinson had precious little to work with.

Here we are, facing the impact of the international banking crisis and the recession that has meant the middle ground in politics has not so much shifted as collapsed. The past 'certainties' of neoliberalism now seem so fragile that it feels like a point of generational change in attitudes, where the pursuit of profit is no longer seen as the profession of heroes but of villains. At the same time, the mainstream parties have little to offer as an alternative to the politics they have been tied to for so long and yet the traditional extra-parliamentary left is as weak as it has ever been. No wonder people are looking around for new answers and why books like The Spirit Level have attracted such wide publicity.

Sitting at the back of the hall at Wanstead Library, desperately trying not to nod off, I could imagine what a genuine activist audience would have made of Wilkinson's evidence. If, for example, giving people greater control over the institutions where they work has a positive impact on reducing the consequences of inequality that even the better-off are unable to insulate themselves from, how do we use this information to argue for a transformation of the workplace? Perhaps a move not just towards more cooperatives but to workers' control starts to seem less far-fetched and outlandish. If there is a link between consumerism's 'status competition' and drug problems, mental illness or violent crime, how can we incorporate this into a popular and more effective message about the way that rampant consumerism is also environmentally unsustainable - particularly at a time when climate change denial is growing in acceptance?

Wilkinson's conclusions potentially provide a tool, it appears, for those who wish to put them to good use. Unfortunately, the audience last night seem to treat them as little more than a fascinating intellectual exercise.

Friday 12 February 2010

LAZY FRIDAY - A Brief History of Pretty Much Everything

Another brilliant Friday lunchtime distraction - a brief history of pretty much everything, animated via flipbook...

Report - 'No Shock Doctrine in Haiti' Meeting

It has been a month since the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and yet the Radical Activist Network meeting at Conway Hall last night was packed.

It's an indication of the growing interest in Haiti's future - with over 35,000 people signing up to a 'No Shock Doctrine in Haiti' Facebook group - and real concern that in spite of the body blow that neo-liberalism has taken as a result of the world economic crisis, the situation in Haiti is seen as a tempting prospect for proponents of the 'shock doctrine' described in Naomi Klein's book. Already Jim Roberts of the the rightwing Heritage Foundation, in a posting on the US think tank's website that was hurriedly removed after criticism of its callousness, has said:

In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the U.S. response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti earthquake offers opportunities to re-shape Haiti’s long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.

Speakers last night included Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment, who gave a broad overview of Haiti's history, of the meddling and military intervention by the US and the economic power concentrated in the hands of a few powerful families. He also gave a very different perspective of the slums of Port-au-Prince, described as "the most dangerous place on Earth" by the United Nations and in films like Ghosts of Cité Soleil, arguing that this was a gross misrepresentation that ignores the tremendous solidarity within slum communities.

These Western perceptions of Haiti have been reinforced by the reporting of the 'security situation' since the earthquake, particularly by the BBC's Matt Frei, who was heavily criticised for the racist undertones of his reports. At that time, most Haitians had seen little humanitarian aid but plenty of armoured personnel carriers cruising the streets and around the US-controlled airport, which more closely resembled the Green Zone in Baghdad than a centre for humanitarian aid. Remarkably it took former president - and former occupier of Haiti - Bill Clinton to pull Frei up on this, saying, on the BBC's News at Ten on January 18:

Actually when you think about people who have lost everything except what they’re carrying on their backs, who not only haven’t eaten but probably haven’t slept in four days, and when the sun goes down it’s totally dark and they spend all night long tripping over bodies living and dead, well, I think they’ve behaved quite well... They are astonishing people. How can they be so calm in the face of such enormous loss of life and loved ones, and all the physical damage?

Nick Dearden, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign, was just as good value as the last time I heard him speak (at Climate Camp in Blackheath last summer). He described how Haiti has been crippled with debt since its independence, from the demands by France for 'compensation' for the value of its slaves (only repaid in the 1940s) to the huge debts run up by the Duvalier dictatorship. The conditions laid down by the IMF for loans to service this debt have included slashing tariffs on rice, allowing the US to dump its subsidised surplus on the country and forcing farmers into the slums of Port-au-Prince, whilst it has also demanded that Haitian governments privatise health, education and public infrastructure and restrict the minimum wage. No wonder it has been so hard to cope with the aftermath of disaster.

Even when Haiti was finally included amongst the countries eligible for debt relief, only loans up until 2004 were included and there were conditions. Before the earthquake, the country was still committing to repaying nearly 10% of its revenue to its creditors, over $500 million in total over the next decade. Now, in order to rebuilt, Haiti needs enormous investment and campaigners have pushed for this to be in the form of grants rather than loans - and to include the unconditional cancellation of all of its debt.

The final speaker was Selma James, the wife and political colleague of the historian CLR James, who is one of those fantastic, old-school, inspirational speakers that we seldom hear anymore. She spoke eloquently about the continued demand by Haitians for the return of Aristide, the need for solidarity rather than charity and was highly critical of the role of the UN occupation force (see the video below for an for example) and of the power of aid agencies in Haiti, an issue taken up by medical journal The Lancet since the earthquake, in which it attacked the way charities and other non-governmental organisations have clamoured for attention.

Overall it was a interesting and informative meeting, although where the campaign goes next was far from clear. Activists are attempting to articulate an alternative narrative about Haiti, but its immediate future is hardly hopeful. Influential US think tanks like the Brookings Institute are already suggesting that the country should become a US protectorate, whilst companies are eyeing up the millions of dollars worth of reconstruction contracts and The Nation has reported that private mercenary companies are bent on 'disaster profiteering'. Once the immediate generosity of donations to provide food and water has passed, the danger remains that Haiti will become a new experiment for nation-building - but once again for the benefit of international capitalism, not the people who have suffered so much already.

Thursday 11 February 2010

Support the Robin Hood Tax

From War on Want: more information at

The financial crisis that has swept across the world economy since 2008 has destroyed jobs and livelihoods in developed and developing countries alike. The colossal bailouts given to the banking sector by UK taxpayers have raised the prospect of public service cuts and further reductions in social welfare.

War on Want and many other campaigns organisations, trade unions, women's organisations and faith groups are now calling for the introduction of a financial transactions tax on banks, known as the Robin Hood Tax, to repay some of their debt to society and to provide ongoing funding for public services and social welfare programmes into the future.

A tax on the banks' transactions in foreign currencies, shares and derivatives would raise significant sums for spending on public services, climate change mitigation and anti-poverty programmes, both in the UK and overseas. If applied globally at an average rate of 0.05%, such a tax could raise as much as £250 billion every year.

The UK already has a stamp duty of 0.5% on share transactions, and it is perfectly possible for the government to introduce its own currency transactions tax on sterling alone. Calculations published by War on Want and the United Nations University show that even at the tiny rate of 0.005%, a sterling currency transactions tax would raise an estimated £3bn each year in additional revenue for use on anti-poverty programmes.

Including other major currencies such as the yen, dollar and euro would increase that figure many times over - but the good news is that the UK does not need to wait for others to implement a Robin Hood tax. The British government can introduce a currency transactions tax on sterling right now.

War on Want launched the first UK campaign for a Robin Hood tax (technically named the Tobin Tax after economist James Tobin) on foreign currency transactions in the wake of the East Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Millions of people in Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and the Philippines lost their jobs and their livelihoods as foreign currency speculators withdrew their money from Asian economies almost overnight. A Tobin Tax would stem the rapid flow of 'hot money' in and out of currencies, bringing stability so as to prevent a recurrence of the chaos caused in the East Asian crisis.

The film below, produced as part of War on Want's original Tobin Tax campaign, shows what happens when currency speculators prey on developing economies. Our thanks to Radiohead and Ewan McGregor for their contributions.

Nelson Mandela - Twenty Seven Years In Captivity

Sunday 11 February 1990 saw one of the defining moments for those of us who first discovered activism in the grim years of the eighties - the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.

I'll be curious to see whether Tory leader David Cameron sends a message of congratulation today - as the Independent reported last year, in 1989 he accepted an all-expenses paid trip to apartheid South Africa, funded by a firm that lobbied against the imposition of sanctions on the racist regime. That was back when the Conservative Party described the ANC as a terrorist organisation - and Speaker of the Commons John Bercow was Chair of the Federation of Conservative Students and would regularly sell Hang Mandela t-shirts and posters.

There is, of course, only one choice of music to celebrate today's twentieth anniversary of that day: with The Special AKA's classic top-ten hit from 1984, "Free Nelson Mandela" - still one of the best protest songs of modern times.

YouTube has, for some reason, disabled embedding of the video since this morning, but you can find it here.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Update: Gita Saghal, Moazzam Begg and Amnesty

Since I wrote about them on Monday, the allegations made by Amnesty International's Gita Saghal against her employer's relationship with former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazaam Begg and Cageprisoners have rumbled on inconclusively. I had been promised, by a friend who knows Ms Saghal, the evidence to back up the accusation that Begg or his organisation are "committed to systematic discrimination" that "fundamentally undermines the universality of human rights", but as yet have heard nothing more.

Meanwhile, with unfortunate timing for Begg's detractors, the court of appeal's decision today to order the government to reveal evidence of MI5 complicity in the torture of another former detainee, Binyam Mohamed, strongly suggests there are probably far greater and more immediate threats to 'human rights for all' than Amnesty International's choice of platform speakers.

With little else to go on in the way of evidence, we can only judge from Ms Saghal's own statements and those of her supporters, in which there continues to be a deliberate effort to steer clear of specifics that has become increasingly frustrating.

Interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Gita Saghal argued that "Cageprisoners has an agenda that is way beyond being a prisoners' rights organisation", although she attacked not Begg but his colleague Asim Qureshi, who she had been interviewed with the previous day on BBC World Service's Newshour (see below - transcript here) and who, in my view, acquitted himself very well. Ms Saghal added her suspicion that Amnesty "needs perfect victims", which struck me odd, for on the face of it, the opposite seems true: that it is precisely Moazzam Begg's failure, in Saghal's view, to be a 'perfect' victim of the war on terror (because of his as-yet unspecified 'discriminatory' views) that disqualifies him as a person to work with and worse still, makes him an 'enemy combatant' of universal human rights.

Today, Women Against Fundamentalism and Southall Black Sisters issued a statement that is equally disappointing, providing little more on what exactly the charges are against the legitimacy of Begg or Cageprisoners as human rights campaigners and arguing, with no apparent irony, that:

We believe that Amnesty International’s stance is being rightly questioned by organisations like ours who struggle to ensure that the debate on the War on Terror and religious fundamentalism is not reduced to the logic of ‘either you are with us or you are against us’.

But isn't this exactly what is being demanded of Moazzam Begg - either individuals agree within us completely or they must be against us? That is the implication of alleging "collaboration with those who sympathise with all religious fundamentalist forces" - sympathies that WAF and SBS have decided are damning enough for condemnation of entire organisations but not, it seems, worthy of greater discussion or elaboration. The WAF/SBS statement goes on to say:

When so called victims of the War on Terror advocate ‘engagement’ with combatants – perhaps necessary to achieve peace – why are they not challenged on the authoritarian social and political agenda that they support?

"So-called"? Does illegal incarceration in Guantánamo really count for so little? Moreover, if such 'challenges' are to have a productive or meaningful outcome, rather than amount to plain and simple demonisation, why must they involve Ms Saghal going on the radio, accusing someone with important insights on human rights abuse of "advocating views that are abhorrent to any kind of universality standard", refusing to explain more and, rather shamefully I thought, adding that.she feels "profoundly unsafe, I have to say, talking to Asim Qureshi and Moazzam Begg"?

This doesn't sound like much like it offers any prospect of compromise - it sounds more like outright rejection of debate and of Moazam Begg's continued participation as a campaigner for the closure of Guantánamo, largely because of his individual refusal to define himself solely as a meek, broken victim of US human rights abuses.

What has also been illuminating about these interviews and the WAF/SBS statement has been the shift of focus onto Amnesty itself, in what looks like an attempt to smear it as engaging in what WAF/SBS calls "a denial and abrogation of internal and external accountability". And this may well be because a publicity-conscious organisation with a liberal membership is a much easier target.

Instead of answering a question this morning about the substance of her allegations, Gita Saghal simply said that she "had been concerned by what Moazzam Begg and his organisation stands for for some time, but the issue I really have is with my employer." In the course of the following exchange, she suggests that Amnesty's decision to suspend her was the direct result of raising her concerns internally with her managers:

I know you can't talk in detail about why you have been suspended, but do you know why? Have Amnesty told you exactly why?

GITA SAGHAL: I can't talk about that. But I can tell you that I asked Amnesty International two or three questions that should have been very easily answered – and by Amnesty International I mean my own bosses, I was working inside the organisation – and raised perfectly legitimate questions, and that was how did we come to have such a close relationship with Cageprisoners and how did we decide that they were a safe and proper organisation for us to work with?

JUSTIN WEBB: And you sent these e-mails, these requests, to people within Amnesty and you're saying that their reaction has been to suspend you?

GITA SAGHAL: That's correct.

So: Gita Sghal was suspended because she raised an issue that her managers didn't want to hear, right? Not necessarily. During the BBC World Service interview yesterday, Ms Saghal was asked why exactly she had been suspended and replied:

I can only say that my suspension came a few hours after the Sunday Times
article came out.

So was it because of the e-mails, or the Sunday Times article? Does Amnesty seek to deliberately silence its critics, or did the unexpected appearance of a critical newspaper article on a Sunday morning, when most of Ms Saghal's colleagues were at home and there would have been, at best, a skeleton staff available, force its hand?

I've read, I've listened and I'm still none the wiser. So if the friend who promised me the hard evidence against Begg and Cageprisoners could get back to me soon, I'd be very grateful. For as things stand, I think that Moazzam Begg rather than Gita Saghal is the real victim of this sorry affair.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Cameron's Common People

For more posters see I'm actually quite impressed by the Shat's version of 'Common People' !

Infamy! They've All Got It Infamy!

In the course of an interview on Fox News with the Republican former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, Tony Blair claimed a "continual desire to sort of uncover some great conspiracy" lay behind the Iraq Inquiry. Here's the full interview with the blood-soaked war criminal:

Ali Dizaei - Criminal in Uniform

I suspect every criminal defence solicitor in London could name a police officer who they believe has abused their position of authority. Few end up in jail like Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei and fewer still are described as a "criminal in uniform" by Nick Hardwick, the chair of the IPCC. Dizaei's prosecution is therefore a welcome development - but it is hard not to see his unpopularity within the senior ranks of the Met as the reason why he wasn't provided with the normal protection afforded to serving officers.

For Hardwick in particular, Dizaei's conviction is an extremely convenient result. Not only does it allow him to pontificate about the jury's decision sending a message "to any other corrupt officer that nobody is untouchable", which is a patently absurd statement, but there is absolutely no prospect of the Metropolitan Police Federation calling him a "witchfinder general", as they did last year following the death of Ian Tomlinson.

We now await a similarly robust to the "criminal in uniform" who was filmed striking and pushing over Tomlinson during April 2009's G20 protests. The decision of the Crown Prosecution Service was due before Christmas but we have heard nothing yet.

Expect too a concerted effort from within the police to argue that Dizaei is a classic example of the dangers of 'political correctness gone mad". Former Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman has started the ball rolling, arguing in the Times that:

"the police can afford to be less frightened about dealing with racially sensitive issues: it is no longer the case that the default position of a jury is to assume that the police are racist."

Anonymous police blogger 'Inspector Gadget' yesterday said:

Maybe at last we can bin the ridiculous Diversity agenda which allowed him to survive for so long and get back to treating everyone as equal.

I'm sure that there will be further efforts to close completely the 'window of opportunity' that was created by the Lawrence Inquiry in 1998. However, as I argued on its tenth anniversary in January 2008, it had already failed to create a permanent shift in police attitudes and "whilst policing in Britain certainly is different than it was in the 1980s, new powers make it easier to slip back into ingrained habits - habits whose impact will be felt mainly by Muslims, young black men and working class communities."

By far the funniest comment on the Disaei case comes courtesy of the satirical website Newsarse, which pretty much sums up what many of us feel about the protestations of outrage in the media today. Here's their take on the story in full:

Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei has been sentenced to four years for assaulting and false arrest, prompting a countrywide review of the way our police forces are covering their tracks.

Mr Dizaei’s sentence is in relation to the poorly concealed assault of Mr Al-Baghdadi - a man who had the temerity to demand payment for work he had undertaken on Mr Dizaeri’s personal website.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said: "It is extremely disappointing and concerning that this very senior officer was so clearly unable to adequately cover his tracks after abusing his position of power."

"We had invested heavily in the career of Mr. Dizaei, both in training and personal development, so you can imagine how let down we all feel this morning."


The systematic review of all track-covering methodologies is expected to take two years, and will address all levels of the force, starting with beat officers.

Commissioner Stephenson continued, “As far back as the sixties our officers were taught to apply blows in areas that will not bruise, and to do it out of sight of any cameras, but clearly this lesson has not been learnt by today’s generation of powerful officers."

"I had assumed that every PC on the street knew the rudimentary basics in manipulating the public through the use of dubious pressure tactics - and how to quietly deal with those who don’t acquiesce, but I was wrong."

"I am however confident that by 2012 when this review will be complete, our police forces will be capable of concealing just about anything they put their minds to."

"After all, if we don’t have complete freedom from the law ourselves, what’s the point of even joining the police force, eh?"

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