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Norman Finkelstein on why HRW finally turned their back to “the lunatic state” of Israel

The title of the Human Rights Watch report is “A Threshold Crossed”. The paradox there is the threshold was not crossed by Israel – like you say, this is all old news – the threshold was crossed by Human Rights Watch. They crossed the threshold. They now were looking square in the face without any extenuations, any qualifications, any caveats; they said Israel is based on Jewish domination… I mean I can barely say that.

I have a small public career denouncing Human Rights Watch – many of the chapters in many of my books are devoted to denouncing its whitewashing of Israel… Who would have thought the day would come to pass that Human Rights Watch would make us look like milquetoast? Taking positions that frankly I’ve not taken publicly – I was of a school of let’s just resolve this: let’s end the occupation and let’s move on; but now the terms are changing. [from 44:00 mins]

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On Monday 10th, BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis interviewed Palestinian Ambassador to UK, Husom Zomlot, who eloquently called out the western media’s consistent downplaying of Israel’s settler colonial oppression as just its inevitable response to a cycle of violence sparked by Palestinians:

And here is Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd from Sheikh Jarrah responding to CNN anchor in a clip that went viral:

As the liberal media does its level best to misrepresent the ongoing Israeli attacks on Palestinians as “clashes”, feigning equivalence between Palestinian stones and ‘rockets’ to the routine brutality of Israel’s military occupation and its “mowing the grass” with renewed airstrikes and bombing of Gaza, on Tuesday night [May 11th] political commentator Katie Halper invited Jewish American scholar Norman Finkelstein to speak about the protests in East Jerusalem and more widely across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, lending his own perspective on both the current and historical context for the violence. The full interview is embedded below alongside my own transcripts with relevant links provided – all the quotes (including the one above) are Norman Finkelstein:

I’ll tell you something that is a kind of a paradox; an irony. I’m not passing judgment now; I’m just going to lay out a picture. From 1967, Israel’s occupation, and especially beginning in the early 1970s, Israel’s existence as a Jewish state ceased to be called into question. The international consensus was: Israel, for better or for worse, it exists; it’s a state; if it wants its Jewish majority, it can have its Jewish majority, and it can carry on however it wants internally. And then the issue was just [what to do about] the occupied Palestinian territories.

Had the Israelis not been so arrogant; had they not been so supremacist, so contemptuous of the Palestinians; had they just calculated their own best interest; they would have settled for the two states and said let’s move on. But their arrogance, their Jewish supremacy, that impulse for Jewish domination – the cheapness to which they reduced Palestinian life – that had a paradoxical consequence. And what was the consequence? The consequence was that now their whole legitimacy is being challenged.

When it first came up in 1975 with the “Zionism is racism” resolution at the UN. When it first came up the western states, and in particular the United States, had expressed its outrage, its indignation: how dare you say Israel’s a racist state? How dare you say Israel is an apartheid state? You probably remember the American official – I won’t call him ‘a statesman’ – Daniel Patrick Moynihan [who] made his whole reputation by sitting in the United Nations… holding up his hand, giving his no vote to that resolution. And that launched his career…

Here’s the irony: what Moynihan is objecting to now that ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution at the UN. Guess what? You now open up B’Tselem’s report, you open up Human Rights Watch report, and what did they say? The Israeli state is based on Jewish Supremacy and Jewish domination. Now isn’t that an irony? That’s what the reports are now saying. Exactly what launched Daniel Moynihan’s career was denouncing that claim, as did the whole of the western states and the American media in particular. That position, ‘Zionism is racism’ – Israel as a Jewish Supremacist state based on Jewish domination – that notion has now been legitimised.

From an historical point of view it’s a real irony, because to use simple language ‘they could have gotten away with it’. The international community was willing to accept Israel as it was, even though they knew the land had been and was still being relentlessly confiscated. They knew there were Palestinian refugees who were denied the right to return to their homeland. Everybody knew that. But, the international community turned its head away, and said let’s just forget about that, let’s just resolve the conflict: two states: Palestinian state, Israeli state; and let’s move on. [But] they didn’t want to move on. They wanted to have everything. And now everything is being called into question. Everything! [from 37:00 mins]

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The text below is also a partial transcript of Norman Finkelstein’s conversation with Katie Halper.

Let me just map out broadly what I see happening. First is the headline news, which is the explosion in East Jerusalem. Which was a long time coming. There have been intimations for the last few weeks or more that Israel’s expulsions of families in East Jerusalem were at some point going to climax in a clash. And that happened this past week. You can never predict when they’re going to happen, but obviously a breaking point had been reached.

That’s the political aspect – the facts on the ground – and that’s what’s right now garnering all the headlines. But there’s another aspect to this conflict which has been getting some but not equal media attention. And that is the quite dramatic and one might say a turning point in the Israel-Palestine conflict at the legal, at the moral, and at the public opinion level. A collapse of all three: legal, moral, public opinion level. And for some of your listeners it’s particularly revealing of what’s happening in the American-Jewish community.

Now, let me try to just back-up and put things in context. First the major development. The major development is the past week Human Rights Watch, which as you know is the leading human rights organisation in the world. It’s the most prominent, the most influential, the most well-endowed. And I would also say – because it’s pertinent to what I’ll be saying in this evening’s conversation – it’s also the most centrist. The most mainstream of the human rights organisations.

And this past week Human Rights Watch put out a very substantial report. It ran to 214 pages, and it had a voluminous scholarly apparatus, which is the fancy way of saying that it was exhaustively and comprehensively researched. It’s an impressive piece of work. And it had many dramatic things to say. The title of the report is “A Threshold Crossed”, and before I get to that threshold crossed, I want to just back-up a moment and set it in context.

The context is that since roughly 2009, Palestinians and their supporters have been trying to bring a case against Israel before the International Criminal Court [ICC], and these were very protracted proceedings and they frankly seemed as if they were getting nowhere. There were two cases brought before the court. One was after many, many years finally dismissed by the Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda – that was the subject of [Finkelstein’s] book I accuse – it was an attack on the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda; and then there was a second case brought before the court. The second case was also dragging and dragging and dragging, and it looked as if was going to die out. However, this past year for reasons which I won’t go into now, the court finally decided it’s proceeding with an investigation into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza.

Now one hurdle had been cleared to pursue this investigation, but there were still many other hurdles to be cleared. I myself having followed the case very closely and studied it, I was very sceptical the Palestinians would be able to clear the next hurdles. There are a lot of legal technicalities that would have enabled the court to kill the case. And I didn’t think [the Palestinians] would be able to prevail.

But then, lo and behold, about three months ago, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, which is the main Israeli human rights organisation monitoring Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories, they came out with what one might call an astonishing position paper. And I’m just going to read you the title. I’m not going to belabour you with the text; just the title: “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.”

Now there are three notable things about that title:

Number one. They use a very incendiary phrase. The phrase is “Jewish Supremacy”. Obviously for an American ear that sounds an awful lot like ‘White Supremacy’. Jewish Supremacy: there’s not even a flea’s hop separating the two. So to a public which has been – mostly because of the Black Lives Matter movement – very much sensitised to issues of White Supremacy and White domination – it was, as I said, an incendiary phrase.

Secondly, usually in discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict there’s Israel here and the Occupied Palestinian Territories there. Israel’s legitimacy is more or less accepted. The point of contention is the state and future of the occupied Palestinian territories. B’Tselem did something new. It said we’re no longer talking about Israel here, Occupied Palestinian Territories there; there’s just one state now. We have to be honest about it. There’s just one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and that one state is Israel. And that one state is a Jewish Supremacist state. As the report goes on to say: this state’s foundation is Jewish Supremacy.

And then it takes the next step and says “this is an apartheid state”. Well, that crossed several red lines. Number one: it no longer acknowledged the legitimacy of the State of Israel. The point of contention was no longer just the occupied Palestinian territories; it’s the whole thing. And number two: they compared it to apartheid, and for Israel’s supporters that’s been a bogie: you can’t compare it to apartheid.

So frankly speaking – candidly – I was shocked. I was very surprised at what they did. They have a new leadership; the fellow who heads the executive is named Hagai El-Ad – he’s a very unusual figure. I don’t know him personally. I have never had personal contact – not from a want of trying from me, but we’ve never had contact. He’s a Harvard PhD in Physics and he apparently set aside his professional attainments and he now heads up B’Tselem. And he’s a remarkably principled and forthright person. There is one quite amusing exchange between him and [former] Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon at the United Nations. It’s a real sight to behold. And frankly I personally thought – and still think – he has gone so far out on a limb that there’s probably a good chance he will be assassinated. [from 2:45 mins]

Here is Hagai El-Ad, the director of Israeli non-profit organisation B’Tselem slamming the Israeli occupation’s crimes and violations during a UN Security Council session held in October 2018:

The response of Israeli Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Danny Danon, was to say “Shame on you, collaborator:

[B’Tselem] is the main Israeli human rights organisation monitoring Israeli crimes and abuses – I don’t like the word abuses I prefer the word crimes – Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories. It’s very reputable. It’s won many awards, and I think it’s fair to say no-one has seriously disputed the quality or the accuracy of its research. So it’s a formidable organisation in terms of its persuasive power. It has a good track-record for its accuracy.

Now the Human Rights Watch report is as astonishing as the B’Tselem report but in a different way. First of all, the Human Rights Watch report says, not that Israel has established a regime of ‘Jewish Supremacy’ across the board from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean; they say something slightly different, but equally incendiary. They say Israel has established across the board from the Mediterranean to the Jordan (Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories); they have established a regime – I’ll use their words now – ‘a regime of Jewish domination over and against the Palestinian people’.

And they say, that in the occupied territories, Israel has established – or Israel engages in – the crime of apartheid and the crime of persecution, and that these two crimes constitute under international law crimes against humanity, which according to Human Rights Watch, quoting some statutes, they say these are among the most odious – ODIOUS – crimes in international law.

And they say, that the ICC should not limit itself to investigating Israeli war crimes, but should go to the next step and investigate Israeli crimes against humanity. So it’s already taken what you might call ‘out on a limb’ positions – I’ll get back to that in a moment – the other thing that it does which was a total surprise to me (and I’m not saying these things for their theatrical or emotive effect – I’m being quite sincere and candid with you – I’ve studied this conflict since 1982 when Israel invaded Lebanon which eventually became the subject of my doctoral dissertation and so I’m pretty inured to events in the Israel-Palestine conflict – I kind of think I’ve seen it all) but some things are happening which are very surprising. It’s the 1960s song that I grew up with: ‘There’s Something Happening Here’. There is: something is happening – there’s no doubt about it.

Because the Human Rights Watch report doesn’t just stick to the present: what is the situation now; what has been the situation in the past ten or twenty years. The B’Tselem report is basically a description of the present. The Human Rights Watch report – I’m not exaggerating, believe me I don’t exaggerate; I’m very careful about staying true to the facts – it goes all the way back to Israel’s establishment in 1948 – it even goes back to 1947. And it says, from the beginning, Israel, in order to create this Jewish state – the Zionist movement and then the State of Israel – they tried to do two things.

Number one – I’m using their words now – they tried to engineer a Jewish majority in Israel. Because for the founders of the State of Israel, a Jewish state could not be a Jewish state unless there was a Jewish majority, and so they wanted to engineer that Jewish majority. Well there was only one way to engineer a Jewish majority; you had to expel the indigenous population. There’s no other way to do it. And so Human Rights Watch… delegitimises the notion of a Jewish majority, because it says in order to create that Jewish majority, it could only be created at the expense of the Palestinians. And so it says this creation of a Jewish majority state was intrinsically at the expense of – or discriminating against – the Palestinian population.

The second pillar of the Jewish State objective was the confiscation of the land, because the land was owned by Palestinians; they didn’t live there. When Israel was created only 6% of the land in Palestine was owned by Jews. So they describe in searing detail – even though I know that’s a kind of catchphrase – this juggernaut, this maw, which is gobbling up the Palestinian land; dispossessing the Palestinians of their land. And to the point of creating the Jewish majority, 90% of the indigenous population was expelled; about 750,000 Palestinians. Now, with their descendants, Human Rights Watch gives a figure of 5.7 million Palestinian refugees.

And then on the other end, they say that Israel controls 93% of the land – its state owned land – and that 93% is earmarked only for Jews. Palestinians constitute 19% of the population of the State of Israel (about 1.6 million people) and they are confined to about 3% of the land.

To cut to the chase and to make a long story a little bit shorter, the effect is… and I’m not quite sure if Human Rights Watch is really aware of what they are doing – honestly I’m not sure – but the long and the short of the report is that it completely delegitimises the idea of a Jewish state. [from 13:55 mins]

What’s happening now in East Jerusalem, when you read the Human Rights Watch report, you see it as part of this juggernaut that began in 1947; this relentless, heartless, confiscation of Palestinian land. They just don’t stop – you know the expression: the hunger increases with the eating. The more they consume that land, the more they want more and more and more.

And so after reading the report, you see what’s happening in East Jerusalem in Sheikh Jarrah, you just see it as one more step in this long trajectory, this relentless, heartless juggernaut – this maw – of stealing the land from those hopeless, helpless and hapless people. That’s one point.

The second point I would make is where I left off a few moments ago. Human Rights Watch is a mainstream organisation. It’s not a radical organisation… They watch NPR, they listen to the NPR, they read The New York Times, in their leisure they read The New Yorker, they probably subscribe to the New York Review of Books, probably a few subscribe to the London Review of Books – they’re very mainstream, very conventional. They’re also very Jewish. Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director – this is the mainstream of the progressive and centrist Jewish community. And they’re very dependent on Jewish donors. They received a humungous donation from George Soros – a spectacular number [precisely: $100 million].

And so they must be very sensitive to how far they can go on the Israel-Palestine conflict before they lose their donors and they lose their constituency, which tells me that having done the calculations they reached the conclusion that their donors and their constituency were ready, were prepared, could digest a human rights report issued by HRW which not only condemns Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and describes this policy as the crime of “apartheid”, the crime of “persecution”, and those two crimes – apartheid and persecution – are crimes against humanity under international law, which as they say constitute among the most “odious crimes in international law” – they went not only that far, but they described the whole regime from the Jordan to the Mediterranean as one based on “Jewish domination”, which as I’m sure you recognise is only a flea’s hop from saying ‘Jewish Supremacy’ – these are pretty much synonymous – and what’s most revelatory they said all this on the assumption (in my opinion) that they wouldn’t lose their Jewish constituency. […]

The bottom line is, henceforth the paradigm is no longer Israel here and Occupied Palestinian Territories there: Israel, for better or for worse, we accept it as it is; Occupied Palestinian Territories we don’t accept, the occupation has to end and a Palestinian state has to be created. That was the paradigm up until now. Now, the whole legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish state has been called into question. [from 24:10 mins]

As you probably know there’s been a huge amount of contention on college campuses over this annual event called “Israel Apartheid Week” which unfolds annually on many college campuses. And up until now, the Israeli organisations and their supporters have said that it’s antisemitic – it hurts the Jews and makes Jews feel scared, and all this politically correct nonsense [is used] in order to try and suppress the Israel Apartheid Week. Well, guess what happened? In the past three months, the most important human rights organisation in Israel and the most important human rights organisation in the world, they said: but it is apartheid. And they just legitimised Israel Apartheid Week. How can the Israelis answer that now and their supporters? You want to suppress a term, ‘apartheid’, that’s been appropriated now by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem?

So I think this is a major setback for Israel’s apologists. I think they’re probably now in a panic mode. And I think that events like what happening now in East Jerusalem will no longer be seen in isolation. When you read the Human Rights Watch report you see it now as a momentary flashpoint in a long trajectory. […]

The [main] flashpoint is in East Jerusalem, however, Palestinians in Haifa, Palestinians in Nazareth, they’re all joining in; Palestinians in the West Bank are joining in; Palestinians in Gaza via the so-called ‘rockets’, they’re joining in. And so you kind of see a manifestation of what the report described. Because both reports talked about from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, meaning it’s about all Palestinians and all Israelis…. and so for the moment it seems it is becoming a struggle no longer confined to the occupied Palestinian territories, or confined to Gaza, as was the Great March of Return beginning in March 2018, or confined to the West Bank; it’s now spreading among all Palestinians. I think that’s a significant development.

It’s possible that all the terms for understanding the conflict and resolving the conflict – those terms are now being called into question and they may be recast in a new form, which I think is going to be a real problem for the State of Israel. [from 32:15 mins]

I don’t want to be polyannish about this but I don’t think {Israel and its apologists] are going to be as successful anymore. We saw a video of them dancing and singing as the fire blazes on Al-Aqsa… they were all wearing Jewish yarmulkes… It was actually quite hideous.

Video shows Israelis dancing and celebrating the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque – the third most holy Islamic site in the world [the same footage can be viewed in the Katie Halper show at 1:07:15]:

If you were to imagine in a neighbourhood like where I live in Ocean Parkway [Brooklyn, NY] where there’s about two synagogues in every block, of Muslims gathered around the synagogue while the synagogue is on fire, and they’re cheering. [from 1:02:25]

If you go back and listen to the interviews (not that you’re obliged to of course) I’ve done in the last few years, I’ve said: “it’s a lunatic state”. And you see now the lunacy is being played out, maybe not in The New York Times and maybe not in the New Yorker and maybe not in the New York Review of Books or The Atlantic magazine, but enough people will see it. It’s a cliché but it’s true: the democratising effect of the web. They’re not going to be able to hide this…

I don’t want to be too polyannish but in my opinion Israel’s in for a rough ride now. Too much is known. Too many people are alienated. Too many people disgusted. There is a sea-change occurring. [from 1:07:55]

We should acknowledge when there have been victories and what has now been said [in these reports] constitutes a major victory. And from my point of view, what’s equally important: it’s going to give Israel a very hard time now. [from 1:13:10]

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Last night’s Novara Media also devoted its main segment to Palestinian protests in the occupied territories and the latest bombardment of Gaza by Israel. Host Michael Walker welcomed Riya Al’Sanah who is a Palestinian activist and writer based in Haifa:

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Additional: Palestinian solidarity protests across Britain

On Saturday 15th, there are events planned to take place across the country calling for an end to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, and for the right of return for all exiled Palestinians.

Protests are being organised around the country by Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, Friends of al-Aqsa, Palestinian Forum in Britain and Muslim Association of Britain.

SATURDAY 15th MAY 2021 #SaveSheikhJarrah #FreePalestine #FreeGaza Protests:

Aberdeen, Marischal Square, 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/579816402984185/

Brighton, The Clocktower, 12pm

Bristol, Castle Park, 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/210502050657881/

Canterbury, HSBC Bank, Whitefriars, 9 Rose Lane, Canterbury CT1 2JP, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/307828627519700

Cambridge, Market Square, 11.15am – https://www.facebook.com/groups/cambridgepalestineforum

Cardiff, Aneurin Bevan Statue, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/4560945557267377

Edinburgh, Regent Road Park, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/372506180780931

Exeter, Bedford Square, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/306515077708621

Hastings, Near Debenhams, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/1183922488708042/

Hitchin, Windmill Hill, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/events/284046986748935/

Inverness, Town House, 12-1pm – https://www.facebook.com/HighlandPalestine

Jersey, Royal Square, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/events/580129649570440/

Leeds, Leeds Trinity Briggate (Area outside Zara/Debenhams), 2pm – https://www.facebook.com/LeedsPSC.org.uk

London, March to the Israeli Embassy, Assemble Marble Arch, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/464271897978862

Machynlleth, The Clock Tower, 11am-12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/208833754148964

Manchester, Platt’s Field Park, Rusholme, 12pm-4pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/373982893940589/

Newcastle, Grey’s Monument, 11.30am – https://www.facebook.com/events/463362151414611

Nottingham, Old Market Square, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/833822114155903/

Plymouth, New George Street, 11am-1pm  – https://www.facebook.com/events/323519439242407/

Sheffield, Sheffield Town Hall, 12pm – https://www.facebook.com/sheffieldpalestine

Southampton, Bargate, 11am-12.30pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/237979378115605/

Wolverhampton, Queen Square, 11am – https://www.facebook.com/groups/167943526632859


Sun 16 May:

Glasgow, George Square + March to BBC, 1pm – https://www.facebook.com/events/2625768251049758/

Click here to find this same event list on the Stop the War Coalition website.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, campaigns & events, Israel, Palestine

almost five years after the police killing of Dalian Atkinson, will there be justice at last?

A police officer murdered the former Aston Villa striker Dalian Atkinson, first shooting him with a Taser stun gun for 33 seconds, then kicking him in the head as though striking a football, causing his head to snap back violently, a jury heard on Tuesday.

PC Benjamin Monk denies murder and manslaughter following the incident on 15 August 2016 in Telford, Shropshire, which began at the home of Atkinson’s father.

Monk is alleged to have also fired a Taser electrical weapon at Atkinson for nearly seven times longer than the standard five-second deployment.

Then, while Atkinson was on the ground and apparently unresponsive, the officer had kicked him in the head twice with such force that the imprint of Monk’s laces was left on Atkinson’s forehead, Birmingham crown court heard.

Click here to read the full report by Vikram Dodd published in the Guardian published on Tuesday May 4th.

At the time of Dalian Atkinson’s death in 2016, his was the latest of eleven deaths attributable to the use of Tasers by British police (a rate of one per year). The number of incidents has since increased.

In December 2018, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Public should ‘resist drum-beat of calls for all police to carry a Taser’” stating:

In the UK, a total of 18 people have died after a Taser was discharged against them by police. The most recent case was in May last year when a 30-year-old father-of-two died in hospital after he was Tasered by police in Falmouth.

In July 2020, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)’s monthly magazine E&T, produced an investigative review entitled Why Tasers are being misused by British police which “spoke to experts about why British police appear to be using Taser tactics disproportionally against black people”.

The article records 26 deaths from Taser-related incidents and highlights the clear disparity in numbers of cases based on ethnicity, noting that 20% of Taser events are against black people who make up just 3.3% of the population:

Why do the police use CED [‘conducted energy device’ or Taser] tactics against black men? Few want to talk. It’s a big question, says Sarah Uncles, policy and communications officer at The Inquest, a human rights activist group. It’s not just Taser tactics that are disproportionally used against black, Asian and other members of minority groups, she says. “It’s all use of force” that stands out for these groups.

Home Offices figures show that all forms of force, from restraint up to firearms, are used more commonly against black people than would be expected by their share of the population.

Use of Tasers against different ethnic groups by British police

Use of Tasers against different ethnic groups by British police

The author of the piece, Ben Heubl, also cites three more recent incidents of Taser use that led to deaths:

The Home Office finds it difficult to connect deaths directly to Taser tactics, E&T confirms. 2017 saw at least three fatality cases where Tasers played a dominant role, but Home Office data shows no CED fatalities for that period.

In February 2017, Paul Williams was tasered twice after police officers noticed him being in possession of part of a Stanley knife blade (which he used to inflict injuries on himself). He died in hospital due to an injury to his neck during the incident.

Then there is Darren Cumberbatch, who died in July 2017 after what the coroner called “excessive” force involving CED tactics by Warwickshire police officers.

Three months earlier, Marc Cole died. The jury stated he died from excessive use of cocaine resulting in paranoid and erratic behaviour, but the use of the Taser by Devon and Cornwall Police assisted Cole into cardiac arrest, the inquest said. Among other reasons, the medical cause of death was the discharge of a Taser X26 device – a weapon Axon makes, now in the form of the X26P, a more compact version. A 2017 Reuters investigation found the X26 was being taken off the market due to posing a higher cardiac risk than other models.

The same article concludes with statistics that show an alarming 30 percent rise in the use of Tasers by British police over the period 2017–2019:

Last year’s figures show CEDs rank among the more dangerous tactics in terms of hospitalisations. In contrast, Tasers made limited progress on arrests. With a third more CED events between 2017/18 and 2018/19, the number of people that escaped following Tasers surged 56 per cent.

Click here to read the full article published by Engineering and Technology magazine in July 2020.

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To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the fourth of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on August 25th 2016, eleven Taser deaths in as many years – RIP Dalian Atkinson reported on the tragic death of Dalian Atkinson, which received surprisingly little media coverage at the time. I also drew attention to the eleven known Taser-related deaths that had previously happened in Britain, as well as the far more widespread and lethal use of Tasers in America.

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Well-loved ex-footballer Dalian Atkinson (aged 48) lost his life last week (in the early hours of Monday, August 15th) shortly after he was Tasered by police outside his father’s home in the Trench area of Telford, Shropshire. This is testimony of Paula Quinn, an eyewitness to the events leading up to Atkinson’s violent death:

“They were shouting and kicking so much all I could hear were the boots hitting him. And then the officer who released the Taser stepped back while the other officer still continued to kick and then I could hear him shout to the other officer that was still kicking, ‘Back off, back off, back off.’ And then the officer with the Taser asked the gentleman to put his hands behind his back and did so probably two or three times and reactivated the Taser another four or five times after that.1

[bold highlight added]

On Thursday [August 18th], following a postmortem examination determining the cause of his death as ‘inconclusive’, the Independent Police Complaints Commission released a statement that two West Mercia police officers were being served with gross misconduct notices and put under criminal investigation:

The IPCC commissioner Derrick Campbell said: “Having carefully considered the evidence gathered so far, we are undertaking a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr Atkinson’s death and the level and type of force used. Two police officers will be interviewed under criminal caution by IPCC investigators.

As this is a criminal investigation, the IPCC is limited in the amount of information which can be released into the public domain. I would ask people to be patient during the progress of our investigation and not to add to speculation about the circumstances of Mr Atkinson’s death. Speculation across the media as a whole can risk prejudice to the investigation process. 2

The IPCC says there will be “a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the death” but sadly there are historical reasons to be doubtful, and Atkinson’s death inevitably adds extra weight to already confirmed suspicions that in Britain, as in America and elsewhere, black people are still disproportionate victims of police brutality – including being Tasered. 3

Moreover, Atkinson’s tragic death highlights the often overlooked fact that Tasers, which deliver a 50,000 Volt shock, are not non-lethal weapons but classified as “less lethal” firearms. In fact, according to official statistics there has been at least one ‘Taser-related’ death in Britain every year for the last ten years – 11 in total. 4 Meanwhile, in America, where Taser use is more established, the number of fatalities may well be in the hundreds 5, although deaths are often attributed instead to ‘excited delirium’.

The introduction and, inevitably, the increasing use of the Taser is, in truth, indicative of unsettling trend in our culture – which unfortunately once again takes its lead from America. For as law enforcement does away with the blunter instruments of previous decades and centuries, the public is trained instead to tolerate the semi-detached, hi-tech violence administered by twenty-first century technology: yesterday’s more savage methods of coercion continually upgraded and superseded by less bloody, more hands-free techniques of ‘pain compliance’ – and Tasers do not simply disable the victim, they are torture devices too, as countless internet videos testify, and as the UN’s Committee against Torture declared in 2007:

“The use of TaserX26 weapons, provoking extreme pain, constituted a form of torture, and that in certain cases it could also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and by certain cases that had happened after practical use,” the committee said in a statement.

“Well, it means that it’s a very serious thing,” Amnesty International USA Executive Director Larry Cox told CBS Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. “These are people that have seen torture around the world, all kinds of torture. So they don’t use the word lightly.” 6

[bold highlight as original]

So let us take stock. Beneath the science fiction brand name, these ‘stun guns’ are more literally cattle-prods for people. Is this how we expect fellow humans to be treated in modern Britain?

At this stage the IPCC is justifiably asking the media to refrain from detailed speculation about the circumstances surrounding Dalian Atkinson’s death since it could be prejudicial to the inquiry. Obviously I respect this request. Whatever the eventual findings of the IPCC, however, it is irrefutably the case that Dalian Atkinson was just the latest victim of the creeping militarisation of the British police force. Tasers torture and kill – they should be banned.

Click here to add your support to a petition calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to hold an urgent review of Tasers and the medical implications of their use.

R.I.P. Dalian.

*

1 From a BBC news report entitled “Dalian Atkinson dies after being Tasered in Telford by police” published on August 15, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-37082207

2 From an article entitled “Police officiers investigated over Dalian Atkinson Taser death”, written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on August 18, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/18/police-officers-investigated-over-dalian-atkinson-taser-death

3

Black people are three times more likely have a Taser used against them by police than white people, according to figures that have raised the alarm among race relations campaigners.

From an article entitled “Black people ‘three times more likely’ to be Tasered” written by Damien Gayle, published in the Guardian  on October 13, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/13/black-people-three-times-more-likely-to-have-taser-used-against-them

4  IPCC files show ten people have died following the police discharging a Taser. They are:

  • John Butler: Wigan, May 2006 – shot himself after Taser fired
  • Robert Haines: New Romney, Oct 2006 – Taser fired after police shot him
  • Brian Loan: County Durham, Oct 2006 – died from heart disease three days after Taser fired
  • Justin Petty: Bedford, Jan 2008 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Raoul Moat: Rothbury, July 2010 – shot himself dead after Taser fired
  • Dale Burns: Barrow, Aug 2011 – died of drug poisoning after Taser fired
  • Philip Hulmes: Bolton, Aug 2011 – a Taser was fired after he stabbed himself
  • Ernestas Anikinas: Gatwick, Feb 2012 – Taser fired after he stabbed himself
  • Andrew Pimlott: Plymouth, April 2013 – Liquid he had doused himself in caught fire after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)
  • Jordan Begley: Gorton, July 2013 – died after Taser fired (IPCC investigation ongoing)

Source: Danny Shaw, BBC Home Affairs correspondent

From an article entitled “Man dies after police use Taser in Manchester” published by BBC news on July 11, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-23265905

5 Jared Feuer, who heads the U.S. southern regional office of Amnesty International, said the group has documented that 277 people in the United States have died after being shocked by a Taser since June 2001.

From an article entitled “Police use of Tasers causes few injuries: study” writteb by Will Dunham, published in Reuters October 8, 2007. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-weapons-stun-idUSN0523646320071008

6 From an article entitled “U.N.: Tasers Are A Form Of Torture” published by CBS news on November 25, 2007. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-tasers-are-a-form-of-torture/

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Burning Blogger relaunches… but bigger and better than before

The Burning Blogger of Bedlam was one of a pair of WordPress sites I had followed before they abruptly fell victim to the censorship purge of 2018/9; the other being Scott Creighton’s American Everyman which Scott soon after relaunched as Nomadic Everyman.  After a short spell running his Youtube channel and thanks to the technical assistance of a friend who managed to recover his deleted articles, two years on creator Saj Awan has now relaunched the Burning Blogger fully intact and on a new platform.

Saj has also kindly allowed me to reprint an abridged version of his excellent return post BURNING BLOGGER is Back: Now Let’s Talk Censorship & Free Speech…

I got de-platformed. Deleted. Taken down. Censored. Given the middle finger by the Internet Police. A site – a vast archive – that had been running for about seven years was very suddenly no more.

And that was that.

That was almost two years ago.

Like Thanos clicking his finger and erasing certain people from existence, the Thought Police had clicked their own god-like fingers… and hundreds of pages of research, articles and content were gone.

Without warning. And without any real right of reply… or means for appeal.

That was kind of shitty.

But, as you can see, I’m back. It’s taken over a year-and-a-half And a lot of work. And an ENORMOUS amount of help from a certain friend and supporter, who made it his mission to ensure that I not only came back online, but with a far better platform than I had before.

I don’t think I’m meant to mention him by name here: so let’s just call him ‘Mr Stark’, and let’s just say that without all the work he put into finding and establishing the right platform and the right set-up, as well as all the security issues, technical knowledge and design knowledge that he exercised on my behalf, as well as all the guidance he has given me, this would not have been possible.

He really went above and beyond what I would’ve even asked of him.

Also, thanks to him, I am not only back here now with this shiny new website, but we were also able to salvage and restore the entirety of the old archive from the previous site – despite the fact that WordPress had deleted my old site without giving me any warning or opportunity to do a proper final back-up of my content.

Meaning that nothing has been lost… except time.

So yeah, Thought Police – you got me. But it wasn’t a K.O. And, to quote a certain someone: “You should’ve gone for the head…” […]

I’m a big sci-fi kind of guy, so that whole waking-up-in-a-different-reality-or-timeline trope is pretty familiar to me. And that’s kind of what it’s felt like. Everything has changed so abruptly in so short a space of time – it’s pretty surreal.

Which just shows how quickly – the relative blinking of an eye – vast change can occur on a mass level. It’s kind of scary.

But it happens. And here we all are now: living in a bad screenplay.

But I don’t want to talk about the pandemic or the lockdowns here. I want to use this first new post to talk about the take-down of the old site, about the censorship purges in general, and about where we are right now in regard to censorship, free speech and society; especially in light of the events of the last few months.

Firstly, concerning my own takedown: WordPress had the right to terminate my site. It was in the small print all along.

Ironically, I had already published an article several months earlier (now that the entire archive has been restored, see it here), predicting that my site would be shut down – as part of a censorship purge.

As I highlighted then, WordPress’s censorship purge seemed to have originated with an article in the New York Times in which it specifically condemned WordPress and Automattic for allowing ‘conspiracy theorists’ to keep their content on its platform. In this instance, they were specifically focusing on the Sandy Hook business; but of course there was always going to be a broader implication beyond just that specific subject.

The piece, titled ‘This Company Keeps Lies About Sandy Hook on the Web’, went out of its way to demonise WordPress/Automattic for its lack of censorship.

As I wrote back then: ‘That’s Sandy Hook today. Tomorrow it could be something else – 9/11 perhaps. Because it seems odd to me that Sandy Hook would be the only issue – and that other conspiracy claims about other events will go unpenalised…’

For the record, I’ve never written about Sandy Hook – so that couldn’t have been the reason for my site being taken down.

I requested to know what my violation had been: and was told by the ‘community guardians’ that they were under no obligation to specify.

‘Community Guardians’ – how Orwellian does that sound?

The takedown of my site didn’t occur in isolation. WP had been removing sites for some months: the first I was aware of being the American Everyman blog – a site that covered many of the same subjects as mine. I was a subscriber to and reader of that site – and when it was simply gone one day, I in fact published an article on my site about the censorship escalation and the likelihood of The Burning Blogger of Bedlam also being taken down.

So I knew it was probably coming: or I was at least alive to the danger of it.

Scott Creighton – author of the American Everyman site – was understandably furious at the time. He suggested that his site had been on a ‘list’ of sites that WP had been directed to remove from their platform.

I suspect he was right: and that the Burning Blogger of Bedlam was on that list too. Another WP blogger – and friend of mine – informed me that another popular WP blog (that would fall loosely into the ‘alternative’ media category) – Jon Rappaport’s blog – had also disappeared from the web at the same time as my site disappeared. Jon Rappaport here says the same thing happened to him as happened to me. “On May 11, 2019, WordPress suddenly took down my blog after 10 years of continuous operation. There was no warning or advance notice of any kind…

I’ve checked again: and if Rappaport’s site was taken down on May 11th, then this would’ve been about three days after mine.

So, clearly, this was a coordinated action targeting more than one site/author. […]

There was nothing on my website that would qualify as ‘hate speech’. Nothing that would qualify as racism or sexism or any other kind of prejudice, for example. There wouldn’t be – because I don’t really have any of those sorts of views: and, in fact, much of my content over the years has been specifically about countering or debunking some of those who do perpetuate those views.

So I’m pretty sure the reason the ‘community guardians’ told me they were under no obligation to specify my violations is because there was nothing they could easily flag me up on… at least nothing that wouldn’t simply sound like censorship. If they could’ve flagged me up on something more concrete – say, some kind of hate speech, anti-Semitism, racism or some kind of incitement – they would’ve specified it. […]

It isn’t a left or right thing: of the sites I’ve seen taken down, they’re a mixture of right and left leaning.

And again, WP has the right to remove things from its platform, as do You Tube and other platforms: but it is worth noting what they were removing and asking why.

It’s difficult to see it as anything other than shutting down certain perspectives: and this is something that has been happening across the board now.

In fact, in the less-than-two-years since my old site was taken down, the censorship has escalated massively: first with the COVID pandemic and then more recently with the 2020 Presidential Election and the Storming of the Capitol – both of which were used to justify mass censorship sweeps and takedowns; in the latter case it targeted mostly extreme right-wing voices or platforms and in the former it was more generally about shutting down dissenting voices in regard to the lockdowns and the origins of the pandemic.

We appear to now be in an era of maximum censorship, as far as the Internet age goes.

Facebook, Twitter and Google have actually been upfront about this, as far as this COVID crisis goes, having said very early in the crisis that they were working with the WHO to address “misinformation”. “Misinformation” presumably includes anything that veers too much into the realm of ‘conspiracy’ insinuation or anything that overtly questions or contradicts official narratives.

Extraordinarily, in some countries – including Hungary and China – the authorities were threatening not just fines, but JAIL TIME, for anyone considered to be spreading ‘fake news’ about the pandemic. Again, ‘fake news’, I’m assuming, includes any arguments or theories that contradict the official narratives.

So, while my site was taken down long before the pandemic started or the 2020 election cycle began, it was clearly an indicator of things to come: a sign of the direction things were moving in in regards to free speech and the Internet.

You have to wonder what the Internet is going to look like in a few years time, as far as diversity of perspective or plurality information-sources is concerned.

Because one very palpable danger is that what we end up with (and what they want) is a strictly binary dynamic: whereby you have the ‘respectable’ mainstream media/news/analysis platforms on one side and the rabid, crackpot ‘conspiracy’ or ‘alternative’ media on the other side – with all of the intelligent, balanced middle-ground removed completely.

That is essentially what we’ve been reduced to already, with – to cite one current example – the binary dynamic of the Pro-Trump crowd versus the Mainstream Media: one extreme or the other, with all of the balanced, reasonable middle-ground missing entirely.

That entire election melodrama was the absolute epitome of this binary dynamic – and dumbing down of all sides – being demonstrated. Everyone – and not just individuals, but the media itself – was either on one team or the other: there was no middle ground at all, no balanced perspective or honest commentary.

And I think that’s where they want us.

In that scenario, people in general only have one extreme or the other – you’re either with the corporate-controlled mainstream or you’re with the crackpots: and there is no reasonable, balanced perspective or journalism in the center or even on the fringes.

That makes it harder for people to form reasoned, balanced views: but it also makes it easier for people to be divided into easy labels based on which of the two echo chambers they reside in. And it helps create or amplify the US versus THEM society, where no one is interested in mutual advantage or common good, only in their team.

It means too that people are more liable to be indoctrinated entirely: by either the extreme crackpot side or the mainstream media side.

And that is essentially where we are now. Hence, you have “Racist” Trumpists vs “Evil Democrats”, “Conspiracy Nuts” vs “Lamestream Media”, Maskers vs “Anti-Vaxxers”, SJWs vs Alt-Right Propagandists, and so and so forth – with everyone from ‘Antifa’, ‘Q-Anon’ and god-knows-who-else in the mix too.

And everyone’s intelligence-level goes down the toilet, while society slowly burns in the background.

And all discourse descends into rabid, raving nonsense: with people more interested in which team they’re on rather than on intelligently discussing or examining information and trying to move towards honest conclusions for mutual advantage.

That’s where we are now: and this is the very strange and difficult backdrop against which the Burning Blogger comes back online; and resumes trying to make sense of the madness (or ‘bedlam’ – let’s use that word) in some kind of honest way.

[Use of bold and italic highlights as in the original]

Click here to read the full version of this article.

Saj Awan also decided to start running a podcast and so to mark the occasion of his return he invited Australian blogger James Robertson from Crimes of Empire and “the mercurial Mark” who are both fellow contributors to Truthscoop to talk about censorship, free speech, and the state of both journalism and the ‘conspiracy’-related content realm:

Lastly, I’d like personally to welcome back Saj to the world of blogging and encourage others to check out his consistently high quality content. With the big tech firms and western governments in cahoots and their censorship drive intensifying at an alarming rate, it makes a pleasant change to have such a thoughtful and independent voice back in the fold again!

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PR rebranding of al-Qaeda in Syria – take three!

Back in February, Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) Frontline programme conducted an interview with Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the founder of the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and commander-in-chief of its rebranded offshoot Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Jolani, who has been identified as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” by the US State Department, currently has a $10 million bounty on his head:

The interview conducted by Frontline’s Martin Smith is essentially a “media show”—Smith’s own words—staged to whitewash the bloody history of the Al Nusra Front’s terrorism in Syria and provide Jolani with a forum for proclaiming the front’s current iteration, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), a legitimate political force and natural ally of Washington. The terrorist designation attached to himself and his organization was “unfair” and “political,” Jolani said.

Smith asked Jolani to take a pledge: “Will you say here and now then, very clearly, that you as a former Al Qaeda leader … will not support … any attacks against the United States?” The Al Qaeda veteran readily accepted.

The HTS leader was also allowed to issue blanket denials of the widespread charges of torture, disappearances, summary executions and severe repression of any form of dissent in the territory in Idlib under control of HTS gunmen. Those who made such charges, he said, were “Russian agents” or “regime agents.”

From an article entitled “Washington brings Syria’s Al Qaeda in from the cold” published wsws.org.

In the same piece Bill Van Auken continues:

A week before the broadcast, three women and one man, accused of adultery and attempted murder, were stoned to death by HTS security forces in the Idlib city center, one of many such barbaric public executions.

Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a report on Syria in which it described brutal repression of Idlib’s civilian population at the hands of HTS.

“Torture and ill-treatment were widespread,” it reported. “Torture was most common in Idlib central prison and its Shahin section, in Harem central prison and Ouqab prison, with methods including severe beatings, placing detainees in a ‘coffin’ or in a dulab (tyre) or suspending them by their limbs. Victims were frequently tortured during interrogation sessions, and held incommunicado to ultimately extract confessions. Some detainees were told to write a testimony dictated to them by the interrogators, or forced to sign or thumbprint a document, with no knowledge of its content. Some detainees died as a result of injuries sustained from torture and the subsequent denial of medical care.” The report added that “former detainees described being sexually harassed, forced to strip naked, electrocuted on their genitals and raped in Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham facilities.”

And on April 5, the Syrian Network for Human Rights confirmed that “at least 2,246 Syrian citizens are still detained or forcibly disappeared in HTS’s detention centers, constituting a grave threat to the detainees’ wellbeing, given the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.”

Concluding:

The attempt to rehabilitate Jolani not only exposes the lies, hypocrisy and criminality of US imperialist policy in the Middle East, it is a warning that new atrocities are being prepared in Washington’s quest for hegemony over the region and entire globe.

Click here to read the full article by Bill Van Auken published on April 7th.

As part of this same public relations campaign to rehabilitate the al-Qaeda franchise in Syria – which rules Idlib, Syria’s last militant-controlled province – former top US diplomat James Jeffrey, who served as US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and the Special Envoy to the International military intervention against ISIL, also acknowledged on the same PBS show that HTS is a US “asset”:

“They are the least bad option of the various options on Idlib, and Idlib is one of the most important places in Syria, which is one of the most important places right now in the Middle East”

*

Lindsey Snell is an independent journalist who reports from across the Middle East and North Africa. In 2016, she was kidnapped by al-Qaeda in Syria – what was then called al-Nusra Front – and held captive for ten days before escaping. Recently interviewed by Aaron Maté of The Grayzone, she was asked about her response to James Jeffrey’s endorsement of HTS:

“It was shocking but not totally shocking because a year ago he made some similar comments – something along the lines of ‘they’re not like ISIS planning international attacks; they’re just in Syria’. Just softening the image of HTS already. So it’s just been a lead up to now – you know, now [he is] explicitly saying they are a US asset.” [from 4:45 mins]

She continues:

“It’s funny because their rebranding campaign actually started when I was their captive – they changed their name for the first time and they announced that they had split from al-Qaeda when I was their captive. It of course didn’t actually change anything and to this day most of them still call themselves Nusra. People in Syria referring to them call them Nusra. I mean their split from al-Qaeda was really just a cosmetic thing, it was surface level; it wasn’t real.

“They’re still the same group. They’re still the same terrorists. They’re inflicting Sharia law on everyone in their territories. While this New York Times journalist was there a few weeks ago, they executed three people for adultery. Stoned them to death.

“They’re the same group. And so all these things that they’re doing are cosmetic. I think that the only substantive thing that they’ve done is that they’re no longer capturing foreigners. I mean they’re no longer trying to take a foreign journalist and holding them for ransom. They’re working with Turkey to allow foreign journalists to basically come and propagandise for them.” [from 5:30 mins]

The full interview is embedded below:

***

To mark ten year’s blogging, this is the first of my re-uploads from the WoC archive. Originally posted on May 27th 2019, terrorists by any other name — BBC helps rebrand al-Qaeda for a second time covers the BBC’s role in an earlier rebranding exercise.

*

The Salafist jihadist faction Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) formerly known as the Nusra Front (aka al-Qaeda in Syria) remains a proscribed terrorist organisation ever since it was listed by America in March 2017:

Canada designated HTS a terrorist organisation in May last year, and, still more recently, Turkey followed suit in August. 1

Unsurprisingly the British government has also banned HTS, adding it to the proscribed list in May 2017. 2

It is revealing therefore to read an article published by BBC news just last week that begins:

The ongoing government offensive against the last rebel-held areas in northern Syria has once again put the spotlight on the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the dominant faction in Idlib Province.

Although HTS, formerly known as Nusra Front, continues to pursue a jihadist agenda, it formally split from al-Qaeda in 2016, prompting harsh criticism from al-Qaeda leadership and defections by al-Qaeda loyalists.

Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold. A new group called Hurras al-Din which emerged last year is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.

Despite this, the UN and a number of countries continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.

The group itself appears to be trying to strike a balance between maintaining its jihadist credentials and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.

HTS today is one of the strongest militant factions in northern Syria, having consolidated its power in the region through seizing territory from rival rebel groups in the past two years. 3

I have highlighted one sentence although the whole article really needs to be considered in a wider context – something I shall come to later. Written by esteemed correspondent “BBC Monitoring”, this otherwise anonymous piece is clearly of the opinion that, to paraphrase, HTS ought to be treated significantly differently from the other al-Qaeda splinter groups because it is “trying to strike a balance [how very moderate!] between maintaining its jihadist credentials [i.e., being terrorists] and distancing itself from global jihadist groups for the sake of survival.”

The tone of the piece is very telling. “Al-Qaeda appears to have given up on HTS returning to the fold” they write, backing the assertion with a further assertion about an alternative terrorist splitter group called Hurras al-Din “which emerged last year [and] is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new branch in Syria.”

Having made a clear distinction between the white hats of HTS and the black hats of Hurras al-Din, the author/s then reinforces the view that this white hat faction is misunderstood and unfairly demonised, by adding: “Despite this, the UN and a number of countries  [including, as outlined above, America, Britain, Turkey and Canada] continue to consider HTS as an al-Qaeda affiliate and to frequently use its former name, Nusra Front.”

This is not a deceptive spinning of the words of the BBC, but simply a careful reading between the lines: lines that catch up with the next subheading “More than cosmetic change” that help to reinforce the point for readers who remain in doubt of the sincerity of HTS’s “distancing” from al-Qaeda.

The piece then briefly retraces the emergence of HTS precursor Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) in an earlier rebranding of Nusra Front:

The rebranding [yes, the BBC now admit this precedent was merely a rebranding exercise] followed pressure from Syrian rebel groups who argued that Nusra Front’s link with al-Qaeda was being used as an excuse by the Syrian government and its allies to label the entire insurgency as terrorist.

In January 2017, HTS was founded as a result of a merger between JFS and other factions. The group stressed it was an independent entity, in a clear effort to indicate its separation from al-Qaeda. 4

Of course back in 2016, BBC news was reporting on what it then described as a “split”:

Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, also known as the Nusra Front, has announced it has split from al-Qaeda.

Leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, in his first recorded message, said its new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant). 5

It also released an image of Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as the then new leader of JFS (above), while last week’s article shows Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani as new HTS leader (below):

The following is taken from a Guardian report also published at the time of the rebranding of Nusra Front as JFS:

The name change was announced by al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamed al-Jolani [alternative spelling of al-Jawlani] in a debut video appearance.

“We have stopped operating under the name of al-Nusra Front and formed a new body … This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham – the front for the liberation of al-Sham, the historical Arabic name for the Levantine region. […]

While committing Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to continuing the fight against the Assad regime and its backers, Jolani made no mention of a change of ideology or approach and said he remained committed to implementing Islamic law. The apparently amicable split with al-Qaida would suggest no substantive change has taken place. 6

[bold emphasis added]

Click here to read the full report by the Guardian on July 28th 2016.

Although the Guardian talks of a “split” from al-Qaeda, it describes this as “amicable” and the piece makes quite clear that “no substantive change has taken place.” The BBC however took a markedly different stance.

It was on the fifteen anniversary of 9/11, some forty days after this initial rebranding of JFS, when BBC2 Newsnight [Monday 12th] featured “an exclusive interview” with Mostafa Mahamed, the so-called “Director of Foreign Media Relations” for JFS.

Embedded below is a part of that Newsnight report as it was uploaded on youtube by the BBC on Sept 15th 2016. The upload is a highly abridged version of the original BBC broadcast which I discussed at length at the time (see below). As an introduction, these are the BBC’s accompanying notes:

One of the biggest challenges facing the ceasefire in Syria is the treatment of jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al Sham — who have been excluded from the deal. Secunder Kermani reports.

Newsnight has an exclusive interview with one of Fath al Sham’s leading figures.

Quoted below is an extended section from an earlier post in which I critically analysed the 2016 Newsnight broadcast. It begins with a quote from narrative voiceover that intersperses and thus frames the interview with JFS’s Mostafa Mahamed — it is a statement in the same vein as the one discussed above from the BBC’s latest article:

“JFS have concentrated on attacking the Assad regime, but some in western security establishments say despite the official break they’re still al-Qaeda. Still a danger. Something their spokesman [Mahamed] denies.”

My post then continues (and for convenience further quotes are italised):

This self-questioning caveat, evidently inserted to maintain the pretence of impartiality, cleared the way for further seeds to be planted. Over again to JFS ‘spokesman’ Mahamed:

“We’ve been extremely clear about our split, but I’ll say it again. JFS is not an affiliate of al-Qaeda. We’re a completely independent body working to establish the common goal of the revolutionary forces in Syria.”

Not to be outdone, we also heard from Michael Stephens of RUSI who told Newsnight:

“[JFS] is seen as a Syrian movement. It’s seen as standing up for Syrians and fighting the regime… and so it makes no sense to peel away from them because actually what you’re doing is weakening your own position by doing that.”

But then, Stephens is echoing the opinion of RUSI’s Senior Vice President, General (Ret’d) David Petraeus, who last year publicly advocated the arming of members of the al-Nusra Front [A report can be found from August 31st 2015 in The Daily Beast].

As Trevor Timm writing for the Guardian asked at the time, “Could there be a more dangerous and crazy idea?”

Let’s put aside for a second that there’s not much difference between arming al-Nusra and arming “some individual fighters, and perhaps some elements, within Nusra.” How the US can possibly “peel off” fighters from a terrorist group is a complete mystery. In Iraq – Petraeus is apparently using part of the largely failed Iraq “surge” as his blueprint here – he convinced some Sunni tribes to switch sides temporarily, but that was with over 100,000 US troops on the ground to do the convincing. Does Petraeus think we should invade Syria to accomplish the same feat? […]

Petraeus is likely not the only one who thinks this plan to work with and arm members of the al-Nusra front is a good idea. There are probably many faceless officials and spooks who are pushing the same agenda in Washington, but Petraeus is the only one with enough clout to go ahead and say it out loud (since we already know he is above the law). Now you can expect a bunch of fresh hot takes explaining how Petraeus is right and we should be arming al-Qaida. 7

Click here to read an earlier post about RUSI that includes more on David Petraeus’ involvement with the organisation.

And what about 9/11? The justification for war in Afghanistan had been to hunt down and destroy the terrorists. But 9/11 also served as the original if somewhat discarded pretext for the war on Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam. In actuality, 9/11 ignited all of the wars under the expanded guise of that initial and ongoing “war on terror”.

The territory gained by the various al-Qaeda affiliates is a direct consequence of those wars. Having moved into Iraq, they spread out again into Syria. Funded by the Gulf States, many others have been covertly armed and trained by the West throughout the so-called Syrian civil war. In Libya, meantime, Nato provided air cover to affiliated factions of extremists in their bid to oust Gaddafi. Whilst the preferred route into Syria for the terrorists has mainly been across the porous border from Nato member Turkey. The West’s “war on terror” is riddled with such blatant contradictions.

In short, all of these Islamist factions, very much including ISIS and al-Nusra (now JFS), are small but grotesque outgrowths of the legacy of 9/11 and the neo-imperialist adventuring that singular atrocity had prepared the way for.

Here, however, is what the rather clean-cut spokesman for JFS had to say in reply to the BBC’s question:

“As for 9/11, that happened fifteen years ago, and is completely irrelevant to what is happening in Syria today.”

And indeed, fifteen years on, the BBC backs this entirely false claim by providing a platform for furthering the spread of terrorism in the name of ‘revolution’.

Click here to read my earlier post entitled “marking the 15th anniversary of 9/11, the BBC assists the relaunch of al-Qaeda

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Reminiscent of the sudden appearance of the last al-Qaeda franchise JFS, and again with nothing more than a “cosmetic change”, HTS now hopes to be able to jettison the terrorist label. The BBC in turn is assisting in that cause by quite intentionally blurring the picture, just as it did in 2016. The aim again is to nudge public opinion in favour of our proxies – the “moderate” terrorists – still fighting over territory in northern Syria.

Click here to read the full article published by BBC news.

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1

Turkey has designated the insurgent group Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist organisation, according to a presidential decision published on Friday, as Damascus prepares for a military assault in northwest Syria where the group holds sway.

From an article entitled “Turkey designates Syria’s Tahrir al-Sham as terrorist group” written by Dominic Evans, published in Reuters on August 31, 2018. https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey/turkey-designates-syrias-tahrir-al-sham-as-terrorist-group-idUKKCN1LG1XU

2 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/alert-for-charities-operating-in-syria-or-turkey-about-aid-passing-through-the-bab-al-hawa-crossing

3 From an article entitled “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the al-Qaeda legacy” published by BBC news on May 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-48353751#

4 Ibid.

5 From an article entitled “Syrian Nusra Front announces split from al-Qaeda” published by BBC news on July 29, 2016. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36916606

6 From an article entitled “Al-Nusra Front cuts ties with al-Qaida and renames itself” written by Martin Chulov, published in the Guardian on July 28, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/28/al-qaida-syria-nusra-split-terror-network

7 From an article entitled “David Petraeus’ bright idea: give terrorists weapons to beat terrorists” written by Trevor Timm, published in the Guardian on September 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/02/david-petraeus-bright-idea-give-terrorists-weapons-to-beat-isis

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Syria

one year of Keir Starmer and his open war on the Labour left: my exchange of letters with constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield

Keir Starmer became Labour leader one year ago today, having comfortably won the leadership race against Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, gaining an unassailable 56.2% of the vote in the first round of the election. As leader, Starmer has since failed to offer any effective opposition to what has been and continues to be an incompetent, corrupt, reactionary and increasingly authoritarian Tory government.

Moreover, rather than unifying the Labour Party as he pledged to do, under the guise of tackling antisemitism, Starmer set his sights instead on crushing the progressive wing with a series of attacks to undermine those closest to former leader Jeremy Corbyn, promptly sacking Long-Bailey from the shadow cabinet. Starmer’s war on the left culminated with his full endorsement of the decision to suspend Corbyn, who is yet to have the whip re-instated and now sits as an independent backbench MP, where even in this diminished capacity he still offers more effective opposition than Sir Keir:

And here is Corbyn speaking out to protect our civil liberties and democratic right to protest at yesterday’s #KillTheBill rally:

On Wednesday 24th February inspired by a short interview featuring the editor of Tribune, Ronan Burtenshaw (embedded below), I penned a quick letter to my local MP Paul Blomfield, the former Shadow Minister for Brexit and EU Negotiations, inviting him to watch the video in question. Reproduced below is the full exchange of letters unabridged and augmented with further links and additional video:

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Dear Paul,

I think you should know how I and many other members of the Labour Party are feeling at this moment. I encourage you therefore to spend just ten minutes watching this short film:

Ronan Burtenshaw speaks for literally hundreds of thousands of us, some of whom have already torn up their membership cards and walked away from the party in disgust.

If the leadership and the PLP [Parliamentary Labour Party] continue to act in this way then Labour will lose many more members. Its grassroots base will very likely collapse. And if this isn’t already concerning enough, then I ask you also to consider the broader impact on our democracy once the party is divorced from the people, and the electorate again stops trusting our politicians. Look at the effects in America.

I cannot put my true feelings into words here which is why I very sincerely encourage you to watch the film.

Hope you are well in these difficult times.

Kind regards,

James

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Respectfully he did watch the video and replied to me on Friday 5th March:

Dear James,

Thanks for your email sharing your views about Keir’s leadership of the Labour Party.

I watched the video, but I don’t think it provides a very accurate picture of what’s happening in the party at the moment. I find it extraordinary that it criticises the current party leadership for serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet while disagreeing with some of his policies. It suggests that this is duplicity, where actually it’s loyalty to the Labour cause. We come together in political parties around shared values, with lots of different views; we make our arguments on specific policies but back what is agreed.

I’ve disagreed with every leader of the Labour Party on something, but we should always work positively to engage, not simply look to oppose at every turn which I fear that some in the Party are seeking to do at the moment. You’ll know that Jeremy’s suspension is due to his refusal to apologise for his comments on the EHRC report, not to do with his leadership or any other issue.

I also don’t recognise your characterisation of the huge loss of members during Keir’s tenure either. In November 2019 (the last set of NEC elections during Jeremy’s leadership) there were around 430,000 members. In January this year there were around 459,000.

You’re right that it’s a serious problem for democracy when people stop trusting politicians; and turning to populism – of the right or left – is not the answer. We obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician (see more here).

I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history. Let’s take comfort from the fact  that Trump lost the Presidential election, and the Biden Administration has used its position to begin to set right some of the most divisive policies – such stopping the ‘building of the wall’, launching a government initiative on racial equality, cancelling the racist ‘Muslim ban’ and rejoining the Paris Climate Accord.

Thanks again for writing and for your good wishes. I hope you’re keeping well too.

With best wishes Paul.

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I then replied to Paul Blomfield the same day but at greater length – supporting links with URL addresses are as in the original but I have also included further links and Youtube clips including the interview with Andrew Feinstein:

Dear Paul,

Thank you for watching the video I sent and for your thoughtful and full reply.

Firstly, I would like to address the issue surrounding membership. Since I do not have access to the Labour database I am forced to rely on what I hear from fellow members and from the most recent newspaper reports. Regarding anecdotal evidence, it is very clear to me that I am not alone. Of the members I know personally or know through social media, many have resigned their membership; countless others feel betrayed and deceived by Keir Starmer’s calls for unity and reconciliation; and the vast majority are now terribly demoralised. As for reliable numbers:

LABOUR has lost over 50,000 members since Keir Starmer became leader, according to the party’s own election records.

UK Labour held its National Executive Committee (NEC) elections this week, which was won by the party’s left-wing faction.

In the NEC election, 495,961 members of the party were listed as eligible to vote.

When Starmer was elected to the leadership position after Jeremy Corbyn stood down, there were 552,835 registered Labour party members.

Those figures mean the party has lost 56,874 members since April

From an article published on November 14th by The National: https://www.thenational.scot/news/18871910.labour-nec-vote-reveals-drop-party-membership-since-keir-starmers-election/

When it comes to Labour’s electoral chances, if this decline is true then, as I wrote before, it will have a devastating effect on doorstep canvassing. The drop in revenue also means that the party will now have to become increasingly reliant on wealthy and corporate donors.

You say that “we obviously lost the trust of a significant section of our traditional supporters in recent years, leading us to the worst electoral defeat since 1935. It’s a long haul back, but we have picked up more than 20 points in the polls since last April and Keir is rated as the most popular Labour politician.”

Labour lost its traditional base once it came to be seen as untrustworthy. This happened when it flip-flopped over Brexit and moved from its successful stance of accepting the referendum vote in 2017 (losing by the tiniest margin of just 2.5%) to its slow adoption of calls for a second vote. Many on the left forecast this repercussion; as you may recall, I was one [see here]. The chief architect of Labour’s Brexit strategy was Keir Starmer, so he must take some of the responsibility for Labour’s dreadful 2019 defeat.

I don’t trust opinion polls very much and I think that constantly relying on them to guide us is a bad habit, and indeed one that smacks of populism. That said, at the time of the last election, the Tories won with short of a 12% lead over Labour whereas the latest opinion poll currently gives them a 13% lead. This evaluation comes after a truly disastrous year when abject incompetence and corruption in the government’s handling of the pandemic has resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths and will leave millions of people unemployed or otherwise desperate. Of course, Corbyn’s popularity figures remained comparatively low throughout his leadership (for reasons I shall come to), but Starmer’s figures have recently nosedived too and now fallen below Corbyn’s peak. Perhaps the latest report from Yougov is illuminating in this regard:

“Starmer’s main cause for concern is that a quarter (24%) of those who voted Labour in 2019 have an unfavourable view of their party leader, although 60% still hold a favourable opinion. In fact, his personal approval rating is now better amongst 2019 Lib Dem voters, who have a favourable opinion of him by 68% to 19%. He also has the support of one in five (21%) 2019 Conservative voters.”

That he is most favoured today by Lib Dem voters certainly does not support the view that he will begin winning back traditional Labour supporters any time soon.

Keir Starmer’s decline in net satisfaction over first 12 months image

Click here to find the same graphic on page 15 of the Ipsos MORI report from March 2021.

You write that: “I’m a bit puzzled by your comments about the USA where there has been a troubling polarisation of politics, with the left losing some of its traditional base, but people put their faith in the biggest charlatan in the country’s history.” The point – not really my point – is that when people lose faith in democracy they often seem to turn to fascism. And I think we may agree that with the election of Trump, America has already moved to the cusp of turning fascist.

The difference here is that I put no faith in Biden at all because I see no reason to do so. Under Biden I fully anticipate a return to the kinds of policies that we had under Obama and without going into the details of what was wrong with Obama’s domestic and foreign policy, I would simply make the obvious point that Trump’s success followed immediately on the heels of Obama’s two terms in office. Clearly those eight years of “hope and change” left many Americans feeling little more than despair and desperation. After Biden, the same will very likely happen although with still more dangerous consequences because the situation gradually worsens with each cycle of neoliberal failure.

Finally, I shall address the most contentious of the points you have raised. To those on the left of the party the suspension of Corbyn is very evidently a politically-motivated act. In the statement in question, Corbyn said anti-Semitism was “absolutely abhorrent” and “one anti-Semite is one too many” in the party. These views are ones he has consistently upheld and are views that most of us share.

He then went on to say: “The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media.” There are actually two issues here. Firstly, on what grounds is it improper for him to defend the party and himself against perceived smears by political opponents and the media?  Secondly, is his opinion false? What is the available evidence here?

I refer you to Al Jazeera’s undercover investigative series “The Lobby” broadcast in 2017. In light of Al Jazeera’s revelations, then-shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry called on the government to launch an immediate inquiry into “improper interference in our democratic politics”.

She said in parliament: “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

Note that: Thornberry’s statement can also be found on the Labour Party website: https://labour.org.uk/press/reports-of-israeli-embassy-official-discussing-how/

Although this story briefly hit the headlines, the main focus of Al Jazeera’s investigation and its disclosure of a dirty tricks campaign against both pro-Palestinian Labour members and also to subvert Corbyn’s leadership has been quietly buried by the media.

Moreover, in January 2017, BBC Trust felt obliged to issue a retraction and an admission that it breached its own accuracy and impartiality rules during a news report about Jeremy Corbyn’s view on shoot-to-kill policy, writing: “The breach of due accuracy on such a highly contentious political issue meant that the output had not achieved due impartiality.” Here is another indication of the media’s hostility toward Corbyn, and I will add that in response, James Harding, Director of BBC News, remained unapologetic saying (as the BBC itself reported): “While we respect the Trust and the people who work there, we disagree with this finding.”

I remind you that Keir Starmer also sacked Rebecca Long-Bailey merely for retweeting a quote with a link to respectable newspaper article on the grounds that it promoted a “conspiracy theory”.

Below is the first part of Rebecca Long-Bailey’s Twitter thread apology and retraction:

Without wishing to get into the weeds, the claims made in the article in question were untrue only in the specific case of the George Floyd killing, because it irrefutably is the case that police officers in the US are being trained by Israel Defense Forces [as Amnesty International reported in 2016] and that the IDF does use a similar kind of neck restraint against Palestinians [as Jonathan Cook reports here]. As you are no doubt aware, they also routinely shoot at unarmed protesters using live ammunition.

Here is a video report also posted by Amnesty International:

And here is a video showing an IDF soldier using the same neck restraint against a Palestinian man:

Going back to Corbyn’s statement, in my view he is justifiably defending himself against an attack-dog media and those who were actively working within the party to undermine him. But my own central points are actually these: Firstly, that Corbyn is not and has never been a racist. Indeed, even his fiercest opponents have never seriously charged him with racism and that is because his antiracist position is active, long-standing and unimpeachable. Secondly, and more broadly, we must never allow criticism of Israel to be suppressed on the totally spurious charge of antisemitism. I fear that even writing this may put me somehow in breach of the party’s current position, since I fail to understand how Corbyn’s statement is more sanctionable than any of the thoughts expressed here.

Embedded below is an interview with Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP who served under Nelson Mandela and author of “The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade”, discussing Keir Starmer’s ‘New’ New Labour, how the factional and weaponised use of ‘antisemitism’ is used to purge the left from the Labour party:

In this regard I stand with Jewish Voice for Labour who released the following statement:

We are appalled that Jeremy Corbyn has been suspended and had the whip withdrawn. He has a proud record of fighting all forms of racism including antisemitism. We call on Labour Party members to protest against this unjustified outrage in the strongest terms and through all channels available to us. This is an attack not just on Jeremy, but on the party membership. Do not leave, organise and fight back.

You can read their views on the EHRC report here: https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/the-ehrc-report-an-interim-response/

Very glad to hear that you are well and I’d like to thank you again for taking the time and trouble to reply to my letter.

Best wishes,

James

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I received a reply from Paul Blomfield on Tuesday 16th March:

Dear James

Thanks for your further email. I just wanted to respond on a couple of your points.

Membership numbers fluctuate and, while the figures showed some decline from the highest-ever level in January 2020, they are still well above the 430,359 in November 2019. Any decline in membership is clearly disappointing, but the increase in public support is encouraging. I don’t know the potential negative affect this might have on canvassing teams. After the mass influx of new members in 2015 and 2016, there was no noticeable increase in campaigning members, so I’m not sure there’s a direct correlation.

You also make the point that Labour is in danger of losing more of its ‘traditional base’ voters, or not winning them back soon. It is a real issue; democratic socialist parties across Europe have faced a gradual loss of this support over at least the last 15 years, and in the UK this far pre-dates Brexit. In 2017, under Jeremy’s leadership, the trend continued and, while we won seats in metropolitan areas, we lost Mansfield, North East Derbyshire and other such ‘traditional Labour’ seats. Bringing together a winning electoral coalition is a complex challenge – but one that we have been considering and working on for a decade. I would also point out that our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted and was secured at Conference with the support of Len McCluskey, who later wrote this piece claiming that it “should be a vote-winner”.

I agree with you that over-reliance on polls outside election periods isn’t always helpful, but as you will recognise, in the days before Keir became leader we were 20 points behind and we’re now in a much stronger position – while Johnson enjoys a current ‘bounce’ from the successful vaccination programme (which is frustrating as it’s the hard-working NHS staff that his Government has denied a fair pay settlement to who are rolling it out!)

With best wishes

Paul

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My final thoughts: Although I reject Paul Blomfield’s contention that “our 2019 Brexit policy was not Keir’s, but one that Jeremy wanted…” I have not replied to him since it seemed that our sequence of correspondence had run its course. I’d like sincerely to thank him again for taking such trouble to reply in fullness to my concerns.

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Additional:

Michael Walker and Aaron Bastani of Novara Media marked the anniversary with their own review on Friday 2nd:

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these materials may have been obtained through hacking…

After The Grayzone‘s Max Blumenthal reported on newly leaked documents exposing a massive UK government propaganda campaign against Russia, Twitter added an unprecedented warning label that “These materials may have been obtained through hacking.” Although Twitter may have intended to restrict the article, the warning had the opposite effect: it quickly went viral.

Here Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté discuss the suppression effort and the damning UK government leaks at the heart of it. After years of fear-mongering about Russian interference in Western democracies, these UK government files expose a sprawling propaganda effort that explicitly aims to “weaken” Russia. The documents reveal that this propaganda campaign has also enlisted major media outlets Reuters and the BBC, as well as the NATO member state-funded website Bellingcat.

Click here to full the original article entitled “Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat participated in covert UK Foreign Office-funded programs to ‘weaken Russia,’ leaked docs reveal”.

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Additional:

In the video below, Jimmy Dore outlines Twitter’s new rules and explains how in an absolutely Orwellian twist they are now literally redefining the word ‘hack’ to make it apply to all leaked materials. He also speaks to Max Blumenthal and they discuss an attempted policy reversal when Twitter briefly decided to remove their warning label [caution: strong language]:

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when hate speech is just dandy: release of CCE report throws into light the strange liberal love affair with Alexei Navalny

If I was to describe Muslim migrant workers arriving here from the south as cockroaches and then go so far as you recommend eradication as a solution, not only would I expect my readers to be absolutely disgusted, but I would think it quite justifiable for WordPress, Facebook and Twitter to censor such incendiary racist content. And I say this as an ardent proponent for free speech who fully supports the right for others to hold and spread contemptible opinions, not even debarring vile racism so long as it is within well-established restrictions that make it illegal to incite violence.

With this in mind, now watch “Alexei Navalny Certified Nationalist” (as his own caption reads) rallying his base by speaking to supporters in precisely this way in a political promo broadcast from 2007:

Click here to find the same content uploaded on the Internet Archive.

Ten years later in 2017, Navalny, already the darling of western liberals, was featured by the Guardian in an interview with Shaun Walker. A perfect opportunity to issue his apology and express some modicum of regret (even if phoney) for what the article lightly describes as “a number of disturbing videos, including one in which he is dressed as a dentist, complaining that tooth cavities ruin healthy teeth, as clips of migrant workers are shown.” Instead, however, we learn, Navalny remains “unapologetic”:

He sees it as a strength that he can speak to both liberals and nationalists. But comparing migrants to cockroaches? “That was artistic license,” he says. So there’s nothing at all from those videos or that period that he regrets? “No,” he says again, firmly.

Well hey ho, Navalny may speak in terms no different from Le Pen and Trump and with less restraint and worse manners, and be unrepentant in his choice of rancid language and imagery so long as it appeals to a slavering nationalist base, but quite unlike Le Pen and Trump he somehow still manages to tick all of the liberal boxes; his single discernible quality being his hostility towards Putin, which is evidently all that finally counts. The Guardian certainly gives Navalny a pass, Shaun Walker continuing:

Perhaps he has a cynical belief that, with the support of the liberal elite sewn up, the anti-migrant rhetoric can potentially help him appeal to a broader audience. Certainly, most opposition politicians, even if they don’t like Navalny much, are aware that he is the best hope for swelling anti-Putin sentiment. 1

However, not everyone is so forgiving. For perfectly understandable reasons therefore, and with public pressure mounting, on Tuesday Amnesty International quietly downgraded the status of Navalny, determining that he no longer fits their criteria for “prisoner of conscience”.

In dismay, the BBC yesterday reported:

A spokesman for the human rights organisation in Moscow told the BBC that he believed the wave of requests to “de-list” Navalny was part of an “orchestrated campaign” to discredit Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic and “impede” Amnesty’s calls for his release from custody. 2

To be honest, I am absolutely sick and tired of hearing about Alexei Navalny, and though our own liberal media has got into the unfortunate habit of fawning over Russia’s own Trump, his “anti-corruption” shtick (to drain the Kremlin swamp presumably!) seems to strike less of a chord with the average Russian. In the west, Navalny is endlessly held up as the poster child of Russian opposition, and yet in truth his political sideshow is seen more as a dubious irrelevance and especially by those on the left who are actually taking the battle to the oligarchs.

To better gauge Russian public opinion and hear a genuine left-wing take on Alexei Navalny, I recommend this recent Grayzone interview in which Katya Kazbek, the editor-in-chief of arts and culture magazine Supamodu.com; and Alexey Sakhnin, activist and a member of the Left Front, who was one of the leaders of the anti-Putin protest movement from 2011 to 2013, spoke with Aaron Maté:

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Unrelated but with perfect timing, the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) yesterday released its long-awaited report. In it they are calling for new laws to tackle the spread of hate speech and the glorification of extremism.

Set up by Theresa May’s government back in 2017 in the shadow of the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks, the “independent” CCE, “a statutory body to help fight hatred and extremism in the same way as we have fought racism,” 3 was headed up by a little-known activist called Sara Khan and ex-senior police officer, Sir Mark Rowley. At the time, the appointment of Khan came as a shock to many and was heavily criticised by anti-racist voices as politically diverse as former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi, Labour MPs Naz Shah and Diane Abbott, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, and CAGE, the London-based advocacy group for Muslim detainees.

Writing in Middle East Eye, Siema Iqbal expressed her own outrage at Khan’s appointment as follows:

An article Khan wrote that was published in a report by Hope Not Hate in 2017, which amounts to a collection of smears directed at dissenting Muslim individuals and organisations, is just the tip of the iceberg.

The broad-brush strokes with which she portrayed these organisations, many of which are stalwarts of the community, does not command confidence. It is true that Khan is from the Pakistani and Muslim communities, but without legitimacy and without trust, this amounts to little.

Continuing:

[W]hat is more extraordinary, is that the government has launched a Commission to Counter Extremism when there is no actual legal definition of the term itself. How is it possible to work on something the government has failed to define?

Instead, why not engage more widely with Muslim community organisations and address the concerns around Prevent and the lack of transparency around the Home Office’s Extremism Analysis Unit and its work?

Numerous academics, organisations and individuals have expressed their concerns around the discriminatory aspects of the Prevent policy and its pseudo-scientific basis, yet the government still refuses to call an independent enquiry.

The government may have found itself a Muslim woman to serve as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office alongside others. However, she is outnumbered by those who will not. 4

Click here to read Siema Iqbal’s full article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment”.

The details of this new CCE report recommend the further tightening of controls on activities the commission describes as “hateful extremism”, which according to Mark Rowley is “where one group targets another to ‘to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology’ and wanting ‘to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence’”:

It is based on a concept already in use in terrorism trials, the “mindset material” where extremist material, such as from the far right or Islamist terrorist videos, are accepted as evidence of pre-existing extremism. […]

Rowley said a tougher approach for the internet was needed but technology companies had pointed out there was little more they could do until they [sic] was an accepted definition of what counted as extremism: “The magnifying effect of social media had transformed it from a sideshow to a major threat.”

The report said there were worrying signs the young were being duped by extremists.

From an article in the Guardian which also includes a response from a spokesman for CAGE – an organisation Sara Khan now claims could meet ‘the threshold for action’ – who in turn accuses the commission of “implementing an ‘official’ state-sanctioned policy of ‘cancel culture’ arguing for further restrictions on lawful speech”:

“After 3 years, and at great taxpayer expense, the CCE concludes its work without any further clarity on what ‘extremism’ is. Instead it promotes ideas from some of the most stridently Islamophobic and censorious organisations in the industry.” 5

Click here to read the full Guardian report.

While seemingly unconnected, the latest twist in the Navalny saga and the concurrent release of the CCE report throw abundant light on the double standards we see operating throughout the media. More alarmingly, the difference in the way cases are being treated seems to be indicative of a divergence at the level of law: what is deemed politically acceptable potentially informing what kinds of freedom of speech will be legally sanctioned in the future.

On the one hand, anyone in Britain presumed to be creating “a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence” may soon find themselves faced with the threat of prosecution. The big question is, of course, to whom will this legislation actually apply? Muslims understandably fear that once again they will be the ones targeted.

Meanwhile, censorship on the grounds of such vaguely defined infringements as “hateful extremism” provides yet another pretext to deplatform alternative opinion, which is deeply worrying at a time when freedom of speech, especially on the internet, is already under sustained attack and unwanted alternative opinions are already subjected to unprecedented levels of censorship.

On the other hand, describing Muslim migrant workers as cockroaches and openly calling for their eradication will doubtless continue to be passed over as a minor indiscretion and more actively defended as a justifiable ploy for gaining political traction against the enemy, just so long as your name is Alexei Navalny.

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1 From an article entitled “Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’” written by Shaun Walker, published in the Guardian on April 29, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/29/alexei-navalny-on-putins-russia-all-autocratic-regimes-come-to-an-end

2 From an article entitled “Amnesty strips Alexei Navalny of ‘prisoner of conscience’ status” written by Sarah Rainford, published in BBC News on February 24, 2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-56181084

3 From Theresa May’s statement following the terrorist attack near a mosque in Finsbury Park, London, published in full by BBC News on June 19, 2017. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40327996

4 From an article entitled “I am insulted at Sara Khan’s appointment” written by Siema Iqbal, published in Middle East Eye on January 29, 2018. https://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/node/68777

5 From an article entitled “New UK laws needed to stop hate speech and extremism, says report” written by Vikram Dodd, published in the Guardian on February 24, 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/feb/24/new-uk-laws-needed-to-stop-hate-speech-and-extremism-says-report

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‘Coup 53’: or how British intelligence enabled the CIA to take over the empire

Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest mission civilizatrice.

One specifically American contribution to the discourse of empire is the specialized jargon of policy expertise. You don’t need Arabic or Persian or even French to pontificate about how the democracy domino effect is just what the Arab world needs. Combative and woefully ignorant policy experts, whose world experience is limited to the Beltway, grind out books on “terrorism” and liberalism, or about Islamic fundamentalism and American foreign policy, or about the end of history, all of it vying for attention and influence quite without regard for truthfulness or reflection or real knowledge. What matters is how efficient and resourceful it sounds, and who might go for it, as it were. The worst aspect of this essentializing stuff is that human suffering in all its density and pain is spirited away. Memory and with it the historical past are effaced as in the common, dismissively contemptuous American phrase, “you’re history.” — Edward Said

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When democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, took the fateful decision to nationalise his nation’s oil reserves, thus depriving BP – known then as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – of its primary revenue stream, the West quickly retaliated, first with sanctions and then with a full-fledged colour revolution and coup carried out in 1953 to ouster Mosaddegh and usher in a quarter century-long brutal dictatorship and repressive police state under the Shah.

The American role in what was codenamed Operation Ajax is comparatively well documented and those familiar with the story will already be aware of the central role played by Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, who afterwards wrote a book entitled Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran in which he described how he and the CIA carried out their operation. By contrast, far fewer details are known about British involvement.

A Radio 4 documentary broadcast in 2005 finally revealed evidence that not only was the BBC World Service prominent in a campaign to flood Iran with anti-government propaganda, but also disclosed how the World Service is directly implicated in the coup by signalling British support to the Shah. As notes on the BBC website state:

“Even the BBC was used to spearhead Britain’s propaganda campaign. In fact, Auntie agreed to broadcast the very code word that was to spark revolution.” 1

Curiously, the BBC has since refused to comment on its own disclosure!

The pivotal role played by MI6 remains to this day a very closely-guarded secret, however in a newly released documentary Coup 53, British-Iranian filmmaker Taghi Amirani has managed to piece together fragments to tell the story of one British secret service officer called Norman Darbyshire – a man whose existence had been almost entirely erased from history:

Coup 53 is the result of years of sleuthing from Amirani, and he has been helped by the legendary editor and sound editor Walter Murch, who is co-writer. Also on board is actor Ralph Fiennes. In a dramatic reconstruction, he plays real-life MI6 agent Norman Derbyshire [sic], who in 1985 gave an interview to the Granada TV documentary End of Empire in which he rashly asserted that the whole thing was effectively being run by the British – by him, in fact. Coup 53 concludes that his appearance was cut at MI6’s insistence but the transcript survived. 2

Click here to read the full Guardian review by Peter Bradshaw.

Although centred around redacted transcripts from just a single television interview, Coup 53 is a quite brilliantly constructed and important documentary, which by the end leaves the audience to consider what might have been had the plot to remove Mosaddegh failed – as it so very nearly did. Besides a more hopeful future in a Middle East with Iran permitted to develop as an affluent, democratic and progressive power, it also seems unlikely, as the film intimates, that the CIA would have gone on so avidly to pursue future campaigns of destabilisation beginning with the toppling of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala the very next year.

Embedded below is George Monbiot’s short guide to why everything you know about the British Empire is a lie:

Instead, the imperialist success of the Iranian coup simply marked the passing of the baton from the British establishment more firmly into American hands with the major difference in the running the empire owing much to differences of national character: the British eager to hide their dirty secrets to the extent of completely erasing the historical record (and the main Wikipedia entry still makes little mention of Norman Darbyshire) while the Americans appear happier to brag.

Click here to view the official Coup 53 website and here to watch the film.

In January 2020, Codepink’s Jodie Evans spoke with Taghi Amirani shortly after the original release of the Coup 53:

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Correction:

In the original post I incorrectly wrote Norman Derbyshire rather than Darbyshire (the same mistake appears in the Guardian review) and wrote that “the main Wikipedia entry still makes no mention of Norman Derbyshire”. If you search the current Wikipedia entry you will however find the following inclusion (with all links and footnotes retained):

Robert Zaehner alone spent over a £1,500,000, smuggled in biscuit tins, to bribe Iranians, and later his colleague Norman Darbyshire admitted that the actual coup cost the British government a further £700,000.[48]They hoped to fill the Majlis with deputies who would vote to depose Mosaddegh. It would be a coup carried out by seemingly legal means.”[18]:135

Although not linked from this article, there is also a separate entry for Norman Darbyshire that read as follows (again with links retained):

Norman Darbyshire (1 October 1924 – 17 June 1993) was the British MI6 operative who led the 1953 coup d’état that overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically-elected prime minister of Iran. Credit and blame for the coup has long been attributed solely to the United States CIA, while the dominant role of the British, and MI6 operative Darbyshire in particular, has been hidden. Among other things, he was involved in the kidnapping, torture, and assassination of General Mahmoud Afshartous, Mossadegh’s chief of police,[1] and bribed the twin sister of Shah Reza Pahlavi to play a key role in the coup and to eventually become a power behind his resulting dictatorship.[2]

Darbyshire died in 1993, aged 68.

In the 2019 documentary Coup 53 by the British-Iranian film-maker Taghi Amirani about the 1953 Iranian coup d’état – in USA, the coup was known as Operation Ajax, while in Britain it was Operation Boot – actor Ralph Fiennes plays the part of Darbyshire.[3]

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Quote taken from the 2003 Preface to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition of Orientalism by Edward Said, first published in 1978. https://www.princeton.edu/~paw/web_exclusives/plus/plus_110503orient.html

1 From BBC notes to Document: A Very British Coup broadcast on Monday August 22, 2005. Even the BBC was used to spearhead Britain’s propaganda campaign. In fact, Auntie agreed to broadcast the very code word that was to spark revolution. https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/document/document_20050822.shtml

2 From an article entitled “Coup 53 review – riveting documentary on a very British coup” written by Peter Bradshaw, published in the Guardian on August 20, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2020/aug/20/coup-53-review

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John Pilger’s New Year message: “Break the silence, support Stop the War”

I often use the example of Stop the War as a movement as a reason for optimism for whatever happens in the meantime, in Parliament, Whitehall, wherever; Stop the War has gone on indefatigable and I’m really delighted to be doing this because I much admire everything that Stop the War has done, there’s no equivalent actually in any other country and so congratulations on tonight.

I wonder how many of you have been to the National War Memorial in Staffordshire. It’s fairly recent, that is it was only finished about 2007. It’s an enormous place, it has 30,000 trees, rolling hills and monuments scattered throughout it. I mean in some ways it’s quite hauntingly beautiful, it’s a very unusual place: there are 350 memorials set in manicured lawns and thousands of trees and at the centre is the armed services memorial with its list of 16,000 British servicemen who it says, and I quote: “Died in operational theatre or were targeted by terrorists”.

Now on the day I was there a stonemason was actually adding two more names. There isn’t I should point out a cenotaph here to the fallen of two World Wars, there are many of those throughout the country, but these soldiers here died in 50 operations across the world during what we call peacetime. So, the people whose names are engraved on the memorials have died since the Second World War in these special operations and fighting terrorism which I think to most of you sounds like quite a euphemism – [for instance] Ireland, Kenya, Hong Kong, Libya, Iraq and many more including secret operations.

Not a year has passed since peacetime was declared in 1945 – official peacetime – that Britain has not sent military forces to fight its wars of empire. In country after country, the British arms business has furthered these wars of empire. Empire: it’s extraordinary even using the word. What empire? The investigative journalist Phil Miller recently revealed that Britain has 145 military sites, let’s call them bases, in 42 countries. Boris Johnson has boasted that Britain is to be, and I quote the foremost naval power in Europe.

In the midst of the greatest health emergency in modern times, with more than four million surgical operations delayed indefinitely, Johnson announced a record rise of £16.5 billion in so-called defence spending – a figure that would restore the NHS many times over. But the 16 billion is not for defence. Britain has no enemies other than those who betray its ordinary people, its nurses and doctors, its carers, its elderly, its vulnerable, its youth.

Amidst the solemn landscape of the National War Memorial there’s not a single monument, not one plaque, not one rose bush, in memory of all the civilians who died as a result of many of these so-called peacetime operations. There’s not a word of remembrance of the Libyan civilians killed when their country was wilfully destroyed by Cameron, Obama and [correction: Sarkozy] in 2011. There’s not a weasel word of regret for the Serb men, women and children killed by British bombs from RAF planes flying high courtesy of Tony Blair. Or the Yemeni children now being killed by rampaging Saudi pilots with logistics supplied by British officers in the air-conditioned safety of Riyadh. There’s no monument, of course, to the Palestinian children isolated and murdered with Britain’s connivance.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s military Chief of Staff [Aviv Kohavi] and Britain’s Chief of the Defence Staff [Sir Nick Carter ] signed an agreement and I quote ‘to formalise and enhance military cooperation’. That means more and more British arms and logistical support for the lawless regime in Israel. Perhaps the most glaring omission at the national war memorial is an acknowledgement of the million Iraqi’s.

A million men, women and children whose deaths were the direct result of Britain and America’s invasion of their country – an invasion based as we well know on outright lies. How does this country’s war-making elite sustain such a lethal silence? Why are we living with not just colonial wars but the threat of nuclear war?

Russia, a nuclear power, is encircled by America and Europe right up to the border where Hitler invaded. China, a nuclear power, is the brunt of unrelenting provocation with strategic bombers and drones constantly probing its territorial space. There are 400 American bases circling China like a noose, all the way up from Australia, through the pacific to Asia, and across Eurasia. This is almost never news. Why do we allow this lethal silence?

The answer lies in one word, propaganda. Our propaganda industries both political and cultural and that includes most – if not almost all – of the media are the most powerful and refined on earth. Our big lies can be repeated over and over and in comforting BBC voices. What is the propaganda aimed at? I would think it’s aimed at ensuring that we, who live in this country, never look in the mirror. Most of us never look in the mirror and see what we do in other countries.

A few years after the invasion of Iraq I made a film called The War You Don’t See [embedded above] in which I asked leading American and British colleagues and TV news executives why and how the Bush and Blair governments were allowed to get away with an invasion based on lies. The journalists said that had they and others challenged governments and exposed their lives, instead of amplifying and echoing them, the invasion of Iraq might not have happened – and perhaps a million people would be alive today. It’s an extraordinary admission, but coming from senior journalists in the United States I think it has more than just an element of truth, it was certainly the view of the CBS anchorman Dan Rather who told me that.

An Observer journalist described in my film and I quote him – his name is David Rose – “the pack of lies fed to me by a fairly sophisticated disinformation campaign”. Rageh Omaar, then the BBC’s man in Iraq, said and I quote “we failed to press the most uncomfortable buttons hard enough”. I must say I admired these journalists who broke the silence, but they are honourable exceptions.

Some years ago, I interviewed the former head of the CIA in Latin America, Duane Clarridge. He was refreshingly honest, he said that America the superpower could do what it wanted, where it wanted. His words were, and I quote: “get used to it world”. But we don’t have to get used to it, do we?

That’s why I’m supporting Stop the War whose tireless campaigning is breaking the silence – continues to break the silence – that war dominates us even in so-called peacetime.

I’ve reported a number of wars all over the world. I’ve seen the remains of children bombed and burned to death and whole villages laid to waste, trees festooned with human parts and much else. Perhaps that’s why I reserve a special contempt for those who promote the crime of war in whatever form, having never experienced it themselves. Break the silence, support Stop the War. Thank you.

Click here to read the original transcript in full at Stop the War Coalition website.

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the toppling of statues has let in some air but it won’t bring a wind of change

Four people have been charged with criminal damage after the toppling of a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol in June this year.

Rhian Graham, 29, Milo Ponsford, 25, Jake Skuse, 32, and Sage Willoughby, 21, will appear before Bristol magistrates court on 25 January for the first hearing, the Crown Prosecution Service said. 1

As reported in today’s Guardian. In response I have decided to publish an article that was composed last summer but never posted. It is accompanied by extracts drawn from four other perspectives that were published around the same time.

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A painting entitled “The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner. In the background, the sun shines through a storm while large waves hit the sides of a sailing ship. In the foreground, slaves are drowning in the water, while others are being eaten by large fish

It perhaps says something of the make-up of the Anglo-Saxon mindset that the very word ‘violence’ in the English language draws no distinction between acts of grievous harm committed against people and the lesser evil of vandalising property (and yet we have no better synonym). For this reason talk of the violence in the case of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston and the other slavers is semantically correct; that said, to speak of the toppling of an effigy of a man that owes its erection as a civic monument entirely to the transportation and forced resettlement of nearly a hundred thousand African slaves, nearly a quarter of whom died unknown but horrific deaths during the genocidal ‘Middle Passage’, is also crass hyperbole. The statue of Colston wasn’t lynched, unlike many of those he had happily sold into slavery, but straightforwardly pulled down and then, in a moment of supreme poetic justice, tossed into the harbour whence his slave ships set sail three centuries ago.

Diagram of a slave ship from the Atlantic slave trade. (From an Abstract of Evidence delivered before a select committee of the House of Commons in 1790 and 1791.)

One of the most oft-repeated dictums from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is the Party slogan: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” On ‘Airstrip One’ in Oceania (aka Britain), such brutal reductionism has become a central feature of state control: past mistakes are expunged; Party misdeeds rendered impossible by constant reediting; the names of enemies of the state purged unless they are useful foils; and the sole purpose of historical remembrance is the maintenance of the status quo. Revisionism is thus non-stop and never-ending.

Today Orwell is routinely wheeled out by people he would have detested to justify causes that would have sickened him. So let’s understand that he had no time for preservation simply for the sake of preservation – just read what he says about Gaudi’s now celebrated cathedral the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and how “the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance.” Orwell couldn’t have cared less about tearing down the odd statue, but devil can cite scripture for his purpose.

What Orwell did care about and understood better than most is the extraordinary power of symbols; most especially the ugly symbols of colonialism, a rapacious system he had experienced first-hand in Burma and despised no less than the crowd of defenestrators on the quayside in Bristol. Few have spoken more forcefully than Orwell on the abuses of Empire, and so there is little reason to suppose he would have been anything less than delighted to see Colston and the other slavers ripped from their pedestals.

Violence, in all senses of the word, is the underpainting to History’s canvass; new layers added once older ones are scraped away: for History is a study not of mere incidents, but of collective and prolonged exertions of force strewn with wilful acts of destruction. Therefore, to draw any line before the toppling of statues like Colston’s, first you must ask what else besides the sheer scale of its enterprise makes Britain’s acts of savage imperialism different at all from the savagery you do deplore, remembering of course that the offending statue of Colston had only been erected little more than a century ago; a fillip to late Victorian pride as the sun was about to set permanently on the Empire.

And when on that crisp October night three decades ago, the East Germans clambered atop the Berlin Wall and smashed it to the ground with sledgehammers, their impromptu act of vandalism opened the way for greater freedoms. We cheered them on. Likewise we cheered the toppling of statues of Stalin all across the old Soviet bloc. Should these too have been preserved as historical monuments instead? If so, then how about all of these…?

There is a tendency to think of statues as mere illustrations of famous past lives, like the solid pages from a pop-up history book. But they have plinths for good reason: to look down from. Statues – indeed all memorials – are virtue signallers. They are fundamentally didactic, presenting role models that are rather hard to repudiate: do as I have done and you shall become an immortal too. Thus Colston’s statue pays tribute to all who put greed and self-interest above human life: it glorifies profiteering and elevates the cruellest of merchants into a demigod. Be thankful that his days of lording it over the rest of us have gone.

As the words on the broken plinth set amongst the desolate ruins in Shelley’s famous sonnet declare:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 2

Foretold is the fate of all monuments, although some monuments deserve to suffer their fate more swiftly than others; and when they do, it is right that we celebrate.

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Reprinted below are extended extracts and abridged versions of four excellent articles published or republished by ‘Counterpunch’. The first two, by Jonathan Cook and Patrick Cockburn respectively, address the issue of the toppling of statues. The latter two, by Nick Turse and Rob Urie, put the recent Black Lives Matter protests into broader context; the first historically and second socio-economically. I very much encourage readers to follow the links to read the articles in full.

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Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue

I did not expect to be returning to this issue so soon but I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that my last post on anti-racists toppling a statue of the notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol proved to be the most polarising article I have ever written. Given the many controversial topics I have addressed over the years, that seems noteworthy in itself.

It may not be surprising that those on the right are troubled by ordinary people challenging authority, demanding change rather than conserving what we already have, and “taking the law into their own hands”. None of this sits too easily with the conservative political worldview. But some on the left seem equally disturbed by this act of popular protest. That needs to be analysed and challenged.

I have been able to identify three main types of criticism from the left.

Cities on the back foot

The first suggests that tearing down statues is ineffective. It does not change anything, and actually conceals society’s continuing racism. These actions may make activists feel good but they fail to bring about any tangible progress.

Such arguments are obviously undermined by the fact that Bristol’s mayor and its council, which had been ignoring demands to remove Colston’s statue for decades, are finally proposing action. For the first time, the mayor has called for a “citywide conversation” about all of Bristol’s public memorials. He has promised to discuss their future with historians, presumably to identify which ones venerate people like Colston so obscenely horrible that they have no place in public squares looking down on us. Instead they should be in museums so their crimes can be contextualised and properly understood. […]

I’ve been truly staggered to find leftists who follow me on social media decrying this simply as “mob rule”. Probing their reasoning a little has tended to reveal some pretty ugly premises and a tendency to dismiss everything as hollow identity politics. That is lazy political thinking, and a position that is held easily only if one is white.

“Golliwog” racism, as I explained in my original post, was the jam generations of white children spread on their morning toast. We live with those unquestioned associations and assumptions still. It’s about time we confronted them rather than indulged them.

Overthrowing symbols

The second criticism is that toppling statues is a distraction from proper political activism, that statues are meaningless symbols, that there are much more important things to be getting on with, and that the establishment wants us to target statues to sow division or direct our energies into irrelevancies. It is claimed that tearing down Colston’s statue has detracted from the inspiration for the protests: challenging police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman in Minneapolis.

There are lots of reasons why this approach is a wrong-headed.

Symbols are important. They are the illustrations to the stories we are fed about who we are and what we hold dear. Like images in the picture books our parents read to us before we could make out the letters of the text, these symbols often have more impact than the stories themselves. When we challenge symbols we begin to deconstruct the stories that they illustrate. Overthrow a symbol, and you are taking the first step on the path to overthrowing the system behind it.

After all, if these symbols weren’t so important in entrenching a sense of “national life” and “national values”, the establishment would not have bothered to erect them. That’s why the rightwing will make a battleground of protecting statues of Winston Churchill and Queen Victoria. Because it is vitally important to them that we don’t tear off the mask to see for ourselves – or to show them – what really lies beneath. […]

Isn’t having the establishment fearful exactly where the left should want them? Because when the establishment is not frightened, all they do is line their pockets more deeply. They make concessions only when we raise the stakes.

If that is not obvious, recall the mass marches against the Iraq war. They failed not because they were not popular – they were some of the largest protests ever in Britain. They failed because the public could not make Tony Blair and his cabinet more frightened of us – the British people – than they were of the White House and the Pentagon. The cynical, dispiriting lesson we took away from the Iraq war was that we could never have an effect on the political class. The real lesson was that we needed to bare our teeth.

Last week the crowds in Bristol bared their teeth, and the politicians and police decided the fight – this time – wasn’t worth it. Defending a racist statue is much less of a priority for the establishment than placating the US, of course. But it doesn’t mean it is no priority at all.

The lessons of revolts through the ages are that small victories inspire crowds to larger battles. That is why the establishment usually tries to crush or co-opt the first signs of popular dissent and defiance. They fear our empowerment. It is also why it is important for those who want fairer societies to support, not diminish, the actions of those who take on initial confrontations with the establishment. They build the launchpad for bigger things.

Progress through protest

The third and seemingly most common criticism is that it is dangerous to allow the mob to win, and that once “mob rule” scores a success it will lead to anarchy and violence.

As I explained in my last post, none of the things we value today in Britain – from the vote to the National Health Service – happened without either direct protest in defiance of the establishment or the threat of such protest. It was only ever fear about the breakdown of order or of the eruption of violence that pushed the establishment to give up any of its wealth and power. […]

Those who worry about “mob rule” assume that we now live in democracies that are responsive to the popular will. I will not waste my breath again demolishing that fallacy – it has been the sole reason for my writing this blog for the past six years. We live in sophisticated oligarchies, where corporations control the narratives of our lives through their control of the mass media to make us compliant and believe in fairytales. The biggest is that we, the people, are in charge through our vote, in a political system that offers only two choices, both of them political parties that were long ago captured by the corporations. The one countervailing force – organised labour – now plays almost no role. It has been either destroyed or its leaders co-opted themselves.

Wrong about democracy

All that aside, those anxious about “the mob” have failed to understand what liberal democracy means – the model of democracy we are all supposed to subscribe to. It does not give carte blanche to the white majority to smother symbols all over the public space of people who abused, murdered and oppressed our black neighbours’ ancestors. That is democracy as the tyranny of the majority.

If this is not blindingly obvious, let me propose a hypothetical analogy. How would we judge Britain’s Jewish community if after years of failed protests they and non-Jewish supporters “took the law into their own hands” and tore down a statue in Hamstead to Adolf Eichmann? Would we call them a mob? Would we characterise what they did as vigilantism? And perhaps more to the point, can we conceive of an Eichmann statue being erected in Hamstead – or anywhere? Of course, not. So why is it even conceivable that a man like Colston who profited from the destruction of the lives of tens of thousands of Africans should still be presiding over a multicultural city like Bristol, where some of the descendants of those Africans live today?

The fact that we cannot imagine being so insensitive to the Jewish community should underscore how unbelievably insensitive we have been to Britain’s black community for many decades.  3

Click here to read the full unabridged article by Jonathan Cook entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue”.

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British leaders have no idea how bad slavery was

Conservative leaders snigger at protesters seeking the removal of statues memorialising those whose fortunes came from the exploitation of slaves.

The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, implied facetiously this week that such demands are on a par with seeking to knock down Stonehenge on the grounds that it once could have been the site of human sacrifice. He was speaking in response to a puerile question from the Conservative MP Sir Desmond Swayne – who got into trouble last year for blacking his face – suggesting that a measure be introduced to remove “all remaining trace that there was a Roman civilisation in this island”.

The flippancy of the exchange shows that both men feel that slavery happened a long time ago and does not stand out in history as a particularly horrendous crime, and that the demonstrations against those who benefited from it amount to a passing fad that need not be taken seriously. […]

Appreciation of the savage reality of slavery is clouded among white populations by films like Gone with the Wind which emphasise sentimental attachments between master and slave. One way to understand what it was really like is to recall how Isis enslaved the Yazidis in northern Iraq and Syria in 2014, murdering men, women and children and selling thousands of women into sexual slavery.

Terrified women held in Isis jails waited to be raped and sold to the highest bidder. “The first 12 hours of capture were filled with sharply mounting terror,” says a UN report on what happened in one jail. “The selection of any girl was accompanied by screaming as she was forcibly pulled from the room, with her mother and any other women who tried to keep hold of her being brutally beaten by [Isis] fighters. [Yazidi] women and girls began to scratch and bloody themselves in an attempt to make themselves unattractive to potential buyers.” The reference comes from With Ash on Their Faces: Yezidi Women and the Islamic State by Cathy Otten.

Isis did not behave very differently from the slave traders and plantation owners in the West Indies and the US in the 18th century. The best-informed guide to what life was like on a slave plantation in the Caribbean at that time are the books written by James Ramsay, an Anglican clergymen and former navy surgeon who worked as a doctor for 19 years in the plantations on the British-ruled islands of St Kitts and Nevis. Finally forced to leave by the plantation owners because of his evident sympathy for the slaves – he let them worship in his church – he retired to Kent to describe his experiences.

Ramsay records the endless round of punishments inflicted on the slave to force them to work cutting sugar cane for 16 hours or more a day. He says that an experienced slave driver could use a cart whip “to cut out flakes of skin and flesh with every stroke”. When a surgeon refused to amputate the limb of a slave as a punishment, a cooper’s adze was used to sever it “and the wretch then left to bleed to death, without any attention or dressing”.

As in Isis-held Iraq and Syria, sexual slavery was a common feature of plantation life. Ramsay says that slave women were “sacrificed to the lust of white men; in some instances, their own fathers”. He adds that white women on the plantations, presumably members of the family of the owner, would hire out their maid servants as prostitutes. Contrary to the romantic cinematic image, the real life Scarlett O’Hara might have been paying for her ball dress with money gained from the rape of her maids. 4

Click here to read Patrick Cockburn’s full article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was”

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A Latter Day Lynching

[I]f you had told me that, in the span of a few months, a novel coronavirus that dates back only to last year and systemic American racism that dates back to 1619 would somehow intersect, I wouldn’t have believed it. If you had told me that a man named George Floyd would survive Covid-19 only to be murdered by the police and that his brutal death would spark a worldwide movement, leading the council members of a major American city to announce their intent to defund the police and Europeans halfway across the planet to deface monuments to a murderous nineteenth-century monarch who slaughtered Africans, I would have dismissed you. But history works in mysterious ways.

Four hundred years of racism, systemic abuse of authority, unpunished police misconduct, white skin privilege, and a host of other evils at the dark core of America gave a white Minneapolis police officer the license to press a black man’s face to the pavement and jam a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. For allegedly attempting to buy a pack of cigarettes with a phony $20 bill, George Floyd was killed at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by police officer Derek Chauvin.

At the beginning of the last century, whites could murder a black man, woman, or child in this country as part of a public celebration, memorialize it on postcards, and mail them to friends. Between 1877 and 1950, nearly 4,000 blacks were lynched in the American South, more than a death a week for 73 years. But the murders of blacks, whether at the hands of their owners in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries or of unaccountable fellow Americans in the latter nineteenth and twentieth centuries never ended despite changes in some attitudes, significant federal legislation, and the notable successes of the protests, marches, and activism of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

From 2006 to 2012, in fact, a white police officer killed a black person in America almost twice a week, according to FBI statistics. And less than a month before we watched the last moments of George Floyd’s life, we witnessed a modern-day version of a lynching when Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was gunned down while jogging on a suburban street in Glynn County, Georgia. Gregory McMichael, a 64-year-old white retired district attorney, investigator, and police detective, and his son Travis, 34, were eventually arrested and charged with his murder.

Without the Covid-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s botched response to it, without black Americans dying of the disease at three times the rate of whites, without the suddenly spotlighted health disparities that have always consigned people of color to die at elevated rates, without a confluence of so many horrors that the black community in America has suffered for so long coupled with those of a new virus, would we be in the place we’re in today?

If President Trump hadn’t cheered on the efforts of mostly older white protesters to end pandemic shutdowns and “liberate” their states and then echoed a racist Miami police chief of the 1960s who promised “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” essentially calling for young black protesters to be gunned down, would the present movement have taken off in such a way? And would these protests have been as powerful if people who had avoided outside contact for weeks hadn’t suddenly decided to risk their own lives and those of others around them because this murder was too brazen, too likely to end in injustice for private handwringing and public hashtags? 5

Click here to read Nick Turse’s full article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America”.

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Police killings are a political tactic

As the spark that lit a fire, the murder of George Floyd was horrifyingly, sickeningly ordinary. According to the scant data on police killing of citizens that is available, about three people are killed by the police in the U.S. every day. And despite the protest movements Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, this number has remained about constant in recent years through Democratic and Republican administrations. This persistence stands in contrast to the political ‘branding’ of the mainstream political parties where difference is claimed, but little is evident.

The place of Mr. Floyd’s murder in the ordinary working of American governance makes it the catalyst, not the cause, of current protests. The background circumstances of economic calamity suggest that political tensions will continue to rise as unemployment and economic desperation exert a toll on social stability. The horror of Mr. Floyd’s murder should get outraged citizens into the streets regardless of broader circumstances. But with history as a guide, it is these broader factors that are creating the political moment. This highlights the urgency of acting while there is an opening.

The disproportionate targeting of blacks by the police is given needed context when the data is organized by economic class. Poor and working-class whites are arrested and incarcerated at about the same rate as poor and working-class blacks. By its nature, this data says nothing about history. But it does offer structural and political insights. To the prior, history informs the present, it doesn’t define it. To the latter, 1) the frame of race divides people who otherwise have shared class interests and 2) poor and working class ‘allies’ are struggling for their own freedom from police violence, whatever their intentions.

What this arithmetic of disparity implies is that a larger proportion of blacks than whites are poor and working class. One interpretation is that race defines economic opportunity, which is overly generous to how capitalism works. Whatever people’s sentiments, slavery, convict leasing and Jim Crow had economic explanations. Some people, call them capitalists, make themselves rich by making and keeping other people poor. Here is a dry, academic and partial explanation of how poor people are kept poor in the present. […]

With regard to the current alliance of convenience between protesters, the establishment press and national Democrats, it was only a few weeks ago that the latter were lauding the American political police — the FBI, as the saviors of freedom and democracy in the Russiagate fraud. That the FBI was behind the scenes in the murders of Black Panther Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, suggests that protecting freedom and democracy isn’t precisely its mandate. Through its Cointelpro program, the FBI worked with Richard Nixon— and subsequent administrations, to disrupt, thwart and otherwise destroy organized opposition to state policy.

Closer to home, the FBI was ‘deeply involved’ in the vicious police repression that was used to shut Occupy Wall Street down in an organized multi-state operation. To bring this back to Mr. Nixon’s service to capital in creating the modern carceral-police state, the FBI coordinated with the large Wall Street banks that the Obama administration was still in the process of bailing out when its assault on the peaceful protesters of OWS took place. For those who may have forgotten, Wall Street bank J.P. Morgan made a $4.6 billion contribution to the NYPD pension fund as OWS gained political strength.

Events have moved past the murder of George Floyd as establishment hacks try to extinguish the flames with ham-fisted theatrics. I had a hard time not vomiting at the sight of craven Democrats dressed in kante garb kneeling in Kaepernick fashion to show solidarity with the people they have dedicated their careers to selling out to the highest bidder. Given that ‘we’ were in a similar place in 2015, with near daily high-profile murders of unarmed youth at the hands of the police that they had empowered, and they did nothing. To save the suspense, they engage in theatrics in place of taking meaningful action, not in addition to it.

With capitalism in its deepest crisis since 2009, and possibly since the 1930s, the current political moment is fraught. As was demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the existing powers are incapable of governing. What they are capable of is massive transfers of social wealth to the already rich and political repression. If capital is perceived to be threatened, look for self-preservation to come in the form of political violence no matter which party holds the White House. One might ask what happened to Bernie Sander’s ‘coalition,’ which I supported for tactical reasons (to head off environmental calamity). Bernie Sanders is a Democrat. That is what happened. 6

Click here  to read the full article by Rob Urie entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic”

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1 From a report entitled “Four charged over damage to Colston statue in Bristol”  written by Jessica Murray, published in the Guardian on December 9, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/dec/09/four-charged-over-damage-to-colston-statue-in-bristol

2 The name “Ozymandias” is a rendering in Greek of a part of Ramesses II’s throne name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re. The poems paraphrase the inscription on the base of the statue, given by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheca historica as:

King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.

From the current Wikipedia entry. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias

3 From an article entitled “Symbols are Invested with Power. Don’t Dismiss the Importance of Toppling a Statue” written by Jonathan Cook published on June 12, 2020.  https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2020-06-12/statue-colston-bristol-power/

4 From an article entitled “British Leaders Have No Idea How Bad Slavery Was” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in Counterpunch on June 16, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/16/british-leaders-have-no-idea-how-bad-slavery-was/ 

5 From an article entitled “A Breathless Moment in America” written by Nick Turse, published in TomDispatch on June 14, 2020. http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176714/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_breathless_moment_in_america/#more

6 From an article entitled “Police Killings are a Political Tactic” written by Rob Urie published in Counterpunch on June 15, 2020. https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/06/15/police-killings-are-a-political-tactic/

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