Tag Archives: Nicolas Sarkozy

astroturfing for regime change: frontline in the (newest) war on the antiwar movement

A lot of good work for charity…

On Thursday [Feb 4th], David Cameron and Angela Merkel joined with lesser lights Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, and the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in London to host the “Supporting Syria & the Region 2016” conference.

Alongside many other luminaries including Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, European Council president, Donald Tusk, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, they were gathered – according to the “about” page of the official website – “to rise to the challenge of raising the money needed to help millions of people whose lives have been torn apart by the devastating civil war” by lending support to an “event built on 3 previous conferences that have been generously hosted in Kuwait.”

This hypertext link to “Kuwait” is intriguing to say the least. Following it you will read:

Kuwait is one of the world’s major international donors of humanitarian assistance and is both a pioneer and standard-bearer for the establishment of development funds in the Gulf region.

And:

Kuwait has increased its support for multilateral humanitarian action exponentially since the start of the crisis in Syria.

And how:

In September 2014, the United Nations, in recognition of Kuwait’s humanitarian efforts to bring together and galvanize the international community for the relief of the Syrian people, designated the State of Kuwait an “International Humanitarian Centre”.

Largesse that is indeed confirmed by an analysis paper published by the Brookings Institute back in December 2013. However, there is charity and there is charity…

Over the last two and a half years, Kuwait has emerged as a financing and organizational hub for charities and individuals supporting Syria’s myriad rebel groups. These donors have taken advantage of Kuwait’s unique freedom of association and its relatively weak financial rules to channel money to some of the estimated 1,000 rebel brigades now fighting against Syrian president Bashar al-Asad. […]

From the early days of the Syrian uprising, Kuwait-based donors—including one group currently under U.S.sanction for terrorist financing—began to pressure Syrians to take up arms. The new brigades often adopted the ideological outlook of their donors. As the war dragged on and the civilian death toll rose, the path toward extremism became self-reinforcing. Today, there is evidence that Kuwaiti donors have backed rebels who have committed atrocities and who are either directly linked to al-Qa’ida or cooperate with its affiliated brigades on the ground. 1 [bold emphasis added]

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Mission accomplished: the oil and the gold

Though the French-proposed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 claimed the no-fly zone implemented over Libya was to protect civilians, an April 2011 email sent to Hillary with the subject line “France’s client and Qaddafi’s gold” tells of less noble ambitions.

The email identifies French President Nicholas Sarkozy as leading the attack on Libya with five specific purposes in mind: to obtain Libyan oil, ensure French influence in the region, increase Sarkozy’s reputation domestically, assert French military power, and to prevent Gaddafi’s influence in what is considered “Francophone Africa.”

Most astounding is the lengthy section delineating the huge threat that Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves, estimated at “143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver,” posed to the French franc (CFA) circulating as a prime African currency. In place of the noble sounding “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine fed to the public, there is this “confidential” explanation of what was really driving the war [emphasis mine]:

This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).

(Source Comment: According to knowledgeable individuals this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.)

Though this internal email aims to summarize the motivating factors driving France’s (and by implication NATO’s) intervention in Libya, it is interesting to note that saving civilian lives is conspicuously absent from the briefing.

Instead, the great fear reported is that Libya might lead North Africa into a high degree of economic independence with a new pan-African currency.

French intelligence “discovered” a Libyan initiative to freely compete with European currency through a local alternative, and this had to be subverted through military aggression. 2

The quoted document can be read in full at the U.S. Dept of State FOIA virtual reading room.

Click here to the full article “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya” at Global Research.

Thus, to prevent Libya slipping outside the global financial stranglehold held by western financiers, the French led the way for Nato to unleash a barrage of “shock and awe” air strikes under cover of the dusted down UN “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine and a “no-fly zone”. This opened the way to the seizure and control of national resources including Libyan oil, and, if this recently declassified memo is accurate, Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves which were “intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency”.

The motive was always regime change and scare stories such as the one about Viagra-fuelled mass rape dutifully planted by our ever complaisant media, although quickly debunked, still served as an adequate pretext for “intervention”. Nato’s attack on Libya had nothing to do with saving lives:

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said she was “deeply concerned” that Gaddafi’s troops were participating in widespread rape in Libya. “Rape, physical intimidation, sexual harassment, and even so-called ‘virginity tests’ have taken place in countries throughout the region,” she said.

Donatella Rovera, senior crisis response adviser for Amnesty, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising, says that “we have not found any evidence or a single victim of rape or a doctor who knew about somebody being raped”. 3

Compare this with today’s callous indifference toward the plight of ordinary Libyans suffering the lawless mayhem of life in a failed state overrun with Salafist warlords. It isn’t hard to understand why. The west has “won” that war: the transnationals got what they wanted. “We came, we saw, he died”, as Hillary famously gloated. With Gaddafi dead, the real mission was indeed accomplished: the spoils were “ours”.

So ended one more episode in an already tedious and dreadful tale…

Read more about western motives for war on Iraq in this earlier post.

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Solidarity with refugees

By late Summer 2014, however, the exodus of refugees from war-torn Libya had become so great that the British government felt compelled to take action. And act it did, in accordance with its genuine concerns:

Britain will not support any future search and rescue operations to prevent migrants and refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, claiming they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing, Foreign Office ministers have quietly announced.

So Cameron and his government washed their hands of all responsibility. The “swarm of people” – Cameron’s own obscene description 4 – fleeing from a war in Libya that he had personally helped to ignite, needed to be held back whatever the human costs. Indeed, as the Guardian article of late 2014 continues:

Refugee and human rights organisations reacted with anger to the official British refusal to support a sustained European search and rescue operation to prevent further mass migrant drownings, saying it would contribute to more people dying needlessly on Europe’s doorstep. […]

The British Refugee Council chief executive, Maurice Wren, responding to the Foreign Office refusal to take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean said: “The British government seems oblivious to the fact that the world is in the grip of the greatest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“People fleeing atrocities will not stop coming if we stop throwing them life-rings; boarding a rickety boat in Libya will remain a seemingly rational decision if you’re running for your life and your country is in flames. The only outcome of withdrawing help will be to witness more people needlessly and shamefully dying on Europe’s doorstep.

“The answer isn’t to build the walls of fortress Europe higher, it’s to provide more safe and legal channels for people to access protection.” 5

However, these faceless boat-people were about to be given their humanity back, if only momentarily. It would take the horror of seeing the washed up body of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. An image of war that lodged in our minds and stirred feelings of sorrow and compassion more effectively than any amount of pictures of ruined buildings or grainy videos of air strikes. Almost at a stroke, the public perception of the “immigrant crisis” was altered. 6

Little more than a week later on Saturday 12th September, the Solidarity with Refugees event kicked off at Park Lane and headed to Downing Street “with speeches in Parliament Square from a number of politicians and public figures including Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour party, and musician and activist Billy Bragg.”

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn had only been elected Labour leader a couple of hours earlier. Yet, almost immediately thereafter, and in characteristic fashion, he turned his back on the clamouring press hounds (who had done their best to ignore him up until then), barely acknowledging their presence at all, and made a short journey to speak instead to a mass rally in Parliament Square:

Parliament Square was packed with Corbyn supporters waving banners reading “refugees welcome” and other messages of support. They cheered and chanted “Jez we can, Jez we can” as he took to the stage hours after being voted Labour leader and demanded that the government recognise its “obligations in law”.

Corbyn said: “Recognise your obligations to help people which you’re required to do by law, that would be good. But above all, open your hearts and open your minds and open your attitude towards supporting people who are desperate, who need somewhere safe to live, want to contribute to our society, and are human beings just like all of us. Together in peace, together in justice, together in humanity, that surely must be our way forward.” 7

I wasn’t amongst the crowds, but I had lent a little support to the occasion by promoting the “Solidarity with Refugees” rally here on this blog in the preceding days. The announcement copied directly from a Stop the War Coalition email read (in part):

Stop the War has come together with many other organisations to call for a national demonstration in London. We are also urging our members, supporters and groups to take any action they can on that day where they live, alongside anti-racist and refugee groups.

Successive British governments have spent billions on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, plus on covert intervention in Syria. The outcome has been destruction of infrastructure across the Middle East, the growth of terrorism in the region, and the displacement of millions.

Their only solution is further war, even though it is increasingly obvious that this option is only creating yet more chaos. Just as we oppose wars, we try to show solidarity with its victims.

At the bottom of the page there was an accompanying list of those “other organisations” (also available on facebook):

National day of action called by Stand up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network War on Want, Peoples Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism and Black Out London.

However, if you follow the link from the Guardian instead (find it above), it takes you to a somewhat different list of key organisations posted on an alternative facebook page. This altered roll call reads in full as follows:

Supported by Syria Solidarity Movement, the Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Amnesty International, Stand Up to Racism, BARAC, Stop the War Coalition, Migrant Rights Network, War on Want, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Movement Against Xenophobia, Unite Against Fascism, Love Music Hate Racism, Black Out London, Emergency UK, Student Action for Refugees, London2Calais, British Syrian Medical Society, Avaaz.

There are a number of variations between these lists, but I wish primarily to draw attention to two changes in particular (as highlighted). Firstly, at the head of this extended list there is a relatively unknown organisation called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”. Secondly, there is Avaaz.

Now, had I realised Avaaz were in any way connected to this action, I would not have promoted it, regardless of the endorsement of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and Jeremy Corbyn. Why? Because Avaaz is not, and never has been, any part of the antiwar movement – in fact, of all the prominent campaign groups, Avaaz was foremost in calling for military action against Libya. Having played a prominent role in bringing about the destruction of Libya, rather than offering up apologies, Avaaz then promptly demanded another Nato “no-fly zone” over Syria. (Read more here.)

So the presence of Avaaz at any event raises my suspicions. But then we also have the “Syria Solidarity Movement” at the top of the list – so who are they?

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Syrian solidarity and the lesser known “IS Network”

The [Solidarity with Refugees] protest was set up less than two weeks ago by Ros Ereira, 38, from north London. The former television producer, who currently spends much of her time looking after her toddler daughter, created a Facebook page on 1 September calling for today’s protest. Within a week tens of thousands of people had pledged they would come and she had the logistical support of major organisations including Amnesty, Stop the War, the Refugee Council and Syria Solidarity UK.

According to the same article in The Independent:

Ms Ereira said: “I was looking for a demonstration ahead of the European summit and when I couldn’t find anything my friends encouraged me to set up something of my own. I thought it would just be my friends and now unexpectedly 90,000 people have said they’re going to come.”

Abdulaziz Almashi, 30, co-founder of Syria Solidarity UK, will be among those leading the rally. Mr Almashi is a computer science PhD student who came to the UK from Syria in 2009 to study. He still has brothers in Syria working as a doctor and a dentist in field hospitals. “Syrians have been abandoned totally by the international community,” he said. “If the international community doesn’t want to stop the massacres in Syria, the least they can do is accept refugees.” 8

In fact, Abdulaziz Almashi, who shared the podium with Ros Ereira at the rally, was a co-organiser of the rally, as London’s Evening Standard makes clearer. 9  And this where the story starts to gets interesting…

For just who is Abdulaziz Almashi and the campaign group Syria Solidarity UK? Well, type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google and the top link brings up a site with domain name http://www.syriauk.org/.

Click on that link and you open the Syria Solidarity UK website which also calls itself the “Syria Solidarity Movement UK” or more simply “Syria Solidarity Movement”. The site also takes you to a facebook page for “Syria Solidarity Movement”. In short, “Syria Solidarity UK” (co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi) and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” (most prominent amongst the supporters of the “Solidarity for Refugees” rally) turn out to be the same organisation – or if there is any difference between them then I entirely fail to discern it.

As human rights groups go, this particular “Syria Solidarity Movement” is a relative newcomer, and certainly not to be confused with an entirely unconnected campaign group that shares an identical name – more on this later. The first sightings I could find appear in the articles of a similarly greenhorn Trotskyite website called “International Socialist Network”, which chose the ill-fated abbreviated acronym “IS”. 10

 

This lesser known “IS Network” formed from a splinter group of the Socialist Workers Party but then quickly became defunct, having “voted unanimously to dissolve itself in April 2015” less than two years after its formation in June 2013. “Sharing a rage and a desire for change is not enough to hold an organisation together in the long term,” they wrote in a solemn swansong.

But a year prior to their dissolution, IS Network posted this:

The Syria Solidarity Movement is a new organisation created by Syrian and socialist activists after the conference “Syria in the context of the Arab Uprisings”. Its [sic] an attempt to provide much belated solidarity for the Syrian revolution from the socialist and workers movement in Britain.

We’re currently trying to link up all the different student groups and activists who have been doing solidarity work on Syria in isolation, and build a cohesive movement which can begin to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began.

And to be clear here: this initial call to recruit activists to establish a “Syria Solidarity Movement” contains a hypertext link to the same organisation later “co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi”.

The post then continues:

The main [lie] is that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution, or that its revolutionary potential has disappeared following the escalation of the military conflict. This is false. […]

We will do what we can to rectify this by promoting links between student organisations, trade unions and solidarity campaigns in Britain, and the civil opposition on the ground in Syria which still keeps alive the spirit of the revolution.

We have working groups for students, trade union activists, humanitarian aid and media. If you wish to volunteer for any, please contact us. 11

Later other “radical leftist” groups went on to promote this new offshoot called the “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

For instance, on September 10th (a few days prior to the rally in London), RS21 (short for revolutionary socialism in the 21st century, which is just a different splinter group made up of disaffected SWP members) wrote:

Suddenly, everyone is talking about Syria. Saturday’s demonstration will be in solidarity with all refugees, but a Syrian refugee is one of the key organisers. Campaigners from the Syria Solidarity Movement UK and Stop the War Coalition are among those involved in the planning, along with many other organisations. Everyone should welcome this commitment to unity against the government’s treatment of refugees and other migrants.

The article also adds a different piece of the jigsaw (since if Abdulaziz Almashi is one co-founder of the group, then who else works alongside him?):

As part of an ongoing discussion, Mark Boothroyd, who was a founding member of the Syria Solidarity Movement UK, argues that the mainstream anti-war movement has failed Syrian revolutionaries struggling against a brutal dictatorship. 12 [bold highlight as original]

Following the links (or my footnotes), it turns out that Mark Boothroyd was, in fact, the author of the previously quoted IS Network recruitment drive which had encouraged activists to join the new “Syria Solidarity Movement” (see above).

Later, in November 2015, the (supposedly) alternative magazine Left Foot Forward wrote:

“The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria.” 13

(With link retained – which connects, of course, back to the Syria Solidarity UK website.)

By December, Peter Tatchell, someone I once admired, was also linking arms with Syria Solidarity UK.

Then, on December 9th, a letter appeared in the Guardian. It was provocatively entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” and signed by (amongst others but in the order as published) Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK,  Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner, Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member (although not by Caroline Lucas), Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK, and Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK.

It begins:

We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority.

What the signatories to this letter share, it seems, is the opinion that war in Syria remains ‘revolutionary’ in character (in the Marxist sense); their condemnation of StWC continuing as follows:

As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. 14 [bold emphasis added]

But this characterisation both of “the rebels” and the antiwar movement is demonstrably false. For the (armed) opposition to Assad is indeed “largely composed of jihadi extremists” having infiltrated as a fifth column during the very earliest stages of the conflict. That the opposition is comprised of mercenaries and terrorists is now well-documented (as I have previously shown). It is also easy to establish that these same jihadist groups have been bankrolled by our Gulf State allies and greatly assisted by Nato member Turkey. So they are indeed “agents of imperialism” (if, perhaps, unwitting ones) in a proxy war between, on the one hand, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and more broadly the US, Nato and Israel against Russia.

Moreover, the charge that StWC is “marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny” may provide a clever smokescreen, but it is also execrable nonsense. All it actually means is their own opinion has been marginalised, which is hardly surprising, since those leading the attack against StWC are neither “non-aligned” nor honest brokers for peace.

And this is why in the concluding sentences they talk only of the “Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad” 15 failing to include any mention whatsoever of the extraordinary array of jihadist factions fighting alongside the lesser forces of so-called Free Syrian Army (which is itself a dubious conglomeration of Islamist militia). There is no mention even of Jabhat al-Nusra – Syria’s main branch of al-Qaeda.

This is what Mark Boothroyd, co-founder of the “Syria Solidarity Movement” and signatory to the Guardian letter, concluded an extended piece he wrote in praise of “the rebels”:

For these reasons, whatever happens, the rebels will keep fighting. Spokesperson for Ahrar Al-Sham, Ahmad Qura Ali commented:

The regime continuing and Assad staying is a failure….It also demonstrates disrespect towards the sacrifices of the Syrian people and, even more importantly, irreverence towards the will of the Syrian people,” 16

Boothroyd’s tacit endorsement of Ahrar Al-Sham (amongst other ‘rebel factions’) tells us a great deal. For Ahrar Al-Sham (literally “Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant”) is indeed leading “the revolution” as one of the largest brigades in this so-called “moderate opposition”. And yet, Ahrar Al-Sham describes itself – on its own website – in the following manner [translation courtesy of Al Jazeera]:

“The Islamic Movement of Free Men of the Levant is an Islamist, reformist, innovative and comprehensive movement. It is integrated with the Islamic Front and is a comprehensive and Islamic military, political and social formation. It aims to completely overthrow the Assad regime in Syria and build an Islamic state whose only sovereign, reference, ruler, direction, and individual, societal and nationwide unifier is Allah Almighty’s Sharia (law)”. 17

This is the “revolution” Mark Boothroyd and comrades are backing today.

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Syrian Solidarity UK: leading the pro-war advocates

Earlier I outlined what you will find if you type “Syria Solidarity UK” into google. But what if instead you type “Syria Solidarity Movement” – that other name for the same organisation? The top link then turns out not to be the campaign group co-founded by Abdulaziz Almashi and Mark Boothroyd, but a totally different and unrelated “Syria Solidarity Movement”. An organisation that adopted the domain name syriasolidaritymovement.org long before Almashi and Boothroyd decided to create their alternative.

So the immediate and most obvious question is this: why adopt the name of a pre-existing campaign organisation? An odd decision made odder since it automatically denies you ownership of a matching domain name. Indeed, can there be any rational explanation other than here is a case of deliberate identity theft? A new campaign group, with an outlook diametrically opposed to its rival, set up deliberately to overwrite it. Not conduct befitting a benign human rights organisation.

More surprising, maybe (please judge for yourself), is how factions of the erstwhile ‘radical left’ have fallen lockstep in line with establishment demands voiced by our corporate media who demand “intervention” in Syria. But then, once you delve into the articles above, a common theme emerges: the same one expounded in that front-running article published by IS Network (quoted above) “to counter some of the slanders and lies which have dogged the Syrian revolution since it began… that somehow what has happened in Syria isn’t a genuine revolution”. This stated goal of “keep[ing] alive the spirit of the revolution” is ostensibly the reason RS21, Left Foot Forward, and the Peter Tatchell Foundation are backing this new “Syrian Solidarity Movement”:

The Syria Solidarity Movement UK was formed to give solidarity to the people of Syria in their struggle for a democratic and free Syria. Our membership is made up of Syrians and friends of Syrians. Our positions are led by the needs and demands of Syrians suffering brutally at the hands of a criminal regime. 18

The above statement under the title “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians”, was penned by Syria Solidarity UK but published by Left Foot Forward. And what follows is another hit piece aimed squarely at the Stop the War Coalition in which the organisation accuses StWC of excluding “Syrians from discussion of their own country” and then lying about it. Yet in reality, this tiny group which has somehow managed to get tremendous media attention (more in a moment) has latched on to StWC in a deeply parasitical fashion. Here, for instance is Abdulaziz Almashi, co-founder of “Syria Solidarity Movement”, giving a soapbox speech outside the BBC before joining a Stop the War march on December 12th (a month to the day after his organisation published the statement above which lambasts StWC):

The problem is this: what is an organisation that openly calls “for action to protect civilians in Syria, including limited military action to enforce a no-bombing zone”19 doing at an antiwar rally in the first place? Worse, why is their co-founder provocatively waving the flag of “rebel armies” comprised of and affiliated to Islamist militia groups that were armed, trained and funded by western governments and their Gulf State allies? The answer Abdulaziz Almashi gives to all these questions is this one: “listen to Syrians”. A three word refrain that begins his speech, just as in sloganised form it lends legitimacy and moral authority to his whole Syria Solidarity UK campaign.

Moreover, as a slogan it is as fraudulent as it is deliberately dishonest. There is no singular Syrian voice. How could there be? Not that the gulf between pro- and anti-government sides is the razor sharp divide of Shia versus Sunni we are encouraged to believe. In fact, most of those who support the government including fighters in the Syrian Army are Sunni not Shia. 20 And if we are really to “listen to Syrians” then we will find a wide range of opinions (as you would from any other nation), although only a minority of those living in Syria who support these so-called “rebel groups”, which are indeed sectarian. What the majority desire instead, besides a rapid return to law and order, is the restoration of Syria as a secular society:

[T]he results of a recent YouGov Siraj poll on Syria commissioned by The Doha Debates, funded by the Qatar Foundation. Qatar’s royal family has taken one of the most hawkish lines against Assad – the emir has just called for Arab troops to intervene – so it was good that The Doha Debates published the poll on its website. The pity is that it was ignored by almost all media outlets in every western country whose government has called for Assad to go.

That comes from an article by Jonathan Steele published by the Guardian more than four years ago in January 2012. He continues:

The key finding was that while most Arabs outside Syria feel the president should resign, attitudes in the country are different. Some 55% of Syrians want Assad to stay, motivated by fear of civil war – a spectre that is not theoretical as it is for those who live outside Syria’s borders. What is less good news for the Assad regime is that the poll also found that half the Syrians who accept him staying in power believe he must usher in free elections in the near future. 21

Click here to read Jonathan Steele’s full article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media”.

Reliable polls of the Syrian people are hard to find but a subsequent ones from May 2013 based on Nato data and published by the World Tribune also reported widespread support for Assad compared with almost none for the opposition. 22 Likewise, a more recent survey conducted last summer by ORB International, a U.K.-based market research firm, published in the Washington Post on September 15th, found only 21% of Syrians said they “prefer life now than under Assad”; 79% said “foreign fighters made the war worse” and; significantly, 49% “oppose US coalition air strikes”. 23 Once again, this is far from the ringing endorsement for “intervention” claimed by supporters of “Syria Solidarity Movement”.

So there are two points to highlight here. Firstly, the so-called “Syria Solidarity Movement” of Abdulaziz Almashi is not about “Syrian solidarity” at all. Indeed, rather than taking an impartial stance, it allies itself with the entire coalition of the anti-Assad forces (with the singular exception of ISIS from which it sensibly distances itself). Secondly, although it portrays itself as a human rights organisation, it is actually a pro-war movement – openly so once one delves into any of its literature – yet on occasions when it suits, it feigns an antiwar position.

In fact, once we consider the background and origins of “Syria Solidarity Movement” in any detail, it begins to look very much like a Trojan Horse set up to infiltrate and embarrass the antiwar movement. It is surely noteworthy, therefore, that both the BBC and Channel 4 have given this otherwise inconsequential and fledging organisation considerable airtime.

On November 5th, for instance, Muzna Al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK was allowed ten minutes on BBC’s Daily Politics show to interrogate Labour MP Diane Abbott about StWC’s alleged “silencing of Syrians” when a few supporters of the group disrupted a public meeting. Throughout the studio debate, presenter Andrew Neil does his best to chaperone Muzna Al-Naib. Her political stance is never questioned and neither did he challenge the highly confrontational approach of the protesters (one of whom was the very non-Syrian Peter Tatchell):

(Incidentally, Diane Abbott comes across quite badly in this interview – not for the first time in her political career – but then so, in my opinion, does the unnervingly self-satisfied Muzna Al-Naib and insufferably smug host Andrew Neil.)

Here is Muzna Al-Naib again, now sat beside two likeminded compatriots answering softball questions on Channel 4 news on November 30th. The tone of the report is peremptorily favourable from the outset: “South London, where we’ve come to hear from Syrians, who know most about Syria, but whose voice is heard least… what do Syrian’s themselves actually think?” Direct echoes of the tendentious refrain of Syria Solidarity UK itself:

And here is Abdulaziz Almashi interviewed (a little more vigorously) by BBC news on December 23rd:

In little more than a year then, two representatives of the group (one a co-founder) have reached a television audience of millions and on at least three occasions. One has to marvel at such rapid success. What’s their secret…?

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Avaaz and Purpose Inc.

In one of the very first posts put up by the Syria Solidarity UK website, published in March 2015, there are two closely affiliated organisations that are hypertext linked. Here is the concluding section of the relevant article:

Following the 16 March [chlorine gas] attacks, Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria to stop further air attacks on civilians by the Assad regime. You can sign a petition in support on their website, www.whitehelmets.org.

Press release from The Syria Campaign.

See the syria2015.org.uk site for more on our 4th Anniversary March demand for a no-fly zone. 24

Each of the links above leads to a webpage that loudly calls for a “no-fly zone”. No great surprise given that at every turn of their own campaign this demand for western “intervention” is repeated. For example, this photo features prominently on the “about” page:

But what about those linked-in organisations: the “White Helmets” and “The Syria Campaign” – groups that also feature prominently as sidebar links beneath the heading ‘resources’? Cory Morningstar, an independent investigative journalist, has located the lynchpin. She writes:

The New York public relations firm Purpose has created at least four anti-Assad NGOs/campaigns: The White Helmets, Free Syrian Voices, The Syria Campaign and March Campaign #withSyria.

Adding that:

Purpose Inc. (with its co-founders) is a favourite of high-finance websites such as The Economist and Forbes and sells its consulting services and branding/marketing campaigns to Google, Audi, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and many others that comprise the world’s most powerful corporations and institutions. In 2012, it raised $3m from investors. “Ford Foundation, which has given Purpose’s non-profit arm a grant, reckons it is shaping up to be “one of the blue-chip social organisations of the future.” 25

Click here to read the full article.

So is there evidence supporting Morningstar’s accusations of astroturfing? Well, this is where my own trail had also been inadvertently leading – but then it soon seems that all roads lead to Purpose Inc.

The Syria Campaign is a non-profit organisation registered as a company in the United Kingdom as The Voices Project—company number 8825761. (You can’t be a registered charity in the UK if most of your work is campaigning.)

We have a Governing Board who are legally responsible for the organisation and oversee strategy and finance for The Syria Campaign. The board members are Daniel Gorman, Ben Stewart, Sawsan Asfari, Tim Dixon and Lina de Sergie. [Bold highlights added]

That was taken from “about” on The Syria Campaign website. It continues:

The Syria Campaign is fiercely independent and accepts no money from governments, corporations or anyone directly involved in the Syrian conflict. This allows us full autonomy to advocate for whatever is needed to save lives.

Seed funding for The Syria Campaign was provided by The Asfari Foundation with supporting funds from other Syrian donors across the world who are frustrated by global inaction on Syria. [bold highlight added]

Following the trail a little further brings up who is behind “The Voices Project” (Avaaz also means “voice” by the way). It is a registered company and so comparatively easy enough to find some further answers:

The Voices Project 26 has a registered office address at c/o Paul A. Hill & Co, 3 Bull Lane, St Ives, Cambridgeshire [a firm of charter accountants who specialise in “tax services”] and eight current officers who are Sawsan Asfari (appointed 17 July 2015), Timothy Edwin Dixon (appointed 8 September 2014), Daniel Gorman (appointed 17 July 2015), John Jackson (appointed 8 September 2014), Salma Kahale (appointed 17 July 2015), Lina Sergie Attar (appointed 17 July 2015), Ben John Stewart (appointed 17 July 2015) and, last but not least, Jeremy Heimans (appointed 24 December 2013). 27

Most of those named tally with the board members declared by The Syria Campaign, but there are two exceptions – both highlighted above – Timothy Edwin Dixon 28 and Jeremy Heimans. Two names which alongside John Jackson (also highlighted) also form part of a different team:

Meet the team on a mission: when it comes to moving people towards action, we’re the experts.

A little of the blurb that greets you at the organisation called Purpose. And beneath the blurb are pictures of the shiny, happy people who work there including Jeremy Heimans, who is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer; Tim Dixon, listed as both Chief Political Strategist and Managing Director of Purpose Europe 29; and John Jackson, a Senior Advisor.

“Purpose moves people to remake the world” it says on a different webpage with rolling footage of an unnamed actor (Middle Eastern in appearance) being gently unblown up, a young child actress tinkering with a handgun in such a curious manner as to cause you to want to grab it off her, and a debonair couple, the black man eyeing an untouchable white companion. The message is this: we are cool, we are sophisticates, we are right on! It is a message determined to enter your mind like a maddening but seductive whisper.

On the “about” page, Purpose tells us more:

We create new organizations and ventures to tackle issues where mass participation and collective action can unlock big change.

This it admits with unflinching candour before adding how when it comes to their ‘philosophy’, Purpose deals in “Pragmatic Idealism”:

We take the world as it is in order to help make it what it ought to be. We challenge power when we need to—but that’s not all we do. We proudly collaborate with the public and private sectors, old and new power, allies and adversaries—all with eyes wide open.

And there is much more:

WE BUILD MOVEMENTS

Purpose creates new movements, brands and organizations from the ground up to address complex global challenges. We apply this experience as movement creators to our work with progressive companies, nonprofits and philanthropies, helping them to put purpose and participation at the heart of what they do.

BUILD

We deploy our award-winning creative campaigning and technology capabilities to launch new brands, technology products and social movements that stand out.

ACT

We rapidly prototype campaigns to scale and deepen engagement in our movements. We execute at all levels of ambition, directing some of the largest public engagement campaigns in the world today.

Then at the bottom of this page they provide a list of “Selected Partners” which includes Google, Audi, Ben & Jerry’s, alongside campaign groups including Walk Free, Oxfam, ACLU and – as you might expect – The Syria Campaign.

The business [Purpose.com] was co-founded by Jeremy Heimans, who calls himself a “movement entrepreneur”. Mr Heimans previously co-founded Avaaz, a campaigning group focused on poor countries, and GetUp!, a citizens’-rights group in his native Australia. Those were charities. Purpose aims to make profits, though not necessarily to maximise them. Like another big petitions business, Change.org, it is structured as a B Corporation, the American legal term for a for-profit company with a social mission. It has a non-profit arm, which incubates protests and accepts donations. This is cross-subsidised by its for-profit arm, which makes money in a variety of ways.

It sells consulting services to big companies such as Google and Audi, and to charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. It helps them to build mass movements to support their favourite causes. Audi, for example, wants to design and promote machines to dispense clean water in India, a market where it hopes to burnish its car brand. Purpose also hopes to develop a business promoting “new economy” products such as solar energy. It will recommend to its members that they buy solar power from such-and-such a provider. In return, it will charge a referral fee. 30 [bold emphasis added]

From a puff piece published in The Economist entitled “Profit with Purpose”, under the caption “The business of campaigning”, which also lazily admits that “Grassroots movements have usually been built, as the name implies, from the bottom up.” To which the polite response is: codswallop! – there is absolutely no “usually” about it.

In short then, Purpose Inc is the PR firm behind Avaaz and all of its related campaign groups.

*

The White Helmets

You might think that after seeing the consequences of their campaign for “freedom and democracy” in Libya, journalists like Nicholas Kristof and “humanitarian campaigners” like Avaaz would have some qualms.

writes Rick Sterling (co-founder of the original Syria Solidarity Movement), as he attempts to disentangle the misinformation surrounding the White Helmets, Avaaz, war-advocate Nicholas Kristof and their joint calls for a Syria no-fly zone. He continues:

Unfortunately they have learned nothing. They have generally not been held to account, with a few nice exceptions such as this Greenwald/Hussain article. And now they are at it again. Many well-intentioned but naive members of the U.S. and international public are again being duped into signing an Avaaz petition based on fraud and misinformation. If the campaign succeeds in leading to a No Fly Zone in Syria, it will result in vastly increased war, mayhem and bloodshed.

The following illustration shows the sequence and trail of deceit leading to Avaaz’s call for a No Fly Zone in Syria.

Sterling then provides further background on the emergence of the so-called White Helmets:

White Helmets is the newly minted name for “Syrian Civil Defence”. Despite the name, Syria Civil Defence was not created by Syrians nor does it serve Syria.  Rather it was created by the UK and USA in 2013. Civilians from rebel controlled territory were paid to go to Turkey to receive some training in rescue operations. The program was managed by James Le Mesurier, a former British soldier and private contractor whose company is based in Dubai.

The trainees are said to be ‘nonpartisan’ but only work in rebel-controlled areas of Idlib (now controlled by Nusra/Al Queda) and Aleppo. There are widely divergent claims regarding the number of people trained by the White Helmets and the number of people rescued.  The numbers are probably highly exaggerated especially since rebel-controlled territories have few civilians. A doctor who recently served in a rebel-controlled area of Aleppo described it as a ghost town. The White Helmets work primarily with the rebel group Jabat al Nusra (Al Queda in Syria). Video of the recent alleged chlorine gas attacks starts with the White Helmet logo and continues with the logo of Nusra. In reality, White Helmets is a small rescue team for Nusra/Al Queda.

But White Helmets primary function is propaganda. White Helmets demonizes the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention. A White Helmet leader wrote a recent Washington Post editorial. White Helmets are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc. According to their website, to contact White Helmets email The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [bold emphasis added]

He also outlines the important role played by Nicholas Kristof at the New York Times:

The “White Helmets” campaign has been highly successful because of uncritical media promotion. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an advocate of the NATO/US attack on Libya. According to him, villagers who had been shot, injured and their homes destroyed were not bitter, they were thankful! “Hugs from Libyans” is how he viewed it.  It was, of course, nonsense, helping to pave the way in the invasion and destruction of the country.

Now Kristof is uncritically promoting the White Helmets, aiding and abetting their political and propaganda message seeking foreign intervention in Syria. 31

Click here to read Sterling’s full article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators”, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015.

*

War on the antiwar movement

[But] Does the most hardened peacenik really believe that Iraqis currently enjoy more liberty and delight than they would if Saddam were brought down?

So wrote neo-con apologist Julie Burchill in her Guardian column as the Iraq War got underway. The same rant continues:

Surely this is the most self-obsessed anti-war protest ever. NOT IN MY NAME! That’s the giveaway. Who gives a stuff about their wet, white, western names? See how they write them so solemnly in a list on the bottom of the letters they send to the papers. And the ones that add their brats’ names are the worst – a grotesque spin on Baby On Board, except they think that this gives them extra humanity points not just on the motorway, but in the whole wide weeping, striving, yearning world. We don’t know the precious names of the countless numbers Saddam has killed. We’re talking about a people – lots of them parents – subjected to an endless vista of death and torture, a country in which freedom can never be won without help from outside.

Contrasting British servicemen and women with the appeasers, it is hard not to laugh. Are these two sides even the same species, let alone the same nationality? On one hand the selflessness and internationalism of the soldiers; on the other the Whites-First isolationism of the protesters. Excuse me, who are the idealists here?

Her antiwar invective then hisses to a climax in which she projects a picture of post-intervention Iraq that could hardly be more a variance with the horror of events as they unfolded and the chaos that remains:

What these supreme egotists achieve by putting themselves at the centre of every crisis is to make the Iraqi people effectively disappear. NOT IN MY NAME! is western imperialism of the sneakiest sort, putting our clean hands before the freedom of an enslaved people. But even those whose anti-war protests started in good faith now know that when Saddam’s regime comes tumbling down, thousands of Iraqis will dance and sing with joy before the TV cameras, and thank our armed forces for giving them back their lives. 32

It is Burchill, of course, who was most guilty of “western imperialism of the sneakiest sort”. Burchill, who through such naked propaganda supplied ammunition to snidely undercut the goodwill of the millions brandishing antiwar banners. The method is all in her slippery abuse of the English language: turning peacemakers into “peaceniks”, into “anti-war nuts” and, best of all, into “appeasers”.

So compare Burchill’s warmongering propaganda of a decade past to that more recent open letter written by Abdulaziz Almashi, Peter Tatchell and others published by the Guardian last December (and already quoted above):

Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians. 33

The rhetoric is more crafted and less abrasive than in Burchill’s rant but the insinuation is entirely unaltered. That those attached to the cause of ending the war are merely the secret appeasers of a dictator. A still more uncanny similarity is how this recent onslaught against the antiwar opposition came so hot on the heels of another Commons vote for airstrikes. 34 And after David Cameron’s shameless characterisation of the peace movement — Jeremy Corbyn (such a prominent figure in StWC) very much included — as “terrorist sympathisers”.

As Tariq Ali (another founder member of StWC) wrote in response:

Since Corbyn is a founder member of Stop the War, the propaganda assault is essentially designed to weaken and destroy him.

The article entitled “The assault on Stop the War is really aimed at Jeremy Corbyn” published by The Independent, continues:

Stop the War was founded in different times [to previous peace movements]. It is and has been a coalition of individuals and organisations with differing views on many issues. This is as it should be and always has been with broad single-issue campaigns. It does NOT take positions on the demerits or otherwise of the Taliban, Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad. It is in favour of the withdrawal of ALL foreign troops (this includes the Russians) and bomber jets. The arguments against the war deployed by Stop the War are not all that different from some conservative columnists who cannot be bullied: Simon Jenkins, Peter Hitchens, Peter Oborne. None of the three are Corbynistas.  […]

The “moral compass” of the anti-war movement has not shifted. It is no better or worse since the day it was founded. Meanwhile the wars continue.

Click here to read Tariq Ali’s full article.

Following that Commons debate, the media were falling over themselves in rival bids to talk up what Tariq Ali rightly describes as “Hilary Benn’s pathetic pro-war speech (he voted for the Iraq war as well)”; relishing the chance to open up the fractures not so latent within the parliamentary Labour Party. Such swooning media focus on Benn’s opportunistic betrayal and forlorn attempt to appear Churchillian meant that Corbyn’s more measured speech was totally overshadowed:

[Notice: the video embedded above was taken down from youtube within 24 hours of posting this article — an alternative version can be found at the end of the article]

If the press had been more attentive, however, they may have drawn attention to a message received from a Syrian in Corbyn’s constituency by the name of Abdulaziz Almashi. He has asked me, said Corbyn, if the Prime Minister is able to guarantee the safety of his family when “your air force drops bombs on my city” [19.20 mins]. 35 And yes, this is Abdulaziz Almashi who leads the campaign demanding a “no-fly zone” over Syria, and whose organisation has been so scathing of StWC.

It would have been more honourable to deliver the message instead to the sympathetic ear of Cameron – a person who also wants “intervention” – even if in the eyes of the PM, Syrians living in exile, like Almashi, are just “a bunch of migrants” 36 – to quote his most recent outburst of casual bigotry. And Cameron does have more important matters on his mind too:

Instead, Almashi chose to spin Corbyn a line, hoping to be mistaken, as he was, for a fellow anti-war activist. It was a small propaganda coup that he instantly backed up by posting on the website of (please note) The Syria Campaign a message headed:

“Corbyn quoted me in Parliament today. Not bombing Raqqa [ISIS stronghold] isn’t enough. We must take positive action.”37

“Positive action” is code, of course, for regime change – just like “no-fly zone”.

It seems that Abdulaziz Almashi and the “Syria Solidarity Movement” he fronts will use any ploy to get attention. But then, given the intense media spotlight on his organisation’s earlier altercation with StWC, quoting from Almashi must be seen as a serious error of judgement on the part of Jeremy Corbyn too. And faced by so many adversaries in all quarters, he ought to take great care to avoid more serious stings in the future.

Click here to read an official ten-point response by the StWC to “the chorus of attacks” that was published on December 9th and entitled “It is the war party that has a reputation problem, not Stop the War”.

*

Concluding remarks

The war in Syria is hardly less inextricably wrapped up with the war in Libya than it is with the war in bordering Iraq. All three are products of western “intervention” and all three nations are now overrun with Salafist gangs. But there are important differences too.

The West’s role in the “shock and awe” annihilation of Iraq was an overt act of aggression and flagrantly illegal. Those most publicly responsible for orchestrating the fall of Baghdad have been justly disgraced. After the assault on Libya, however, an equivalently illegal act of western adventurism, that was likewise predicated upon a demonstrably false pretext, and set upon nothing short of regime change, the perpetrators suffered little to no opprobrium. A craftily negotiated UN resolution, quickly violated, provided useful cover. In general, the lies surrounding Libya have been much better concealed.

Meanwhile, this other grinding war in Syria, has been inflamed by terrorist militias closely affiliated to those now running rampant in Libya and Iraq, who are sponsored by Gulf State allies (including Kuwait) and often with the clandestine support of the Nato powers (Turkey in particular). In other words, in Syria the West has consistently led from behind, taking even greater care to cover its tracks. Otherwise, as I wrote at the top, this repeating tale is one as tedious as it is atrocious.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and not forgetting Yemen: this is really one war. A series of overlapping and interconnected battles for resources: oil, pipelines, finance, you name it. Wars to bring about regime change. Wars to capture and hold territory. And the one truly significant difference between old-fashioned imperialism and this swankier post-modern variant is in the branding. The public relations has stepped up a gear; it had too. So there is more guile to today’s propaganda, which is packaged and marketed using sophisticated strategies, then delivered into our homes via the new technologies and an increasingly complaisant media.

And the stated rationale for war is nowadays less haughty and considerably more liberal. Flag planting is out, as is any talk of “the white man’s burden”, and in their stead is ‘grassroots’ petitioning for “humanitarian intervention”. All the spin and the layers of gloss providing cover for the same old racket General Smedley Butler warned about more than seventy years ago. So here is a nice summary of how the same racket functions today:

Promoting the imperial social media fad of equivocating on US and NATO invasions that destroy entire societies, ostensibly because the current head of state is ruthless or corrupt, Avaaz apologists neglect the growing list of countries where these invasions have made things worse. Indeed, I am at a loss to find a country in my lifetime (1952-present) where US military aggression — either directly or through proxy mercenaries and US-financed and trained death squads — made things better.

Of course, if you look at militarism as a market-oriented strategy, then making war or creating armed mayhem is just part of doing business. With the crippling financial sanctions available to the US through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, invasion is just for show — part of the expected social spectacle — that routinely transfers wealth from the U.S. Treasury to Wall Street and the military industrial complex. 38

Click here to read the full article by Jay Taber published by wrongkindofgreen.org on Christmas Day.

The horrors of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya alone ought to be enough proof, if proof is actually needed, that western “intervention” is a failure (for the victims caught in the crossfire and trapped on the ground). Those calling for another “no fly zone”, as Abdulaziz Almashi and his friends on the radical left do, either have appalling amnesia, or else are acting in extremely bad faith.

*

Update:

Here is a different upload of Jeremy Corbyn’s Commons speech on December 2, 2015. In this version, Corbyn speaks about the letter from Abdulaziz Almashi at 18:30 mins in:

*

1 From an analysis paper entitled “Playing with Fire: Why Private Gulf Financing for Syria’s Extremist Rebels Risks Igniting Sectarian Conflict at Home” written by Elizabeth Dickinson, published by the Brookings Institute in December 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/12/06%20private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson/private%20gulf%20financing%20syria%20extremist%20rebels%20sectarian%20conflict%20dickinson.pdf

2 From an article entitled “Hillary’s Dirty War in Libya: New Emails Reveal Propaganda, Executions, Coveting Libyan Oil and Gold” written by Brad Hoff, published by Global Research on January 4, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/hillarys-dirty-war-in-libya-new-emails-reveal-propaganda-executions-coveting-libyan-oil-and-gold/5499358

3 From an article entitled “Amnesty questions claim that Gaddafi ordered rape as a weapon of war” written by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent on June 23, 2011. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/amnesty-questions-claim-that-gaddafi-ordered-rape-as-weapon-of-war-2302037.html

4

Speaking during a visit to Vietnam, Cameron told ITV News attempts to enter the UK had increased because “you have got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live”.

From an article entitled “Calais crisis: Cameron condemned for ‘dehumanising’ description of migrants” written by Jessica Elgot and Matthew Taylor, published in the Guardian on July 30, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/30/david-cameron-migrant-swarm-language-condemned

5 From an article entitled “UK axes support for Mediterranean migrant rescue operation” written by Alan Travis, published in the Guardian on October 27, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/oct/27/uk-mediterranean-migrant-rescue-plan

6 Little Alan Kurdi’s limp body on that Turkish beach sparked many reactions. In response, some appealed for a humane European-wide policy towards refugees, while dreamers implored us all to imagine, John Lennon-like, “a world without borders”. Meanwhile, as the media lurched into one of its periodic feeding frenzies, the most callous opportunists used a personal tragedy to claim just cause for an intensified bombing campaign. Rupert Murdoch’s mouthpiece The Sun on Sunday ran with this deplorable headline:

For Aylan – Exclusive poll: 52% say bomb Syria now

On which side in the Syrian conflict this contrived 52% – of the staff inside the News Corp office, perhaps? – believed Britain ought to bomb was less clear. Two years earlier in the aftermath of the Ghouta massacre, it had been Assad in the crosshairs when he was declared guilty of the ordering the killing. The charge against him (and the Syria Army) was based upon reputation and has never been substantiated, but calls to bomb the Syrian regime became a matter of urgency. Had air strikes been sanctioned, then Syria, like Libya before, would now be overrun by jihadist “rebels”: a diabolical outcome, but no great surprise to the policymakers at the Pentagon or in the White House.

Instead, a miracle occurred. A (very nearly) unprecedented antiwar vote against any British government stopped this stampede to war in its tracks. It would be Ed Miliband’s finest moment as Labour leader (although largely forgotten) and briefly clipped the wings of the UK war party. In response, Russia then stepped forward to help broker a deal which led to the complete dismantlement of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Another little remembered act of peacemaking. But then, a year after America’s war against ISIS, Russia joined the military campaign (extending air strikes to other terrorist groups). This jolted Britain into joining the conflict. So three months after the death of Alan Kurdi and Murdoch’s sabre-rattling headline, new excuses were found. “Britain has got its mojo back!” These are the words of our Chancellor, George Osborne, when he visited the Council on Foreign Relations in the immediate days after the vote. And the CFR applauded.

7 From an article entitled “Thousands join Solidarity with Refugees rally in London” written by Nadia Khomani and Chris Johnston, published in the Guardian on September 12, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/sep/12/london-rally-solidarity-with-refugees

8 From an article entitled “Refugee solidarity march in London set to attract some unlikely protesters” written by Emily Dugan, published in The Independent on September 11, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/refugee-solidary-march-in-london-set-to-attract-some-unlikely-protesters-10497351.html

9

In the event description on Facebook, organisers Ros Ereira and Abdulaziz Almashi wrote: “We have to ensure that refugees can reach Europe safely. There needs to be either official safe transport provided, or if people could apply for asylum from outside the EU they would be able to enter by official routes…”

From an article entitled “London refugee rally: Tens of thousands to join demonstration and call for action to tackle crisis” published by the London Evening Standard on September 3, 2015. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-refugee-rally-tens-of-thousands-plan-to-join-demonstration-and-call-for-action-to-tackle-a2926581.html

10

Within three months of the demise of the IS Network, Islamist fighters who were formerly called ISIL/ISIS had “declared the areas it occupies in Iraq and Syria as a new Islamic state” and “now simply refer[red] to itself as The Islamic State”.

Quotes from an article entitled “Iraq crisis: ISIS declares its territories a new Islamic state with ‘restoration of caliphate’ in Middle East” written by Adam Withnail, published in The Independent on June 30, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-declares-new-islamic-state-in-middle-east-with-abu-bakr-al-baghdadi-as-emir-removing-iraq-and-9571374.html

11 From an article entitled “NOTE ON THE NEWLY FORMED SYRIA SOLIDARITY MOVEMENT” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by International Socialist Network on March 21, 2014. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/swp-crisis/international/375-note-on-the-newly-formed-syria-solidarity-movement

12 From an article entitled “The Syrian Revolution and the crisis of the anti-war movement” published by rs21 on September 10, 2015. http://rs21.org.uk/2015/09/10/the-syrian-revolution-and-the-crisis-of-the-anti-war-movement/

13 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to the Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

14 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

15 Ibid.

16 From an article entitled “Can the revolution in Syria survive an imperial carve up?” written by Mark Boothroyd, published by Pulse magazine on October 7, 2015. http://pulsemedia.org/2015/10/07/can-the-revolution-in-syria-survive-an-imperial-carve-up/

17 From the Ahrar al-Sham official webpage: http://ahraralsham.net/?page_id=4195, translated from the original Arabic, which read:

حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية حركة إسلامية إصلاحية تجديدية شاملة، أحد الفصائل المنضوية والمندمجة ضمن الجبهة الإسلامية وهي تكوين عسكري، سياسي، اجتماعي، إسلامي شامل، يهدف إلى إسقاط النظام الأسدي
في سورية إسقاطاً كاملاً، وبناء دولة إسلامية، تكون السيادة فيها لشرع الله -عز وجلَّ- وحده مرجعاً وحاكماً وموجهاً وناظماً لتصرفات الفرد والمجتمع والدولة

From an article entitled “Syrian Revolution’s Path after Attacks on Ahrar al-Sham” written by Malak Chabkoun, published by Al Jazeera on September 17, 2014. http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2014/09/20149147499306405.htm#a2

18 From an article entitled “Why Stop the War don’t want to listen to Syrians” published by Left Foot Forward on November 12, 2015. http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/why-stop-the-war-dont-want-to-listen-to-syrians/

19 Ibid.

20

Sunni Muslims make up 70% of Syria’s 25 million people and it is they who fill the ranks of the rebellion against Assad’s minority Alawite regime, considered apostates by Sunni clerics. Yet one reason why Assad remains in power despite being outnumbered by a rival sect is that many Sunnis are on his side, and their support is aiding his survival, say analysts and rebels.

“If Sunnis were united behind the rebels, trust me, Bashar would’ve fallen within days,” says Abu Qays, an anti-regime Syrian activist in the eastern city of Deir e-Zor who uses a nickname for security reasons.

From an article entitled “Sunnis fill rebel tanks, but also prop up Assad regime” written by Michael Pizzi and Nuha Shabaan, published in USA Today on August 1, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/08/01/syria-sunnis-assad/2599927/

21 From an article entitled “Most Syrians back President Assad, but you’d never know from western media” written by Jonathan Steele published in the Guardian on January 17, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jan/17/syrians-support-assad-western-propaganda

22

In May 2013, the US-based World Tribune reported, based on NATO data, that 70% of Syrians support Assad. The same piece suggested that 20% of Syrians surveyed felt neutral about the conflict, and only 10% supported the opposition. This figure has not been scrutinised, or even discussed, by most media sources.

From an article entitled “The Missing Question: Who Supports Assad?” written by Sophie Stewart-Bloch, published in the Huffington Post on December 30, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sophie-stewartbloch/syria-conflict-assad_b_4507894.html

23

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/15/one-in-five-syrians-say-islamic-state-is-a-good-thing-poll-says/

24 From an article entitled “Syria Civil Defence ‘White Helmets’ call for No-Fly Zone following chemical attack” published by Syria Solidarity UK on March 18, 2015. http://www.syriauk.org/2015/03/syria-civil-defence-white-helmets-call.html

25 From an article entitled “SYRIA: AVAAZ, PURPOSE & THE ART OF SELLING HATE FOR EMPIRE” written by Cory Morningstar, published on wrongkindofgreen.org on September 17, 2014. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2014/09/17/syria-avaaz-purpose-the-art-of-selling-hate-for-empire/

26

The Voices Project was founded on 24 Dec 2013 and has its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The organisation’s status is listed as “Active” and it currently has 8 directors. The company’s first director was Mr Jeremy Heimans. The Voices Project does not have any subsidiaries.

Registered Address

C/o Paul A. Hill & Co
3 Bull Lane
St Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08825761/the-voices-project

27 https://beta.companieshouse.gov.uk/company/08825761/officers

28

The first position as a director we have on file for Mr Timothy Edwin Dixon was in 2014 at The Voices Project. His most recent directorship is with Purpose Europe Limited where he holds the position of “Managing director”. This company has been around since 21 Dec 2012. In total, Timothy has held 2 directorships, all of which are current. [bold highlight added]

https://www.duedil.com/director/919096216/timothy-edwin-dixon

29

Purpose Europe Limited was registered on 21 Dec 2012 with its registered office in Cambridgeshire. The business has a status listed as “Active” and it currently has 3 directors. The company’s first directors were Purpose Global Llc, Mr Simon Peter Willis. Purpose Europe Limited has no subsidiaries.

Registered Address

3 Bull Lane
St. Ives
Cambridgeshire
PE27 5AX
United Kingdom

https://www.duedil.com/company/08340026/purpose-europe-limited

30 From an article entitled “Profit with Purpose” published by The Economist on January 26, 2013. http://www.economist.com/news/business/21570763-how-profit-firm-fosters-protest-profit-purpose

31 From an article entitled “Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators” written by Rick Sterling, published in Dissident Voice on April 9, 2015. http://dissidentvoice.org/2015/04/seven-steps-of-highly-effective-manipulators/

32 From an article entitled “Don’t take my name in vain” written by Julie Burchill, published in the Guardian on March 29, 2003. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/mar/29/antiwar.uk

33 From an article entitled “Stop the War faces a coalition of critics” published by the Guardian on December 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/09/stop-the-war-faces-a-coalition-of-critics?CMP=share_btn_tw

34 (Last time around) British Parliamentary approval for the invasion of Iraq had been granted in a series of two votes on 18 March 2003. Burchill’s attack on the antiwar protesters was published in the Guardian on March 19th. And the invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. (This time) Parliamentary approval for airstrikes in Syria granted on December 2, 2015. Letter castigating StWC was published by the Guardian on December 9.

35 From an article entitled “Assad’s UK Syrian exiles demand a voice” written by Shaun Ley, published by BBC news on December 10, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35026975

36

David Cameron has been accused of using inflammatory language about refugees after referring to people in camps at Calais as a “bunch of migrants”.

The prime minister made the comments in the House of Commons on Wednesday as he criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s call for Britain to do more to help refugees in French camps.

Pointing at the Labour leader and John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, Cameron said: “The idea that those two right honourable gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week.

“They met with the unions and gave them flying pickets. They met with the Argentinians, they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hardworking taxpayers.”

From an article entitled “Cameron’s ‘bunch of migrants’ jibe is callous and dehumanising, say MPs” written by Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin, published in the Guardian on January 27, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/27/david-cameron-bunch-of-migrants-jibe-pmqs-callous-dehumanising

37 https://diary.thesyriacampaign.org/corbyn-quoted-me-in-parliament-today/

38 From an article entitled “Imperial Social Media: Avaaz and the arms dealers” written by Jay Taber on December 25, 2015. http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2015/12/28/imperial-social-media-avaaz-and-the-arms-merchants/

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

FIFA is patently corrupt, but what’s this FBI sting really been about…?

A precursory note to the disinterested:

I did not originally intend to post an article (certainly nothing so extended) about the ongoing investigations into football’s world governing body, FIFA. However, once I began to scratch just a little beneath the surface of this developing scandal, I found that it immediately led into areas completely unanticipated. Behind the cartoon kleptocracy running the show at FIFA HQ up popped more familiar faces: the gone, but not so easily forgotten Nicolas Sarkozy, the ubiquitous Benjamin Netanyahu, and — never far from any scandal — the unwanted opinion of John McCain. Added to which, there are political entanglements that ought to have a bearing on the current US Presidential election campaign – what is the role the Clintons have played?

*

World Cup fever

When, in 2010, FIFA chief Sepp Blatter announced that Russia would host the 2018 World Cup a few eyebrows were raised… Moments later, however, as Blatter slipped his hand into a second envelope before revealing to the assembly of hopeful delegates that Qatar were to host in 2022, you could barely hear the feigned applause above the sound of jaws collectively dropping around the world.

Russia is a country very much riddled with corruption as we know (after the fall of communism, the so-called “liberalisation of markets” left the way wide open for the rise of the gangster oligarchs), but Russia is also a proud footballing nation. Supporters of the game recognised that Russia had at least earned its right to host football’s greatest tournament. The Qatar decision, on the other hand, instantly turned FIFA into a laughing stock.

Qatar has zero footballing tradition, effectively zero facilities, and due to its arid climate, close to zero blades of grass. What it had instead, and in prodigious abundance, was oil and money, and the political clout that goes with both. In other words, graft had again won the day – and just look who is smiling broadly beside the delegation of Qatari sheikhs as they jump for joy – bottom left of the screen [16 mins in], the sleek, silvery head of former President and (very likely, heaven forfend) soon-to-be (first) First Husband of the United States, Bill Clinton (a lot more on this Clinton connection later):

Whatever lingering hopes we’d had that FIFA may recover a little of its horribly sullied reputation were gone forever (though most supporters knew the score long before 2010), and all that was left was to marvel at the temerity of football’s world governing body, so casually throwing off any last pretence to probity and respectability.

With the rigged voting in 2010, it may be argued that the writing was on the wall for both FIFA and its seamy president Sepp Blatter, but with friends like Qatar around to watch your back, neither FIFA nor Blatter were about to be quite so unceremoniously deposed. Certainly the stage had been set, but the future remained secure for the heads of FIFA, or so it seemed until last week…

*

It wasn’t exactly extraordinary rendition. But when Swiss police arrested seven officials of FIFA, the international football federation, for extradition to the United States, there were some echoes of the secret terrorism arrests. Soccer is a global game, and it matters more to almost everyone than to Americans. So why is the US acting as the international sheriff and grabbing up non-US citizens to try them domestically for corrupting the sport worldwide? And, more to the point, why is this legal?

So writes Noah Feldman, who is a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard.

Feldman’s questions are germane. But before we come to addressing them, it is worthwhile considering more closely the person in charge of so aggressively pursuing the case, Obama’s newly appointed US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. Lynch has a point to prove, as an article published by the Guardian in February explains:

Opposition to Barack Obama’s nominee for US attorney general over her handling of the HSBC scandal is growing in Congress after she admitted deciding not to prosecute the bank for money laundering offences without hearing from key regulators or a separate investigation into tax secrecy. […]

“These decisions by the [Department of Justice] and Ms Lynch’s office raise troubling questions about whether pertinent information of public concern regarding HSBC was ‘swept under the rug’, if justice was served, and why HSBC was given special treatment that allowed it to walk away from such serious offences unscathed,” [Senator David] Vitter writes in a letter to current attorney general Eric Holder. “This case is increasingly relevant and pressing now that Ms Lynch has been nominated as the next attorney general.”

Lynch has confirmed she was not aware of the damning tax allegations against the bank when negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) over it facilitating money laundering by Mexican drug cartels and helping clients evade US sanctions.

This was despite a separate investigation into documents from whistleblower Hervé Falciani showing HSBC’s role in colluding with Swiss bank clients to hide their assets from tax authorities, which were passed to the US government by French authorities.

“To my knowledge, my office did not have access to the Falciani documents prior to execution of the DPA [Deferred Prosecution Agreement],” said Lynch in responses published on Thursday. “I am not aware of whether or how the information was conveyed to the department, nor do I have information about why my office did not have access to it.”

The admission has angered campaigners who say the crucial Facliona [sic] documents were “lost in the haystack of information” at the DoJ but their public existence could have been easily verified.

“She could have looked it up on Wikipedia,” said Bart Naylor, an expert at Public Citizen1

Click here to read the full article.

Thanks to Lynch’s oversight (in both senses of the word), HSBC escaped prosecution despite proven charges of laundering money for drug cartels and for terrorists – setting an extremely dangerous “too big to jail” precedent. After this remarkably softly, softly approach to Wall Street, however, Lynch is now taking an altogether more muscular stance in the case of FIFA.

An approach which potentially sets a differently dangerous precedent as she risks accusations of judicial overreach, especially given the comparatively speaking, minor felonies – bribery and kickbacks of around £100 million over 24 years is the charge against the accused FIFA officials (close to the price Real Madrid paid Spurs for Gareth Bale), and not the multiple billions of the never-ending banking “scandals”, or, to offer a very different example, the child trafficking allegations for which both DynCorp and Halliburton have been implicated (but no prosecutions brought). Furthermore, these alleged offences were committed by officials not at the head of a multinational corporation, but of a sports body that the average American cares very little about. So, why is the FBI so bothered? Why now? And on what grounds did the FBI make last week’s arrests outside America? Back to Noah Feldman:

It turns out the legal basis for the FIFA prosecutions isn’t all that simple or straightforward – and therein lies a tale of politics and sport. The prosecutions are being brought under RICO, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act of 1970, which was designed to prosecute crime syndicates that had taken over otherwise lawful organisations. […]

Generally, as the US Supreme Court has recently emphasised, laws passed by Congress don’t apply outside the US unless Congress affirmatively says so. RICO on its face says nothing about applying beyond US borders. So you’d think it can’t reach conduct that occurred abroad, and much of the alleged FIFA criminal conduct appears to have done so.

But in 2014 the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that RICO could apply extraterritorially – if, and only if, the separate criminal acts required by the law, known as “predicate acts”, violated statutes that themselves apply outside US borders. […]

But what’s most remarkable, and even incendiary, about the indictment comes in the fine print. RICO requires the existence of a criminal enterprise. As part of its case, the US Department of Justice is alleging that FIFA, the organiser of the World Cup, became a criminal enterprise as a result of its use of systematic corruption. In effect, the US government is saying that FIFA became the Mafia. 2 [Emphasis added]

*

Sepp Blatter has not (yet) been indicted, but for most of last week he was decidedly the man most in the (media) frame. In spite of this, delegates at the 65th Congress re-elected him as FIFA president and then for days afterwards, Blatter brazenly refused to step down. During this period of prolonged ignominy, it had been Michel Platini, chief of European football’s ruling body, UEFA, who was most vociferous in calling for Blatter’s resignation:

[Blatter’s] speech came just hours after Frenchman Platini said the latest crisis had left him “absolutely sickened”, adding: “People have had enough, they don’t want this president any more.” 3

That was on Thursday 28th, the day before FIFA’s election for president, and after Platini had personally requested that Blatter step down. The same day, Platini also called for delegates to join him in voting for Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, saying:

“Sepp, I like to speak to you man to man, face to face. Listen we started together, now I am asking you to leave FIFA because we give a terrible image and this can’t go on.” 4

Now, it is here worth briefly reflecting upon Michel Platini’s reputation as a player. For Platini wasn’t just any old player, but acclaimed by many as the greatest player of his generation. Creative, imaginative, tremendously skilful, Platini had been lauded not only for his prodigious talents, but also for his clean approach to the game. That said, after becoming head of FIFA’s European affiliate UEFA, Platini, like Blatter (who was always a bureaucrat), moved into politics. The politics of sport is politics nevertheless.

Since Platini took the helm at UEFA, he too became deeply embroiled in scandals seemingly of his own making – scandals I will return to in a moment. Yet at the present time, the media have collectively latched onto Platini and adopted him as football’s knight in shining armour. So whatever Platini is reported to have said is often presented as though Platini himself has no political ambitions. But this is nonsensical. And in actual fact, Platini’s own decisions as a footballing chief also played a significant part in FIFA’s downfall too – if, that is, we accept that FIFA’s real troubles began with the absurd 2010 vote and Qatar’s moment in the sun.

*

Qatar

In a 20-page investigation headlined “Qatargate”, the respected magazine France Football said that “acts of collusion and corruption” shaped the much-criticised FIFA decision to award the 2022 competition to the tiny, oil-rich Gulf state.

Among the alleged “acts of collusion”, the magazine listed a secret meeting called by President Sarkozy at the Elysée Palace on 23 November 2010. Ten days later – to worldwide astonishment – Qatar was chosen by a FIFA executive committee meeting in Zurich to host the World Cup in June-July 2022, despite summer temperatures in the Gulf of up to 50C.

This is taken from an article published by The Independent in January 2013. It continues:

Mr Sarkozy’s lunch guests included the crown prince of Qatar, Tamin bin Haman al-Thani, Michel Platini, president of the European Football Association (EUFA), and a representative of the investment fund which owned the then struggling French football club, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

France Football said that Mr Platini – a star of the France team of the 1980s – came under pressure at the lunch to switch his vote from the United States to Qatar.

The article ends with a quote from Nicolas Sarkozy:

One of the few international figures to have consistently supported the choice of Qatar is Mr Sarkozy. Just after the FIFA vote in 2010, he said: “Sport does not belong to a few countries. It belongs to the world… I don’t understand those who say that events should always be held in the same countries and the same continents.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

Eighteen months later, as the scandal rumbled on, we learned that Platini not only voted for Qatar in the ballot, but that he had been involved in another private meeting linked to the Qatar bid:

The Telegraph has unearthed evidence that Mr Platini, a former leading French international and the president of Uefa, European football’s governing body, had a private discussion with Mohamed Bin Hammam, the controversial Qatari [a former Fifa executive committee member and ex-president of the Asian Football Confederation] who paid millions of pounds to football officials around the world. […]

It is understood that the meeting took place shortly before Fifa awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, and that Mr Bin Hammam personally lobbied Mr Platini to support the Emirate’s bid.

Fifa executive committee members vote in secret, but Mr Platini has disclosed that he voted for Qatar in the ballot, which was held in 2010. 6

Platini, whose son Laurent happened to be the chief executive of Qatar owned sports company Burrda, quickly denied the allegations, writing in response to The Telegraph article:

“I find it astonishing that conversations with a fellow member of the FIFA Executive Committee could suddenly be transformed into a matter of state.

I have obviously met with Mr. Mohamed Bin Hammam on many occasions in 2010 as we were both members of the same FIFA Executive Committee since 2002.

During those conversations with Mr. Bin Hammam, the topic of the discussions was my potential candidature for the FIFA Presidency. Mr. Bin Hammam was indeed trying to convince me to become a candidate for the 2011 FIFA Presidential elections.

Additionally, I wish to reiterate that I am the only member of the FIFA Executive Committee who publicly stated for which bid I have voted – proof of my full transparency – and that no one ever dictates terms or conditions to me.

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised by the circulation of unfounded rumours which aim at tarnishing my image, especially in such an important time for the future of football.”

*

Ukraine and Russia

[Nonetheless,] the bid was still considered the outsider of the three.

Poland is still recovering from a match-fixing scandal and its government has been warned by Uefa and Fifa about political interference in the country’s football governing body.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has been hit by a political crisis, with the president trying to dissolve parliament. 7

This was how the BBC reported on the surprise victory by the joint Poland-Ukraine bid to host the Euro 2012 tournament. At the time, Italy had been favourites to win, even though their own bid was similarly overshadowed with issues relating to crowd violence as well as to a match-fixing scandal. The Italian authorities have always accepted the result, however, one person, and not an Italian but a Cypriot, would later publicly claim that he held evidence of backroom deals. UEFA’s response was swift:

European football’s governing body, Uefa, says it is taking legal action in response to allegations of corruption in the bidding race for Euro 2012.

Spyros Marangos, a former treasurer of the Cyprus Football Association [CFA], claimed this week that money had changed hands before the championship was handed to Poland and Ukraine.

He was told to provide evidence within two days to back up his claims.

But, according to Uefa, Mr Marangos had complained that was too short notice.

His lawyers told the BBC on Monday that Mr Marangos had tried for the past two years to draw the football body’s attention to the allegations for which he had witnesses. 8

Spyros Marangos, who had left the CFA in 2007, “made the allegations in German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung before telling Italian daily La Gazzetta dello Sport that he had proof to back up his claims.” In response, UEFA filed for damages in the Swiss courts and lodged a complaint with the Cypriot Attorney General. They also released an official statement:

‘UEFA has been obliged to take legal action firstly in order to establish whether any of the claims made by Mr Marangos have any substance to them, and therefore to make available any tangible elements in order to substantiate these claims. And secondly, to protect the integrity and the good name of UEFA and European football in general, which have been seriously damaged by these allegations.’ 9

Not that scandal surrounding the Euro 2012 tournament ended with Spyros Marangos’ unsubstantiated allegations. There have since been claims that once construction for the tournament started, as much as £2.5 billion (compare this with the £100 million in alleged bribes currently being investigated by the FBI) went missing in Ukraine alone:

Uefa, the governing body of football in Europe, is under pressure to investigate claims of massive corruption during Ukraine’s preparations for Euro 2012, amid allegations that as much as $4bn (£2.5bn) in state funds allocated for the tournament was stolen by officials.

Rebecca Harms, the leader of the Green faction in the European parliament, said Uefa had to investigate why Ukraine cancelled competitive tenders for all Euro 2012 projects in 2010. Instead, contracts for building stadiums, roads and other infrastructure projects were awarded to a handful of shadowy companies, including one based offshore in Belize. […]

Harms, a German MEP who visited Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv, last week, told the Guardian: “I will confront Uefa with these questions. I will also raise them in parliament. In whose private pocket did the money go? Uefa [under Platini’s watch – my note] must take responsibility.” 10

This comes from a Guardian article published in 2012, a time when former Prime Minister “the gas princess” Yulia Tymoshenko had been jailed for her own part in a corruption scandal soon after her fierce opponent Viktor Yanukovych was re-elected into office. With pro-western Tymoshenko behind bars and more Russophilic Yanukovych back in power, the corporate media was much keener to switch its spotlight on to Ukrainian criminality.

But for reasons of political expedience, Ukraine and its oligarchs now get a more or less free pass. The media turns a blind eye, not merely to its corruption scandals, but to Kiev’s deliberate bombing campaign against civilians (a million people forced to flee to Russia), to its complicity in a massacre, and to the overt rise of fascism both within government spheres and military brigades. When searching out stories of corruption, attention has instead shifted solely to the misdemeanours of Russian oligarchs and to crimes committed (“allegedly” is a word reserved for western misdemeanours and indiscretions) by the Kremlin. Which brings us back to FIFA…

Given the sordid history of FIFA, the allegations will likely have a solid foundation. Four other people and two companies have already pleaded guilty to charges in the case. Allegations of bribery have long dogged FIFA. Vast fortunes are at stake when it comes to hosting prestigious sporting events, such as the World Cup and Olympics. Bribery has become endemic in the allocation of these events.

Mass sporting events, which are backed and sponsored by gigantic corporate interests, are fundamentally managed no differently than anything else organised by big business and the imperialist powers.

The decision by the Obama administration to pursue and file the charges, however, is both hypocritical and politically motivated. Indeed, the sums cited in the criminality within FIFA are dwarfed by the corrupt practices associated with the US and global financial system.

Following the arrests, FBI Director James Comey said, “If you corrupt our shores with your corrupt enterprise, whether that is through meetings or using our world-class financial system, you will be held accountable for that corruption. Nobody is above or beyond the law.”

Loretta Lynch, the Obama administration’s attorney general, spoke of a culture of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption. In the attempt to justify action against individuals residing in and largely operating outside of the US, Lynch said, “In many instances, the defendants and their co-conspirators planned aspects of this long-running scheme during meetings held here in the United States.”

Comey and Lynch speak as representatives of a US elite that is guilty of criminality on a much larger scale. Their “world-class financial system” is one that allowed a parasitic elite to indulge in financial skulduggery that collapsed the world’s banking system in 2008, leading to a global recession. And they rewarded these same people for their criminal behaviour with trillions of dollars of public money.

“Rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption is an apt description of the daily operations of US banks, yet no executive of a major bank has been arrested or prosecuted.

The well-documented financial corruption within football’s ruling body is being utilised by the US primarily as a propaganda weapon against Russia.

That comes from an article published on the World Socialist Web Site. I reprint such an extended passage simply because it so cogently summed up my own thoughts upon hearing that FIFA had been busted by the FBI. Can anyone honestly fail to make the same connection? Especially since, as the same article goes on to point out:

Moscow’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup has been turned by figures with the US ruling elite and their allies internationally into a question of paramount importance.

Senator Robert Menendez, who in April was indicted on federal corruption charges, said he was “especially pleased that Swiss and US authorities are investigating FIFA’s granting of the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022”, as he had “long been concerned about FIFA’s selection of Russia.”

He was supported by Senator John McCain, who jointly authored a letter to FIFA declaring, “In light of President Blatter’s continued support for Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup—despite Russia’s ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and other challenges to the post-WWII security architecture—we ask that you reconsider your support for President Blatter’s fifth term as FIFA President.

This follows a letter to FIFA last month from 13 US senators requesting that Blatter step in to take the World Cup away from Russia. 11 [Emphasis added]

As the new Cold War sets in, this action is rather blatantly about Russia – an Anglo-American desire to embarrass Putin – although there are more reasons besides why this meeting taking place in Zurich about the immediate future of “global soccer” might have been troubling some on Capitol Hill…

*

Israel

In 2007, FIFA suspended Kuwait from all international matches because of “governmental interference in the national game”. In 2013, Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) was suspended, and then last year, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) was also suspended “on account of government interference.” This year, both FIFA and UEFA were threatening to sanction Greece, who had previously been suspended briefly in 2006 when they were then-reigning European champions, before the threat was dropped.

This time around, however, it was the Israeli FA that were facing possible suspension, and not because of “governmental interference in the national game” (as is usually the case), but on the more aggravated grounds that Israel had violated rules relating to free movement of players and of racism. In fact, Israel was about to be called to account for its abuses against Palestinian footballers that have included harassment, assaults, arrests, deliberately targeted shootings 12 and actual killings 13. One of the most high profile cases involved Mahmoud Sarsak, who at 14 years old was the youngest-ever player in the Palestine League:

Its abuse of Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak undermined a promising career. In 2009, Israeli security thugs arrested him for trying to cross from Gaza to the West Bank to participate in a match – his legitimate right.

He was horrifically abused, lawlessly kept in administrative detention for three years uncharged. His lawyers were denied access to fabricated evidence against him.

He was guilty of the crime of football – freed in summer 2012 after a 92 day hunger strike. Israel ruthlessly targets other Palestinian footballers like Sarsak. 14

A more detailed list of Israel’s violations are available at the Stop the War Coalition website.

The Palestinian Football Association (which has been recognised by FIFA since 1998 and is led by president Jibril Rajoub) had been granted a vote on Israel’s suspension at last week’s FIFA Congress, and Palestine supporters were also gathered outside to lend vocal support to the call for Israel’s expulsion. Although delayed because of a bomb scare, the Palestinians  remained optimistic that the ballot would return a decision in their favour:

The Palestinian Football Association will push ahead Friday for a vote calling for the suspension of Israel from the world football organisation at Fifa’s scandal-riven congress in Zurich.

Despite last-ditch attempts at mediation by world football officials, the Palestinian delegation insisted it would push for a vote unless Israel expels five teams based in illegal Israeli settlements from its football league. […]

Both Palestinian and Israeli delegations in Zurich have been working around the clock since arriving in the midst of the biggest scandal to hit the world football organisation.

Twin Swiss and US investigations focussing on a far-reaching culture of kickbacks in Fifa have thrown the congress in Zurich into chaos, including both the re-election bid of Fifa president Sepp Blatter and other business on the agenda including the Palestinian bid to have Israel suspended.

Israel has sought the support of the European regional grouping UEFA of which it is a member to vote against the proposed suspension. [I will come back to this]

Its efforts to avoid a vote – which some see as damaging in itself as a vote for suspension – have seen it enlist Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs as well as the lobbying of key Fifa officials.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, weighed in on Thursday, telling reporters that if Israel is suspended “it would be a blatant politicisation of sport and the result will be Fifa’s collapse”15

[Emphasis added]

That was taken from a Guardian article published on the morning of Friday 29th, the day of the vote, but by the evening everything had changed:

The Palestinian Football Association has withdrawn its call to have Israel suspended from Fifa in a chaotic last minute climbdown at the congress of football’s governing body in Zurich. Following days of negotiations, and the mediation of Fifa president Sepp Blatter, the Palestinian moves at the scandal-ridden congress appeared comprehensively outmanoeuvred by feverish Israeli lobbying and the opposition of senior Fifa officials, including Blatter.

As details of an impending deal emerged, the Palestinian delegation came out of the last round of talks expecting the congress to vote on an amendment to refer the main sticking point, the status of five Israeli clubs based in illegal settlements on the West Bank, to the United Nations.

But the Palestinian move was overruled by Blatter, to the clear dismay of the Palestinian delegation, whose lawyer tried to appeal from the floor. Instead, the issue will be referred to a new Fifa committee. […]

Palestinian sources confirmed that Rajoub had been under huge pressure to withdraw the suspension motion from delegates. “It is true everyone was putting pressure on him to withdraw,” said one. Blatter has always made clear he opposed a vote on suspension.

Following the withdrawal of the request to suspend Israel over claims of its racist and discriminatory policies towards Palestinian football, 90% of delegates voted to set up a new monitoring inspections committee to oversee a mechanism to ensure movement of players and equipment.

The size of the vote in favour of the motion – 165-18 – is likely to be the only consolation for the Palestinian side, which has been pushing a long-term campaign over what it says are Israeli abuses of Palestinian football.

The outcome seemed certain to be a cause for celebration for Israel. […]

Commenting on the outcome, Netanyahu said: “Our international effort has proven itself and led to the failure of the Palestinian Authority attempt to oust us from Fifa.” 16

Click here to read more of this follow-up Guardian article

Afterwards, Israeli minister, Yisrael Katz, posted this on Facebook:

Rajoub failed in his mission of throwing Israel out of FIFA.  Now’s the time to imprison him in the Muqata [like Israel did to Arafat] and let him play Stanga [hackysack] with his pals 17

Newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter, who had stated his opposition to the suspension of Israel, tried to be conciliatory, but what he said was all the more risible for his attempt:

“This has been an issue for the past two FIFA Congresses and I’m so happy that we’re coming to a solution. I’m sure both sides will apply the basic principle of FIFA which is solidarity, it is up to Israel to help and share a little bit more with Palestine.”

But Blatter was not alone in defending the indefensible. Back in April, Platini too had given his backing to Israeli Football Association (IFA) officials. The IFA later releasing a statement saying:

“Platini stressed that Israel is an inseparable part of UEFA and is an equal member that is welcome in the UEFA family.”

Then, at a press conference on the eve of the FIFA congress, Platini reiterated that:

[The] football’s world governing body ‘wouldn’t accept’ the Palestinian FA’s bid to ban Israel from FIFA, should the motion be put to a vote tomorrow. 18

So punishment that was thought good for Cameroon, Nigeria, Greece and many others, including even oil-rich Kuwait (should anyone suppose this is simply about money), was withheld from Israel. All the turmoil going on at FIFA can hardly have helped the Palestinian cause.

*

Back to Qatar (and the Clintons)

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents. 19

This is the opening to one of the earliest mainstream reports on the use of slave labour in constructing the World Cup infrastructure ready for Qatar 2022.

As this whole corruption fiasco has played out, and when not conducting the growing chorus of disapproval towards the disgraced but shameless Blatter, the media has also occasionally drawn a little more attention to the unseen costs of FIFA’s shock decision in 2010. For this is apparently what it takes to get our western media to fully investigate and to seriously challenge conditions within the despotic regimes of our Gulf State partners. And, on a similar note, we may now also return to consider the role of the Clintons in this whole debacle:

Bill Clinton looked anything but happy as he strode into the Savoy Baur en Ville hotel in Zurich in December 2010. The receptionists could tell he was irritated, but had no idea just how angry he was.

After closing the door to his suite, he reached for an ornament on a table and threw it at a wall mirror in a fit of rage, shattering the glass.

The former US president, who had spent two years travelling the world glad-handing members of football’s governing body, Fifa, could not believe America’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup had been beaten by, of all places, Qatar. 20

Hmmm, well he certainly doesn’t look like a man about to throw an ornament into a mirror in a fit of pique in that footage (embedded above), but then Bill is a renown diplomat, so presumably he was just putting a brave face on it. But hold up, what’s this…?

Former President Bill Clinton served as the honorary chairman of the U.S. committee that worked unsuccessfully to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. The surprise winner that year was Qatar–and it turns out that the Qatari committee now planning the massive event has been a major donor to Clinton’s charitable foundation. […]

The foundation’s donor records, posted on its Web site, show that FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, has donated between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton foundation. The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, which was formed in 2011 to build stadiums and other infrastructure after Qatar was named the 2022 host, has given between $250,000 and $500,000 to the foundation.

Naturally therefore, top of Loretta Lynch’s list will now be inquiries regarding these donations into the Clinton funds… Well, no:

U.S. officials Wednesday unsealed indictments against 14 top officials involved with soccer, accusing the group of bribery, money laundering and fraud.

While the [Clinton] foundation has no involvement with the investigations, it’s a reminder that the global philanthropy has accepted donations from many of the world’s richest and most powerful players. Its donor list runs to 200,000 names, and includes foreign governments, Wall Street and foreign financial institutions, energy conglomerates and others. The government of Qatar, for instance, which aggressively sought the World Cup, has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million. 21

[Emphasis added]

Other “philanthropic” donations to the Clinton Foundation have come from Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Electric and another less well-known aerospace manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft, who were part owned by Goldman Sachs. Coincidentally, many of these state and corporate donors had trade deals approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department:

The monarchy in Qatar had similarly been chastised by the State Department for a raft of human rights abuses. But that country donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was running the State Department. During the three full budgetary years of her tenure, Qatar saw a 14-fold increase in State Department authorizations for direct commercial sales of military equipment and services, as compared to the same time period in Bush’s second term. The department also approved the Pentagon’s separate $750 million sale of multi-mission helicopters to Qatar. That deal would additionally employ as contractors three companies that have all supported the Clinton Foundation over the years: United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Electric. 22

To read more about how these Clinton Foundation donors received contracts from Hillary Clinton’s State Department click here.

So let me pose this: is the bigger story here the one about a few (so far numbering fourteen) corrupt FIFA officials, or is it one about the financial irregularities of a former US President and his warmongering Presidential candidate wife?

[There are a great many other “scandals” surrounding and involving the Clintons, but I prefer to hold back from writing more about the misadventures of Bill and Hillary until a later date.]

*

Beyond Blatter

Now that Blatter is gone, what about the future of world football itself? The consensus amongst supporters – in Europe at least – appears to be that FIFA as a whole ought to be reformed, or even abolished. But here (as always) I believe it is wise to be very careful what we wish for.

During my time as a football fan (a period that encompasses nearly my whole life) there have been enormous changes in the sport. In England, surely the most significant of these was the establishment of the Premier League.

Prior to the Premier League, the wealthiest clubs in England were already in the habit of pestering for a bigger share of the television revenues. Breakaway threats would come and go, but nothing very much altered. It happens, however, that there have always been two ruling bodies in English football – The Football League and the Football Association (FA) – and eventually all this talk of divorce was formalised by the oldest and grandest of two, the FA, who foisted a deal against The League’s broader interests and on behalf of the richest “big five” clubs. In consequence, the top division became effectively a league of its own, administered under the auspices not of The League, but the FA. Extra money from the new TV rights could then be divvied up amongst the clubs in the new Premier League. Thus greed won out over democracy, as was the fashion in the early 1990s (and as now).

There have been many consequences to the formation of the FA Premier League. Increased revenues have enabled its clubs to attract star players from across the world, and the standard of top level English football has certainly improved. But the new money mostly went into players’ wages, and as salaries and bonuses rapidly inflated, ticket prices also escalated, squeezing out many of the game’s long-standing supporters. As clubs’ loyalty to their supporters waned, so too did the players’ loyalty to their clubs. Loyalty in football has all but disappeared.

In short, the establishment of the Premier League has helped to accelerate the corporatisation of English football. Thirty years ago there were arguments about whether players’ shirts should be allowed to carry advertisements (the BBC allowed ads on Formula One cars but baulked at letting football go the same way), and debate over whether football matches could be played on Sundays (a day of rest, for those who remember). Who could have envisaged a future when TV executives (primarily at Sky) would demand football matches are played literally every day of the week and three times on Sundays! Meantime, the supporters, who often travel great distances to watch their teams, and who cling to the belief that the game belongs to them (I remain one of the millions of likewise deluded fools), have in truth become little more than an advertising backdrop. Colourful scenery for corporate giants to hang their logos on.

As this latest FIFA scandal unfolded, it was the corporate sponsors, we have repeatedly been informed, who pushed hardest for Blatter’s resignation, deeply concerned that their own brand may become tarnished with ties to FIFA’s corruption. Hurrah for enlightened self-interest; this is what we’re supposed to think. Forgetting how those very same offshore (for tax purposes) multinational entities, exploit their distant workers in third world sweatshops, twisting every health and safety and environmental regulation in unremitting efforts to maximise profit. We ought really to laugh out loud, if only it didn’t hurt so much.

Likewise, the news is that UEFA may soon be split from FIFA altogether. A move which the corporations would doubtless prefer – two tiers in world football, very much along the lines of the two-tiered English league. So is UEFA about to usurp FIFA just as the FA usurped the Football League in the early ’90s? I sincerely hope not.

One thing I have learned about FIFA during the last week or so that surprised me in a good way, is how its voting systems are actually more democratic than those for most other global institutions. Each affiliated football association, irrespective of its size or importance, gets just one vote. It is this equality amongst nations that has helped to preserve the World Cup as a genuinely international competition. The diversity surviving by virtue of one simple but surprising fact: that it is very much easier for teams from Oceania, Asia, Africa and even North America to qualify than for those from the footballing superpowers in Europe and South America. Such handicapping makes the World Cup what it is – and FIFA deserve credit for keeping the playing field unlevel.

FIFA’s “one association one vote” system is arguably the very epitome of what footballing democracy ought to be, and not as the media has repeatedly presented it, another measure of corruption within the organisation itself. Of course, FIFA’s system does make the buying-off of local officials in smaller and poorer nations worthwhile, whereas if the major nations were prioritised (as is usually the case), corruption of a different but more familiar form would likely proliferate instead. Meanwhile, the insinuation that only officials of the “lesser nations” are prone to corruption is one that smacks very much of racism.

In any case, once the pressure has built to overhaul the existing system, the great tendency will be to make changes to benefit the superpowers of the game. And with more control in the hands of those in Europe (assuming UEFA prevails), western domination of the world’s favourite sport will also mean football imperialism.

I would like to finish on a related issue presented again by Noah Feldman, professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard, as he concluded his piece for Bloomberg View:

How will the rest of the world react to the claim that soccer’s international governing body is a criminal enterprise under U.S. law? One possibility is that international observers will be grateful that someone finally stepped in to do something about endemic corruption within FIFA. It’s been a more or less open secret over the years that FIFA was corrupt in the ordinary, nontechnical meaning of the word. Perhaps – just perhaps – fans will be pleased or relieved that someone has taken on the task of cleaning up the mess.

That interpretation is optimistic, given America’s reputation for extraterritorial imperialism. The relative unimportance of soccer in the U.S. compared with every place else on earth makes concerns about imperialism still more pressing. Through creative and aggressive use of a highly unusual American law, the U.S. may well be seen as attempting a takeover of international soccer. 23

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Additional: The 3 Horse Race at FIFA

“This guy, if he gets in, will make Blatter and co seem like saints.” So wrote a very good friend of mine after hearing rumours (months ago) that another ex-footballer Luis Figo might be standing for the FIFA presidency.

Well, I have just looked at the odds for the various candidates and it appears to be roughly a three horse race. Prince Ali Al-Hussein is favourite – the bookies not the people’s. Platini is a close second, and next is indeed Luis Figo. So might it be that Platini was only the stalking horse — perhaps, Prince Ali too? Although if you are looking for a really long shot, then the bookies are offering 500-1 on Vladimir Putin (in the same spirit, I’m offering 1000-1 on both Bill or Hillary Clinton — take your pick!)

*

Update: Where were the auditors?

Auditors are fond of telling anyone prepared to listen that they cannot be expected to spot every fraud or impending disaster when they comb through a company’s books.

But the Fifa affair, which has finally claimed the scalp of president Sepp Blatter, raises questions about long-term auditor KPMG, which did not raise an alarm despite the openly lavish lifestyles of some officials.

It is just the latest embarrassment for KPMG – the firm audited a string of scandal-hit clients including HSBC, HBOS, the Co-op Bank and US mortgage lender Fannie Mae, apparently without noticing anything amiss.

It is not alone. Its peers, EY, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte also stand accused of not spotting impending disasters on their client lists.

The latest furore inevitably raises questions not only over the conduct of KPMG, but the wider issue of how accountable are the accountants.

‘The Fifa affair begs a question of exactly what are audits good for,’ says Professor Prem Sikka of Essex University Business School.

‘If the auditors can’t spot millions of pounds going astray over many years, what can they do?

Click here to read the full article at thisismoney, which questions the ‘revolving door syndrome’ between accountancy firms, corporate boardrooms and our financial regulators.

*

1 From an article entitled “Loretta Lynch confirmation as attorney general dogged by HSBC scandal” written by Dan Roberts, published in the Guardian on February 20, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/feb/20/loretta-lynch-confirmation-attorney-general-hsbc-scandal

2 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

3 From an article entitled “Fifa: Blatter refuses to quit as president & vows ‘to restore trust’” published by BBC news on May 28, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/32914907

4 Quoted here: http://www.morningstar.co.uk/uk/news/AN_1432819609175844000/platini-calls-on-blatter-to-step-down-uefa-to-attend-fifa-congress.aspx

5 From an article entitled “Nicolas Sarkozy ‘colluded’ to get Qatar 2022 World Cup” written by John Lichfield, published in The Independent on January 29, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/nicolas-sarkozy-colluded-to-get-qatar-2022-world-cup-8471758.html

6 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022: France embroiled in corruption scandal” written by Claire Newell, Holly Watt & Ben Bryant, published in The Telegraph on June 2, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871065/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-France-embroiled-in-corruption-scandal.html

7 From an article entitled “Poland and Ukraine host Euro 2012” published by BBC news on April 18, 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/europe/6562527.stm

8 Uefa to sue Cypriot over Euro 2012 corruption claim” published by BBC news on October 28, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11645694

9 The quote and details above are taken from an article entitled “UEFA launch legal action over corruption allegations surrounding Poland and Ukraine” published in the Daily Mail on October 30, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1325142/UEFA-launch-legal-action-corruption-allegations-surrounding-Poland-Ukraine.html

10 From an article entitled “Euro 2012: Uefa urged to investigate $4bn corruption allegations in Ukraine” written by Luke Harding and David Leigh, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2012. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2012/jun/20/euro-2012-corruption-allegations-ukraine

11 From an article entitled US seizes on FIFA corruption to pursue campaign against Russia” written by Robert Stevens and Chris Marsden, published on the World Socialist Web Site on May 29, 2015. https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/05/29/fifa-m29.html

12

Outrage has surfaced over the case  of two Palestinian teenage football players [two teenagers, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, 19, and Adam Abd al-Raouf Halabiya, 17] who were reportedly shot in the feet at an Israeli checkpoint on their way home from practise on January 31. Israeli security forces said  the two were trying to throw bombs at police officers.

Doctors reportedly said  the two teens will never be able to play sports again due to their injuries, and will need months of treatment before assessing whether they can walk.

From an article entitled “Shooting renews calls for FIFA to kick out Israel” published by Al Jazeera on March 5, 2014. http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/201403052234-0023531

You can also read more on the same story here: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/palestinian-teenagers-shot-feet-by-israeli-soldiers-after-playing-football-calls-fifa-israel-ban-1439183

13

Ahed Zaqout, a former Palestinian national team player, has been killed by an Israeli bomb that hit his apartment in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said on Thursday.

“Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever had,” Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher told Reuters.

From an article entitled “Former midfielder on Palestinian national team killed in Gaza air strike” written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi, published by Haaretz on July 31, 2014. http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608224

14 From an article entitled “Soccer Politics: Palestinian Bid to Expel Israel from FIFA Dropped” written by Stephen Lendman, published by Global Research on May 30, 2015. http://www.globalresearch.ca/soccer-politics-palestinian-bid-to-expel-israel-from-fifa-dropped/5452598

15 From an article entitled “Palestinian Football Association to push ahead for Israel’s suspension from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinian-football-association-to-push-ahead-for-israels-suspension-from-fifa

16 From an article entitled “Palestine withdraw call to suspend Israel from Fifa” written by Peter Beaumont, published in the Guardian on May 29, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/29/palestinians-withdraw-call-to-suspend-israel-from-fifa-west-bank

17 Read more and find translation here: http://www.globalresearch.ca/did-israel-buy-its-way-out-of-fifa-suspension/5452609 

18 From an article entitled “Platini: FIFA ‘won’t accept’ Palestinian bid to suspend Israel” published by Jewish News on May 28, 2015. http://www.jewishnews.co.uk/platini-fifa-wont-accept-palestinian-bid-to-suspend-israel/

19 From an article entitled “Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’” written by Pete Pattisson, published in the Guardian on September 25, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

20 From an article entitled “Qatar World Cup 2022 scandal: Bill Clinton’s fury at vote triggered global search for truth” written by Holly Watt, Claire Newell & Ben Bryant, published by The Telegraph on June 3, 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup/10871114/Qatar-World-Cup-2022-scandal-Bill-Clintons-fury-at-vote-triggered-global-search-for-truth.html

21 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation donors included FIFA, Qatar host committee” written by Rosalind S. Helderman, published in the Washington Post on May 27, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/05/27/clinton-foundation-donors-included-fifa-qatar-host-committee/ 

22 From an article entitled “Clinton Foundation Donors Got Weapons Deals From Hillary Clinton’s State Department” written by David Sirota and Andrew Perez, published in the International Business Times on May 26, 2015. http://www.ibtimes.com/clinton-foundation-donors-got-weapons-deals-hillary-clintons-state-department-1934187

23 From an article entitled “U.S. Treats FIFA Like the Mafia” written by Noah Feldman, published by Bloomberg View on May 27, 2015. http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-05-27/u-s-treats-fifa-like-the-mafia

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another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

*

When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

*

Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

*

Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

*

I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

*

1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Australia, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, police state, September 11th, Seymour Hersh, USA

los indignados converge on Paris

The marchers of los indignados, who set off from Madrid on July 25th, are now a few days south of Paris. Joining forces with another group marching from Toulouse, they have pitched camp in Orléans for the night:

… Orléans is a so-called ‘Sarkozy laboratory’. The city is almost completely controlled by camera’s, police have far reaching authority to repress people sleeping, camping, or otherwise behaving out of the ordinary. Putting up tents here, anywhere, is a risk. Police can come in to arrest and destroy first and ask questions later.

We do things the Spanish way. We don’t care. We put up our tents and see what happens. Until now there hasn’t been a single police officer in sight. We’re much more numerous today, and we were on the front page of the local newspaper. It’s always possible that they attack tonight, but as we are leaving tomorrow they probably think it isn’t worth the bad publicity.

To read more about their journey, and keep up with their progress as they head for Brussels, find daily posts on their own blog.

To learn more about how this grassroots movement arose and has grown, and what those within it are aiming to achieve, I recommend the Al Jazeera documentary “People & Power” which was first broadcast on June 22nd:

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Filed under did you see?, Esther Vivas, Europe, France, Spain, Uncategorized

skeletons in Sarkozy cupboard?

Nicolas Sarkozy has denied allegations that he received campaign contributions from Gaddafi:

The son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has alleged that his country helped finance Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential election campaign.
“We funded it and we have all the details and are ready to reveal everything,” Saif al-Islam said.
His remarks to the Euronews TV channel came days after Libyan state TV reported a “grave secret” that would bring about Mr Sarkozy’s downfall.

In the interview, Saif al-Islam referred to Mr Sarkozy as “this clown” and said he was given assistance so that he could help the Libyan people.
“But he’s disappointed us,” he said. “Give us back our money. We have all the bank details and documents for the transfer operations and we will make everything public soon.”

Full story on BBC World News

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