Tony Benn RIP

March 14, 2014 at 8:08 am (AWL, From the archives, good people, history, iraq, labour party, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, Stop The War)

The death this morning of Tony Benn is sad news, and all of us here mourn the passing of an honourable (if sometimes misguided) man who sincerely believed he stood for socialist principles.

In the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s Benn was an invaluable asset to the working class and the serious left. Paradoxically , it was later in his career, when he left parliament to  “concentrate on politics” (in fact becoming a “national treasure”) that his politics went badly off the rails and he fell in with filthy, reactionary “anti imperialist” shysters like Galloway, German and Rees. Workers Liberty wrote this open letter to him in October 2005. Note that despite their gloves-off criticism of his utterly foolish softness on Saddam and Aziz, the authors acknowledge and pay respect to his role “as a fighter after 1979 against the Labour establishment”:

Dear Tony Benn
You have put your name to a petition on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. You have by now probably seen the newspaper reports that Tariq Aziz will give evidence against his old boss at Saddam Hussein’s trial — evidence that, among other things, Saddam Hussein gave orders for mass murder.
Tariq Aziz had to be there, that is, complicit in Saddam Hussein’s crimes against the peoples of Iraq, in order to be able to testify to such things. We will see what happens at the trial. But no-one has to wait for the trial to know who and what Tariq Aziz is. Yet you put your name to Galloway’s petition.

You, Tony Benn, unlike your co-signatories such as George Galloway have in the last 25 years been a man of the serious, class struggle left. Not infrequently we have disagreed with you on important questions.

But, comrade Benn, you are seriously out of place amidst the other signatories on Galloway’s petition on behalf of his friend Tariq Aziz. We say that not forgetting that on the eve of the US-British attack on Iraq you went to Baghdad and interviews Saddam Hussein in such a soft and accommodating way that the result, broadcast on British TV, was a “party political broadcast” for Saddam Hussein. Read the rest of this entry »

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Iraq’s workers deserve better than this

November 20, 2013 at 12:50 am (Eric Lee, internationalism, iraq, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

From LabourStart:

In the more than ten years since the fall of the Saddam regime, the Iraqi people have been disappointed, to say the least, with the promises of democracy, peace and prosperity.  

The country’s trade unions, reborn as independent organizations after the American-led invasion, continue to suffer under the repressive laws passed by the Saddam dictatorship.

That’s incredible, but true.  Saddam’s laws banning most union activity remain in force.

The IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation have launched an online campaign demanding change — please take a moment to lend your support:

It’s not all bad news, though.  Oil union leader Hassan Juma’a has just had charges against him thrown out of court earlier this month.  Read one account of this important victory here.

To learn more about the Iraqi labour movement, there’s no better place to start than the wonderful book Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions which was published by the British Trades Union Congress.

This beautifully illustrated paperback is still available from LabourStart for just £10.00 (including postage to anywhere in the world).  Order your copy today - click here.

And finally, to stay on top of all the latest labour news from Iraq, make sure to bookmark our Iraqi labour news page.

Thanks very much

Eric Lee

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Sami Ramadani: pro-fascist enemy of the working class

July 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm (fascism, Galloway, Guardian, iraq, Jim D, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism", unions)

The Guardian (no doubt under Seumas’ influence), once again gives space to this thoroughly dodgy and deceitful character, this time supporting Hezbollah, in a ‘head-to-head’ with Israel’s Tzipi Livni (and – just for the record- we don’t have any time for her, either).

Ramadani has form:

He supported the fascist Iraqi “resistance” that killed and tortured trade unionists and Communist Party members. He now, like his sponsor, Seumas Milne,  gives  (not very “critical”) support to Assad in Syria.

Above: Ramadani chums up to Galloway and gives ‘critical’ support to Assad

Here’s an account of a debate in November 2004, on the Iraqi trade union movement, from Workers Liberty:

About 50 people — many more than usual — were at the most recent monthly meeting of Iraq Occupation Focus to hear Sami Ramadani and Ewa Jasiewicz on “Trade unionism in occupied Iraq” (London, 9 November).

The first speech, Ewa’s, was informative and sober, but entirely detached from the debate which dominated the rest of the meeting. Ewa described the activity of the Southern Oil Company Union in Basra, an IFTU affiliate with which she worked for some months; expressed doubts about Communist Party control in most of the IFTU and the IFTU’s “ambiguous” stance on privatisation; and mentioned the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions of Iraq, which she saw as “more grass-roots” than the IFTU but “naive” in its implacable opposition to what it calls “Islamic terrorism”.

Sami Ramadani’s speech covered the same ground as the widely circulated letter he wrote to Alex Gordon, an RMT rail union activist who has done a lot of work in support of Iraq’s new trade unions, after Subhi al Mashadani, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was shouted down at the European Social Forum.

Ramadani agrees that al Mashadani should not have got a hearing at the ESF, though he would have preferred a walk-out to shouting him down. The Communist Party of Iraq, says Ramadani, is collaborating with the occupation, and the IFTU under CP leadership “diverts the Iraqi working class from the main contradiction”. The IFTU are “Quislings”.

The meeting became mostly a debate between Ramadani and myself. I argued that for supporting the Iraqi labour movement against the Islamist militias.

The CP’s “realpolitik” — trying to get the best deal by working with whatever power-that-be it thinks most amenable — is wretched. But a trade union with bad politics is a very different matter from a Quisling organisation. Quisling was a fascist!

We want a free Iraq with free trade unions and no occupation. For a labour movement to build itself up, using the de facto openings for free organisation that exist now, and then play a central role in ending the occupation, is a possible route to that. For the labour movement to be crushed as “Quislings” in the cause of anti-imperialism, and then to hope for the triumphant Islamists to allow free unions to emerge at a later stage, is not.

Not just the IFTU but all the main trade unions and communist groups in Iraq oppose the Islamist militias. Activists in Britain should not dismiss their views.

Several other speakers favoured Sami Ramadani’s view. Some said that “collusion” by the IFTU with the occupation was something qualitatively worse than “bad politics”. (So class collusion is venial, but national apostasy is a mortal sin?)

Others reckoned that really there is no labour movement in Iraq — only a shell, only union offices. (So what about the struggles and organisations which Ewa Jasiewicz had described? So, if the union movement is weak, and some of it is more hopeful sketch than reality, then it doesn’t matter if it is branded as fascist and crushed?)

Some believed that the Communist Party of Iraq became fascist when it joined the Ba’thist government in the mid-1970s. (The same as the Social-Democratic Party of Germany was deemed by the ultra-left Stalinists of 1928-33 to have become “social-fascist” when it collaborated with the ultra-right Freikorps in 1919?). Or that any labour movement that supports an occupation becomes fascist. (So when it accepted the Treaty of Versailles the Social-Democratic Party of Germany became… fascist? The All India Trade Union Congress, led by the Communist Party of India, became fascist when the CP line during World War Two was to support Britain?)

The clincher for many people seemed to be the argument that the imperialists say that the Iraqi militias are Islamist and terrorist, and would clash with each other in civil war if the occupation troops vanished tomorrow. “We must combat their propaganda”.

So when the rulers of the West were saying that the USSR was a tyranny, we should have insisted that it was a paradise? When the US said that victory for the NLF in Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia would lead to police states, we were duty bound to deny it? An “opposition to imperialism” which can sustain itself only by pretending that any force opposed to the USA must be benign is made of thin stuff!

Sami Ramadani concluded by saying flatly (as he did not in his letter to Alex Gordon) that the IFTU is “not a working-class organisation”. He “reserved judgement” on the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions, believing that their recent denunciation of Islamist attacks on women was “disgusting” at a time when Fallujah was under attack by US forces.

The debate must continue.

Ramadani denounces Iraqi trade unions, in a previous Guardian article, here.

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March 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm (fascism, hell, history, Human rights, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, kurdistan, murder, terror)

Prof Norm reminds us that:

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja :

Chemical weapons Halabja Iraq March 1988.jpg

On March 16, 1988, 5,000 Kurds died in the city and 10,000 were injured after a seven-hour bombardment by Saddam Hussein’s jets and artillery. The population was blanketed with blood, nerve and blister agents in the worst chemical attack on a civilian population since the Second World War.

The poet Choman Hardi has written this poem, ‘Yek deqiqe bo Halabja’, to commemorate the dead. On her Facebook page she says that the poem is ‘dedicated to the memory of the victims who, because of circulating images of their mutilated bodies, seem to have disappeared from our consciousness as human beings, their value seems to be reduced to their victimhood.’

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Ten years on: yes, the Iraq war was wrong, but…

February 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Galloway, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, London, New Statesman, protest, stalinism, SWP, Tony Blair, war)

Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.

Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:

“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”

I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:

The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To

By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)

I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?

Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.

What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?

It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.

As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.

Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?

Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.

I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.

Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.

It is not easy for me to write these words.

I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.

But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.

I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.

But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.

Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.

Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.

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Iraqi oil workers need our support today

June 5, 2012 at 3:33 pm (Eric Lee, iraq, Jim D, LabourStart, solidarity, unions, workers)

From LabourStart, in partership with the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions [ICCEM], a global union federation representing some 20 million workers.

Tue, 5 Jun 2012 11:06:52 +0000 (GMT)


Iraqi oil workers need our support today
Network Email

We’ve just launched a new campaign on LabourStart which needs the support of thousands of you – please take a moment to learn more, and to sign up:

And please spread the word – by email, on Facebook, on UnionBook, by Twitter.

Thanks very much!

Eric Lee

Visit UnionBook at:

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On “left” relativism and post-modernism

March 27, 2012 at 2:40 pm (apologists and collaborators, Art and design, AWL, Human rights, iraq, Jim D, Marxism, philosophy, relativism)

The AWL’s paper Solidarity recently republished this article from 1991. I’d forgotten all about it, but have to say (with all due modesty) I think it stands up pretty well nearly twenty one years on, and is highly relevant to much of the foolishness of today’s “left” - both “far-left” and “Guardianista“:

Author: Jim Denham

This article from Solidarity’s forerunner, Socialist Organiser (11 June 1991), criticises “political correctness”, focusing on art and culture, from the point of view of the Marxist left, (as opposed to right-wing prejudice). Jim Denham argues here in favour of free speech and objective standards in aesthetics, in a still-pertinent debate.

The Arc of Triumph; (Arabic: قوس النصر‎; qaūs al-naṣr), also called the Swords of Qādisīyah،  Hands of Victory or Victory Arch in some Western sources, are a pair of triumphal arches in central Baghdad

A number of colleges and universities in the US have begun adopting PC codes, supposedly intended to curb behaviour and/or language that might give offence to racial minorities, women, gays and lesbians.

Some of this is quite reasonable and no-one but a bigot could object. But quite a bit is downright silly, and some of it is an affront to any conception of free speech.

The University of Connecticut, for instance, has prohibited “inappropriately directed laughter”. The New York Times has adopted a “style book” that requires the use of the term “adult male” in place of “man”. The word “burly” is also on the PC banned list.

I tried the “burly” on my boss, a committed feminist and anti-racist. What images and implications did the word conjure up? “Male”, “big”, maybe (but not necessarily) “stupid”. The PC movement has banned “burly” because it supposedly gives a negative image of black men.

As my boss pointed out (when I explained the point of the exercise to her), that argument only makes sense if you are pre-disposed to the assumption that all black men (sorry, males) are big and stupid.

But linguistic Stalinism is only one manifestation of the PC: it comes as part of a package deal that involves extending (or rather, reducing) multi-culturalism to an absolute “relativism”. According to this view, there is no such thing as objective “knowledge”, “facts” do not exist; philosophically “reality” is a complete illusion. One culture, philosophy, scientific theory, concept of history, or whatever, is as good as another. It’s all subjective, a matter of opinion.

But here we come to the central contradiction of PC/relativism: instead of applying their own laissez-faire approach to themselves (as well as everyone else) they proclaim it to be the only acceptable point of view, and set about purging reading lists, limiting free speech and hounding “incorrect” academics.

A special target are “DWEMs” — Dead White European Males. These include Plato, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Newton and (presumably) Marx. The object seems to be the complete repudiation of the entire Western cultural tradition (tainted as it is with racism, sexism, etc) in favour of more “Politically Correct” alternatives.

In particular, mighty efforts are being made to “prove” that Western civilisation has its origin not in the Greeks but in black African sources. Similarly the science of Newton (and Einstein) is rejected in favour of “ethno-mathematics” and “feminist science”.

Now, it is certainly not my intention here to deny that mainstream education and culture has always downplayed the contributions of women and black people. In particular, the superiority of early Asian civilisation over European ones has been consistently ignored by most Western historians. And who knows what unrecorded contributions to culture and science were made in Africa over the centuries?

But that cannot detract from the fact (sorry to have to insist on prosaic old “facts”) that the highest achievements of art, literature, science, history and philosophy that we have on record tend to be the work of “DWEM”s. They are (or should be) everyone’s birthright.

To reject mainstream European culture because of racist, sexist societies that produced it, is to deny the working class and the oppressed their opportunity to arm themselves ideologically for the battle for a new, better society.

Ironically, the chief victims of the PC movement are black students. According to the Marxist historian of slavery, Eugene Genovese, “we have transformed our colleges from places of higher learning into places for the technical training of poorly prepared young men and women who need a degree to get a job in a college-crazy society”.

Meanwhile, young black people are ghettoised into Afro-American studies and their educational achievements devalued accordingly.

The PC relativists no doubt disdain such formal categories as “left” and “right” but my guess is that they would not object too strongly to being called “left wing”. In fact they are profoundly reactionary.

The exiled Iraqi architect Samir al-Khalil recently published a book (The Monument) which examines the role of art and architecture in Saddam’s military dictatorship. Khalil is especially scathing about Robert Venturi, the “post-modern” architect presently in the news because of his National Gallery extension.

Venturi was one of many Western architects who tried to make money from Saddam’s huge programme of grotesque public works, climaxing in the infamous “Victory Arch” based on giant replicas of Saddam’s own arms holding sabres. Khalil accuses Venturi of something more than simple greed and opportunism: his artistic prostitution is the direct result of his relativism.

I didn’t follow this line of argument at first, but then it fell into place. For the likes of Venturi, Saddam’s regime and the requirements it places upon arts and culture is just as acceptable as any other commission. You want grotesque, militaristic kitsch? You’ve got it! For Venturi there are no objective standards, either in aesthetics or in politics.

This is a particularly extreme example of “relativism”, and it would obviously be unfair to bracket all the PC movement adherents together with this particular charlatan.

But they are linked by a common philosophical approach, and it’s one that Marxists should fight tooth and nail.

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Women’s Day meeting in London

March 7, 2012 at 5:09 pm (Civil liberties, class, Cuts, Feminism, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, Iran, iraq, Jackie Mcdonough, London, Middle East, secularism, women, workers)

From Britain to the Middle East – women fight back!

A meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day, organized by Women’s
Fightback and the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq

7.15pm, Thursday 8 March
Room B102, Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies,
Thornaugh Street, London WC1H (Euston, Goodge Street or Russell Square tube)

Janine Booth, RMT National Exec and London Underground activist (pc)

Houzan Mahmoud, Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq
Dr Sami Zubaida, professor of politics and sociology, University of
Diba Ali Kani, Association in Support of Women in Iran
(more tbc)
Chair: Esther Townsend, Workers’ Liberty

The economic crisis since 2008 has seen both huge attacks on women’s rights and the growth of feminist organising and activism as a response. Women have been at the forefront of the protests in Britain, the huge strike waves in Greece, USA, across Europe, and the revolutionary movements still sweeping North Africa and the Middle East.

But we are also under severe threat, from the Tories’ cuts and bigoted moralism in Britain to the danger of Islamist counter-revolution in North Africa. At the same time, we face a struggle to make our own movements open, accessible and responsive to women, whether that’s the trade unions, Occupy movement, the student movement, or socialist organisations.

Come and join us for an evening of celebration and discussion about the fight for women’s liberation today.

For more information email or ring 07883 520 852

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Christmas Island refugee tragedy

December 16, 2010 at 9:42 pm (asylum, Australia, Human rights, immigration, iraq, Jim D)

Desperate flight: The boat had travelled from Indonesia with around 80 people on board. 50 are feared dead

Desperate: The boat  travelled from Indonesia with around 80 people on board. 50 feared dead

Next time you hear some asshole denouncing asylum seekers, remember this (and it applies to the UK as much as Australia): why would people risk their lives on unseaworthy boats, in the backs of unventilated trucks or the holds of planes,  to get out of hell-holes like Iraq and Afghanistan? Because they’re human beings who simply want half-way decent lives. The way advanced countries like the UK, France and Australia treat refugees is a disgrace. This tragedy should wake us all up. Yes, the people traffickers and gangmasters are out-and-out criminals. But the policies of advanced, democratic governments are also to blame; the Australian government’s ‘hard line’  hostility to immigrants, for instance:

The fact that there isn’t a welcome refugee policy…[makes] it  less likely that people on boats  are willing to contact  Australian authorities and to rendezvous [safely],” said Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition.

“Both victims and survivors saw the sea for the first time in their lives probably a week or so ago as they were mustered on some Indonesian beach to be loaded on board. The stories of these voyages are all much the same. The asylum seekers are terrified. They can’t swim. They retch the whole way, arriving dehydrated and exhausted – certainly in no shape to deal with the crisis they faced yesterday.

“Their cries for help woke people in the houses along the cliff. As they threw ropes and lifejackets they tried to signal the boat not to head for the rough waters of Flying Fish Cove. Smoke was pouring from the engine as the boat struck the rocks, rolled over and began to sink.

“It was too rough to launch rescue boats from the cove. Calls to dive-shop operators brought more lifejackets to throw over the cliff. But where, the islanders wondered, were the hundreds of lifejackets Immigration kept down at the wharf?”

Read more

And there’s background to this, in Australia’s hardline refugee policy, as today’s Independent points outWorkers Liberty of Australia has reported some background:

Australia’s shame: second asylum seeker suicide in two months

by Lynn Smith

An Iraqi asylum seeker, Ahmad, committed suicide at Villawood detention centre on Monday November 15.
Fellow detainees found the man hanging in a bathroom and took him down. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

Ahmad was 41 years old and had a wife and four children. He’d been in detention, on Christmas Island and in Villawood, for over a year.

He had been rejected twice under off-shore processing arrangements found to be invalid in a recent High Court decision.

“We’re shocked and very upset,” said one detainee, “People are crying. He knew about the High Court [decision] but there is no new policy.”

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said “a number of us visited Villawood on Sunday to let people know about the High Court decision which seemed to provide s small window of hope. But for some the wait is too long… they’ve given up”.

“Incidents of self harm are daily occurrences. There needs to be a full inquiry into Ahmad’s death and into mandatory detention itself: a system that’s literally killing people.

“In 2008 Labor declared detention was a last resort. But it’s the first and only resort for asylum seekers arriving by boat. There are people here who’ve been found to be refugees but are still waiting after 18 months. This is the second suicide in Villawood in just over two months” said Rintoul.

What the recent High Court decision on offshore processing means (not much)

On November 11 the High Court ruled in favour of  two asylum seekers who challenged the offshore processing system used to determine whether those who arrive by boat are given refugee status. While the decision is a slap in the face for the government, its legal effect is limited. It does not end offshore processing. It leaves excision and s46A of the Migration Act referring to “offshore entry persons” intact.

Federal Attorney General McClelland Robert has said that offshore processing will stay and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says the result is “interesting” and applies to “some cases”.

Refugees and suicide

The following is an extract from the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Causes of Death” survey, 2008.

Refugees who are bereaved or have post-traumatic stress are at risk of suicide.

Factors that increase the risk of attempting suicide include physical illness, poorly managed mental or physical symptoms, disorientation, exhaustion, little social support, alcoholism, history of depression or current depression, history of suicide attempts and unresolved grief.

In many cases, suicidal ideation or the method of suicide by refugees is related to stressful events, especially torture experienced by them.

There is evidence that self-harm, suicide and suicide attempts may occur when an asylum seeker’s application of permanent protection has been rejected, and he/she is asked to return to his/her country of origin.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) found suicide attempts by asylum seekers in detention are not infrequent, with ‘numerous examples of detainees attempting suicide or serious self-harm’. The rates of self-harm were high for people in the 26-35 age range and predominantly men16.
The methods used by children to self-harm can be quite dramatic.

Yet most Australians are sympathetic towards refugees

Eight out of 10 people said they’d help a refugee settle into their community, according to the results of an Australian Red Cross survey published on 21 June 2010.

The survey of 1,000 people across Australia also found 67% agreed that refugees have made a positive contribution to society.

“The community empathises with the plight of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner. “Australians can relate, with 86% of people surveyed saying they too would flee to a safe country if they lived in a conflict zone and were under threat.

“Refugees and asylum seekers are very resilient. In spite of the extreme hardships and suffering they may have endured, they make a positive contribution to Australian society, economically and culturally.

“On this evidence there appears to be a disconnect between the strong sympathy of the Australian public and the unsympathetic nature of much of the public debate around asylum seekers and refugees,” Mr Tickner said.

Where do the unions stand on this major civil rights issue?

In a press release earlier this year the ACTU called for “politicians to stay calm on asylum seekers and maintain a humane approach”.

“Australia must not deviate from a refugee policy that is humanitarian, compassionate, and pays respect to international law” said ACTU President Ged Kearney.

“The Government is in talks with other countries about hosting regional processing centres. Unions are yet to be convinced this is appropriate…. Care must be taken to ensure Australia’s international obligations are not breached.

“Unions strongly reject any attempt to demonise asylum seekers for political gain,” said Kearney. “Migration – including the humanitarian and refugee program – has played a great role in Australia’s growth and prosperity and will continue to do so”.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said unions have long supported a rational and informed public debate about immigration, population and asylum seekers based on facts.

“Politicians have a responsibility not to inflame division or misrepresent the facts, and to show leadership to counter views that would demonise asylum seekers or abrogate Australia’s international obligations,” he said.

This stuff is long on “motherhood” statements but very short on specifics. The union movement itself has the responsibility to show a strong lead here and not cow down in front the racist right, as ALP politicians from Gillard down seem to be doing.

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State of the Race: Burnham on Iraq

July 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm (anonymous, elections, iraq, labour party, Max Dunbar)

I like David Milliband but he’s a bit wonky, he makes me think of the ‘tiny head’ scene from The Thick of It, and that may not be what we need to win an election. Andy Burnham, however, comes across as a passionate and interested man, and the NS doesn’t seem to be able to handle him. When so many Labour leadership candidates fall over themselves to apologise for Iraq, and so much of the party has bought into the silo narrative, Burnham’s stance is refreshing.

You took a decision without having all the facts at your disposal.
On Iraq, I voted for it because the leader of the Iraqi Kurds pleaded with MPs to do that at a private meeting here before the war. I asked him outright: ‘Do you think weapons exist?’ And he said: ‘I don’t know, but our people will for ever be suppressed because we can’t be sure.’

And that was the problem with Saddam Hussein — to maintain his grip over his own people, he had to maintain the pretence that he had them. That’s why he had to frustrate [the UN weapons inspector Hans] Blix. He couldn’t let him finish his work, because the minute he finished his work and the world was told he didn’t have any weapons would have been the moment Saddam would have been drummed out of power. I believe there would have been a civil war, which would have been problematic in a different way. The root cause of all this was the failure to remove him at the end of the first Gulf war. And I think the world, because of that, was going to have to come back to the Iraq question.

You say that if Hans Blix’s inspection had run its course and he’d said, ‘Actually the WMDs don’t exist,’ there would have been a civil war, but that’s exactly how it ended up anyway.
It was certainly bloody and it was certainly ugly, there’s no getting away from that. The question is now: is Iraq in a better position than it was? Does it have hope of a better future than it did? Is there more order in the country than would otherwise have been the case? Does the government have more of a chance of making a success of itself in the medium to long term? The answer to those questions is: yes, it does, it has hope of rebuilding itself and not becoming a failed state. And that, for me, justifies the decision, hard as it was.

Is it easier to move on with someone who didn’t vote for the war?
I do feel there is a need to take the party beyond the damaging argument we’ve been through. I’m proposing that, as leader, I will set up a commission on military intervention in the party, in the wider Labour family and also drawing in representation from civic society, to look at Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan. The central question is: what, where and under which circumstances should the Labour Party give its endorsement to military intervention? So, essentially, what it would be trying to do is develop a framework for intervention.

I sense you have a view on that already.
I’m not articulating a doctrine of intervention; it’s not a neocon view, it’s absolutely not that. It’s simply that I fear Labour could get it wrong, coming away from Iraq and saying: ‘Never again.’ If you look back at Kosovo and Sierra Leone, while the intervention in Iraq is much more contested and disputed, there are people in Kosovo and Sierra Leone who are, to this day, joyous that the Labour government took a moral lead. Labour cannot give up on that moral lead, which improves lives and upholds human rights. My worry would be, yes, we learned a lesson from Iraq and the [conclusion of the] Chilcot inquiry will be a sobering moment for Labour, but you can’t then [allow] the pendulum [to] swing right back and say: ‘We can never do that again. We’ve now become a country that doesn’t play its role on the world stage.’

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