The late Robin Williams was, by all accounts, a good guy. He was certainly on our side:
I was going to write a spoof article, loosely based upon the oeuvre of the Graun‘s Shameless Milne, blaming “the West” and the “fascist” Ukraine government for the MH17 atrocity. But I see that Mr John Wight of Socialist Unity (and Russia Today) has saved me the trouble. Only I fear Mr Wight’s piece is intended to be taken seriously. I republish it here as an (perhaps extreme) example of the crass stupidity, hypocrisy, pig-ignorance and wilful denial of reality that continues to infect sections of the so-called “left” when it comes to international affairs:
By John Wight (pictured above)
The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine is a terrible tragedy. Almost 300 people have been killed in the most awful circumstances and though it is self evident that a full and thorough investigation must follow to find out what happened, its conclusions will be scant comfort to the families and loved ones of those who perished.
That said, the mind boggles that a civilian passenger aircraft should be flying anywhere near a war zone, especially one in which fighter jets, military aircraft, and military transport aircraft are playing such a key role in hostilities.
The alacrity with which Washington and its allies have sought to exploit this tragedy to attack Russia is as unedifying as it’s despicable. Whoever was responsible for downing the Malaysian passenger jet, it was clearly an accident. Moreover, the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite efforts to argue otherwise, is the toppling of the last legitimate democratically elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich by an armed mob in Kiev in February, in which avowed fascists and neo-Nazis played a key role. Those fascists now occupy ministerial offices in the regime led by Petro Poroshenko and are prevalent in the violence that has been visited on the people in the east of the country, who have risen up in resistance to Kiev and its sponsors in the West.
The need for a political solution to the conflict is beyond dispute, and has been for some time now. The Russian government has been calling for a de-escalation in hostilities since the ill fated Geneva peace conference back in April, and has shown remarkable restraint in holding back from mounting a military intervention in response to the Poroshenko regime’s brutal military assault on Ukrainian citizens across its western border with tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters.
Let’s be clear: if Russia decided to deploy its military forces against those of Kiev it would crush them in a matter of hours. Sadly, though, when it comes to the US and its allies restraint when it comes to war and conflict is anathema. Indeed, the very word has been stricken from the dictionary where they are concerned. Consequently, Russia’s restraint has been taken for weakness, evidenced in a ramping up of the conflict since Poroshenko’s election as President of western Ukraine in May.
The recent signing of an association agreement between the EU and the regime in Kiev has brought the EU into disrepute. Just think about this for a moment: the EU has entered a state into its ranks which is bathed in the blood of its own citizens.
The pressure being brought to bear against Russia, exploiting this tragedy as a pretext, shouldn’t blind anyone as to the role of the West in fomenting and prolonging the ongoing military conflict for its own geopolitical interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine – their crimes would shame all the devils in hell.
Only when Washington and its allies understand that their days of uncontested hegemony and unipolarity are over will there be a chance for a new global framework in which respect for national sovereignty and international law is returned to prominence and upheld as the non negotiable arbiter of international affairs and foreign policy. The alternative is more conflict and more of the chaos we are witnessing today.
This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:
BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:
How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.
An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”
The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.
Can anyone explain the logic behind this?
H/t: Comrade Pete
From the +972 website:
Attacks by Jewish hooligans on Arabs, unprecedented incitement by right-wing politicians and clashes between Israeli Police and Arab youth. We’ve been here before, but never like this.
By Ron Gerlitz
This article is written at the height of an extensive, violent escalation in the Jewish-Arab conflict, both within Israel and between Israel and the Palestinians in the territories and the Gaza Strip.
Regarding the events inside Israel, it is important to note the dramatic difference between the events of October 2000 and those of the past week. In October 2000, it was Arab citizens of Israel confronting the police. In contrast, during the past week, Jewish and Arab civilians have faced off and attacked each other. The majority of these incidents involved assault and manifestations of racism by Jewish Israelis against Arab Israelis.
Unfortunately, such attacks are not a new phenomenon, but their scope over the last week is unprecedented. This is not just an escalation – it is an entirely new reality. We have never been in a situation in which attacks against Arab civilians occurred daily and all over Israel. The following is a collection of statements I heard from a firsthand source in the last few days: “Death to Arabs” marches in the streets of Nazareth Illit night after night, gangs of Jewish hooligans roaming the Jerusalem streets and beating Arabs, violent attacks against Arabs on buses, and, in Pardes Hanna, dozens of young people entered a mall screaming “Death to Arabs.” Furthermore, there have been innumerable incidents of profanity against Arabs.
No one comes out unscathed
I didn’t comprehend the scope of this phenomenon from the media, but rather from the fact that every single Arab citizen I have met recently (and I meet many) has told me about an incident that happened to him or to his family. One tells me that someone cursed at his daughter on the bus: “Filthy Arab, get out of here, all of you.” Another one tells me that she went to a clothing store and heard from an Arab worker that all the Arab employees had been fired that day. A friend tells me that his daughter went to the mall where some people (who didn’t realize she was Arab) told her, “All Arabs are dogs.” A colleague who lives near a main thoroughfare in a Jewish town says that a bag of sand was thrown at her house; since then, she has not let her children go out to the yard. Everyone has a story from the last week, and I haven’t yet mentioned the shock waves created by the brutal murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
The result is that Israel’s Arab citizens sense a tremendous fear on a daily basis. Many of them avoid public areas; some have stopped showing up for work at shopping malls or riding public transportation, or they have prohibited their children from doing so. For many Arab citizens, the past week represents a turning point. Fear for their lives and their children’s lives have become a tangible, daily experience. This fear, in turn, gets linked to the insult and anger at the horrendous conditions in which they find themselves. The combination of increasing fear, anger, and sense of indignity is bad news for all residents of this country.
At the same time—and this is also important to point out—there have been attacks by Arabs on Jews: stones thrown at buses on the roads, Molotov cocktails thrown at passing cars, and, in the case that could well become symbolic—checking “who is a Jew” at the entrance to Qalanswa, taking Jewish drivers out of their cars, beating them, and setting their cars on fire. Even though these incidents are much smaller in scope than the attacks against Arabs, they are still a form of violence that is dangerous and morally repugnant. It is only by chance that these events have not yet resulted in casualties, and they have certainly increased the sense of fear and hatred among Jews.
On a personal note: I have worked on the issue of Jewish-Arab relations for a long time. I deal with issues of discrimination and racism, which evoke all kinds of feelings in me, such as anger, exasperation, frustration and a motivation to take action. We now find ourselves in a situation in which Arab citizens are genuinely afraid to walk in the streets, and rightfully so: when they do go out, they may well be verbally abused, or, in the worst case, be physically attacked. This causes me great shame.
And now for the bad news
I usually refrain from drawing pessimistic pictures of the future, but even according to the most cautious approach, it seems that the Jewish-Arab conflict in Israel might have entered a new and dangerous stage. Systematic discrimination by the establishment and popular racism have been some of the fundamental elements of the conflict to date. It seems that another element will now be added: violent conflicts between Jewish and Arab citizens. This is a nightmarish scenario that, unfortunately, no longer seems so imaginary. This is how civil wars in other regions of the world began. All those who value life must do everything in their power to stop this.
Where is the police?
As things stand now, the police have failed utterly to protect Israel’s Arab citizens. It is true that the police have prevented the lynching of Arabs wherever they have been on the scene, but the police do not work systematically to protect Arab lives. Many of the Arabs have been abandoned to the screaming, cursing and beating, and they are lucky that non-racist Jewish Israelis have saved them from the racists.
But it is also worth examining the protests in the Arab towns that included violent attacks on the police and sometimes on Jews as well. The difference between these events and those of October 2000 is clear. The police should now be roundly criticized: for the profusion of arrests, for the consistent and systematically discriminatory treatment of Arab protesters, and the suppression of demonstrations.
At the same time, it should be noted that the violent demonstrations transpired without any shots fired by the police or any casualties. Someone must have given the order to do everything to avoid shooting at the Arab protesters—and the order was carried out. Even though the police endured stones being thrown at them and the roads were closed, they managed to get through all the events without any casualties. In this sense, the police internalized and implemented the lessons of the October 2000 events. This is a positive development in the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens, and an example of how some of the recommendations made by the Or Commission were actually put in place. The police do not deserve a prize, but Noam Sheizaf was apparently right when he said they deserve a good word [Hebrew]. I would add: if only the Border Police and IDF acted this way toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories, many deaths could have been prevented.
There is leadership, and then there is leadership
The local Arab municipal leadership also deserves a good word. In almost all the localities where demonstrations took place, the heads of the local authorities intervened to prevent deterioration into even greater violence. Many of them went into the streets at night to try and prevent an escalation, and there is no doubt that they helped restore calm. At the time of writing, criticism of the heads of these local authorities is being voiced in Arab society. I do not share this criticism. Without their involvement, protestors or police officers may have been killed, and the situation would quickly have escalated from there.
Such an escalation would harm the Arab struggle to attain equality and break Jewish hegemony. At best, it would, strengthen, preserve and reinforce existing patterns of discrimination; at worst, it would contribute significantly to an additional infringement upon the rights of Arab citizens. All this is, of course, in the best-case scenario, in which the escalation does not lead to a civil war or an ongoing bloodbath.
Over the next few days, demonstrations are expected to take place in Arab localities. Both sides—the protesters and the police—will come with much more hatred and anger. One side sees its people subjected to nonstop bombings in Gaza, with more than 100 casualties and counting. The other side has to cope with protesters who, they believe, support the enemy even as their own families take cover in bomb shelters. This is a very dangerous scenario. The next few nights will be a litmus test for both the police and the Arab leadership.
In contrast to the local Arab leadership and the police – who have managed to cool down the flames – is the Israeli government. Not only is the government taking no action to reduce the escalation inside Israel, the past week has seen ministers fomenting provocation against Arab citizens. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett have let fly harsh, racist statements directed at Arab citizens. Liberman, as usual, suggested that Arabs should be denied their citizenship.
After a weekend of violence between Arab citizens and the police and between Jews and Arabs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself chose to address Arab citizens. He reminded them that they receive payments from the National Insurance Institute and made all kinds of demands of them in return. It is hard to conceive of a more wretched, divisive, and dangerous response by a prime minister in these times.
But it is easy to think of a much better response. No need to think hard, just read the words of President-elect Reuven Rivlin:
We must understand that we have no option other than living together. The bloodshed will only come to an end when we all realize that we are not doomed to live together, but destined to live together. Any vacillation or compromise on this issue will result in deteriorated relations that could result in tragedy, not only for shared life, but for life itself.
So what now?
I have not given up hope. I still believe that there can be a better future for the relationship between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. At times like these, I once again hold fast to the awareness (which I have also written about here) that ethnic conflicts far more intransigent and violent than this one have been resolved, while conflicts that seemed mild have declined into bloodshed. All options are on the table.
This is not the first time that I am ending an article with the words of the Arab citizen of Israel, Raef Zreik, which now seem more important than ever:
My optimism does not stem from the belief that one can decipher history’s hidden plan or hasten its evolution. My optimism is more modest: it is the result not of clear analytical thinking but of historical experience. Experience teaches us that sometimes—but only sometimes—there are also historical tales with a happy end. History also teaches us that this end is not happenstance; rather, there were those who toiled to bring it about. And it is worth remembering: Just as we have no assurance of success, neither is there any certainty of failure.
Read this post in Hebrew on Local Call.
Ron Gerlitz is Co-Executive Director of Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel.
This is so desperately sad that I thought twice about publishing it. But it’s important to be aware of the immediate human consequences of young men being seduced by a fascist ideology – especially as some idiots seem to wilfully misunderstand what’s going on.
From the Daily Telegraph:
By Tom Whitehead
Young British jihadist Reyaad Khan was told he was “killing his parents” and had turned them against Islam, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.
His uncle texted the fanatic pleading with him to come home because he was tearing his family apart.
The stark message also warned Khan that his father would “pray he went to hell” if he did not come home.
The desperate attempts to get Khan back emerged as his mother Rukia made an emotional plea to her son to come home.
She also pleaded directly to terror group Isis to send her son back to her before she “died”.
Khan’s family said they were in shock when they discovered he had gone to Syria and believe he has been “brainwashed” by extremists, either over the internet or in Cardiff
He disappeared in November after telling his family he was going to Birmingham for talks.
He phoned his uncle, who asked not to be named, to reveal he was actually in Syria and asked him to “tell his mother”.
The uncle then embarked on a series of text message exchanges trying to persuade his nephew to return.
In one, he wrote: “I must let you know that you are killing your parents with worry and stress to the level that they hate Islam.
“Blame Islam for their son.”
He told him that his father had said “If you do not come back he prays for you to go to hell.
“Your dad curses you in a way you would not believe and hates the mosques.”
But Khan simply replied: “I’m fine. No reception, I cannot speak.”
The uncle told the Telegraph: “I was shocked and told him he should be here. I said to come back home now. I said ‘come home, you will kill your mother’.”
The uncle said he could not tell Khan’s mother at first “because she would have collapsed”.
She was devastated by the news and was “acting mad and screaming”, he said. “She was blaming everyone.”
In her own tearful appeal, Mrs Khan said: “Reyaad, please come back home. I’m dying for you. You’re my only son. Please come back Reyaad.”
She also begged Isis: “Please send my son back home. He is my one and only son. I and my family need him back. Please just send my son back to me before I die and it is going to be too late for Reyaad, he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life.
“Please send my son back to me and his family. We all need him.”
She told Sky News: “He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever have or want.
“I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don’t know who it is but there is someone behind them keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people. There is someone behind them, I don’t know who.”
The mother said the actions of her 20-year-old son had hugely impacted on her family.
“It is absolutely devastating. It has turned our lives upside down. I can’t sleep or eat, I am very ill,” she said.
Like most people, I’m watching in horror as Iraq disintegrates and the Islamist barbarians of ISIS continue to gain ground. I have no particularly profound insights to offer at the moment, so would recommend readers to check out the ever-reliable Juan Cole at the aptly-titled Informed Comment blog, and one Kyle Orton at this interesting blog, previously unknown to me.
In an extraordinary outburst of anti-American philistinism, Michael Gove seeks to remove Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice And Men’, and Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from the GCSE curriculum. What a disgrace!
‘Of Mice and Men’ may not be Steinbeck’s greatest novel, but it’s still a major work. The final scene is one of the most moving pieces of literature you’ll ever read, to be set alongside the best of Dickens, but without the mawkish sentimentality: Steinbeck’s terse, straightforward prose prevents that.
The book was originally going to be called ‘Something Happened’, which sums up Steinbeck’s approach to story telling. Like the book that preceded it, ‘In Dubious Battle’ and the book that followed, ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, this is about itinerant agricultural labourers in 1930’s Carlifornia. But unlike those two books, there is little overt social or political context: it’s essentially a story of friendship, hope and loss. It’s a great modern tragedy and that final scene remains the only piece of fiction I have ever read that can, without fail, make me cry.
Lennie looked eagerly at him. “Go on, George. Ain’t you gonna give me more hell?”
“No” said George.
“Well, I can go away,” said Lennie. “I’ll go right off in the hills an’ find a cave if you don’t want me.”
George shook himself again. “No,” he said. “I want you to stay with me here.”
Lennie said craftily – “Tell me like you done before.”
“Tell you what?”
“‘Bout the other guys an’ about us.”
George said, “Guys like us got no fambly. They make a little stake an’ then they blow it in. They got nobody in the worl’ that gives a hoot in hell about ‘em -“
“But not us,” Lennie cried happily. “Tell about us now.”
George was quiet for a moment. “But not us,” he said.
“Because – “
“Because I got you an’ – “
“An’ I got you. We got each other, that’s what, that gives a hoot in hell about us,” Lennie cried in triumph.
The little evening breeze blew over the clearing and the leaves rustled and the wind waves flowed up the green pool. And the shouts of the men sounded again, this time much closer than before.
George took off his hat. He said shakily, “Take off your hat, Lennie. The air feels fine.”
Lennie removed his hat dutifully and laid it on the ground in front of him. The shadow in the valley was bluer, and the evening came fast. On the wind the sound of crashing in the brush came to them.
Lennie said, “Tell how it’s gonna be.”
George had been listening to the distant sounds. For a moment he was business-like. “Look across the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.”
Lennie turned his head and looked across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and the skull were joined.
A man’s voice called from up the river, and another man answered.
“Go on,” said Lennie.
George raised the gun and his hand shook, and he dropped his hand to the ground again.
“Go on,” said Lennie. “How it’s gonna be. We gonna get a little place.”
“We’ll have a cow,” said George. “An’ we’ll have maybe a pig an’ chickens…an’ down the flat we’ll have a…little piece alfalfa – “
“For the rabbits, ” Lennie shouted.
“For the rabbits,” George repeated.
“And I get to tend the rabbits.”
“And you get to tend the rabbits.”
Lennie giggled with happiness. “An’ live off the fatta the lan’.”
Lennie turned his head
“No, Lennie. Look down across the river, like you can almost see the place.”
Lennie obayed him. George looked down at the gun.
There were crashing footsteps in the brush now! George turned and looked towards them.
“Go on, George. When we gonna do it?”
“Gonna do it soon.”
“Me an’ you.”
“You…an’ me. Ever’body gonna be nice to you. Ain’t gonna be no more trouble. Nobody gonna hurt nobody nor steal from ‘em.”
Lennie said, “I thought you was mad at me, George.”
“No,” said George. “No, Lennie. I ain’t mad. I never been mad, an’ I ain’t now. That’s a thing I want ya to know.”
The voices came close now. George raised the gun and listened to the voices.
Lennie begged, “Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”
And George raised the gun and steadied it, and he brought the muzzle of it close to the back of Lennie’s head. The hand shook violently, but his face set and his hand steadied. He pulled the trigger. The crash of the shot rolled up the hills and rolled down again. Lennie jarred, and then settled slowly forward to the sand, and he lay without quivering.
George shivered and looked at the gun, and then he threw it from him, back up the bank, near the pile of old ashes.
The brush seemed filled with cries and with the sound of running feet. Slim’s voice shouted, “George. Where you at, George?”
But George sat stiffly on the bank and looked at his right hand that had thrown the gun away. The group burst into the clearing and Curley was ahead. He saw Lennie lying on the sand. “Got him, by God.” He went over and looked down at Lennie, and then looked back at George. “Right in the back of the head,” he said softly.
Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. “Never you mind,” said Slim. “A guy got to sometimes.”
But Carlson was standing over George. “How’d you do it?” he asked.
“I just done it,” George said tiredly.
“Did he have my gun?”
“Yeah. He had your gun.”
“An’ you got it away from him and you took it an’ you killed him?”
“Yeah. Tha’s how.” George’s voice was almost a whisper. He looked steadily at his right hand that had held the gun.
Slim twitched George’s elbow. “Come on, George. Me an’ you’ll go in an’ get a drink.”
George let himself be helped to his feet. “Yeah, a drink.”
Slim said, “You hadda, George. I swear you hadda. Come on with me.” He led George to the entrance of the trail and up towards the highway.
Curley and Carson looked after them. And Carlson said, “Now what the hell you suppose is eatin’ them two guys?”
by Kıvanç Eliaçık
On 13th of May 2014 Turkey [was] faced with the biggest coal mine explosion in the country’s history. It is reported that there are more than thousand mine workers trapped inside the privately owned mine and death toll rises every single second. More than 230 mine workers died, is the last information we have received. There is a 15 years old boy, Kemal Yıldız among the deceased and more than 80 injured mine workers and rescue team members are at the hospital.
Unfortunately, there are no healthy official announcements about the death toll and the cause of the accident from the authorities. The families of the mine workers are waiting anxiously in front of the collapsed pit or in front of the hospital, hoping to hear that their loved ones are rescued.
The district of Soma is known for its coal mines, it won’t be wrong to say that Soma is the heart of coal mines. After privatization of the mines for many years, so many occupational accidents have been erupted. Coal mines are just an example to the rest of the occupational accidents that have been going on for a long time in other industrial sectors in Turkey. To give some numbers, the occupational accidents have increased by 40 per cent from 2002 to 2011 in Turkey. This number is too high to be disregarded. The main reasons for the increase of occupation accidents are the widely used system of subcontracting, lack of occupational health and safety measures and inadequate inspection of work places by the authorities.
In order to draw attention of the government on this issue, a Member of the Parliament from the main opposition party, CHP, Özgür Özel, presented a motion to research to the Parliament about the occupational accidents and security measures in the district of Soma recently. This motion was denied with the votes of the ruling party.
Soma Holding is the owner of the coal mine in the district of Soma in Manisa province. Reportedly, there has been an inspection recently in the mine where the accident has occurred. The inspectors, then, concluded that all the practices and the technology that was used in the mine were in line with the relevant legislations. However, still today, the company could not even announce the number of workers who were inside the mine at the time of the accident. This raises the question of the approved technology and its appropriateness, not even talking about the inspection itself.
Soma Holding is a ‘redevance’ company which means that the privately owned mine is run by “rental in return of coal” system. The cost per ton of coal was 130 -140 US dollars before Soma Holding acquired the mine but the company decreased the cost per ton of coal to 23.8 US dollars after the acquisition. It is clearly seen that the company transferred the profit it earned from the mines to the construction sector. The company is also the owner of the famous skyscraper in Istanbul, named as Spine Tower. Most of the workers are either unregistered or they work for minimum wage.
The government officials, local authorities and mainstream media try to conceal the death tolls and even announce misleading and unrealistic numbers. Repeated information on the company’s undisputed record of security measures and occupational safety is being shared with public, reminding that coal mine accidents are unavoidable. It is unjust and unacceptable when the Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan makes a press conference after 24 hours of the accident and said that: “these accidents are usual.”
Just a week ago Ministry of Labor and Social Security organized an International Occupational Health and Safety Symposium. The Minister bragged about the improvements of occupational health and security measures in Turkey, and accused the trade unions for not contributing to the issue. It is important to remember that on May Day this year, he authorities have blocked all the streets and impeded the trade unionists to raise the issue of occupational health and safety publicly on May Day events.
Today trade unions are organizing actions in work places and city centers. ITUC and ETUC members DISK and KESK Confederations, together with TMMOB, The Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects and TTB, Turkish Medical Association announced a countrywide general strike for tomorrow. The unionists, activists, students and workers are gathering in Taksim and in front of the company’s headquarters in protests tomorrow, to remind the duties and responsibilities of government officials on occupational health and safety and to end subcontracting that leads to violating workers’ rights.
According to trade unions in Turkey, there is a system of subcontracting, there is a system of maximizing profit rather than humanity and also there is system of seeing workers’ health and occupational safety as cost items. The company is not the sole responsible of the murders but the authorities who have not conducted the necessary and appropriate inspections are also associates in crime.
We have hope, we wait for good news… But we also mourn… Merle Travis is singing his song ‘16 tons’ for Soma miners; St. Peter, don’t you call me, ’cause I can’t go / I owe my soul to the company store
Above: Jean-Paul Samputu, who lost his family, sings and talks about the genocide
The tragic events surrounding the Rwandan genocide of 1994 must never be forgotten. They are a major reason why some of us despise the isolationists of the right and the so-called “anti-imperialist” “left.” It occurs to me that a new generation of socialists has grown up largely unaware of these events, and miseducated by the isolationism -in-principle of people like the ‘Stop the War Coalition.’
The following is a modified and edited version of the account written by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head in their book War Crimes and Atrocities (Futura, 2007):
In a period of 13 weeks from 6 April 1994, about half a million people perished in a mass slaughter of the minority Tutsi population of Rwanda, a tiny country in Central Africa. Thousands of the majority Hutus were also slain for opposing the killings
Rwanda’s population is divided into two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus are the more numerous and are by tradition crop growers and farmers. Over the centuries, Hutus have encouraged Tutsis from northern Africa to come and work in Rwanda and, for over 600 years, the two groups shared the same language, culture and nationality.
Rwanda was first colonised by the Germans, but during World War I it was taken over by the Belgians, who caused a rift between the two groups by granting preferential status to the Tutsis. Then European missionaries added a further twist, by encouraging the Hutus to fight back, resulting in the loss of over 100,00 lives in a rebellion in 1956. Three years later the Hutus had seized power and over 200,000 Tutsis retreated to neighbouring countries where they formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an army dedicated to taking on the Hutus.
When Rwanda became independent in 1962, the Hutus took power, but were constantly fearful of Tutsi retaliation, which eventually came in 1990, when the RPF attacked, forcing the then-president to sign a power-sharing agreement that was never properly implemented due to Hutu opposition. The situation was made even worse when a plane carrying the Burundi president (a Hutu) was shot down.
Aware that the fragile ceasefire was about to crumble, the UN sent a peacekeeping force of about 2,500 multinational soldiers, but by this time the majority of Hutus, including much of their political and religious leadership, had decided that the Tutsis had assassinated their president and that the only solution was to annihilate the entire Tutsi population.
In April 1994, amid ever-increasing threats of violence, the Rwandan president, Habyarimana and the new Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, held peace talks with the Tutsi rebels. But disaster struck on 6 April, when the small plane carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Kigali airport. Their deaths plunged Rwanda into a frenzied state of political violence, leading to genocide.
Just 24 hours after the plane was shot down, road-blocks started to appear on the roads around Kigali, manned by the Interahamwe militia. The Interahamwe (meaning ‘Those Who Stand/Fight Together’) was the most effective of the Hutu militias. They identified Tutsis and hacked them to death with machetes. Tutsis who could afford to pay were given the option of dying by a bullet. Specially organised death squads, working from prepared lists, went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in Kigali. Not only did they round up all the Tutsis, but they picked on moderate Hutus as well, including prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana: he was guarded by Belgian UN guards, who the attackers arrested, tortured and then killed, causing Belgium to withdraw the remainder of its UN troops.
The violence spread like wildfire from Kigali. Via the radio, the government urged Tutsis to congregate at churches, schools and stadiums, promising that they would make these safe places of refuge. Little did the Tutsis know that by gathering in large groups they in fact made themselves easy targets. Some of the victims managed to ward off attacks by using sticks and stones — until the joint forces of the Rwandan army and presidential guard were brought in to wipe them out with machine guns and grenades. In just two weeks, by 21 April, it is generally estimated that about 250,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, making this one of the most concentrated acts of genocide ever.
What made the genocide even more atrocious is the fact that it was encouraged by government and church officials, who even bribed the killers to do their dirty work. Local officials and leaders of Anglican and Catholic churches conspired with the killers and in many cases took an active part in the slaughter. Men, women, children and babies were killed in their thousands in schools and churches where, tragically, they had gathered in the hope of finding sanctuary. The victims had to bear the knowledge that they were being killed by people they knew — neighbours, fellow workers, sometimes even relatives by marriage.
The Interahamwe weren’t driven by drink, drugs or even mindless bloodlust, but a fanatical devotion to their cause. They were cold-blooded killers who were urged on by the media and by the government. Participants were often given incentives, such as money or food, and were even told they could keep the land of the Tutsis they killed.
The radio was important in spreading the killing. Even the poorest households would possess a radio and people would listen intently to government broadcasts. When Hutus heard the voices coming through the radio calling on them to “kill, kill. kill the Tutsi minority”, they responded accordingly.
The genocide was initially aimed mainly at young male Tutsis who could have been members of the RPF guerrilla force. However, as the days went by women and children also became victims. Survivors later told stories of being aped by individuals or gangs, sometimes using sharpened sticks or gun barrels. Sometimes they were sexually mutilated or forced into “marriages” that made them a sex slaves.
The killing didn’t stop until July when the RPF finally managed to capture Kigali, causing the collapse of the government. A ceasefire was declared as soon as the Hutus realised that the RPF was victorious, and an estimated two million Hutus fled to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). It wasn’t until the killing stopped that UN troops and aid workers arrived in significant numbers — while it was going on there had been just a token and entirely impotent UN presence.
Why was it that while the genocide was happening the international community deserted Rwanda? Erratic media coverage conveyed the false notion of two ‘tribes’ of African ‘savages’ mindlessly killing each other as they had done for many years. As a result there was little public pressure in the West for governments to intervene. Controversy has raged ever since over the role (or lack of it) of foreign governments and the UN in allowing the genocide to proceed. It wasn’t until 7 April 2000, the sixth anniversary of the massacre, that Belgium’s prime minister apologised for the international community’s failure to intervene. He told an audience at the site of a memorial that, “A dramatic combination of negligence, incompetence and hesitation created the conditions for the tragedy.”
Linda Melvin, in the Guardian, points out that General Roméo Dallaire, the UN force commander in Rwanda in 1994 had wanted just 5,500 reinforcements to stand guard at places where desperate people were sheltering; this would have sent a clear signal to the machete-wielding Interahamwe that the world would not stand for their brutality.
Melvin concludes her important piece as follows:
The 20th commemoration of the genocide sees fine words spoken by all and it seems timely to reflect on why Rwanda was so quickly abandoned to its fate in 1994. There has never been a satisfactory explanation for the indifference over Rwanda. Western governments – the US, UK, Belgium, France – continue to withhold a wealth of information about events. Neither the US nor the UK, two permanent members of the UN security council, has ever answered accusations of a failure to abide by obligations under the 1948 genocide convention, nor revealed the information on which their decisions were based. The failure to critically examine the role of ministers and officials has further encouraged the sort of secretive and unaccountable decision-making that will no doubt shroud the decision-makers today and those who sit and read the cables.
With no official inquiry by either the US or the UK, blame for inaction over the genocide has simply slipped away from the officials and politicians responsible. This might be a suitable time to find out why the UK government was so determined in the security council that Dallaire’s UN peacekeepers be withdrawn from Rwanda, leaving behind a “token force” in order to “appease public opinion” – not to protect civilians but to try to negotiate a ceasefire in the civil war.
Since 1994 there has been an almost continuous series of debates, studies and resolutions on the failure over Rwanda. These have shown how little true humanitarianism there is at the heart of states that both possess abundant resources and profess a commitment to human rights. Nothing has changed.
Extreme weather and flooding having become a highly-charged political issue in the UK. So I thought Bessie Smith’s blues (superbly accompanied by pianist James P. Johnson) about the flooding of New Orleans in 1927 might be appropriate:
This is dedicated to all the people of the ‘Somerset Levels’ who’ve had to suffer so much over the past weeks. I’d also like to dedicate it to Lord Chris Smith of the Environmental Agency, a decent man whose monumentally inept handling of the situation and lack of PR skills are making it increasingly likely that he’s going to be made the scapegoat for this fiasco.
But, for now, let’s just enjoy Bessie’s incredible voice…