Victory! The Sukula Family Wins Indefinite Leave to Remain!!!

March 31, 2008 at 8:39 am (anonymous, asylum, good people, immigration, TWP)

Victories for those of us who are supporters of social justice are so rare these days that I wanted to share with the readers of Shiraz the excellent news about the Sukula Family. This is reprinted from the Permanent Revolution website by Jason Travis who was an active and central member of the campaign:

Sukula Family- Massive Trade Union and Community Campaign Wins Right to Stay

On 27th March almost three years after the start of the campaign the Sukulas, a Bolton family of asylum seekers who fled the civil war in the Congo, finally received the news that they’d been given indefinite leave to remain.

Over 3000 people have supported the campaign that has also had the support of Unison, the NUT, the NUJ and other unions.

The Sukulas were one of the first families to have all benefits withdrawn under the notorious Section 9 that the government had hoped would drive families out of Britain by taking away their homes, their benefits and even their children who would be placed into the care of social services with the adults made destitute and homeless.

The campaign declared that if any attempts were made to evict the Sukulas we would form a physical blockade around the house to prevent either eviction or deportation. We gained support of local unions and Bolton Unison backed social workers who refused to initiate care proceedings purely because of government imposed destitution. This stance was backed by the British Association of Social Workers and later Unison nationally.

As a result of this defiance by workers and the massive community support, taken up by the local paper the Bolton News, the council refused to evict the Sukulas. Following this another ten Greater Manchester councils and then councils in Yorkshire made a similar commitment to refuse to evict families of failed asylum seekers. The Sukulas themselves lived 17 months without benefits living only on community support and proceeds from the campaign (which is therefore several hundred pounds in debt). Hundreds demonstrated against the Act and led by the Sukula campaign Section 9 was smashed!

In addition we successfully campaigned against Flores Sukula being expelled from Bolton Soxth Form College- purely on grounds of being a failed asylum seeker- with Bolton NUT and the NUS threatening a campaign of massive publicity and protest of the college authorities didn’t back down. We also, through trade union support, demonstration and threatened pickets prevented the forced dispersal of the Sukulas to Liverpool.

We feel that as a consequence of the Sukula campaign, together with a growing number of similar campaigns around the country, the government had to back down and settle thousands of asylum cases, the so-called legacy cases. If we had not assembled a range of trade union and community activists prepared to take militant action up to and including physical blockades then the government would not have its policy on families left in tatters.

There is however still a lot to do. We have always from day one campaigned against all deportations- of men, women, children of anyone. This is why we have supported the No One is Illegal trade union conferences, the second of which met 29th March 2008 with some hundred trade unionists planning action to oppose immigration controls and organise migrant workers.

We demand the right to work and have continually pushed for a national network of trade unionists and community campaigns prepared to take physical action and strike action to defend migrants and refuse to implement immigration controls. We need a network of parents, teachers, other education workers and students to declare schools are no deportation zones. But we also need community campaigns with the ability to mount emergency defence pickets and we need trade unions to recruit all workers- documented or otherwise- to demand the right to work and organise at trade union agreed rates and to turn the success of exemplary campaigns like the Sukulas into a national movement of defiance to smash all immigration controls.

The family and campaign thanks everyone who has supported us and will continue to fight against all deportations.

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Maxim Gorky on…Buddy Rich?

March 31, 2008 at 12:30 am (jazz, Jim D, literature, music, wild man)

Gorky didn’t like jazz; in a 1928 article he described it thus:

“An idiotic little hammer knocks drily: one, two, three, ten, twenty knocks. Then, like a clod of mud thrown into crystal-clear water, there is wild screaming, hissing, rattling, wailing, moaning, cackling. Bestial cries are heard: neighing horses, the squeal of a brass pig, crying jackasses, amorous quacks of a monstrous toad…this excruciating medley of brutal sounds is subordinated to a barely perceptible rhythm. Listening to this screaming music for a minute or two, one conjures up an orchestra of madmen, sexual maniacs, led by a man-stallion beating time with an enormous phallus.”

Did Gorky have a premonition of the Buddy Rich (b: 30 Sept 1917; d: 2 April 1987) Orchestra?

Belated hat-tip (from 2002): Dan Augustine

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The wisdom of the Fat Man

March 30, 2008 at 10:24 pm (blogging, blogosphere, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, Marxism, politics, socialism)

The second most interesting writer to ever have been employed by the University of Hull, reviews Andrew Anthony’s book The Fall Out. I’m not particularly interested in Anthony’s book (as the Fat Man says, it “covers little new ground that has not been explored in more detail by others, such as Nick Cohen and Paul Berman“). But I do like Fatso’s excellent review and – especially – his concluding remarks:

There are plenty of blogs that reflect the orthodox left lunacy and ones that use seductively more ‘reasonable’ language to reach similar conclusions. However, there are two other broad caragories of sites that can be found. Firstly, there are those that are firmly anti-totalitarian but have little or no critique of domestic politics. They have made their peace with the establishment and the legacy of Thatcherism. However dramatic their declarations of human rights, they are Tom Paines abroad but Edmund Burkes at home. Whilst the finely tuned English ear is quick to pick up the contented cadences of the privilege of class.

“As for the other, it is a, sometimes fractious, cacophony. There are humanist Marxists, left libertarians, social democrats, Old Labour diehards, those who would combine Marx with Mill, querulous liberals, and others who place human emancipation at the centre of an ecological understanding of the diversity of the natural world. It is where I feel most at home and where the more interesting, and idiosyncratic, writing is taking place.

“What will emerge is unclear, but socialism, in the broadest sense of the term as an emancipatory, egalitarian social movement, is alive, well and thinking. Come and join in.”

I second that emotion.

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Satire is dead

March 29, 2008 at 6:36 pm (Catholicism, Galloway, Guardian, Jim D, religion, science, stalinism)

I’ve long considered Simon Hoggart a smug, supercilious asshole. But I can’t argue with this (by Hoggart, in today’s Graun):

On the radio we heard denunciations of the embryo bill, as modern church leaders tried to halt research that might improve and extend life for millions of people otherwise certain to bring terrible suffering to themselves and their families.

“I do think a compromise is possible. They can believe what they like, whether it’s the Virgin Birth, the infalibilty of the Pope, or the true heir to Muhammed (which is what splits Sunni from Shia). or,come to that, the teapot round the sun. just so long as they just stop messing up our lives, whether it means obliging us to have a spring holiday in midwinter, or dying in pain and humiliation while harassed families reach the end of their tether.”

Hoggart doesn’t claim to be any great leftie (I seem to recall he was quite keen on Blair in the early nineties), but at least he has an elementary grasp of enlightenment values and humanism, unlike his “left wing” Graun colleague, this Staninist apologist for religion, genocide, totalitarianism and ignorance.

Meanwhile, Milne’s fellow Stalinist and Respect-ator, Mr Galloway has come out with this extraordinary fundamentalist, religious outburst that has rendered any further attempts by myself to satirise him, redundant. As Tom Lehrer (allegedly) said when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973: “Satire is dead”.

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Happy birthday, Andy Hamilton!

March 29, 2008 at 2:00 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D)

“And so I think it is a good idea to speak about the good musicians who are left, as quickly as we can, while they are still among us.” -Otis Ferguson

It’s all too easy as a political activist, to spend your time embroiled in disputes and acrimony: contributions to this blog (not least my own) often refect that. So it makes a pleasant change to be able to report upon an event that simply exuded affection, goodwill, harmony and all that is best about the human spirit: Andy Hamilton’s 90th birthday celebrations.

What do you mean, who is Andy Hamilton? Actually you could be forgiven for not knowing (or being amazed that that funny little comedian chappy is 90 years old): the Andy Hamilton is a quiet, modest man who has never sought the limelight. He’s a saxophonist, band-leader and music teacher whose motto ought to be that old jazz cliche, “I let my horn do the talking.”

For the record, Andy’s extraordinary life story (condensed version) runs as follows: born in Port Maria, North Jamaica in March 1918. In his teens he fell in love with jazz as he listened to American radio broadcasts by Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie and heard the local Kingston bands of Redver Cook and Roy Coburn. He took up the sax (allegedly his first instrument was home-made!) and formed his first band, ‘Silvershine’ aged 18. In the 1940s he lived for a while in the US, working as a cook and labourer before finding work as a musician in the heartlands of Buffalo and Syracuse. During this period he familiarised himself with the work of  Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young and Charlie Parker – influences that have stayed with him to this day.

Returning to Jamaica he became Errol Flynn’s bandleader and musical arranger on board the film star’s yacht ‘The Zaza’ and composed his signature tune, the calypso-jazz ‘Silvershine’ for Flynn in 1947.

In 1949 (the year ‘Empire Windrush’ docked, though Andy came seperately), he arrived in London and then Birmingham, where he remains to this day. He worked in factories and gigged at night, often in the company of fellow Jamaicans Pete Pitterson, Dizzy Reece and Joe Harriot. When the Ellington and Basie bands visited Birmingham, Andy organised after-hours sessions where the US stars sat in with local musicians, to the joy and amazement of all concerned.

During this time Andy (like all working class West Indians in 1950’s Britain) encountered plenty of racism: at one point his front teeth were knocked out by teddy boys (a particularly serious matter for a saxophonist). But talking to Andy today, you’re struck by his lack of bitterness. He doesn’t talk much about racism, prefering to emphasise how well he got on with local white musicians and how unprejudiced world of jazz – even in 1950’s Britain – was. Not that all his gigs were pure jazz: his band played calypso (and a little later, ska and reggae) for West Indian social events throughout the West Midlands, and to this day he has a West Indian following made up of people who are far from your typical jazz fans, but who know good, entertaining music when they hear it.

During the 1950’s and 60’s Andy also acquired a cadre of close musical associates, black and white, who have stayed in his circle, in and out of his bands, over a period of forty to fifty years. Prominent amongst these is the incredible singer Vic Evans, best described as a sort of West Indian Nat ‘King’ Cole.

In more recent years Andy has devoted himself to teaching music and running youth bands. The number of young jazz musicians around Birmingham who owe their start in the music to Andy is probably incalculable.  Andy is not an overtly political man but, talking to him, it is clear that he regards his youth work very much as a means of promoting social solidarity and combating the effects of alienation.

Yet despite all this, Andy remained virtually unknown outside of the West Indian and the jazz communites of Birmingham until the wider world started to take a little notice of him in the 1990’s. He didn’t even make a recording  until 1991. Inevitably called ‘Silvershine’, Andy’s first CD featured him with his (then) regular band, plus guests including David Murray, Jean Touissaint, Jason Rebello, Andy Sheppard and Mick Hucknall . I don’t know whether it’s still available, but it’s well worth seeking out on ‘World Circuit’ WCD 25.

Well,  Andy’s 90 now and has finally received some of the recognition he’s long deserved. Politicians, big-wigs, the great and the good all now fawn over him. I can’t help wondering where these people were when Andy started his musical youth and community work back in the 1970’s and had to struggle to get even meagre funding for his various projects. Still, it would be churlish to complain about the belated recognition. At his “big” gig at Birmingham Town Hall on Wednesday, there was Lord Bill Morris, local historian and media personality Carl Chinn, the Lord Mayor and about half of Birmingham City Council. There were also musical contributions from the likes of Courtney Pine, Sonny Bradshaw and legendary dancer Will Gaines. The event was sold out weeks in advance and I didn’t have a ticket. But the next evening I attended a much more intimate gig in a local club featuring Andy, his band, and the US tenor sax star Scott Hamilton (no relation, except in music). It was a fitting celebration: the music swung like the clappers (Scott, probably the leading mainstream tenorist in the world today, graciously avoided stealing any of Andy’s thunder), and the audience was made up of appreciative fans and friends of all ages and backgrounds. Celebs were noteable for their absence. We even sang “Happy Birthday To You”, accompanied by Scott Hamilton. Andy made a speech that must have lasted all of two minutes – an unheard of first for him. Your reporter had a certain moistness in his eye.

Andy: thanks for the music; thanks for the humanity, decency and generosity of spirit. Let’s keep it going for many years to come.

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Galloway’s Iranian propaganda?

March 26, 2008 at 4:45 pm (anonymous, Civil liberties, Galloway, Guardian, Human rights, Iran, LGBT, TWP)

Peter Tatchell at the Mehdi Kazemi protest

Peter Tatchell
March 26, 2008 10:30 AM


George Galloway, the Leftwing Respect MP, has been accused of making allegations that border on paedophile smears and play to homophobic prejudice. He claims that the boyfriend of gay Iranian asylum seeker Mehdi Kazemi was executed for “committing sex crimes against young men”.

The insinuation of such a claim is that Mehdi’s boyfriend was a rapist or a child sex abuser. It also stigmatises Mehdi with the shame that he was the partner of someone who committed sexual assaults on male youths. He will suffer with this stigma when he is returned to the UK and could face considerable personal hostility from people who have heard and believe these allegations against his boyfriend.

Mr Galloway made his astonishing allegation on Channel Five’s The Wright Stuff. You can watch his interview here.

He has been asked to explain the source of his claim, but has so far failed to do so.

I am not aware of any paedophile-style sex abuse claims against Mehdi’s partner. Moreover, no human rights group has mentioned any evidence that Mehdi’s boyfriend was a rapist or a child molester.

Although the regime in Tehran frequently defames political, religious, ethnic and sexual dissidents with false claims of kidnapping, rape, alcoholism, sodomy, adultery, drug-taking and hooliganism, even the most extreme ayatollahs have not made allegations that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was involved in sex abuse.

Nevertheless, Galloway has broadcast this very serious, potentially defamatory, allegation to the British public, and has then failed to back it up with evidence.

To some people, Galloway’s claims look like propaganda in defence of the totalitarian, homophobic Islamic Republic of Iran. His passionate opposition to a war against Iran, which I share, seems to have clouded his judgement; leading him to downplay the regime’s persecution of lesbians and gays, which includes state-sanctioned executions.

In the same interview for The Wright Stuff, Galloway went on to state: “All the [British] papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That’s not true.”

His claim that lesbian and gay people are not at risk of execution in Iran is refuted by every reputable human rights organisation, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the International Lesbian and Gay Association. None of these esteemed bodies are anti-Iran warmongers, as Galloway has subsequently seemed to imply.

The leftwing US journalist, Doug Ireland, has documented cases of the flogging and execution of men who have sex with men in Iran. These are just the cases we know about. It is likely that some similar executions never get media coverage in Iran and are therefore unknown to the outside world.

The Iranian Queer Rights Organisation also confirms that homosexuality is a capital offence and that gay Iranians are subjected to brutal punishments, including torture and hanging.

The government of Iran admits that it has the death penalty for homosexuality. Gay people are sometimes tortured to make confessions – even false confessions. Iranian law makes no distinction between consensual and non-consensual same-sex relations. Both are punishable by execution.

If Iran doesn’t execute queers, why does it need to retain the death penalty for same-sex relations? Why doesn’t it repeal a law it supposedly never enforces? Why doesn’t it announce a moratorium on hangings for homosexuality?

As with other dissidents, gay men are usually hanged in public by the barbaric slow strangulation method which is deliberately designed to maximise and prolong the suffering of the victim. These gruesome public barbarisms are also designed to terrorise the gay population.

To discredit the gay people it hangs, and to stir up public homophobia in support of its medieval religious-inspired punishments, the regime sometimes frames gay people with false charges of rape and child sex abuse. It wants to create the impression that homosexuals are monsters, in order to deter men from seeking same-sex relations.

This is what happened in the case of 21-year-old Makwan Moloudzadeh, who was executed in Iran last December. He was hanged for alleged sex offences against male teenagers, when he himself was a mere 13 years old. Amnesty International condemned his trial as “grossly flawed” and a “mockery of justice.”

Human Rights Watch reports that Moloudzadeh was coerced and tortured into making a confession. According to Amnesty International, his accusers retracted their sex assault allegations and admitted that they had been pressured into making false claims against him.

Even if Moloudzadeh had been guilty as charged, he should never have been hanged because the alleged offence was committed while he was a minor.

Strong evidence for Moloudzadeh’s innocence is the fact that hundreds of villagers turned out for his funeral; which would not have happened if the official Iranian account that he was a child sex abuser was true.

In a second interview on The Wright Stuff, Galloway launched into a scurrilous attack on Medhi’s friends and supporters, and the defenders of lesbian, gay and bisexual human rights in Iran, including myself:

“This (Mehdi Kazemi’s case) is a useful story for the war propaganda machine, the khaki machine now taking on a tinge of pink….what I will not accept is people being used, as Tatchell is, as the pink end of the war machine. That’s what Peter Tatchell has become by attacking Iran in the way that he does.”

At the antiwar protest in London on March 15, which I supported and attended, Galloway repeated these claims in his keynote speech. He said the “khaki war machine now has its pink contingent”. He went on to imply that people who support gay rights in Iran are “useful idiots” and said their aim is to “bamboozle the public to go along with mass murder in Iran”.

It is untrue and deeply offensive to suggest that those of us who oppose homophobic persecution in Iran are backing the bombing and invasion of Iran. We are not.

I am on record in my writings and speeches as opposing an attack on Iran. When, for example, I exposed Tehran’s racist and neocolonial persecution of its Ahwazi Arab ethnic minority, I stated categorically:

“I am part of a new campaign group, Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI). HOPI opposes both a US war on Iran and the tyranny of the Iranian regime. My motto is: Neither Washington nor Tehran!

A war against Iran would be another disastrous neo-imperial adventure, which would strengthen the Tehran dictatorship. President Ahmadinejad would play the patriot and manipulate nationalism to rally the population behind him. He would use a US military attack as an excuse to further crack down on dissent in the name of safeguarding national security.

The overthrow of the theocratic police state by the Iranian people – not by US military intervention – is the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis and prevent a needless, unjustified war. With no dictatorship in Tehran, President Bush and the neo cons would lose the rationale for a military strike against Iran.”

Galloway’s insinuation that I am banging the war drum and siding with imperialism is both laughable and dishonourable.

For nearly 40 years I have supported the Iranian people’s struggle against dictatorship, first against the western-backed Shah and, since 1979, against the clerical tyranny of the ayatollahs. I have been totally consistent. I am not suddenly focusing on Iran’s human rights abuses and doing the dirty work of the Washington neocons, as Galloway seems to suggest.

Undeterred by criticisms that his outbursts collude with homophobia and with a viciously anti-gay regime in Tehran, Mr Galloway boasts: “I have an unblemished record of support for lesbian and gay equality.”

Well, not quite. The Public Whip website (which monitors MPs votes) notes that Galloway did not vote on 8 out of 10 of the major parliamentary votes on gay law reform in recent years. His repeat absence is a strange way to express support for gay rights. Most other MPs turned up to vote. Why not George?

Galloway is, of course, a Respect MP. A commitment to gay rights was entirely absent from Respect’s 2005 general election manifesto. Some insiders claim gay equality was originally included but was removed to appease Muslim fundamentalist voters (this apparent assumption by Respect that all Muslims are homophobic fundamentalists is just plain wrong – they are not).

The policy section of the Respect website has included a one-line opposition to discrimination based on sexual orientation but it is hidden away under “other policies”. Not exactly upfront.

One of Respect’s major funders is Dr Mohammed Naseem. He is a one-time member of their executive and was a Respect parliamentary candidate. He is also a leading member of the Islamic Party of Britain (IPB) which appears to advocate the death penalty for consenting adult homosexuality in certain circumstances.

The IPB is viciously homophobic in other respects too, as it’s website explains, and as my OutRage! colleague, Brett Lock, has revealed.

Naseem is a strange bedfellow for a supposedly pro-gay rights MP.

George Galloway was magnificent before the US Senate, exposing the Iraq debacle. Sadly, he now sometimes seems to be exonerating a cruel, unjust regime in Tehran that is responsible for some of the worst state-sanctioned homophobia in the world. This regime is also responsible for the equally heinous persecution of trade unionists, women’s rights campaigners, student leaders, human rights advocates, investigative journalists and activists who defend Iran’s subjugated minority nationalities, such as the Kurds, Arabs and Baluchis.

Misguided, untruthful attacks on Iranian gay people, the queer rights movement and the pink community do not strengthen the antiwar movement and the struggle against US imperialism. On the contrary, they play straight into the hands of the tyrants in Tehran and their mirror opposites in Washington. They betray all Iranians who are yearning and striving for democracy, human rights, social justice and the self-rule of Iran’s oppressed minority nations.

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The Fertilisation Bill: the rational counter-attack

March 24, 2008 at 10:24 pm (Catholicism, James P. Cannon, Jim D, labour party, religion, science)

In the present war between superstition and reason, human progress and reaction, those who rely on what they hear and read must believe that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is a massively sinister and dangerous measure, opening the way for (in the words of Cardinal Keith O’ Brien), a “monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life” which would allow experimentations of “Frankenstein proportion.” All the press and commentators agree that a free vote is required, even if you don’t go along with the Catholic Church’s extreme reaction on this issue.

You’d never guess that this bill is merely an updating of the 1990 Tory legislation, taking into account important developments in embryo research that have happened since and which offer potentially life-saving solutions to many degenerative diseases. The Bill also reforms the law on surrogacy and IVF in the light of experience and legal changes with regard to same-sex couples. Key clauses relate to human admixed embryos, combining human and non-human material. As Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of developmental genetics at the MCR Institute, London, told today’s Daily Telegraph:

“Ultimately, understanding how adult cells can be re-programmed to become stem cells could lead to a step-change in treating human disease, potentially allowing transplantation of cells containing a patient’s own DNA, thus avoiding problems of tissue rejection.”

But in the face of this hope for the alleviation of human disease and suffering, the Catholic Church (whose own edicts against contraception and abortion have brought so much misery and suffering to the world), tries to blackmail politicians by spreading utterly ignorant and false scare-stories about human-animal hybrids and “Frankenstein” experiments.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols told the Telegraph that “This Bill permits the commercialisation of aspects of human birth: the donation, is fundamental elements and the use of surrogates.

“Research is opening up for us the possibility of engineering human birth away from the natural mother. Because we can do these things, does it mean that we should do?”

In this situation, with (it is said) Catholic cabinet members Ruth Kelly, Paul Murphy and Des Browne threatening to rebel, and Catholic bishops and cardinals urging Labour MP’s to put their religious beliefs first, a brave and principled MP has stepped forward as the defender of the democratic, secular tradition so crudely violated by the bishops, cardinals and their agents within the government and the PLP: Jim Devine MP, a Catholic, has described Cardinal O’Brien’s “Frankenstein” remarks as “completely unacceptable” , declared his support for the Bill, and even questioned whether a free vote is appropriate on the matter. While even “liberal” commentators and supporters of the Bill (like the craven Guardian) quail before the Catholic Church, Mr Devine speaks out fearlessly like a real statesman, putting the cowering policians and media to shame.

This man seems to be a tough fighter (he voted against the Government over the renewal of Trident), full of roast beef and the love of Jesus, and no respecter of persons. He practically challenges O’Brien to take off his coat and grab his best hold for a rough-and-tumble. In his blistering attack on the Catholic hierarchy there is no tone of subservience, or even respect: excellent! “Liberal” commentators and “progressive” politicians have been showing organised religion far too much respect for far too long.

When the working people of this country realize the full implications of the Catholic Church’s  latest attempt to strengthen the trend towards reactionary clericalism here, they will have no choice but to join people like Jim Devine in the fight against it. If the workers want to know what clerical domination means, let them take a good look at Spain in the 1950’s and 60’s, or Iran today.

Devine doesn’t go all the way, but as far as he goes it is in the right direction and his fight on this issue is the people’s fight too.

(After James P. Cannon)

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4,000 US Troops Dead – Over 100 Granted Citizenship Posthumously

March 24, 2008 at 11:46 am (iraq, iraq war, TWP, United States, war)

Despite some of the pro-war commentators who have very little regard for loss of life of either Iraqis or young troops sent to die in a ridiculous war and who claim that there was something progressive about the war in Iraq, there is ample evidence of the destroyed lives that this confict has created on both sides of the divide. The death toll for US soldiers has reached 4,000 while the death toll for Iraqis has reached, by some esimates, up to 1 million.

This article which appeared today from the AP highlights the crass cynicism with which the US government treats the young men and women who join the armed forces in what many in the US consider to be a “poverty draft”. In this case, many of the young people spoken about below literally died killing Iraqis so that their families could have some semblance of comfort as official “citizens” in the United States.

Few things show what an utter disaster this whole Iraq exercise has been for the poor, the disenfranchised and the downtrodden in both the US and Iraq and why anyone with a conscience must call for immediate troop withdrawal and an immediate end to the occupation.

Families torn by citizenship for fallen

By HELEN O’NEILL, AP Special Correspondent Sun Mar 23, 11:37 PM ET

A young, ambitious immigrant from Guatemala who dreamed of becoming an architect. A Nigerian medic. A soldier from China who boasted he would one day become an American general. An Indian native whose headstone displays the first Khanda, emblem of the Sikh faith, to appear in Arlington National Cemetery.

These were among more than 100 foreign-born members of the U.S. military who earned American citizenship by dying in Iraq.

Jose Gutierrez was one of the first to fall, killed by friendly fire in the dust of Umm Qasr in the opening hours of the invasion.

In death, the young Marine was showered with honors his family could only have dreamed of in life. His sister was flown in from Guatemala for his memorial service, where a Roman Catholic cardinal presided and top military officials saluted his flag-draped coffin.

And yet, his foster mother agonized as she accompanied his body back for burial in Guatemala City: Why did Jose have to die for America in order to truly belong?

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who oversaw Gutierrez’s service, put it differently.

“There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield in order to earn citizenship,” Mahony wrote to President Bush in April 2003. He urged the president to grant immediate citizenship to all immigrants who sign up for military service in wartime.

“They should not have to wait until they are brought home in a casket,” Mahony said.

But as the war continues, more and more immigrants are becoming citizens in death — and more and more families are grappling with deeply conflicting feelings about exactly what the honor means.

Gutierrez’s citizenship certificate — dated to his death on March 21, 2003, — was presented during a memorial service in Lomita, Calif., to Nora Mosquera, who took in the orphaned teen after he had trekked through Central America, hopping freight trains through Mexico before illegally sneaking into the U.S.

“On the one hand I felt that citizenship was too late for him,” Mosquera said. “But I also felt grateful and very proud of him. I knew it would open doors for us as a family.”

“What use is a piece of paper?” cried Fredelinda Pena after another emotional naturalization ceremony, this one in New York City where her brother’s framed citizenship certificate was handed to his distraught mother. Next to her, the infant daughter he had never met dozed in his fiancee’s arms.

Cpl. Juan Alcantara, 22, a native of the Dominican Republic, was killed Aug. 6, 2007, by an explosive in Baqouba. He was buried by a cardinal and eulogized by a congressman but to his sister, those tributes seemed as hollow as citizenship.

“He can’t take the oath from a coffin,” she sobbed.

There are tens of thousands of foreign-born members in the U.S. armed forces. Many have been naturalized, but more than 20,000 are not U.S. citizens.

“Green card soldiers,” they are often called, and early in the war, Bush signed an executive order making them eligible to apply for citizenship as soon as they enlist. Previously, legal residents in the military had to wait three years.

Since Bush’s order, nearly 37,000 soldiers have been naturalized. And 109 who lost their lives have been granted posthumous citizenship.

They are buried with purple hearts and other decorations, and their names are engraved on tombstones in Arlington as well as in Mexico and India and Guatemala.

Among them:

• Marine Cpl. Armando Ariel Gonzalez, 25, who fled Cuba on a raft with his father and brother in 1995 and dreamed of becoming an American firefighter. He was crushed by a refueling tank in southern Iraq on April 14, 2003.

• Army Spc. Justin Onwordi, a 28-year-old Nigerian medic whose heart seemed as big as his smiling 6-foot-4 frame and who left behind a wife and baby boy. He died when his vehicle was blown up in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2004.

• Army Pfc. Ming Sun, 20, of China who loved the U.S. military so much he planned to make a career out of it, boasting that he would rise to the rank of general. He was killed in a firefight in Ramadi on Jan. 9, 2007.

• Army Spc. Uday Singh, 21, of India, killed when his patrol was attacked in Habbaniyah on Dec. 1, 2003. Singh was the first Sikh to die in battle as a U.S. soldier, and it is his headstone at Arlington that displays the Khanda.

• Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick O’Day from Scotland, buried in the California rain as bagpipes played and his 19-year-old pregnant wife told mourners how honored her 20-year-old husband had felt to fight for the country he loved.

“He left us in the most honorable way a man could,” Shauna O’Day said at the March 2003 Santa Rosa service. “I’m proud to say my husband is a Marine. I’m proud to say my husband fought for our country. I’m proud to say he is a hero, my hero.”

Not all surviving family members feel so sure. Some parents blame themselves for bringing their child to the U.S. in the first place. Others face confusion and resentment when they try to bury their child back home.

At Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez’s July 4, 2004, funeral in the central Mexican town of San Luis de la Paz, Mexican soldiers demanded that the U.S. Marine honor guard surrender their arms, even though the rifles were ceremonial. Earlier, the Mexican Defense Department had denied the Marines’ request to conduct the traditional 21-gun salute, saying foreign troops were not permitted to bear arms on Mexican soil.

And so mourners, many deeply opposed to the war, witnessed an extraordinary 45-minute standoff that disrupted the funeral even as Lopez’s weeping widow was handed his posthumous citizenship by a U.S. embassy official.

The same swirl of conflicting emotions and messages often overshadows the military funerals of posthumous citizens in the U.S.

Smuggled across the Mexican border in his mother’s arms when he was 2 months old, Jose Garibay was just 21 when he died in Nasiriyah. The Costa Mesa police department made him an honorary police officer, something he had hoped one day to become. America made him a citizen.

But his mother, Simona Garibay, couldn’t conceal her bewilderment and pain. It seemed, she said in interviews after the funeral, that more value was being placed on her son’s death than on his life.

Immigrant advocates have similar mixed feelings about military service. Non-citizens cannot become officers or serve in high-security jobs, they note, and yet the benefits of citizenship are regularly pitched by recruiters, and some recruitment programs specifically target colleges and high schools with predominantly Latino students.

“Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder,” said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. “It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it.”

Others question whether non-citizens should even be permitted to serve. Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, argues that defending America should be the job of Americans, not non-citizens whose loyalty might be suspect. In granting special benefits, including fast-track citizenship, Krikorian says, there is a danger that soldiering will eventually become yet another job that Americans won’t do.

And yet, immigrants have always fought — and died — in America’s wars.

During the Cvil War, the Union army recruited Irish and German immigrants off the boat. Alfred Rascon, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, received the Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the Vietnam war. In the 1990s, Gen. John Shalikashvili, born in Poland after his family fled the occupied Republic of Georgia, became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After the Iraq invasion, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico fielded hundreds of requests from Mexicans offering to fight in exchange for citizenship. They mistakenly believed that Bush’s order also applied to nonresidents.

The right to become an American is not automatic for those who die in combat. Families must formally apply for citizenship within two years of the soldier’s death, and not all choose to do so.

“He’s Italian, better to leave it like that,” Saveria Romeo says of her 23-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo, who was born in Calabria, died in Iraq and is buried in New Jersey. A miniature Italian flag marks his grave, next to an American one.

“What good would it do?” she says. “It won’t bring back my son.”

But it would allow her to apply for citizenship for herself, a benefit only recently offered to surviving parents and spouses. Until 2003 posthumous citizenship was granted only through an act of Congress and was purely symbolic. There were no benefits for next of kin.

Romeo says she has no desire to apply. She says she couldn’t bear to benefit in any way from her son’s death. And besides, she feels Italian, not American.

Fernando Suarez del Solar just feels angry — angry at what he considers the futility of a war that claimed his only son, angry at the military recruiters he says courted young Jesus relentlessly even when the family still lived in Tijuana.

His son was just 13, Suarez del Solar said, when he was first dazzled by Marine recruiters in a California mall. For the next two years Jesus begged the family to emigrate and eventually they did, settling in Escondido, Calif., where the teen signed up for the Marines before he left high school.

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb in the first week of the war. He left behind a wife and baby and parents so bitter about his death that they eventually divorced.

Today, his 52-year-old father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

“There is nothing in my life now but saving these young people,” he says. “It is just something I feel have to do.”

But first he had to journey to Iraq. He had to see for himself the dusty stretch of wasteland where his son became an American. In tears, he planted a small wooden cross. And he prayed for his son — and for all the other immigrants who became citizens in death.

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Iraq Five Years On (majority report)

March 23, 2008 at 10:53 pm (Human rights, insanity, iraq, iraq war, voltairespriest, war)

Most people agree it was – and remains – a disaster.

How do we make it stop?

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Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner…

March 23, 2008 at 9:46 am (elections, Livingstone, voltairespriest)

… that I’d rather not support Ken Livingstone for Mayor? Somehow I just can’t muster any massive enthusiasm for Livingstone, nor do I feel the chilling terror of his major opponent (Tory buffoon Boris Johnson) that the Mayor’s re-election campaign appears to be trying to instil in the electorate. To hear the statements coming from some of Livingstone’s supporters you’d think that this was a race between Che Guevara and some kind of combination of Adolf Hitler and Satan, and I just can’t see what is effectively a council election on steroids in such apocalyptic terms. I also, try as I might, just can’t bring myself to like the oleaginous Livingstone, who is still trying to morph himself from his previous status as a grinning celebrity chat show guest, to having some kind of political gravitas. Ironically of course, Johnson is a product of the same media clowning circuit that Livingstone is. Bojo versus Bozo – what an appetising choice for the people of London.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that there are policy differences on things such as affordable housing targets, not to mention the burning lifestyle issue of bendy buses versus routemasters, and that obviously the latter is a life-or-death which should have me up all night in a cold sweat. But again, these differences are at best the differences between a centre-left liberal and a centre-right economic libertarian. At worst (as with BusGate) they’re no more than a question of gimmickry and posturing – emblematic of shallow metropolitan politics at its worst.

The tone of the campaign is also rather unpleasant at times – it may be a sign  that Livingstone’s supporters are desperate when stories emerge in the press making barely veiled accusations of racism towards Johnson, either directly or via the proxy of accusations levelled at those who happen to support him. Similarly the same old Evening Standard campaign alleging all manner of misbehaviour on Livingstone’s part seems also to be raising its ugnly head. Darren Lilleker has an interesting article on the dangers for a less-than-universally popular incumbuent like Livingstone “going negative” and playing the race card. For the record, I don’t believe either man is a racist or indeed any less scrupulous than the average politician; I think that such playground accusations are what rush into the gap left by the absence of a serious policy debate over serious political differences.

Even where there are serious political differences, these are over issues that the Mayoralty cannot directly affect. Livingstone’s record on the Iraq war, for instance, is an honourable one whereas Johnson’s is appalling. However neither man will be able to do any more about it from the Mayor’s office than they could from the House of Commons when both were maverick backbench MPs. So again, whilst I recognise the differences, somehow I just can’t seem to care.

So, what of the other candidates? My friends in the AWL are half-heartedly backing Lindsey German, the SWP candidate. This is presumably on the basis that she’s the sole candidate of the left, to Livingstone’s left. Doubtless her campaign, whilst essentially worthy, will be a token effort at best. Sian Berry, the occassionally impressive Green candidate, has already effectively subordinated her campaign to Livingstone’s. Brian Paddick is a light-weight choice for the Liberal Democrats, being little more than a NOTA vote for people who really can’t stand both Livingstone and Johnson.

So Londoners are faced with a choice between an increasingly tired-looking Mayor who (in spite of “going negative” indecently early in the campaign) can’t crack 40% of first preferences, a Tory who is closing in on 50% virtually by default, and a procession of flaky fringe candidates.

All I can say is I’m glad it’s not my choice.

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