Benefit tourists are just political phantoms

March 25, 2013 at 4:15 pm (benefits, capitalist crisis, Europe, immigration, Jim D, labour party, Lib Dems, populism, Tory scum, truth, UKIP, workers)

Cameron’s shameful, cynical speech about furriners coming over here to scrounge off our generous welfare system is just the latest manifestation of mainstream politicians pandering to UKIP and the racist right. The wretched Clegg’s been at it as well and Labour’s not above it either. In this poisonous atmosphere, even sections of the left are hamstrung by their anti-EU obsession. The Murdoch press and a former adviser to Frank Field (one of the most right wing Labour MPs of recent times) are not obvious sources of reason and enlightenment in this non-debate, but the following article came as a welcome breath of fresh air when it was published on March 8 in response to a speech by Iain Duncan Smith, acting as a warm-up act for Cameron’s performance today.

Naturally, I don’t agree with all of what follows, and wouldn’t personally have given either Field or Farage even the back-handed compliments (for “clarity”) that the author proffers, but overall it’s a pretty good piece. Actually, the bulk of it would make the basis of a good speech from a half-way principled Labour leader…

Polish workers message board

Above: Polish people look at a job message board outside a shop in London.

Benefit tourists are just political phantoms – It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us. By Phillip Collins (THE TIMES, March 8 2013)

Some of the most testing problems in a democracy are the phantoms. When crime is falling but the people say it’s rising, is it prudent for politicians to declare the people to be in error? Is it ethical to pretend the phantom is real to show a popular touch? This week the spectre came dressed as “benefit tourism”, which in a histrionic performance in the House of Commons, Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, described as a “crisis.”

I would not suggest there are no foreign nationals in Britain claiming benefits in preference to work. I have no doubt that the official figures will miss some black market activity and fraud. But to suggest that Britain is in the grip of a crisis of lazy foreigners stealing our benefits is untrue, irresponsible and not worthy of a Cabinet Minister of good standing.

The very term “benefit tourism” suggests that people treat welfare states like holiday resorts. It is a claim that large numbers of migrants are taking advantage of the generosity of the welfare state and that is their motivation in coming to Britain. Not attracted by the higher wages on offer in Britain, the feckless East Europeans go to the trouble of leaving family and friends back home because — and only because — of the irresistible allure of British housing benefit.

This is an argument that carries with it enough rope to hang itself. But let’s demolish it with the facts as well. It is not true that EU nationals can walk into Britain and live instantly off the fat of the land. Anyone from the EU who wants to stay longer than three months has to be in work, seeking work or be able to show that they will not become a burden on public funds.

For this reason, there is no reliable evidence at all that this country has a serious problem with benefit tourism. Even if there were any serious studies that showed migration patterns are linked to benefit levels, which there aren’t, the rational tourist scrounger would go to France where there are no jobs and where unemployment benefits are much higher than they are in Britain and eligibility conditions are weaker. Yet not many Poles went to France because the French have this irritating habit of speaking French.

As it happens, it has been good news that the Poles came to Britain. People from the countries who joined the EU in 2004 are much less likely to be claiming out-of-work benefits than British-born people, even though more of them are of working age. Just over 1 per cent of Polish people who live in Britain claim unemployment benefit. The rest are working. We can object to the Poles on the grounds that they are foreigners taking British jobs that should be reserved for British workers but we cannot object to them on the grounds that they are bone idle. Read the rest of this entry »

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Derek Watkins – trumpet hero

March 24, 2013 at 11:21 am (good people, jazz, Jim D, music)

An unsung hero of British music has died:

Derek Watkins, the British trumpet player who played on every James Bond film soundtrack from Dr No to Skyfall, has died aged 68.

He died at home in Esher, Surrey, on Friday after a lengthy illness – Philip Biggs, editor of the Brass Herald said.

Watkins was “widely considered to be the foremost British Big Band trumpet player” of all time, said Mr Biggs.

The trumpeter, who turned professional aged 17, is survived by his wife Wendy and their three children.

He was born into a brass band family and was taught to play the cornet at the age of four by his father.

Watkins then played in the band his father conducted – the Spring Gardens Brass Band in Reading – of which his grandfather was also conductor and a founder member.

He honed his skills as a both a “reader” and an “improviser” with his father’s dance band before turning professional.

Watkins was described as “Mr Lead” by Dizzy Gillespie; as well as the Bond films he played with the Beatles, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra, the London Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra during his lengthy career.

He also played with the BBC Big Band and worked  for band leaders Johnny Dankworth, Maynard Ferguson and Benny Goodman, all of whom who recognised his underrated jazz ability.

Mr Biggs described his friend as “a people’s person – no side, no ego, a fun loving musician who couldn’t get enough of life, who loved his family”.

[Adapted from the BBC Entertainment & Arts website]

Recommended listening: ‘Warren Vaché meets Derek Watkins with the Brian Lemon Quartet, Stardust’, Zephyr CD ZECD9 (1996) – ignore the unenthusiastic review, here.

Details here of Derek’s Sarcoma charity – buy the t-shirt!

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What’s happened to Harry’s Place?

March 24, 2013 at 12:17 am (blogosphere, Jim D, Pro-War Left, wankers)

They’ve been out of action for three (or is it four?) days, now…

sabotage, or what?

(Video from the late Will Rubbish)

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Hopalong Hobsbawm

March 23, 2013 at 8:22 pm (film, Guardian, history, intellectuals, jazz, Jim D, literature, Racism, socialism, stalinism, United States)

Above: the final scene of the greatest Western of them all

I’ve always had great respect for the late Eric Hobsbawm as a historian, but less for his politics. I’ve warmed to the old Stalinist/Euro, though, having read that his last book, ‘Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century’ deals with (amongst other things), cowboys and the Western in literature, mythology and film. Here’s a little taste:

It is clear that many white protagonists of the original wild west epic are in some sense misfits in, or refugees from, “civilisation”, but that is not, I think, the main essence of their situation. Basically they are of two types: explorers or visitors seeking something that cannot be found elsewhere – and money is the very last thing they seek; and men who have established a symbiosis with nature, as it exists in its human and non-human shape, in these wilds.

In terms of literary pedigree, the invented cowboy was a late romantic creation. But in terms of social content, he had a double function: he represented the ideal of individualist freedom pushed into a sort of inescapable jail by the closing of the frontier and the coming of the big corporations. As a reviewer said of Frederic Remington’s articles, illustrated by himself in 1895, the cowboy roamed “where the American may still revel in the great red-shirted freedom which has been pushed so far to the mountain wall that it threatens soon to expire somewhere near the top”. In hindsight, the west could seem thus, as it seemed to that sentimentalist and first great star of movie westerns William S Hart, for whom the cattle and mining frontier “to this country … means the very essence of national life … It is but a generation or so since virtually all this country was frontier. Consequently its spirit is bound up in American citizenship.” As a quantitative statement this is absurd, but its significance is symbolic. And the invented tradition of the west is entirely symbolic, inasmuch as it generalises the experience of a comparative handful of marginal people. Who, after all, cares that the total number of deaths by gunshot in all the major cattle towns put together between 1870 and 1885 – in Wichita plus Abilene plus Dodge City plus Ellsworth – was 45, or an average of 1.5 per cattle-trading season, or that local western newspapers were not filled with stories about bar-room fights, but about property values and business opportunities?

JOHN WAYNE  John Wayne in The Searchers. Photograph: AP Photo/Warner Bros

But the cowboy also represented a more dangerous ideal: the defence of the native Waspish American ways against the millions of encroaching immigrants from lower races. Hence the quiet dropping of the Mexican, Indian and black elements, which still appear in the original non-ideological westerns – for instance, Buffalo Bill’s show. It is at this stage and in this manner that the cowboy becomes the lanky, tall Aryan. In other words, the invented cowboy tradition is part of the rise of both segregation and anti-immigrant racism; this is a dangerous heritage. The Aryan cowboy is not, of course, entirely mythical. Probably the percentage of Mexicans, Indians and black people did diminish as the wild west ceased to be essentially a south-western, even a Texan, phenomenon, and at the peak of the boom it extended into areas like Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas. In the later periods of the cattle boom the cowboys were also joined by a fair number of European dudes, mainly Englishmen, with eastern-bred college-men following them.

Read the rest (courtesy the Graun) here.

I trust that in this last book, Hobsbawm has also written more about his love of jazz.

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Transphobia and the death of Lucy Meadows

March 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm (children, Civil liberties, Daily Mail, Guest post, Human rights, LGBT, media, Pink Prosecco, thuggery)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Lucy Meadows was known as Nathan Upton before undergoing transition

Above: Lucy Meadows before undergoing transition

This morning I discovered that the PCC had determined that Julie Burchill’s disgusting transphobic rant in the Observer did not breach their code of practice.  Now I have just read about the death of Lucy Meadows, a transsexual woman who was the subject of a hostile article by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail.  (This is no longer available on the Mail’s website). He sneered:

“Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.

“But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.

“Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.

“Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?”

The precise circumstances surrounding Lucy Meadows’ death are still not certain [but would appear to be suicide – JD].  However it is clear that many people, including those whose views are otherwise liberal, have a higher tolerance threshold for transphobia than for just about any other kind of bigotry.

To be fair, the PCC, in giving Burchill’s article a clean bill of health, are only following their own guidelines, according to Pink News:

“The PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice states in a clause on discrimination that the press ‘must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.’

“However, in its ruling of the Burchill article, the PCC acknowledged that it had caused offence but declared the decision to publish was not in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice…

“It said: ‘the clause does not cover references to groups or categories of people. The language used in the article did not refer to any identifiable individual, but to transgender people generally. While the commission acknowledged the depth of the complainants’ concerns about the terminology used, in the absence of reference to a particular individual, there was no breach of Clause 12.’”

In theory this would seem to imply that it would be ok to propagate ideas straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion – as long as no individuals were named.  Of course in practice, despite concerns about (for example) Islamophobia, even the tabloids usually avoid the crudest expressions of bigotry, despite their selective, and often factually incorrect, reporting. This makes the publication of Julie Burchill’s disgusting article by the liberal Observer all the more noteworthy. Here’s a reminder:

“She, the other JB and I are part of the tiny minority of women of working-class origin to make it in what used to be called Fleet Street and I think this partly contributes to the stand-off with the trannies. (I know that’s a wrong word, but having recently discovered that their lot describe born women as ‘Cis’ – sounds like syph, cyst, cistern; all nasty stuff – they’re lucky I’m not calling them shemales. Or shims.) We know that everything we have, we got for ourselves. We have no family money, no safety net. And we are damned if we are going to be accused of being privileged by a bunch of bed-wetters in bad wigs…

“To have your cock cut off and then plead special privileges as women – above natural-born women, who don’t know the meaning of suffering, apparently – is a bit like the old definition of chutzpah: the boy who killed his parents and then asked the jury for clemency on the grounds he was an orphan.”

Finally, as Lizzie c notes on Twitter:

“just a thought: it’s probably harder to explain to your child why their teacher is dead than why they are now a woman. #lucymeadows

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Can you Tweet that?

March 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm (Galloway, Rosie B)

George Galloway is always on Twitter. He tweeted his joy at winning the by-election in Blackburn which he had just won in Bradford.  Then he tweeted that someone had hacked into his Twitter account to mistweet him. (This was technically impossible).

He was tweeting 25 minutes ago (time of writing 20:32, 21/3/13).  He calls his critics “labour stooges” and retweets any compliments that come his way*.  He promotes himself  indefatigably.

So why has he put down this early day motion:-

“That this House notes that Twitter is now a very widely used mode of social networking; further notes that Twitter is a US-based enterprise whose primary motivation is to maximise its profits; further notes that Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications; further notes that Twitter refuses to co-operate with the UK authorities in general and the police in particular in trying to detect the source of criminal communications ‘unless it is a matter of life and death’, to be determined by Twitter; believes that this failure to co-operate with the detection of the sources of criminal behaviour is reprehensible; and calls on the Government to impose sanctions on Twitter until it agrees to fully co-operate with the UK authorities and police in the detection of crime.”

It’s Twitter’s seventh birthday and celebrities are celebrating it.  But GG is calling it a bad thing that should have sanctions imposed on it.

He is missing the chance to set an example by boycotting Twitter .  After all, he is a supporter of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel, and showed it by refusing to debate with an Israeli citizen. Yet there he is on Twitter, helping to maximise its profits.

He is tweeting, while eating Jaffa oranges.

*Doing that make you look like a conceited jerk, as outlined here. Nesrin Malik is talking about writers but it goes for everyone:- “Don’t retweet compliments. Ever. Not once”

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Unite election: cut the crap and vote McCluskey!

March 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm (class, democracy, elections, Jim D, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: it’s about them – or at least it should be

Ballot papers for the Unite general secretary election are going out now. If any member hasn’t received one by Wednesday 5 April, they should contact the Unite ballot enquiry service.

The first thing that will strike many members is that in their election addresses, both candidates make personal attacks on each other – something that has hitherto been considered very bad form in Unite elections.  The challenger Jerry Hicks accuses the incumbent Len McCluskey of holding an unnecessary election in order to hang on to power, and of being a bureaucrat who’s never led a real fight. McCluskey describes Hicks as someone who’s played no role in the union in recent years, as a “political opportunist” without a clear agenda and who is backed by “the discredited Socialist Workers Party.”

None of this is very seemly, but is probably inevitable when there are just two candidates, both claiming to be on the left and with no major policy differences between them. It should also be noted that Hicks and his supporters have been making highly personal attacks on McCluskey both verbally and in print, ever since the election was announced.

As regular readers will have already worked out, I’ll be voting for McCluskey. That’s despite the fact that on two questions (whether this election is really necessary and the Gen Sec being on the average wage of the members) I agree with Hicks.

So why vote for McCluskey? Firstly, in my opinion, he’s been an effective General Secretary who has developed and begun to implement a serious strategy for reversing the decline of the union. He has supported members in struggle (no dispute has been repudiated under his leadership), is radically restructuring the union with an emphasis upon workplace branches where possible (something Hicks seems to oppose – but more on that shortly) and has begun to implement a new political strategy that involves fighting for the union’s policies within the Labour Party rather than writing out a blank cheque (and again, Hicks is completely unclear on the Labour link).

In my view, questions like branch re-organisation and (re)building a functioning industrial and political structure for the union, are far more important than the General Secretary’s salary, or indeed, the election of officials (accountability of officials is the real issue in Unite at the moment, it seems to me).

In fact, if you examine Hick’s election address, it’s little more than a not very coherent wish-list of often quite vague demands and aspirations, together with whinging about things like “Emails/letters go(ing) unanswered“(!)

Let’s take some specifics. In his address, Hicks says this about the branch reorganisation: “Workplace branches are logical, but member will agree changes not be told.” What exactly does that mean? Is Hicks actually in favour of the branch reorganisation, or not? I ask this question because not so very long ago, Hicks was saying something slightly different, viz:  No member will be re-allocated to a Branch without their prior agreement.” If taken literally, that can only mean that an individual member would have the right and ability to veto branch re-organisation – an extraordinary position to take in a democratic, collective organisation!

Or take this, from Hicks’ address: “Confront the anti union laws and support unofficial action where necessary.” EITHER that wording really means campaigning for the repeal of the laws and from time to time, taking a decision to push them to the limit… OR it means a commitment to confront the law on every occasion. If it’s the former, then it’s no different to McCluskey’s position (eg during the London bus dispute last year). If the latter, it’s a recipe for bankrupting the union.

But underlying these specifics is a fundamental  misjudgement on the part of Hicks and his supporters, about the present state of the class struggle and about what’s happening in Unite.

Jim Kelly, in his very detailed article, has made many of the points that need to be made, and I look forward to reading a serious reply from Hicks and/or his supporters. In the meanwhile, I’d like to make some further observations:

Underlying much of what Hicks and his supporters say is the assumption that McCluskey and the “bureaucracy” are afraid of militant action by the membership, or are simply so useless that they inevitably sell it out. Now I think the Kelly article deals with this, but let me pose a more general question: why would McCluskey want to sell out strikes? From his own, “bureaucratic” point of view, why would he do it? His position depends ultimately upon his industrial muscle, and he surely knows that. McCluskey has been accused of many things, but being a fool is not usually one of them.

There is a further point to be made here: when unions take industrial action there is no guarantee of winning and the reasons for defeat are not always simply betrayal by the bureaucracy. Some disputes turn out to be practically unwinnable, despite the best efforts of members and bureaucrats alike. It is often very difficult, when you’re not directly involved, to make a judgement as to whether a given dispute could have been won if different, more militant, tactics had been employed. Hicks and his people like to blame every defeat (and, indeed, some partial victories they call “defeats”) on the “bureaucracy” in general and McCluskey in particular. This criticism, if made in good faith, demonstrates an incredible ignorance of how Unite actually operates. It assumes that the General Secretary micro-manages every aspect of union activity, and industrial disputes in particular. This is a fantasy. What the Gen Sec certainly can and should do is set the political direction and overall approach of the union. McCluskey has dome this by, for instance, closing down the mechanism within the union for repudiating disputes.

Unite has some 600 officers working for 10 Regional Secretaries (not the Gen Sec). Not all those officials are in agreement with McCluskey’s “fighting-back union” strategy. Industrial disputes are controlled by the internal structures and committees of the union, not directly by the Gen Sec. Of course, on the big political disputes and campaigns the Gen Sec will have a major say, but he cannot simply close down a dispute or set the “line” or determine strategy or tactics. In Unite, disputes and campaigns really are run by officers and senior reps/stewards. A classic case in point is the public sector pensions dispute last year. Hicks, in his election address, says: “Len McCluskey talks big but failed to back the co-ordinated public sector strike last March. A big mistake!” What Hicks fails to mention is that McCluskey and the Executive of the union gave full backing to the call for strike action in March. It was the lay members and reps in health, local authorities and the MoD who voted (after UNISON and the GMB pulled out) not to strike. But to admit that wouldn’t fit in with the Hicks world-view.

The often craven end result of such a simplistic way of looking at the world was well illustrated at the last AGM of the so-called ‘Grassroots Left’, the group that Hicks formed to back his leadership ambitions. One of the platform speakers was bemoaning the fact that the factory where he works (a major Midlands car plant) had just voted to accept a very poor pay deal. He started to blame this on McCluskey’s “lack of leadership” before momentarily hesitating as a thought seemed to strike him in mid-flow: “well, actually us on the Joint Shop Stewards Committee voted to accept, but only because we felt we had no alternative.” That about sums it up, I think.

The truth is that Hicks and his supporters are not fit and proper people to be running Unite. Those of us who’ll be voting for Len McCluskey are doing so with varying degrees of criticism, but we all recognise that his leadership has been generally positive and that his strategy for reversing decline and building a “fighting-back union” is the only coherent way forward on offer in this election.

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Abandoned in Afghanistan

March 19, 2013 at 8:43 am (Afghanistan, asylum, good people, Human rights, solidarity, terror, thuggery, war)

From Abdul M via Avaaz.com

Dear friends across the UK,

The Taliban called me, saying I’m “an infidel spy”, they know where I live and will “punish” me. My crime? To work as a translator for British troops and journalists here in Afghanistan. But together we can get Britain to save me and a few hundred others who have risked everything!

Right now, Foreign Secretary William Hague is wondering whether to give me and other Afghan translators asylum, as the UK did for Iraqi translators — and we’re worried he’ll say no. We’ve worked with the British to help set our country free, and we’ve saved many British lives. But now my family and many others have had to go into hiding: every day we stay here it gets more dangerous.

Hague could decide whether to save or snub us any day now. If enough people call on him, he may grant us asylum. In days it’s the 10 year anniversary of the war in Iraq, and former British servicemen are ready to go to the media then to grab Hague’s attention on this. Let’s demand he does the right thing — sign and share our petition with everyone:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Abandoned_in_Afghanistan/?bTDuoeb&v=23132

There are roughly 600 translators doing this dangerous work in Afghanistan – not just helping the army, but also helping journalists and aid workers. Many of us have already been killed or injured just for doing our jobs – a few years ago my brother was blown up on a patrol, and was left with horrific scars and 163 stitches. Many more of us have received death threats from the Taliban — and we all desperately fear what will happen when British troops leave soon.

When I went to the British authorities in Afghanistan about the death threats, they told me to go to my local police — the same police force that has a fearsome reputation for corruption, kidnapping and worse! Now, the UK government has said it is reviewing its policy and will assess asylum applications on a case by case basis, but this is a lengthy and difficult process with no guarantee of success – and in that time, I could be dead.

Our situation is desperate. I am the sole provider for my family — my parents are old and I have three young children. They have no way of supporting themselves if something were to happen to me. We’ve already had to go into hiding, and it’s harder and harder for us each day.

Our fate lies in the British government’s hands. Please join our call to William Hague now to free us from the terror that plagues us every day:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Abandoned_in_Afghanistan/?bTDuoeb&v=23132

For years, my colleagues and I have stood shoulder to shoulder with British soldiers, journalists and aid workers. We’ve risked everything for them, and for our country’s freedom. Please don’t abandon us now, in our hour of need.

In peace and hope,

Abdul

More information:

Is the UK abandoning its Afghan interpreters?
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-21406826

Afghans who served Britain ‘should be allowed to settle like Iraqi interpreters’
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9754924/Afghans-who-served-Britain-should-be-allowed-to-settle-like-Iraqi-interpreters.html

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The Free Syrian Army doesn’t really exist

March 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm (islamism, liberation, Middle East, Syria, tragedy, truth, war)

A very well informed piece from a usually reliable source:

Free syrian army coat of arms.svg
Official logo of Free Syrian Army

by Aron Lund, for Syria Comment

Is the FSA losing influence in Syria? How many people are in the FSA? Is the FSA receiving enough guns from the West, or too many? Will the FSA participate in elections after the fall of Bahar el-Assad? What is the ideology of the FSA? What’s the FSA’s view of Israel? Is Jabhat el-Nosra now bigger than the FSA? What does the FSA think about the Kurds? Who is the leader of the FSA? How much control does the central command of the FSA really have over their fighters?

All these and similar questions keep popping up in news articles and op-ed chinstrokers in the Western media, and in much of the Arabic media too.

They all deal with important issues, but they disregard an important fact: the FSA doesn’t really exist.

The original FSA: a branding operation

The FSA was created by Col. Riad el-Asaad and a few other Syrian military defectors in July 2011, in what may or may not have been a Turkish intelligence operation. To be clear, there’s no doubting the sincerity of the first batch of fighters, or suggest that they would have acted otherwise without foreign support. But these original FSA commanders were confined to the closely guarded Apaydın camp in Turkey, and kept separate from civilian Syrian refugees. Turkish authorities are known to have screened visitors and journalists before deciding whether they could talk to the officers. While this is not in itself evidence of a Turkish intelligence connection, it does suggest that this original FSA faction could not, how shall we say, operate with full autonomy from its political environment.

From summer onwards, new rebel factions started popping up in hundreds of little villages and city neighborhoods inside Syria, as an ever-growing number of local demonstrators were provoked into self-defense. The most important recruiting tool for this nascent insurgency was not the FSA and its trickle of videotaped communiqués on YouTube. Rather, it was Bashar el-Assad’s decision to send his army on a psychotic rampage through the Syrian Sunni Arab countryside. As the corpses piled up, more and more civilians started looking for guns and ammo, and the rebel movement took off with a vengeance.

While the new groups almost invariably grew out of a local context, and organized entirely on their own, most of them also declared themselves to be part of the FSA. They adopted its logotype, and would often publicly pledge allegiance to Col. Riad el-Asaad. As a branding operation, the FSA was a extraordinary success – but in most cases, the new “FSA brigades” had no connection whatsoever to their purported supreme commander in Turkey. In reality, what was emerging was a sprawling leaderless resistance of local fighters who shared only some common goals and an assemblage of FSA-inspired symbols.

The heyday of the FSA was in early/mid 2012, when new factions were being declared at a rate of several per week. But by mid-2012, the brand seemed to have run its course, as people soured on Col. Asaad and his exiles. The FSA term slowly began to slip out of use. By the end of the year, most of the big armed groups in Syria had stopped using it altogether, and one by one, they dropped or redesigned the old FSA symbols from their websites, logotypes, shoulder patches and letterheads. Their symbolic connection to the FSA leaders in Turkey was broken – and since no connection at all had existed outside the world of symbols, that was the end of that story.

The FSA brand name today

Today, the FSA brand name remains in use within the Syrian opposition, but mostly as a term for the armed uprising in general. It’s quite similar to how a French person would have employed the term “La Résistance” during WW2 – not in reference to a specific organization fighting against Hitler, but as an umbrella term for them all. With time, many people inside and outside Syria have started to use the FSA term to distinguish mainstream non-ideological or soft-Islamist groups from salafi factions. The salafis themselves used to be divided on the issue, but they aren’t anymore. The more ideological ones (like Jabhat el-nosra and Ahrar el-Sham) never used it, but at the start of the uprising, others did (like Liwa el-Islam and Suqour el-Sham).

One can’t disregard the fact that many Syrian opposition fighters will casually refer to themselves as FSA members, or that some armed factions actually self-designate as “a brigade of the FSA”. But that does not mean that they belong to some Syria-wide FSA command hierarchy: it’s still just a label, typically intended to market these groups as part of the opposition mainstream.

With time, then, the generally understood definition of the FSA term has gradually narrowed from its original scope, which encompassed almost the entire insurgency. Today, it is understood to apply mostly to army defectors (ex-Baathists), non-ideological fighters, and more moderate Islamists. But the dividing line is not really a question of ideology or organization, it is political. The FSA label is increasingly being used in the media as shorthand for those factions which receive Gulf/Western support and are open to collaboration with the USA and other Western nations.

That still doesn’t describe an actual organization, but at least it’s closer to a working definition of what the “FSA” would mean in a Syrian opposition context – a definition that can’t really decide what it includes, but which clearly excludes most of the anti-Western salafis, all of the hardcore salafi-jihadis, and, for example, the Kurdish YPG militia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Halabja

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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