Clive on Paris: “Just some thoughts. No conclusions.”

November 17, 2015 at 8:46 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Cities, Clive Bradley, democracy, Europe, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, iraq war, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, misogyny, murder, secularism, solidarity, Syria, terror, turkey)

By Clive Bradley (via Facebook):

For what they’re worth, my feelings about Paris, etc. Friday was personally upsetting because Paris is a city I know quite well: I’ve never been to the Bataclan, but for sure I’ve walked past it. I have friends in Paris. Elia and I have been to Paris for our anniversary in the past. It brings it home to me in a way which – to be honest – other recent atrocities don’t.

The reason for posting now, though, is that I’m frustrated by some of what I’m seeing in social media and in the news about the politics of this. It’s horrific to see the racist, nationalistic, xenophobic nonsense spouted in some quarters. It seems to me the single most important thing we have to do to fight ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh is fight for the rights of migrants and refugees, both because what Daesh want is to stir up Islamophobia and other kinds of hate – that’s the aim of the attacks – and because genuine democracy, equality and freedom are the real weapons in any meaningful struggle against terrorism and religious fascism.

It’s true, of course, as some of my friends have pointed out, that a big factor in explaining the rise of Daesh is Western intervention in the Middle East. Indeed, French colonialism played a particularly appalling role in the Middle East and Arab world more generally (Algeria). If you had to pick a moment when the fuse was lit which led to the current crisis, I think it might have been when the French kicked Faisal out of Damascus just after World War One (the British gave him Iraq as a consolation), thus preventing the independent state the Arabs had been promised in the war against the Turks. (This is one reason among many I won’t update my status with a French flag – or indeed any national flag).

But what events like Paris, and Beirut, and Baghdad (many times) and everything that’s been happening in Syria (and Libya), and so on – and on – show is that Daesh nevertheless has to be fought. Their chilling statement about the Paris attacks – Paris as a den of perversion, and so forth – brings home that I, for instance, am a target of their hate. Everything I stand for and everything I am. How, then, to fight them?

Sadly, they won’t go away just because we don’t retaliate by bombing them. The single greatest victory against them in recent weeks was the retaking of Sinjar by the Kurds (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p037klpq).

To fight Daesh/IS, we should give the Kurds, the main military force opposing them on the ground with an agenda of democracy and human rights (ie not the murderous Assad regime), all the support we can.

But the uncomfortable fact is that the Kurds won this battle with US military air support. So maybe not all Western intervention is bad; or at least, if the Kurds want it and need it, shouldn’t we do what they want? And while Western intervention has mainly had disastrous consequences – the Iraq war being only the most obvious example – Western non-intervention in Syria has been pretty disastrous, too. We need to face the fact that this stuff is difficult. I’m not, here, advocating anything, just pointing out the complexity.

And there’s another question to do with Western ‘involvement’ which is harder to tackle. Daesh is the product of Western involvement up to a point; but it is much more directly the product of Saudi Arabia. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/…/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia…). A big thing the West could do to fight Daesh is break links with Saudi Arabia – but of course this they don’t want to do for obvious reasons, namely oil. The very least they could do is not promote Saudi Arabia as ‘moderate’ or champions of human rights. But in fact, something much more profound in the way the Western world works needs to change (and for sure this will have consequences in my own little bit of it).

Another thing we could do is challenge ‘our’ NATO ally, Turkey, who have been consistently more concerned to subvert the Kurds than to fight Daesh, and whose repression of the Kurds, which of course has long historical roots, is now deepening again. (I posted this the other day: https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-end-the-siege-of-…).
Just some thoughts. No conclusions. Might try to go back to sleep.

Kurds take Sinjar from the Islamic State group

Permalink 15 Comments

The urban dystopia of Shanghai

May 1, 2015 at 12:40 am (capitalism, China, Cities, Civil liberties, Human rights, posted by JD, stalinism)

By Camila Bassi (reblogged from Anaemic On A Bike):

“The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the ‘wretch’ who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist.” (Marx, Capital: Volume One)

My recent visit to Shanghai was the last of nine in which I have glimpsed urban development ‘the China way’. My photo story captures themes present in each of my visits that have haunted me. The former Chinese Communist Party leader, Deng Xiaoping, who hailed in the era of ‘opening and reform’, famously said: “Development is the only hard truth.” If capital is akin to a monster, then a gigantic monster was set loose in Shanghai from 1990, and has gluttonously and mindlessly trampled over people and eaten up land ever since – commodifying and extracting surplus-value at a reckless speed. Over the years, the sight of low-rise alleyway, working class living that is half demolished, with people still residing within it, has been less and less prominent in downtown Shanghai, simply because more and more of the demolition has been completed. The working class have been largely moved out of the centre to the isolating high-rise apartments of the suburbs – placed within new tower blocks that have been as quickly put up as old homes have been destroyed, and which signify urban regeneration that will fast degenerate. Shanghai is urban dystopia. It is a city of hardware, with no regard for software: culture, civil society, freedom to pause, and to think, and to question. If one sits in a taxi at night driving through the dazzling skyscrapers of Pudong, the Special Economic Zone just over the river from downtown Shanghai, one feels like one has entered Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

1280px-20090427_5475_Shanghai

(Wikimedia Commons)

The scale of Pudong is a frightening mash-up of the might of global capital and the muscle of Chinese totalitarianism – this is urban development, the China way. It is the subtle sights of Shanghai that have always struck me the most, and the absences too: where are the poor? Space and place is so controlled in Shanghai’s centre that one can stroll from Starbucks to Starbucks, visiting global retail chains in between, and simply miss the missing population. What we call gentrification in the West appears on such a vast scale in Shanghai that what one can actually see – if awake enough – is capitalism at its most naked. There’s the next, near-erected skyscraper, such as the one I walked passed once by the Bund at midnight, with orange sparks against a black sky right at the top, generated by welding, as rural migrant workers toil for little pay and no health and safety protection. And there’s the rural migrant workers digging holes in roads and pavements with pick axes and shovels, such rudimentary equipment which once puzzled me. Yes, labour in China is that exploited, it is cheaper to employ workers to dig into concrete with pick axes and shovels than it is to employ a worker and a digger.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Cycling in Cities

April 4, 2014 at 9:14 am (Cities, Cycling, Rosie B)

Entertaining video giving stats on cycling in cities

Permalink 1 Comment

Making it cool, making it normal

April 1, 2014 at 8:59 am (Cities, Cycling, Rosie B)

The well-heeled urbanite, in tailored threads, bicycles with pleasure through the traffic-clogged streets of Jakarta. Meet Monocle Man.

Monocle Man is the hip sophisticate who reads the magazine Monocle.

a magazine that is in general focused on a particular brand of well-heeled global urbanism, the go-to source for articles on  . .. such new-urbanist obsessions as bicycling (“Kenji Hall goes for a little bike ride — in the middle of traffic-clogged Jakarta with the city’s governor, a Spanish MotoGP world champion and the ambassador of Denmark”),

I’m glad to hear that bicycling is a new-urbanist obsession. Of course in some countries like Denmark and Holland it’s merely how you get about but in Britain it would be good news if it became the same sophisticated activity that it was in the 1890s, when titled ladies pedalled about London and the beau monde showed off their cycling gear in the Bois de Boulogne.

Au_Bois_De_Boulogne_Vanity_Fair_1897-06-03
Fashionable ladies in the Bois de Boulogne, Vanity Fair, 1897

Those rich folk turned to automobiles but poorer people picked up second-hand  and then cheap mass produced bicycles. Cars, in Britain, were for the elite. When they began to be owned by the general public, they were also used differently from how they are today – for excursions and holidays, not for day to day transport. You got to your work on foot, by bicycle and by public transport while cars did not become the habitual way of getting to work until the 1960s.  The film Made in Dagenham, about a strike in 1968, showed the factory workers arriving by bicycle. In 10 years time it would be by car.

Madeindegenham
Made in Dagenham

So part of cycling campaigning is to make cycling normal urban transport  and not a lifestyle choice.  The Guardian, for instance, has good articles about cycling but they are in the Life and Style or politics  section of the website, not Transport.

I heard a talk by Professor Colin Pooley co-author of Promoting Walking and Cycling;  New perspectives on sustainable travel.  A study was undertaken in four different towns/cities,  (Leeds Leicester, Worcester and Lancaster) among various communities on how people made their choices of transport for short urban journeys. The summary of the key findings can be found in Understanding Walking and Cycling.

The authors demonstrated that, even in areas of England where ‘utility cycling’ is relatively common, most cyclists still perceive themselves to be part of a marginalised group; this compares starkly with studies in Europe that have revealed the extent to which cyclist believe they are confirming to a societal norm.

While attitudes to walking and cycling . . are mostly positive or neutral many people who would like to engage in more active travel fail to do so because of:-

1. Concerns about the safety of the physical environment – for cyclists that is traffic, for pedestrians, scary streets
2. Difficulty of fitting walking and cycling into complex routines
3. Walking and cycling are “abnormal”

Certainly cycling is seen as a desirable activity. Why else would Google put up this image for Mother’s Day.

Mothers-day-6490543638970368-hp

Capes? Have they never heard of Isadora Duncan or watched The Incredibles?

But although bicycles are seen as a carefree family occupation – look at the advertisements for Center Parcs, for instance – they are not used as ordinary urban transport.

The key message that comes from this research is that at present in Britain using the car for short trips in urban areas is convenient, habitual and normal. . . Alternatives to the car – especially cycling and walking – are perceived to take too much effort, need planning and equipment that causes hassles, and may be risky and uncomfortable. They also run the risk of being perceived by other as eccentric or odd.

Common remarks from those interviewed by the study:-

“It’s not a cool thing for a girl to be on a bike”

“People assume that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t drive.”

There were various suggestions for remaking cities and towns for walking and cycling:,-

1. Fully segregated cycle routes on all arterial and other busy roads
2. Making pedestrian routes more welcoming (widening pavements, removing street furniture, better lighting, keeping them clear of ice and fallen leaves)
3. Restricting traffic speed on non-segregated residential roads;
4. “Strict liability” so that pedestrians or cyclists injured in an accident involving a motor vehicle do not have to prove fault in seeking compensation;
5. Urban design that makes eg shopping centres convenient for cyclists and pedestrians.

There are a range of bodies that could effect these changes from central government to private businesses.

Professor Cooley was speaking to a converted audience, i.e. 150 cycling members of the public and sympathetic councillors.  To us he made three important points:-

1. A good urban policy is against the use of cars, not the ownership of them.
2. It should not be assumed that it is sufficient to change attitudes and make people more environmentally aware. It is necessary also to make the changes that enable people to translate these values into actions.
3.  Do not base policies about walking and cycling on the views and experiences of existing committed cyclists and pedestrians. They are a minority who have, against all the odds, successfully negotiated a hostile urban environment to incorporate walking and cycling into their everyday routines. It is necessary to talk. . .to non-walkers and non-cyclists, potential cyclists and walkers, former cyclists and walkers . . to encourage them to make more use of these transport modes.

The Leader of Edinburgh City Council, Andrew Burns, also spoke. Edinburgh has achieved 4% to 8% work rides within 8 years, with a target of 15% by 2020.  Councillor Burns cited Munich and Cologne as cities that have made progress in cycling. The utopias are Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Bikecultureincopenhagen

Cyclists, Copenhagen

Edinburgh has a strong campaigning group, Spokes, and a sympathetic council, and so has achieved better cycling than the average in the UK, in spite of its chilly, windy climate, hilliness and (the council falls down here) pot-holed road surfaces. On some of the cycle paths at peak hour it’s like the M8 for traffic flow.  So it can be done.  But it needs political will.

However, to finish with another quote from Professor Cooley (paraphrased):-

“The politicians report that the electorate will not accept changes that will make it easier to walk and cycle, yet speak directly to the electorate and they are happy with these changes.”

Permalink 9 Comments