Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for US president, and has the support of some American leftists, but her apologies for Putin has angered Greens in Russia, who’ve sent her this Open Letter:
Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 election
Dear Dr. Stein,
We are writing to you in the spirit of green values and principles, which include fighting for a sustainable future, defending the environment and human rights, and engaging in international solidarity. We are also writing to you as eco-activists, women and mothers.
In November of this year, you will face an important challenge which will have an impact all over the world, even far away from US borders. As Russian eco-activists, we are following the US presidential election with curiosity and fear. Curiosity for your democratic system and fear for the impact that the result of this election could have on our lives and the lives of our children.
As environmentalists and human rights defenders, we often support Green candidates all over the world when they run for local, national or continental election. However, we are asking ourselves if we can support your candidature for the Presidency of the United States of America. We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.
During the last few years, Russian authorities have continued the destruction of the rich and unique Russian environment. The Kremlin is heavily contributing to global climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity by over-using Russian natural resources and promoting unsafe nuclear energy. Corruption and anti-democratic behavior of the current Russian government has also led to negative impacts on Russia’s unique forests and natural heritage. Russian eco-activists and human rights defenders are also facing an increasingly repressive system which was constructed under Putin’s regime. The list of the victims of this system is unfortunately becoming longer and longer. Russian environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko spent 22 months in prison for a non-violent action. Journalist Mikhail Beketov was violently attacked in 2008, suffered serious injuries, and died in 2013. Our personal cases are also symbolic: because of our activism, and in order to protect our children, we were both forced to leave Russia and to seek political asylum in the European Union.
After your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Vladimir Putin you said that “the world deserve[s] a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.” We agree with you. But how can this new “collaborative dialogue” be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists? Is it fair to speak with him about “geopolitics” and not mention new Russian laws against freedom of speech, restrictions on NGOs and activists, or the shameful law that forbids “homosexual propaganda”?
By silencing Putin’s crimes you are silencing our struggle. By shaking his hand and failing to criticize his regime you are becoming his accomplice. By forgetting what international solidarity means you are insulting the Russian environmental movement.
Dr. Stein, you still have several weeks before the elections in order to clarify your position on the anti-democratic and anti-environmental elements of Putin’s regime. We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard and that our questions will not go unanswered
H/t: Roland Dodds at That Place
Above: police in Nice force woman to remove burkini
Some of the liberal and liberal-leftist opposition to the French burkini ban (eg in the Guardian) has slipped over into positive support for religious dress and “modesty” as a female virtue. This article argues that opposition to the ban should not mean offering any degree of support to religious obscurantism or misogyny.
By Theodora Polenta (very slightly edited by JD; this article also appears in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website):
On 26 August, the Supreme Court of France ruled against bans on the “burkini” by some south-of-France municipalities. The ruling was greeted with relief by women, by Muslims (including those opposed to religiously-imposed dress rules for women), and for the millions of women and men outraged by seeing four armed policemen on the beach of Nice publicly humiliate a Muslim woman in a burkini. The Court concluded that the ban is a “serious and illegal violation of basic freedoms”, and that local authorities may take such measures only if the burkini is a “proven risk to public order”.
The “burkini” is a swimsuit invented in 2004 by the Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti. The big fashion houses saw the potential of a new “market”, and took it up. It is a swimsuit that covers the entire body except the face (unlike the burqa, which covers the face, and is compulsorily loose-fitting), and is similar to diving suits and other garments for watersports. While the diving suits have never bothered anyone, and the burkini has bothered few in Australia, where many wearers are non-Muslims concerned about skin cancer risks, some French politicians have branded the burkini as a major threat to the morals and values of French society.
For readers of Solidarity, the burkini will seem reminiscent of periods we want to leave behind, when women were forced to remain invisible and silent to demonstrate that they were modest and humble. Personally I find abhorrent any suggestion that there is something inherently wrong with the body and hair of any woman or any human being, or that anyone should be condemned never to feel the sun and the air on their body in order to be considered a “woman”. Or that to cover our bodies is the answer to the voyeuristic culture that objectifies women’s bodies and imposes elusive and sometimes cruel beauty standards. However, the burkini bans bring to mind the French army operation in Algeria in May 1958. In order to add pressure for the coup in France which would bring De Gaulle to power and block what the army saw as a drift to conceding Algerian independence, the army organised a demonstration by some Muslim Algerian women to remove their veils and burn them.
Moreover, the right-wing politicians pushing the bans are instrumentalising women’s bodies and rights as a diversion and a pretext for divisive policies. Banning the burkini as “associated with terrorism” is an invention based on Islamophobia, racism and sexism. The bans are part of the official response to the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris in 2015 and in Nice this summer. In the name of anti-terrorism, instead of promoting more equality and democracy, the government is fortifying a permanent state of emergency and targeting and stigmatising sections of the already most oppressed parts of the population. Several mayors have said they will appeal.
According to Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascistic National Front, “the soul of France itself is at stake,” because “France does not imprison a woman’s body nor hides half the population under the pretext that the other half will be tempted.” Socialist Party Prime Minister Valls has written on Facebook that “the decision of the Supreme Court did not close the debate”. “Denouncing the burkini is not calling into question individual freedom… It is denouncing deadly, backward Islamism”. Women’s rights minister Laurence Rossiynol has declared that the bans help fight against “restriction of the female body”! However, education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has stated that “there is absolutely no connection between terrorism and what a woman wears on the beach.”
The National Front and Marine Le Pen expect to make gains in the upcoming presidential elections. Ultra-rightists are feeling daring and are behind the proliferation of attacks against Muslims, who are 7.5% of France’s population. Among Muslims in France, who generally follow religious dress codes much less than Muslims in Britain, the ban was considered as a camouflaged attack not only on how Muslim women dress but also on how they self-identify.
While opposing the ban on the burkini, we should not slide into supporting the burkini and burqa under some postmodernist reasoning. For a large number of women in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa, and sometimes in the Western world, religious dress codes are not their free choice, but a brutal coercion. They are an extreme symbol of obscurantism and repression of by hardcore Muslim Islamists. But opposition to religious compulsion is not served by such bans. The hypocrites who want to ban the burkini have no problem with the French State financing private Catholic schools. Or with the fact that in adjacent Belgium, much of the education is Catholic. Or with the mandatory religion classes, morning school prayers, and so on, in Greece.
The bans on burkinis has caused a 200% surge in sales. And such prohibitions can drive people into the open arms of fanatical Islamist organizations, which appear as the only defenders of their rights. To gain the trust of these women and engage them in the struggle for decent jobs and wages, against cuts, for a socialist society, we must defend their freedom of choice of dressing, of religious self-identification and of freedom of religious expression and exercise of religious beliefs.
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By Dan Katz (this piece also appears on the Workers Liberty website)
The attempt by a section of the Turkish army to take power has failed. On the night of Friday 15 July troops grabbed bridges, airports and television stations, as well as Military Headquarters. Parliament was bombed.
The plotters declared that they were acting, “to restore the constitutional order, human rights and freedoms, the rule of law, and public order.”
However the coup had insufficient support inside the armed forces and almost all the top leadership sided with the state against the rebellion, calling for troops to return to barracks. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in power since 2002, managed to rally his supporters in the police and intelligence services. Mass opposition to the coup amongst the general public included many who were not supporters of Erdogan. Thousands came to onto the streets.
Erdogan has purged the army, jailed many generals and strengthened the police as a counterweight. It was assumed that the army was no longer an alternative political centre – and indeed this failed coup is a sign of weakness, not strength.
Members of parliament met in the damaged parliament in an act of defiance.
By Saturday footage was emerging of disarmed soldiers being attacked by civilian supporters of the President. Apparently 265 people died during the coup attempt.
It is a good thing the coup has failed. The Turkish military has a long and brutal record of political intervention, including a violent overthrow in 1980 during which many leftists were killed or arrested and working class organisations were repressed. Four governments have been overthrown by the Turkish military in the past 50 years.
It is unfortunate, however, that the immediate political beneficiary is President Erdogan, the autocratic leader of the Islamist Turkish government.
Erdogan has had 2839 soldiers arrested and sacked 2745 judges. Warrants have been issued for the arrest of 140 Supreme Court members. At least one top officer, General Erdal Ozturk, commander of the Third Army, has been detained.
Erdogan has accused a former political ally, Fethullah Gulen, of being behind the coup. Gulen is currently in exile in the US and Erdogan is loudly demanding his extradition. Gulen condemned the coup.
A Turkish official has also accused the US of involvement. John Kerry has denied the claim and warned Turkey to respect the rule of law when pursuing those involved in the coup.
Under cover of prosecuting the coup plotters no doubt Erdogan will settle scores with others, and tighten his grip on political life.
Turkey is increasingly polarised. The ruling party has been rocked by corruption scandals, the war in Syria and an enormous refugee crisis. Erdogan is now back at war with the PKK, the Kurdish separatist movement who had been on ceasefire for two years. Many of the towns and villages in the Kurdish south east are under military occupation and some have been partly destroyed during fierce fighting.
The Turkish state faces a military threat from the PKK and also bomb attacks by Islamic State.
Many young people in the cities dislike the social conventions of the Islamists in power. And Erdogan has ruthlessly pursued his critics in the media – jailing some journalists, and intimidating many more. The main independent newspapers and television stations have been taken over. Prosecutors have opened 2000 cases against people suspected of insulting the president since 2014.
Above: the ultra-reactionary, racist future after Brexit
If “Leave” wins on Thursday, I warn you:
I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment, because the Brexiters want to privatise the NHS.
I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right – as the Brexiters have demonstrated with their lying, consciously dishonest campaign.
I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay, made worse mby the recession that will follow Brexit.
I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford, under an ultra-reactionary government unconstrained by EU fundamental rights legislation.
I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies: something then Brexiteers didn’t explain to you as they advocated recession.
I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light, as the fascistic forces unleashed by Farage, Gove and Johnson seek out another victim.
I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.
I warn you that you will have defence against immigrants and refugees of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.
I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.
I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.
If Leave wins on Thursday–
– I warn you not to be a part-time or agency worker
– I warn you not to be young
– I warn you not to be black or “foreign”-seeming
– I warn you not to get old.
(adapted from the words of Neil Kinnock)
This article appears in today’s Morning Star:
We need to talk about homophobia
LGBT education is needed now more than ever in the wake of the Orlando shootings, argues RABBIL SIKDAR
FIFTY people killed because of their sexuality in Orlando. It’s clear that though 21st century is here with increasing legislations in support of LGBT people, there is still an entrenched camp of bigots who have nothing but seething hatred for these people.
What struck me the most wasn’t the incident itself. Jihadist violence against innocent people is becoming increasingly common. The appeal of Islamic State (Isis) is far-reaching.
What particularly struck me was the grief and rage of Owen Jones later on Sky News when he was trying to explain this to two heterosexuals.
This wasn’t violence against humanity, as they blindly insisted. It was violence against one of the most viciously oppressed and marginalised groups in the world, who face varying degrees of discrimination, prejudice and violence.
What happened was a terrorist attack, but it was also an attack on LGBT people. The killer’s father would come out and say his son was openly repulsed by the sight of two men kissing.
With any terrorist incident there come the inquests. Why did it happen, the motivations, the factors, who to blame, who not to blame?
Muslims often find themselves dragged into that blame game as the far-right brigade come out in their numbers.
Atrocities become shamelessly hijacked for right-wing propaganda. With the attacks in Orlando, we had Donald Trump praising himself and the EU Leave rightwingers warning about Islamism.
The issue of gun control and the easy access that mentally deranged lunatics and terrorists have to weapons has not been addressed.
It’s a failure of Barack Obama that he has been effectively blocked from gun reforms by an NRA-backed Republican Party.
The country has shifted in its opinion, but Republicans remain firmly wedded to the free access to guns. Even as violence rips through the US, the second amendment is fiercely protected.
But those who place the biggest problem from this at gun reforms are wrong. The biggest problem is homophobia.
It’s still rampant. Within the US, the LGBT community faces immense prejudice and discrimination. The right to marry and adopt is fiercely contested.
Though many states have now legalised gay marriage, the US faces a battle with homophobia.
The Orlando killer was also a Muslim. That doesn’t automatically mark Muslims out as being uniquely homophobic, as many are claiming.
But people need to be honest: the stances towards the LGBT community within parts of the Muslim community are often extremely regressive and troubling.
It’s why gay Muslims rarely come out. In the Muslim world, the punishment for homosexuality is often death.
In Britain, polls have shown that over half of Muslims believe homosexuality is wrong.
And of course at the extreme end of the scale Isis punishes homosexuals by throwing them off towers.
This despite the Koran itself never prescribing a punishment. Homosexuality is often treated as some sort of sin that’s as morally corrupt as murder or rape.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have institutionalised and rationalised homophobia rather than showing tolerance.
Within Britain, it’s not talked enough about in households or in schools. LGBT Muslims face huge identity conflicts, fear of being marginalised and treated as freaks, unable to find mosques welcoming them.
Conservative Muslims have insisted that whatever their stance on homosexuality, murder is wrong. But it misses the point.
When you treat homosexuality as a sin and LGBT people as abominations, you strip them of their humanity and empathy and forge a scenario where acts of violence can be inflicted upon them because they are regarded as lesser beings who have strayed wildly.
When the media continuously demonises Muslims or black people, we immediately point out how the antagonist was radicalised by the social environment of hatred and poisonous bile and bigotry towards these people.
Homophobia isn’t exclusive to Islam and, indeed, polls show that overall Roman Catholics tend to be more negative towards homosexuality than ordinary Muslims.
Historically, it wasn’t always the case that Muslim society reacted like this to LGBT people.
Under the Ottoman empire, homosexuality was not treated as a crime. But right now religious authorities have to act.
Within the Muslim world, Muslims who are politically, culturally or sexually different from others are treated as deviants and heretics. Their punishment is often execution.
LGBT people still have to live in fear of being who they are. Homophobic attitudes are harder to defeat in later stages of life. So start early. LGBT education is needed now more than ever.
And acknowledging that there are huge swathes of the Muslim community that do not tolerate homosexuality, peaceful though they may be, is one of these tasks.
Saturday’s TUC/Equal Opportunities Review Discrimination Law Conference was, as usual, a highly informative event.
The driving force behind this conference (an annual event) is Michael Rubenstein, editor of Equal Opportunities Review and widely regarded as Britain’s leading expert on both equal opportunities law and employment law (he also edits the Industrial Relations Law Reports): unlike a lot of legal people, he makes no secret of his sympathy with the trade union movement.
Amongst the other distinguished speakers was Karon Monagham QC of Matrix Chambers, on ‘Sex and race discrimination: recent developments.’ Anyone whose ever Karon speak will know that she makes no secret of her left wing stance and passionate commitment to anti-racism, equal opportunities and trade union rights – how she ever got to be a QC is a bit of a mystery …
Karon spoke with authority on her subject, concentrating upon:
Karon noted that, “As to recent decisions of the Courts and tribunals, they’re a mixed bag. We have seen some worrying recent case law challenging some of the prevailing orthodoxy around the concepts of equality under the EA 2010 and related matters. We have also seen some progressive case law, in particular in reliance on fundamental rights protected by EU and ECHR law.”
In the course of her presentation, Karon made it clear that the EU Equality Directives, case law from the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, remain potent and effective tools for all those concerned with defending human rights and trade union rights.
In fact, although it did not appear on the agenda, a recurring theme of the conference was the EU and the possibility of Brexit. In his opening remarks, Michael Rubenstein asked “Do you think Brexit and the Cameron government, together, are going to be good or bad for human rights, equal opportunities and trade union rights?” He added, laughing, “That’s a rhetorical question.”
During the final Q&A session, the panel were asked what they though the impact of a Bexit would be on human rights and employment legislation in the UK: Rubenstein replied with a single word: “catastrophic.”
The idiot-left who seem to think that something progressive can be achieved by getting out of the EU need to take notice of people who know what they’re talking about.
Greece late on Tuesday enacted a human-rights’ bill which allows civil partnership agreements between same-sex couples despite protests and opposition from political parties and the powerful Orthodox Church.
A growing number of European countries have established legislation allowing registered partnership rights for same-sex couples, including Britain, Spain and Cyprus, but the issue remains contentious in many other EU states.
Although Greece allowed such agreements for heterosexual couples in 2008 it excluded homosexual couples, a move which the European Court of Human Rights ruled discriminatory in 2013.
On Tuesday, 193 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament voted in favour of similar rights for gay and lesbian couples.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who has promised social reforms to mitigate the negative impact of an EU/IMF bailout, said the bill closed “a circle of embarrassment for the state”.
“This is a great moment, not only for the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community, but also for legal equality in Greece”, Vasiliki Katrivanou, a lawmaker with Tsipras’ leftist Syriza party, told parliament.
“But what is worth discussing is … that it took us so long, that it took all these struggles”, she said adding the bill should pave the way for same-sex couples’ civil union, which has been Syriza’s pre-election promise.
As for who opposed it…
Goldsmiths: Islamist Bullies try to intimidate this brave champion of freedom and secularism.
Reblogged (and slightly edited) from Tendance Coatesy:
Before reading this, the following statements by comrade Pierre Rousset, made in March in the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Casher, are important,
For many years now, sections of the Western radical Left, and not minor ones, have cast the strong rise of fundamentalism in the Muslim world in a very positive light – as a (more or less distorted) expression of anti-imperialism, whereas they are actually (as in other religions) reactionary and counter-revolutionary currents.
More broadly, a number of currents have adopted the detestable habit of only defending the victims of their “main enemy” (their government, their imperialism), without worrying about the victims of the “enemies of their enemies” – in this case, fundamentalist Islam. They do so in the name of exclusive “priorities” or, worse, on the basis that defending such victims amounts to an act of complicity with imperialism. We should note in passing that the same kind of reasoning can be applied to victims of a so-called “anti-imperialist” dictatorship such as the Assad regime in Syria.”
“The British SWP pushed things particularly far in this area. The Central Committee statement released following the Charlie Hebdo massacre is written from start to finish in such a way as to minimize the responsibility of the assassins, even if the attack is described as “wrong and completely unacceptable” and the killings as “horrific”. Alongside imperialism, Charlie Hebdo comes off as a major guilty party due to its “provocative and racist attacks on Islam,” adding for good measure that while “that does not justify the killings, but it is essential background.” The only task of the hour is therefore to “unite against racism and Islamophobia”.  It’s easy to understand why the SWP would react in this way, given that it has to erase its tracks and blind readers to its own responsibilities. It was one of the main organizations of the radical Left to describe the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the expression of a new anti-imperialism. And when women in Britain itself called on progressive forces to support them against the fundamentalist threat, the SWP made it nearly impossible for them to get a hearing on the Left.”
March 2015. International Viewpoint.
Goldsmiths ISOC fails to intimidate and silence dissenters. Maryam Namazie.
From Freethought Blogs.
I spoke on 30 November 2015 at Goldsmiths University at the invitation of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).
The night before my talk, the ASH president received an email from the president of Goldsmiths Islamic Society (ISOC) saying the following:
As an Islamic society, we feel extremely uncomfortable by the fact that you have invited Maryam Namazie. As you very well probably know, she is renowned for being Islamophobic, and very controversial.
Just a few examples of her Islamophobic statements, she labelled the niqab- a religious symbol for Muslim women, “a flag for far-right Islamism”. Also, she went onto tweet, they are ”body bags” for women. That is just 2 examples of how mindless she is, and presents her lack of understanding and knowledge about Islam. I could go on for a while if you would like further examples.
We feel having her present, will be a violation to our safe space, a policy which Goldsmiths SU adheres to strictly, and my society feels that all she will do is incite hatred and bigotry, at a very sensitive time for Muslims in the light of a huge rise in Islamophobic attacks.
For this reason, we advise you to reconsider your event tomorrow. We will otherwise, take this to the Students Union, and present our case there. I however, out of courtesy, felt it would be better to speak to you first.
On the day of my talk, the “ISOC Brothers’” Facebook Page [the ISOC Sisters’ have a separate closed page) posted the following, which has since been deleted:
Despite claims of “safe spaces” and concerns about “bigotry”, the Goldsmith ISOC never made any formal complaint to the Student Union, which had already approved my talk, showing that it was an attempt at intimidating ASH organisers.
After my talk began, ISOC “brothers” started coming into the room, repeatedly banging the door, falling on the floor, heckling me, playing on their phones, shouting out, and creating a climate of intimidation in order to try and prevent me from speaking.
I continued speaking as loudly as I could. They repeatedly walked back and forth in front of me. In the midst of my talk, one of the ISOC Islamists switched off my PowerPoint and left. The University security had to intervene and remain in the room as I continued my talk.
Eventually the thug who had switched off my PowerPoint returned and continued his harassments. At this point, I stood my ground, screamed loudly and continued insisting that he be removed even when the security said he should stay because he was a student. When he was finally escorted out of the meeting, discussions on many issues from apostasy, the veil to Islamism and Sharia laws continued, including with some of the ISOC “sisters” who remained behind.
In the Q&A, a women’s rights campaigner who had been kidnapped by Islamists in Libya and held for three days said that the attempts at intimidation reminded her of those dreaded days.
Another CEMB activist said one of the ISOC thugs disrupting the meeting threatened him by pointing a finger to his head.
The behaviour of the ISOC “brothers” was so appalling that a number of Muslim women felt the need to apologise, to which I explained that no apology was needed from those who were not to blame.
Absurdly, this very group which speaks of “safe spaces” has in the past invited Hamza Tzortzis of IERA which says beheading of apostates is painless and Moazem Begg of Cage Prisoners that advocates “defensive jihad.”
The ISOC’s use of rights language are clearly a cover to silence any critic and opponent of Islam and Islamism and to normalise the far-Right Islamist narrative under the guise of Islamophobia and offence.
Despite the many attempts of the ISOC “brothers,” the meeting ended successfully and raised critical issues, including that criticism of Islam and Islamism are not bigotry against Muslims who are often the first victims of Islamism and on the frontlines of resistance. The meeting also helped expose the Islamists for what they are – thugs who cannot tolerate dissent.
Nonetheless, the Islamists at ISOC will need to learn that apostates, and particularly women, have a right to speak and that we will not be intimidated or back down.
Freedom of expression and the right to criticise and leave Islam without fear and intimidation is a basic human right. We have a responsibility to fight for these universal values at British universities and also across the globe.
A video of the talk will be made available shortly.
WARNING: this film contains extremely disturbing images as a Saudi woman pleads for mercy before being beheaded.
By Pete Radcliff
For many decades the relationship between the Saudi Wahhabist dictatorship and the arms, oil and other companies in Britain has been ignored by the media.
Despite Bin Laden’s wealthy Saudi family background. Despite the majority of the 9/11 bombers being Saudi. Despite the Saudi Arabia’s brutal treatment of women and migrant workers. Despite Saudi having been second only to Iran in numbers of executions per head of population (this year it’s likely to overtake Iran).
Despite too, having a legal system run by religious reactionaries who execute people for being gay, an atheist, for fighting back against rapists or demanding democratic change. Despite having the fourth highest military expenditure in the world. Despite its record of imperialist intervention in the Middle East (Bahrain, Yemen). Despite the complete lack of trade union rights or free speech.
The media were no doubt intimidated and told criticism would disrupt profitable and politically influential UK businesses.
But over the last year, this has started to change, largely in response to the growth of Daesh (Islamic State).
For decades Saudi has exported its reactionary ideology through schools, mosques and other institutions they have financed. The aim was to create religious movements and political parties, to penetrate the civil services and state apparatuses of the countries they “aided”.
But the Arab Spring of 2011 shook the Saudi regime. Their allies in the ruling classes of the Middle East were challenged like never before.
The Saudis had to send in what was effectively an occupying army in support of the Bahraini dictators to suppress the revolt. Even in fiercely repressed Saudi Arabia, voices of criticism started to be raised, questions started being asked about how it was that the terror of 9/11 and of Al Qaeda had begun in Saudi Arabia.
Prominent amongst those questioning the Saudi state’s political ideology was a blogger in his late 20s, Raif Badawi.
Al Qaeda started breaking up in 2012 with the emergence of Daesh and the setting up of a geographical “Islamic state”, the centre of a claimed caliphate. This was an even greater challenge to Saudi Arabia’s standing within the international Sunni Islamist movement.
The response of the Saudi rulers was threefold.
Firstly, they reasserted the brutality of their regime in competition with the Daesh. The rate of executions doubled. Intimidation of the Shia minority in Saudi increased with their acknowledged figurehead, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, sentenced to death. Provocative attacks on Shia were allowed to happen and protests in defence were brutally repressed.
Secondly, they stepped up their military activity in the region — launching a war on Yemen.
Thirdly, they have tried to forge an alliance with fellow Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and sections of Al Qaeda (itself formed in opposition to the Saudi regime), both militarily and politically. In Syria, with seeming US agreement they have attempted to reorganise non-Daesh Islamist militias.
But their repression and imperialist interventions are not going unnoticed. The start of the lashings of Raif Badawi triggered off protests throughout Europe. It led to a confrontation between the Saudi regime and the Swedish government and their Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström. She described the Saudi’s treatment of Raif as “medieval”. The Swedish government made threats to stop supplying the Saudi regime with arms. The Saudi regime and their close ally in the UAE blocked visas to Swedish people in an attempt to scare Swedish businesses.
However the UK Tory government has proved itself the most loyal of Saudi friends. Not only have they not spoken out against Saudi internal repression, they also helped ensure Saudi Arabia, possibly the world’s largest human rights abuser, was granted the chair of the UN Human Rights Council!
Jeremy Corbyn has demanded Cameron take action against the planned beheading and crucifixion of the nephew of Sheikh Nimr, the young Shia activist Mohammed Al-Nimr. Corbyn also called for the cancelling of the contract between the Ministry of Justice’s commercial arm and the prison system of Saudi Arabia. Parts of the press, particularly Channel 4 News also pursued Cameron on this. But Cameron refused.
There then followed press revelations about the Saudi-UK deal in the UN and the Tories buckled and cancelled the contract.
For months NGOs and campaigners had been campaigning on Raif’s behalf and against the Ministry of Justice contract. English PEN had been holding weekly vigils outside the Saudi Embassy; in June a day of action was held in support of Raif Badawi and his imprisoned lawyer. Parliamentary debates and interventions were organised.
A new coalition has been launched “We are Raif: for Free Speech and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia”. It has brought together many NGOs already active on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. But it has also got the support of campaigns in protest against Bahraini repression as well as Hope Not Hate, and anti-Islamist campaigns One Law for All and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
The main practical focus of the campaign is to “end the sales of UK arms and military equipment, including military support packages, to Saudi Arabia” and to “call for an end to any business relations with the Saudi regime…”
Saudi military and political tentacles are spreading across the Middle East; already 5,400 have died as a result of their war on Yemen. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s third largest military supplier.
The Saudi economy has been one of the fastest developing economies in the world, with one million un-unionised building workers. There will be a lot to campaign about.
As Cameron and Osborne suck up to Xi Jinping, Amnesty International’s Allan Hogarth reminds us of that little matter called “human rights”:
As President Xi Jinping’s plane hits the tarmac he must be excited about the royal welcome that he’ll be getting in the UK – the red carpet has been rolled out, the flags raised and the banquet prepared!
I’m sure he’ll be keen to enjoy the hospitality of his hosts, whilst he and the UK Government get down to business. However, it would appear there is going to be one big elephant locked out of the room – human rights.
There has been lots of talk about China’s economic progress. People talk enthusiastically about progress made for Chinese citizens, better standards of living, economic security, and a growing middle class.
This may well be true and is indeed welcome. But when it comes to human rights we’ve witnessed a marked deterioration since President Xi came to office in 2012.
China is in the middle of its most intense crackdown on human rights for years and the human rights of ordinary Chinese citizens – including that growing middle class – must not be ignored in order to secure trade deals.
David Cameron must remember that China executed more than the rest of the world put together in 2014, often after trials that didn’t meet international standards.
The Prime Minister must ask President Xi about the nationwide operation that, in July, targeted and detained at least 248 lawyers and activists, 29 of whom still remain in police custody.
And what about the seven lawyers and five activists under ‘residential surveillance in a designated place’ – a process in which police are allowed to hold criminal suspects for up to six months outside of the formal detention system? This often amounts to enforced disappearance, a violation of international law.
As Chinese citizens are finding their economic freedom, perhaps Mr Cameron will raise concerns about other freedoms?
In Tibetan areas, there continue to be tight restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Zhejiang provincial government is waging a campaign to demolish Christian churches and tear down crosses and crucifixes. All unauthorised forms of peaceful religious worship – including Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian house churches – can be subjected to suppression and criminal sanctions.
As President Xi will be staying with the Head of the Anglican Church, perhaps Mr Cameron would find it appropriate to raise these issues with the President?
The space for civil society in China is shrinking when it should be cherished and nurtured. Yet the Chinese authorities appear determined to clamp down on anyone that they deem a threat.
The catch all law of ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ allows the government to arrest, detain and silence those that question them.
Recent targets include the New Citizen Movement, a loose network of activists dedicated to the principles of constitutionalism, government transparency and civic responsibility – hardly firebrands?
Add to this that the authorities are considering introducing a ‘Foreign NGO Management Law’ that could put at risk forms of cooperation between UK and Chinese civil society. Mr Cameron must urge President Xi not to pass this law.
Of course, these are all issues that the Chinese will not want raising during the President’s visit.
The Chinese Ambassador has been quick to discourage any mentions of human rights. Any mention (of course) would be ‘embarrassing for the UK’ and offensive to China.
Well I’m sorry Mr Ambassador, but human rights activists actually find your comments offensive. I’m also sure that those brave Chinese activists who languish in your prisons, subject to harassment and restrictions would also be offended if these issues aren’t raised.
It is for these people that David Cameron should raise human rights issues with President Xi. He doesn’t have to ‘offend’ him, he’s a politician and perfectly capable of doing so with in a principled, forceful and specific way, both publicly and in private.
There may be thousands of miles between the UK and China, but the brave human rights lawyers, activists and defenders there are watching developments here.
This is Mr Cameron’s opportunity to show that the UK doesn’t put trade and prosperity above people – and that is why we stand together with the Chinese people in defence of human rights.
Follow @amnestyuk on Twitter as hundreds protest outside Buckingham Palace during President Xi Jinping’s visit
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