Sometimes, words are insufficient …

August 19, 2016 at 11:16 am (children, Human rights, posted by JD, Syria)

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Aleppo doctors’ letter to Obama

August 11, 2016 at 1:19 pm (Human rights, Jim D, murder, Russia, Syria, terror, war)

Devastation at M2 hospital in Aleppo after government air strikes (@aboali_majed)

The few doctors remaining in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have written an open letter to US President Barack Obama begging him to intervene against the war crimes being committed by the Assad regime and its sponsor, Putin. It is not clear whether the doctors are calling for a diplomatic or military intervention.

Last month, the Syrian Army took control of the last road into the city with the help of Russian air strikes.

Most of the doctors who remain in the city have urged Mr Obama to intervene and create a zone to Aleppo’s east which is protected from airstrikes.

They have also called for “international action to ensure Aleppo is never besieged again”.

The letter in full:

Dear President Obama,

We are 15 of the last doctors serving the remaining 300,000 citizens of eastern Aleppo. Regime troops have sought to surround and blockade the entire east of the city. Their losses have meant that a trickle of food has made its way into eastern Aleppo for the first time in weeks. Whether we live or die seems to be dependent on the ebbs and flows of the battlefield.

We have seen no effort on behalf of the United States to lift the siege or even use its influence to push the parties to protect civilians.

For five years, we have faced death from above on a daily basis. But we now face death from all around. For five years, we have borne witness as countless patients, friends and colleagues suffered violent, tormented deaths. For five years, the world has stood by and remarked how ‘complicated’ Syria is, while doing little to protect us. Recent offers of evacuation from the regime and Russia have sounded like thinly-veiled threats to residents – flee now or face annihilation ?

Last month, there were 42 attacks on medical facilities in Syria, 15 of which were hospitals in which we work. Right now, there is an attack on a medical facility every 17 hours. At this rate, our medical services in Aleppo could be completely destroyed in a month, leaving 300,000 people to die.

What pains us most, as doctors, is choosing who will live and who will die. Young children are sometimes brought into our emergency rooms so badly injured that we have to prioritize those with better chances, or simply don’t have the equipment to help them. Two weeks ago, four newborn babies gasping for air suffocated to death after a blast cut the oxygen supply to their incubators. Gasping for air, their lives ended before they had really begun.

Despite the horror, we choose to be here. We took a pledge to help those in need.

Our dedication to this pledge is absolute. Some of us were visiting our families when we heard the city was being besieged. So we rushed back – some on foot because the roads were too dangerous. Because without us even more of our friends and neighbors will die. We have a duty to remain and help.

Continued US inaction to protect the civilians of Syria means that our plight is being wilfully tolerated by those in the international corridors of power. The burden of responsibility for the crimes of the Syrian government and its Russian ally must therefore be shared by those, including the United States, who allow them to continue.

Unless a permanent lifeline to Aleppo is opened it will be only a matter of time until we are again surrounded by regime troops, hunger takes hold and hospitals’ supplies run completely dry. Death has seemed increasingly inescapable. We do not need to tell you that the systematic targeting of hospitals by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes is a war crime. We do not need to tell you that they are committing atrocities in Aleppo.

We do not need tears or sympathy or even prayers, we need your action. Prove that you are the friend of Syrians.

Yours,

1. Dr. Abu Al Baraa, Pediatrician

2. Dr. Abu Tiem, Pediatrician

3. Dr. Hamza, Manager

4. Dr. Yahya, Pediatrician and head of Nutrition Program

5. Dr. Munther, Orthopedics

6. Dr. Abu Mohammad, General Surgeon

7. Dr. Abu Abdo, General Surgeon

8. Dr. Abd Al Rahman, Urologic Resident

9. Dr. Abu Tareq, ER Doctor

10. Dr. Farida, OBGYN

11. Dr. Hatem, Hospital Director

12. Dr. Usama, Pediatrician

13. Dr. Abu Zubeir, Pediatrician

14. Dr. Abu Maryam, Pediatric Surgeon

15. Dr. Abo Bakr, Neurologist

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Syria: inaction has consequences too

August 2, 2016 at 1:47 pm (Europe, Human rights, Middle East, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, Syria, terror)

THE EU VOTE AND UK POLITICAL FAILURE ON SYRIA

From Syria Solidarity UK


 High time to right a shared legacy of failure on Syria.

Reasons for the UK’s narrow vote to leave the EU are many. One is Syria: Both the Leave campaign and UKIP connected fears over immigration to the Syrian crisis. Assad’s war against Syria’s population has created the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In or out of the EU, we have a duty to care for refugees. We also need to understand that this refugee crisis is not caused by EU rules on free movement; it’s caused by the failure of world leaders, including Britain’s leaders, to stop Assad.

Inaction has consequences. At every point when world leaders failed to act against Assad, the impact of the Syrian crisis on the world increased. The failure of British Government and Opposition leaders on the EU vote is in part a consequence of their failure on Syria, but this story doesn’t end with today’s result. Without action, Syria’s crisis will continue to impact on us all.

Leaders failed to act in October 2011 when Syrians took to the streets calling for a no-fly zone.

By the end of 2011 there were 8,000 Syrian refugees in the region.

Leaders failed to act in 2012 when journalists Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed reporting from the horror of besieged Homs.

By the end of 2012, there were nearly half a million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2013 when the Assad regime massacred as many as 1,700 civilians in one morning with chemical weapons. That August, there were 1.8 million registered Syrian refugees.

Also in 2013, the UK failed to act when the Free Syrian Army faced attacks by ISIS forces infiltrating from Iraq. Instead of strengthening the FSA to withstand this new threat, UK MPs denied moderate forces the means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2013, there were 2.3 million registered Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2014 as the Assad regime ignored UN resolutions on barrel bombing, on torturing and besieging civilians. Diplomacy without military pressure only emboldened Assad to continue the slaughter.

By the end of 2014, there were 3.7 million Syrian refugees.

Leaders failed to act in 2015 as Russia joined Assad in bombing hospitals, humanitarian aid convoys, and rescue workers, and Syrians were denied any means to defend themselves.

By the end of 2015, there were over 4.5 million Syrian refugees.

Now the UK Government is failing to act as Assad breaks ceasefire agreements and breaks deadlines on letting aid into besieged communities. The UK has failed to deliver on airdrops. The UK has failed to apply serious pressure to stop Assad’s bombs.

There are now 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the region. There are many millions more displaced inside Syria. Just over a million Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, but that is a fraction of the total who have fled their homes.

The refugee crisis is just one impact of Assad’s war on Syrians. Voting to leave the European Union won’t insulate Britain from further effects of Syria’s man-made disaster. This crisis can’t be contained and must be brought to an end, and it can only end with the end of Assad.

Act now. Break the sieges. Stop the bombs. Stop the torture. Stop Assad.

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Alan Thornett: the Brexit left is in denial

August 1, 2016 at 4:16 pm (Europe, Human rights, posted by JD, Racism, Uncategorized)

By Alan Thornett (from the Socialist Resistance website)

It was clear, long before it was launched, that the EU referendum held serious dangerous for the left and for multiculturalism and anti-racism in Britain. The campaign itself was always going to be a carnival of racism and xenophobia and an outcome in favour of Brexit would trigger a major shift to the right in British politics—both at the level of government and in terms of social attitudes. Racism and xenophobia would be strengthened and the left thrown onto the defensive.

And now we have it. The Theresa May government, established within a remarkable few frenzied days, is the most right wing in modern times, not just in terms of Brexit but across the board—and she is playing all this to the full. Osborne is gone (replaced by Phillip Hammond), Nikki Morgan gone (replaced by Justine Greening), Michael Gove gone (replaced by Liz Truss), Amber Rudd is home secretary, Jeremy Hunt remains at Health—for confronting the doctors no doubt.

Possibly the most frightening, hard line Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom goes to the environment (DEFRA). She is not just a climate denier, and in favour of bringing back fox hunting, but she has close links to the Tea Party movement in the USA!

Leadsom would have been to the right of May had she been elected to the Tory leadership—which she might well have been had the vote gone to the Tory ‘rank and file’—and the way she was removed from the race in advance of this might well reflect divisions in the ruling class over how far Brexit should go.

The change of leadership to May, however, is still a big shift to the right and has left the Tories in a stronger, more united, and ideological coherent position, that they were under Cameron—despite the problems they face in implementing Brexit. UKIP has been sidelined, at the moment, by what is in effect, the partial UKIPisation of the Tory Party.

Most significantly, the key positions in terms of Brexit—the issue that will define her administration—go to hard-line right-wing Brexiteers:David Davies as minister for Brexit, Liam Fox as the newly created Minister of foreign trade and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. It means that these people have been handed the power to reshape Britain’s place in the world for the next generation if they get their way.

There are big changes in the structure of government as well. Most significantly the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been abolished and merged with Industry—which is a disaster for the environment and the struggle against climate change.

The Tory right, who have been skulking in the background and sniping about the EU since Cameron won the Tory Leadership from David Davis (and also Liam Fox) in 2005, are back with a vengeance. They are now in charge and are running the show.

It is these people have now been handed the opportunity, by this referendum vote, to reshape British politics (and Britain’s place in the world) on the scale that Thatcher was able to reshape British politics after the defeat of the miners in the 1980s—and they intend to grasp it with both hands. It is not going to be easy and there are many pit-falls in the Brexit process, but unless the May leadership is stopped at next election (and only Corbyn can do it), this is the very dangerous direction of travel.

Even if May is inclined at any point to make concession on Brexit, there will be plenty on the right ready to step in and stop her. UKIP will be waiting to capitalise on any back sliding and there are plenty on the Tory back benches ready to rise up against it.

This whole situation is not just a blow to the left in Britain but it is serving as an inspiration to right-wing forces right across Europe. Le Pen is already welcoming it with both hands and promising a similar referendum in France if she wins the Presidency next year.

Young people in British, who have lost the most under recent governments and who, for the first time face a reduced standard of living in comparison with the previous generation are the most hostile to all this, and were the most pro-remain section of society, and once again have the most to lose.

Three million EU citizens in Britain, who were denied a vote in the referendum, are left wondering what their status in Britain is likely to be after they have been used by May as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with the EU elites.

This was reflected in the 100,000 strong demonstration of mostly young people that took place in London immediately after the vote—organised through social media. It was not a demonstration organised by the left or of the labour movement but it was organised on a progressive basis and was strongly pro-immigration.

The situation of the left

Socialist Resistance argued for a remain vote on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics, and we have been right on both counts.

Those far-left organisations—the SWP, the Socialist Party, and Counterfire, along with the CPB—that agued for exit from the EU on the basis that such a vote would bring down Cameron, push the political situation to the left, and open up new opportunities for radical politics, even increase the chances of a Labour government, got it dramatically wrong. In fact, some are still arguing that there has not been a shift to the right a week after the formation of the May government.

A Brexit vote was always going to bring down the Cameron government, but its replacement, as Socialist Resistance argued throughout, was always going to be well to its right. It was always likely to open the way for dangerous realignment of the hard right—either within the Tory Party or as a part of a wider realignment. In the event it has been the former, and even worse and quicker than most of us predicted.

Those taking SR’s position in the referendum—of a critical remain vote to fight xenophobia—were accused by the Lexiteers of being ‘liberal leftists’ or of departing from basic principles on the class nature of the EU. John Rees accused us (on the Counterfire website) of practicing what he called ‘the linear school of historical analysis’:

“There will not be an automatic lurch to the right even with a figure like Johnson or May as Tory leader. The Tories will just have suffered their biggest reverse since the defeat of Thatcher. Their backbenchers are split down the middle. They only have a 17-seat working majority. They are under investigation for electoral fraud in more seats than that. They have just had to make a series of policy reverses… Only someone entirely wedded to the linear school of historical analysis could fail to see an opportunity for the left in this situation.”

Alex Callinicos was in a similar mode in International Socialism just before the vote. He argued—whilst accusing the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ campaign of “a slide into class collaboration”—that a Brexit vote would shatter the Cameron government just a year after winning a general election. Yes indeed! But what comes next?

In the event they were both wrong. The Brexit vote has not brought about a shift to the left but the biggest shift to the right in British politics since Thatcher took office in 1979—and, unless it is reversed, it could have equally disastrous long-term consequences.

The Lexiteers, however, were still defending the same position three weeks after the vote. This was the position argued by Peter Taaffe three weeks after the vote in Socialism Today: “The vote to leave the EU has rocked capitalist institutions—in Britain and internationally. It is yet another reflection of the anger at mass poverty and savage austerity—and of the growing anti-establishment mood… It is totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions which some small left groups have done that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’ in Britain and encourage right-wing forces in Europe and elsewhere.”

Playing the race card

It should be clear now, if it was not clear before, that this referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU but on immigration: i.e. ‘are you in favour of the free movement of people—yes or no?’ This scenario was played out in interview after interview, on the streets, the response was overwhelmingly: too much immigration—end free movement. And the uncomfortable fact is that given Britain’s imperialist and colonialist history, decades of bi-partisan institutionalised racism practiced by both Tories and Labour, and the disgusting xenophobia of the tabloids—the Sun, the Mail and the Express in particular—over many years, it was always going to be thus.

Since the vote racism has been strengthened, racist hate crimes have doubled, the political situation has moved to the right. The Tory Party has also moved to the right, and we are heading for an exit process from the EU that will be shaped by the xenophobic right in which ending free movement of people and cutting immigration to the bone will be the order of the day.

Not that the referendum can be reduced to immigration. There were other important factors involved—not least poverty, alienation and an anti-establishment backlash. In the end, however, it was racism that put the energy (or the venom) into the Brexit campaign. It was the driving force of the Brexit turnout.

Richard Seymour puts it this way: “It was the question of the free movement of labour within the European Union that that harnessed the energies for Leave”. He continues: “Not that most of those who voted Leave had much experience of migration—the areas with the highest numbers of EU nationals living in them were also those with the strongest Remain votes. But that is how it usually works with race politics in the UK.” There are exceptions to this but it is broadly true.

The racist dynamic, however, could not have been clearer. Immediately the mainstream Brexit campaigns took the decision to concentrate almost exclusively on immigration the Brexit vote went into the lead in the polls. There was indeed an anti-establishment backlash. The problem with this is that such backlashes are not necessarily progressive. In fact much of UKIP’s support has been based on it.

In fact the mainstream Brexit campaigns ran the most openly racist campaign in modern times, and they were very effective. What used to be known as playing the race card now passes for ‘normal’ politics. Unless this is reversed quickly they will have done serious damage to British society. The most damaging long-term damage that the referendum campaign has done in Britain has been to make racism ‘respectable’.

The answer of the Brexiteers to the dispossessed and the alienated was that immigrants were taking British jobs, driving down wages and living on benefits. Their campaign broadcast featured a map of Europe with arrows streaming towards Britain from across Europe—representing a flood of immigrants on the move, mostly from the East. During the campaign a Labour pro-remain MP Jo Cox was assassinated by a fascist shouting ‘put Britain first. It is hard to separate his actions, at least at that moment, from the politics of the mainstream Brexiteers. It was a warning that some very unpleasant forces were at work.

Worse than that, the findings of the Ashcroft poll immediately taken immediately after the vote found that by big majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, and immigration, as forces for good voted to remain in the EU, whilst those who saw these things as forces for ill voted, by even larger majorities to leave. It is a frightening picture.

There has been another remarkable development as well. Lexit organisations with long histories of anti-racism have been talking down and seeking to minimise the racism and xenophobia involved in this referendum both before the vote and after. The same has been the case with the situation of the 2.4 million EU citizens living in this country who are set be used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.

The Lexit campaign refused to regard the fate of these people as any kind of problem right through the campaign and has said nothing about it since. When I raised this issue at the launch meeting of the campaign earlier in the year I was told that ‘it was very unlikely to be a problem’.

General election

The possibility of an early general election is very dangerous for Labour because the Brexit vote has pushed the situation to the right. One of the reasons that May stresses ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and that a big reduction in immigration is her red line in the negotiations with the EU, is in order to claim to speak for the Brexit vote for the next general election whenever it comes.

She will only go for an early election if she has a big lead in the polls and feels confident that she can tap into the Brexit vote effectively. Labour needs time to tackle the Brexit effect and start to turn the situation back towards the left before it can be sure of winning an election.

Those in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who are ganging up with the Tories to remove Jeremy Corbyn on the basis that his departure is essential to winning the next election could hardly be more wrong. The key to defeating the kind of government that May is constructing is precisely the kind of radical anti-austerity and anti-racist alternative that Corbyn represents. It is only this approach which has a chance of cutting through the xenophobic fog of the referendum, give real hope to the dispossessed and the marginalised, and build the kind of movement necessary.

The argument of the PLP plotters that the best way to win the next election is to go back to the politics that lost the last two elections makes no sense. It is a complete misunderstanding of the dynamic of politics in Britain today.

Winning the next election for Labour will require, not a reversion to past failed policies, but a radical programme of austerity busting measures that can mobilise the deprived the alienated and the forgotten. Another thin gruel of Tory policies will not mobilise the movement necessary.

A majority Labour government could become increasingly difficult to achieve, particularly if, as is likely, the boundary commission proposals to reduce the number of seats at Westminster goes through by 2018. Labour needs to call for a progressive anti-austerity alliance in Parliament with the SNP and the Greens now and in the run up to the next general election, whenever that comes.

One way that Labour can boost its chances at the next election is a pledge for radical electoral reform. First and foremost getting rid of the notorious first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. This would not only win votes in the election itself but would reshape the system for the new realities of British politics. It would also increase the turnout in elections since every vote would count—which was a factor in the high turnout in the referendum.

The political structure in Britain that prevailed throughout the 20th century has fallen apart with the rise of multiple parties. The voting system that sustained it has become a byword for everything undemocratic and corrupt. Smaller parties (of both right and left) have been emerging with substantial votes—the Green Party and Ukip in England and the SNP in Scotland in particular. We now have what is effectively a six-party system. Under these conditions the FPTP system has gone from the undemocratic to the outrageous.

In the last election we had parties of both the left and the right winning millions of votes but getting minimal representation. Scotland, quite rightly, is heading for independence—though whether the May administration will agree to it as Cameron did is an open question. It any event Scotland will still be not be independent in 2020, but after that who knows.

Jeremy Corbyn has to grasp the nettle over this and come out strongly in favour of electoral reform. John McDonnell, Clive Lewis and others have already called for it along with Caroline Lucas and Owen Jones. It would be a big mistake for Labour to go into the next election whenever it comes without radical proposals for a proportional voting system that would ensure that every vote counts and not just a few marginal constituencies. PR is not just a vote winner in itself but it is crucial with the situation so volatile and the old consensus breaking up. To this should be added the proposal to give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.

This as part of a manifesto that deals with the housing crisis, the decimation of our NHS, with the growth of zero hours contracts and food banks, the rise of racism and other forms of inequality is the path that we need to go down – a path that will inspire even greater numbers that Jeremy Corbyn has already done over the remarkable last year.

H/t: Coatesy

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Turkish union leader calls for democracy, secularism and peace

July 24, 2016 at 2:22 pm (democracy, Human rights, internationalism, posted by JD, secularism, solidarity, turkey, unions)

kani beko

Statement from DİSK Chair Kani Beko on the state of emergency declared in Turkey

The solution is democratization, not a state of emergency!

In the wake of the 15 July coup attempt, a three-month state of emergency was declared all over Turkey in accordance with “suggestions” from the National Security Council.

Declaring a state of emergency following a coup attempt that aimed to completely suspend democracy will solve none of the country’s problems but only serve to realize the system of governance envisioned by the coup plotters.

Turkey is being subjected to a nationwide state of emergency for the first time since the 12 September 1980 coup. Occasional states of emergency were implemented on a regional basis until 2002, but they were synonymous with extrajudicial murders, massacres, disappearances in custody and torture.

For those who proffer that “it won’t be like that this time,” just one look at their record under “ordinary” legal circumstances provides warning as to the grave new threat to fundamental rights and freedoms.

From the government’s pun on the 1980-era catch phrase “Should we feed them instead of hanging them?” in support of capital punishment to the suspension of the European Convention on Human Rights, all the signals indicate that the government is not responding to the coup attempt in accordance with “democracy” and universal values.

Let no one forget that the coup plotters bombed the country’s parliament. The decision to sideline the Turkish Grand National Assembly – which had provided a very pointed reply to the coup plotters’ attacks – cannot be explained with “democracy;” the only term appropriate is a “counter coup.”

It is also clear that workers’ rights are severely threatened by the state of emergency. In an atmosphere in which the quest for all manners of rights has been prohibited, the rights that workers have won could be stripped away without even a cursory hearing in Parliament’s General Assembly.

From the theft of the right to severance to the obligatory individual retirement system, the government will be able to impoverish workers and reduce their employment security without encountering any resistance from workers’ struggles, the courts or the parliamentary opposition. It will be possible to convert the state of emergency into a state of unprecedented exploitation for capital.

One cannot categorize an authoritarian system of governance devoid of any legal foundation as a “struggle against coups” with the legal window dressing of a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to pick from the least worst of a perfidious bunch of coup plotters and dictators.

Turkey does not need torture, capital punishment and a state of emergency.

Turkey does not need to see its parliament effectively sidelined.

All these violations are part of the aims and goals of civilian and military coups.

What Turkey needs is democracy, secularism and peace and for all of its people to create a country in which all can freely practice their beliefs, express their thoughts and live in dignity.

With its demands in favor of labor, peace, democracy and secularism, DİSK has always stood against all coups and all attempts to impose a dictatorship, and will do so once more against the new state of emergency.

(H/t: Labourstart)

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Tatchell on Corbyn: “Support for Jeremy does not require suspension of our critical faculties”

July 22, 2016 at 9:52 pm (democracy, elections, good people, Human rights, labour party, Peter Tatchell, posted by JD)

Tatchell’s reasoned argument from last year needs to be repeated and taken to heart right now:

I’m backing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership, despite his unsavoury “friends”
International Business Times – London, UK – 3 September 2015

By Peter Tatchell

Like many others, I face a real dilemma. I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for over 30 years and love nearly everything he stands for. Yet there are a few important issues on which I profoundly disagree with him. Does this mean he should no longer have my support?

Jeremy is not a saint. He’s never claimed to be. Even the best, most admirable politicians usually get some things wrong. Jeremy is no exception. On a majority of UK and foreign policy issues he’s spot on, with real vision and an inspiring alternative. On a small number of issues he has made lamentable misjudgements. Despite these shortcomings, I’m backing his bid for the Labour leadership. Here’s why:

I look at the big picture and judge politicians on their overall record. What are their ideals, motives and aims? What kind of society are they striving for? How would their policies impact on the average person? On all these assessment criteria, Jeremy is on the right side and is the most progressive candidate on nearly every issue.

He has strong, unique policies for social justice and equality – to secure a kinder, gentler, fairer and more inclusive, harmonious Britain. I am with him in opposing austerity. So is much of the country – including the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom I hope Jeremy and Labour will make common cause in a quadruple alliance.

Jeremy’s plan to invest in infrastructure to reboot the economy is backed by 41 economists (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/22/jeremy-corbyn-economists-backing-anti-austerity-policies-corbynomics) , including a former advisor to the Bank of England. His strategy echoes FDR’s New Deal and proposals from the International Monetary Fund.

A Corbyn premiership would reverse damaging, cruel welfare cuts and the privatisation of vital public services. He’d tackle climate destruction and rocketing rents and house prices. Trident renewal, foreign wars and the sinister Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership would be nixed. His administration would bring rail and energy companies back into a new, decentralised form of public ownership. These are sensible, compassionate policies. Good for him.

In my book, he is head and shoulders above all the other Labour leadership candidates, both in terms of his past political record and his political agenda for the future.

But the single most important over-arching reason for supporting Jeremy is that Britain needs to turn away from the flawed and failed policies of business as usual. He is shaking up the Establishment and breaking with the cosy political consensus that has been shared by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. The mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies of the last decade are not the answer. All they offer is more of the same, which is what got us into the current mess.

Jeremy is thinking beyond what is. He’s imagining what could be. It’s a much needed political rethink, which leaves his rivals lagging far behind.

Now that he has a serious chance of winning the Labour leadership, Jeremy has faced a barrage of accusations over his contacts with anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and Islamist extremists (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142706/jeremy-corbyns-friends-re-examined) .

This puts me in a very difficult position, given my advocacy for human rights. At what point do links with bad people put a politician beyond the pale? How many flawed judgements does it take to cancel out all the good that a MP might have done and espoused?

Some of the accusations against Jeremy are exaggerations and distortions. Others involve McCarthyite smears of guilt by association. Jeremy has made reassuring noises and given plausible explanations for several of the allegations (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142656/jeremy-corbyn-responds-jc%E2%80%99s-seven-questions) .

He says, for example, he was not aware of the Holocaust revisionist views of Paul Eisen when he attended meetings of his Deir Yassin Remembered organisation. I can believe that. Some extremists hide their views and politicians sometimes lend their support to what they genuinely believe to be legitimate campaign groups.

On the basis that Jeremy has his heart in the right place and that he is not an Islamist, Holocaust denier or anti-Semite, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, it is true that he has been often careless in not checking out who he shares platforms with and has been too willing to associate uncritically with the Islamist far right.

While I’m certain that Jeremy doesn’t share their extremist views, he does need to explain in more detail why he has attended and spoken at meetings alongside some pretty unsavoury bigots who advocate human rights abuses – and especially why he did so without publicly criticising their totalitarian politics.

Jeremy supported, for example, the visit to parliament of Sheikh Raed Saleh, who has reportedly slurred Jews as “monkeys” and repeated the anti-Semitic “blood libel” which claims that Jews used the blood of gentile children to make their bread. He called Saleh “a very honoured citizen who represents his people extremely well.” What? Just because Saleh opposes the Israeli occupation and supports Palestinian self-determination does not make him a good person deserving such praise.

While Jeremy is right to dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a peace initiative, as Tony Blair and the Israeli government have done, he was wrong to call them “friends”. These are Islamist political parties with poor human rights records that are not consistent with humanitarian – let alone left-wing – values.

Jeremy says he doesn’t agree with their views but I have not been able find any instance, until very recently, where he has publicly criticised either Hezbollah or Hamas, both of which are guilty (alongside Israel) of war crimes (https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/10/05/hezbollah-needs-answer) and the abuse of their own citizens (https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/03/gaza-arbitrary-arrests-torture-unfair-trials) .

Jeremy was also wrong to call the Islamist extremist Ibrahim Hewitt “my very good friend” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-g5jmXLRUM&feature=youtu.be) and to share platforms with him, given that Hewitt allegedly supports the death penalty for apostates, blasphemers, adulterers and LGBT people.

I don’t buy the excuse that Jeremy’s use of the term “friends” was “diplomatic” language to win over extremists and encourage dialogue. He would rightly not accept a similar explanation by a MP who used those words about, and shared a platform with, the BNP, EDL or European fascist parties.

Islamists are a religious version of the far right. They want a clerical dictatorship, without democracy and human rights. They do not merit friendship, praise or uncritical association of any kind.

Jeremy has also made misjudgements on Russia, Ukraine, Syria and Iran. He says he wants dialogue and negotiations, not war. I agree. But this should not include collusion – even if unintentional – with human rights abusing regimes.

We don’t often hear Jeremy condemning Putin’s oligarchs, show trials and tamed media and judiciary. Where is his solidarity with democracy and human rights campaigners, beleaguered civil society organisations and harassed journalists, LGBT advocates and left-wing activists? I’m sure he opposes all these abuses but he rarely says so publicly.

Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is one of the most respected human rights figures in Ukraine. Fearless in tackling all abusers from all sides, she says some of Jeremy’s views on Russia and Ukraine echo Putin’s propaganda (http://www.hscentre.org/russia-and-eurasia/corbyn-wrong-says-ukrainian-human-rights-legend) .

Other rights campaigners have confirmed (http://www.equalrightstrust.org/news/equal-rights-trust-launches-first-comprehensive-report-inequality-ukraine) that the dominance of pro-Russian factions in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk has led to increased persecution of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. Jeremy has not spoken out clearly enough against these abuses by Russia and its local allies.

On Syria, Jeremy seems to have no policies, apart from “Don’t Bomb Syria.” I concur. We don’t want escalation and war. But surely 250,000 dead, 1.5 million wounded and 10 million refugees merits some action? Total inaction aids the survival of Assad and ISIS.

A good start might be a UN General Assembly authorised no-fly-zone, arms embargo, peacekeepers and civilian safe havens – plus cutting funding to the ISIS and Assad armies by a UN blockade of oil sales. Such measures – enforced by non-western states such as Argentina, India, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa – would help deescalate the conflict and reduce casualties. Jeremy’s wariness of intervention is understandable. I share it. But surely a UN mandate designed to limit war fighting is reasonable and legitimate for a left-wing candidate?

Like Jeremy, I don’t want war with Iran. I opposed the indiscriminate, blanket Western sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians. But I’ve struggled to find examples of where he has spoken out against Iran’s mass jailing and torture of trade unionists, students, journalists, lawyers, feminists, human rights defenders and sexual, religious and ethnic minorities (such as the Arabs, Kurds, Azeris and Baluchs). Why the silence? He often and loudly criticises Saudi Arabia. Why not Iran?

It is very distressing to see Jeremy appear on the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel Press TV; especially after it defamed peaceful protesters and covered up state violence at the time of the rigged presidential elections in 2009. Moreover, how can Jeremy (and George Galloway) appear on Press TV, despite it broadcasting forced confessions by democrats and human rights defenders (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/13/iran-middleeast) who’ve been tortured into admitting false charges and who are later executed?

Based on these serious lapses, Jeremy’s critics say his foreign policies make him unfit to be Labour leader and Prime Minister. I understand some of their reservations but they ignore all the international issues where Jeremy has a superb record, including support for serious action against global poverty and the arms trade, and his opposition to the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini dictatorships (two tyrannies that most other MPs ignore and which Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have actively colluded with).

Moreover, Jeremy’s been a long-time champion of the dispossessed Chagos Islanders, Kurds, Palestinians and Western Sahrawis. Few other MPs have shown similar concern about the fate of most of these peoples.

That’s one of many reasons why, despite misgivings about some of Jeremy’s policies and associations, I support his bid to be Labour leader. Taking into account his overall agenda, on balance he’s the best contender. I am confident that he will respond to fair criticism and reconsider some of his past associations. And I’m certain that if he became Prime Minister he’d adopt a somewhat different stance. Already he’s modified his position on NATO and the EU, from withdrawal to reform.

Some of Jeremy’s supporters may accuse me of betrayal and of aligning myself with his right-wing critics. Not so. My criticisms are rooted in a leftist, human rights politics that is democratic, secular and internationalist.

Support for Jeremy does not require suspension of our critical faculties and a knee-jerk unthinking allegiance. As he himself has often said, it is a citizen’s responsibility to hold politicians to account – including those we support. Nobody is entitled to a free pass – not Jeremy, me or anyone.

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Neo-conservatism: a lament

July 11, 2016 at 11:27 pm (democracy, Harry's Place, Human rights, humanism, internationalism, iraq war, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, tragedy)

This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:

In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.

There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.

The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for DemocracyBush also recommended his aides read the book.  Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.

With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.”  Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)

At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.

Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.

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Resisting the pro-police backlash after Dallas

July 11, 2016 at 6:29 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, cops, Human rights, murder, posted by JD, United States)

The US Socialist Worker (not connected with the British SWP) comments:

Black Lives Matter is under attack after the killing of five police officers in Dallas, but that isn’t stopping demonstrators from taking to the streets, reports Nicole Colson:

Above: Marching in San Francisco after the police murders of Philandro Castile and Alton Stirling

THE POLICE KILLING of two Black men–Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a suburb of the Twin Cities in Minnesota–last week horrified people around the world and brought protesters into the streets in large numbers across the country to proclaim that Black Lives Matter.

Yet just as quickly, in Dallas, a man who shot and killed police officers as BLM supporters were demonstrating–killing five officers and wounding several more before being killed himself by police–provided the means for the media and law enforcement to shift the spotlight away from the epidemic of police violence and blame those who have risen up to protest.

Micah Xavier Johnson, an African American veteran, opened fire on police during a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas on July 7. There was zero evidence, even in the immediate confusion surrounding the attack, that Johnson was connected to the protest.

But authorities immediately used the opportunity to smear the movement, suggesting that the attack was part of a coordinated plot–involving as many as four shooters, the police initially claimed–and a willing media went along.

Political leaders and media commentators immediately lumped protest against racist police harassment and violence together with Johnson’s shootings–and called on the Black Lives Matter movement to accept some kind of responsibility for Johnson’s rampage.

Typical was the New York Times, which warned that “Black Lives Matter now faces perhaps the biggest crisis in its short history. It is both scrambling to distance itself from an African-American sniper in Dallas who set out to murder white police officers and trying to rebut a chorus of detractors who blame the movement for inspiring his deadly attack.”

Of course, neither the Times nor anyone else in a position of power makes the same call for law enforcement to accept collective responsibility for the police murders that take place several times a day across the country. In those cases, we’re told, it’s just “one bad apple.”

CNN’s Chris Cuomo had the gall to ask Valerie Castile, mother of Philando Castile, about her reaction to the shootings in Dallas–before bothering to ask a single question about the loss of her son or the gut-wrenching aftermath captured on video as he lay dying in front of his girlfriend her 4-year-old daughter.

The grieving mother set Cuomo straight:

Me? I don’t know anything about what happened in Dallas. My son died just the other day, and I haven’t had sleep in almost 48 hours. So no, I haven’t been watching any television, so I can’t answer that…

No one has reached out to me as far as anything concerning [Philando]. As a matter of fact, since my son has been killed–murdered, executed by the state of Minnesota’s police officers–I have not yet to see his body.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE GUT-wrenching video footage of the deaths of Sterling and Castile–Sterling as he laid subdued on the pavement, and Castile in his car as his fiancé and her 4-year-old daughter looked on–brought home once again the daily reality of racist police violence.

Their deaths–one day and 1,000 miles apart, but immediately joined in the minds of people around the world because they were captured on video–spurred a new round of protests.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Brum metal plant tragedy: a glimpse of the future?

July 9, 2016 at 6:47 pm (Brum, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, tragedy, workers)

Family and friends gather to listen to a press conference at the scene

Above: friends, families and onlookers at the scene

Saibo Sillah, Ousman Jabbie, Mohammed Jangana, Alimano Jammeh  and Bangaly Dukureth were crushed to death at work in my home town of Birmingham on Thursday. They were all Muslims and  EU migrants, working through an agency for the minimum wage and sending most of their pay back to their families.

The firm they worked at, Shredmet Limited, owned by Hawkeswood Metal Recycling, has previously been involved in three serious incidents and been fined £60,000 by the Health ad Safety Executive when a lack of guarding led to a man’s arm being crushed. The same site was hit by a huge, unexplained fire in 2011.

Hawkeswood Metal Recycling processes more than 500,000 tonnes of scrap metal each year. The firm began trading more than 40 years ago and has a customer base that includes local authorities, major PLCs and smaller independent companies.

It is a business with an annual turnover of more than £30 million, reporting a net profit in 2015 of £327,000 in accounts submitted in February this year. It employs 26 people.

The victims were the sort of hard-working migrants that the Brexiteers want driven out of Britain. And the inadequate health and safety legislation that failed to protect these men, will be even further watered down if the Brexiteers have their way.

The five men died when a huge concrete wall collapsed on top of them. The 15ft tall wall, made of one-and-a-half ton concrete blocks, came crashing down on the men at the Shredmet site in Aston Church Road, Nechells. As the wall fell, blocks of metal also rained down on the men: the five had no chance of survival.

A sixth man miraculously managed to escape, digging his own way out of the rubble despite his leg having been broken.

Detective Superintendent Mark Payne of West Midlands Police said: “I’ve seen the scene and nobody is alive in that scene. We have done absolutely everything as you’d expect to check there is no opportunity to save a life. Without being too graphic, there’s no possibility of anyone being alive in there.”

Meanwhile, families and friends gathered outside the gates of the plant, anxious for news of loved ones and workmates. Local residents put out drinks and food for the grieving visitors.

Manka Sawo was alerted to the tragedy by the man who managed to escape, and who was taken to hospital for treatment to his broken leg.

“I know all of them,” he said. “I knew Saibo Sillah from a community centre where we used to pray together.

“Saibo had seven children, including two-year-old twins. He was a very, very decent guy. I’m devastated. This is a sad day. They are all from The Gambia. Some of them lived in Spain and Denmark before coming here. I heard the news from the man who broke his leg. He phoned his family from hospital, and we came here to find out what had happened. I knew one of the men very closely; yesterday we celebrated Eid together. It’s very, very sad.”

A friend of Mr Jammeh and Mr Jabbie said: “Ousman only moved over here a week ago and moved in with Alimamo. He was waiting for his wife and family to come over, who are still in north Gambia. Alimamo’s wife and children are due to arrive on Sunday. They don’t have any phones so there’s no way of contacting them. We will only be able to tell them when they arrive that their husband and father has died. It’s going to leave them heartbroken.”

Meanwhile, Mr Jagana’s devastated friend Mohammed Kamarah said: “He has a wife and a daughter, who is less than one year old. His family are praying for him. They are distraught beyond words. He was a good hard-working man and a great friend.”

Scrapyard worker Matt Bowen, who was off work for the day because his son was ill, posted a poignant message on Facebook.

“I hope you rest in peace lads, I truly do. Part of me is sorry I wasn’t in today, the other half is glad my son was poorly. Words cannot describe the thoughts that are going though my head, let alone the lads that were in work today. My thoughts and prayers are with your families who you worked so hard for. God be with you brothers, I am heartbroken, to say the least.”

You can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Nechells5

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If Leave wins …”I warn you” (an old warning, revisited)

June 22, 2016 at 8:31 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, Jim D)

Gove Boris Galloway Farage
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)

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