Wednesday, August 20, 2003
"Married white male, middle-aged, WLTM anyone from the ME who likes sado-masochistic relationships. I have money and control of the world's biggest economy. Contact mail box number 4850".
The twin bombings in Iraq and Israel have produced some of the most cartoonish news hysteria witnessed so far since the occupation of Iraq began some four months ago. The Sun produced the most intelligent headline, referring to the bombing of the UN compound: "Let's Get Real" , although the remainder revealed depths of sophistry and idiocy as yet unsuspected in Rebekah "lynch mob" Wade. The thrust of their leading article was to suggest that such awesome violence rendered the Hutton Inquiry irrelevant. "Who cares why we got into this collossal mess, when we're in this collossal mess?" seems to be the message.
As I predicted , the occupation has gone awry with the beginning of large-scale casualties, such as were seen in Lebanon when the successful resistance against America picked up. Instead of taking one or two in ambushes each day, we may now begin to see Iraqis scoring a plurality of double-figure casualties. The difference between Iraq and Lebanon is how little time it has taken to reach this point, and that the target in this instance is a "soft" one. Not military bases, but a largely unarmed compound was attacked. The media and politicians instantly picked up on this and referred to it as a "terrorist" incident likely to be the work of Al Qaeda, or related anti-American forces. It is simply inconceivable that Iraqis themselves may object to the occupation, even though recent opinion polls conducted in Baghdad (faulty, to be sure, probably no more than indicative) suggested that most of those asked believed the Americans' main reason for invading Iraq was either to access oil or to assist Israel. Let noone say that this is because of state-sponsored lies on Iraqi television, or even recycled on Al Jazeera. When Patrick and Andrew Cockburn were preparing their book, "Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession" (2000), they encountered Iraqi Shi'ites who shamed them with their knowledge of UN sanctions negotiations and the wrangling behind the scenes. The reason, they discovered, was that Iraqis have access on their radios to BBC Arabic World Service, Voice of America and Radio Monte Carlo.
So, Iraqis, distrustful of the occupation, signing up to join resistance armies in their thousands , shot dead at checkpoints or in their homes , detained under the worst conditions, napalmed illegally ... they could not possibly have considered that the UN had santioned the occupation and was aiming, in Kofi Annan's words, to "confer legitemacy on the process" (Guardian, 22/07/03) and decided that they were a suitable target for guerilla attacks? In Newsweek's diplomatic diary, Richard Wolffe suggests that it may have been no coincidence that the bombing followed last week's resolution welcoming the new Iraqi governing council and creating a new, more permanent, UN mission to Iraq. "They" would like to frighten foreign countries and corporations away from Iraq, and they want everyone from the Nepalese army to Starbucks terrified of involvement in "the new Iraq".
There are, allegedly, a few hundred foreign fighters operating in Iraq. It is entirely plausible that they are Al Qaeda affiliates exploiting the poor security and chaotic conditions in the Middle East's new, burgeoning democracy. Today's statements apparently issued by the Iraqi resistance to Arab news media deny any involvement in the attacks and condemn them outright. According to Agence France Presse, Ahmed Chalabi is now running around telling journalists that the US had prior warning of the attack, including clear intelligence "that a large-scale act would take place ... against a soft target, such as Iraqi political parties or other parties, including the U.N." That intelligence seems not to have been passed on to the United Nations.
However, we now know that US investigators believe Iraqis were involved and that it was an "inside job" inasmuch as those who carried it out must have known that a very important public meeting was taking place in front of the world's media, and where exactly that meeting was going to be. If this is so, think for a second about is meaning. The bombing could not have been the work of Al Qaeda or some "foreign" terrorist group. It had the cooperation of Iraqis working for the compound. It was therefore a strike organised by the resistance, probably Sunnis.
Robert Fisk suggests in Counterpunch that "Saddam created enough pseudo-Wahabist groups to let off steam during his reign. Talk about Islam, they were told, but not about politics. But the moment the regime collapsed, these organisations, which had always been hostile to Saddam, were left to their own devices, and immediately opposed US rule in Iraq. They, not al-Qa'ida, or anyone else, are running this butchery of a war against America and its friends in Iraq." Investigations may reveal a great deal as they continue.
Quite who is responsible therefore is unclear.
The automatic association with Al Qaeda may be no more than a reflex of Western political elites, but the style of the bombing and the selection of the target seem on the face of it to suggest at least some inspiration was drawn from Al Qaeda. On the other hand, it is not so dissimilar to tactics used by the Palestinian resistance, both religious and secular, for some time now. This link was made in a particularly poignant way by the juxtaposition of the two attacks.
The hypocrisy over the bombing of the bus in Israel is perhaps the most obscene aspect of it. On 31st July, Israel struck Nablus , an attack in which they killed 8 people. Nablus attacked again on Friday 8th July, this time killing four. Hardly a word was said. No front pages were decorated with blood and gore, certainly not in the UK or America. The number one news item was not a story of Israel breaking a fragile peace.
Yet, today, we have wall-to-wall sanctimony from Gideon Meir, Dore Gold and other disgusting hypocrites from the Israeli hard right, claiming that the Palestinian Authority had not clamped down on the terrorists enough and that Israel would never make peace with Palestine until it did. Israel occupied vital towns and cities in Palestine for 18 months and couldn't stop terrorists from attacking, so quite how the enfeebled and prostate Palestinian Authority was supposed to manage it is going to remain one of life's little mysteries. The media is alive with portentous reporting about the end of a fragile peace, how Israel might no longer be able to live with the Road Map, a deal they were never too hot on in the first place. Apart from the fact that the Road Map leads to almost complete negation of everything the Palestinians have ever stood for, where were these Cassandras when Israel was killing people not long ago? Where was the Greek Chorus then?
Israel's government was not instructed to root out the terrorists responsible because *they* were the terrorists reponsible. They were not asked to condemn the attacks because they carried them out. We did not see Mahmoud Abbas or Yasser Arafat on the BBC demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice, because they are not in a position to demand anything. America and the UK did not react with outrage, because Israel carries out such attacks with American money and British weapons. And who will ask the question - is it not possible that Israel, who did not approve of the Road Map from the beginning, intended to provoke a violent Palestinian reaction? By breaking their ceasfire in a way they knew would not accrue international media attention, they incited a break in the ceasefire of Hamas and other groups. Such a question is not even permissible if you believe, like the Sun, that "The Israelis only retaliate when attacked. They don’t initiate violence."
The US does not initiate violence, Israel does not initiate violence, their only enemies are terrorists against whom they must retaliate.
This, then, renders absolutely eloquent the sublime hypocrisy of our unloved rulers. No wonder they're so lonely.
Sunday, August 17, 2003
But, as the United States cannot rely upon a few fellow travellers taking their case to the masses, they have need of a new means of legitemising intervention. "'Legitimacy'", Robert Kagan argues in Foreign Policy, "is an intangible factor in foreign policy, but like so many intangibles it can have great practical significance." Not only that section of the globe's population that "does not benefit from American dominance", but even those "European allies" who do, will have to be comforted, cajoled and persuaded. This is not to mention the American public, whose history of isolationism is not entirely forgotten, and whose apparent readiness to go to war is always manufactured and always conditional. "Nor are Americans likely to be comfortable consistently acting in ways that much of the world, and especially other like-minded peoples, deem illegitimate." Kagan observes.
Kagan, a co-founder of the esteemed Project for the New American Century is not inclined to doubt the essential "benevolence" of Empire. He does, however, think it important to persuade the world that America really does pursue the defense of liberal democracy against all comers, rather than just its own narrow interests. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand believes that it is a "failure of diplomacy" of a different character that is leading to a rise in "anti-American" sentiment. (The only other country that has used such a vile shibboleth of a term was Nazi Germany). According to Gingrich, the US is far, far too nice. When the UN voted America off the Human Rights Commission - which he notes with suitable sanctimony is now chaired by Libya - the State Department hadn't a damned thing to say or do about it. Gingrich stops short of blaming the whole thing on "welfare mothers", but doubtless it will be in his next article. He does rail against the French for attempting to halt American foreign policy initiatives, but the thrust of his article is that the State Department is a meddlesomely ineffective bureacracy, one given to opposing the President's war dances and undermining his foreign initiatives.
Gingrich's argumentative procedure is illuminating, if I may speak loosely. He contrasts a speech made by President Bush in which the latter enthuses about the prospects for democracy in Iraq, with a sceptical State Department report suggesting that the neoconservative theory of a 'domino effect' sending ever expanding ripples of democracy across the Middle East might just be a fantasy. Bush tells a group of young Iraqi-Americans: "'I have confidence in the future of a free Iraq. The Iraqi people are fully capable of self-government.' He also told them that 'You are living proof the Iraqi people love freedom and living proof the Iraqi people can flourish in democracy. People who live in Iraq deserve the same freedom that you and I enjoy here in America.'" Meanwhile, the State Department report suggests that "liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve [in Iraq] . . . . Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." The report apparently maintained that "this idea that you're going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible."
This, in Gingrich's view, proves the State Department's perfidy. Maintaining a perfectly realistic world-view is so obviously "out of sync with Bush's views and objectives" that Gingrich is moved to point out the prescience of his comments at the American Enterprise Institute in which he first examined the State Department's mutinous intentions. Only if they recycle the over-heated illiteracies of the President are they truly acting in America's best interests. Gingrich proposes therefore to reform the State Department, with the aim of increasing and improving the US much neglected global communications. Overcoming the propaganda of leftwing non-governmental organisations, elitist academics and some reputable institutions is the name of the game. Gingrich cunningly inserts a second-hand observation: "The British Broadcasting Corporation, according to some observers, was at least as hostile to the United States as Al Jazeera was during the entire Iraqi conflict." The good amphibian might do well to set his goggle-eyes on a report conducted on the BBCs bias during the war published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung found that the Corporation's bias was overwhelmingly pro-war. 2% of its total war coverage was dedicated to dissident views, while Sky had at least 7% of its coverage given to antiwar opinion. Rupert Murdoch does not appear to be in cahoots with Al Jazeera.
But what unites both Kagan and Gingrich is a set of premises and corrollaries. First, that there is a problematic rise in global "anit-American" opinion, second that it has nothing to do with what the United States actually does. The corrollary is that America's communication system mustn't be switched on right, because noone in their right mind could possibly object to such a benign system of hegemony. Kagan, to be fair, does suggest that there is something in the apparent unipolarity, the unbalanced nature of the global geopolitical structure that is causing dissent. The problem is, at least to some extent, located in reality and not just perception. But Kagan, like Gingrich, far from wanting to attenuate US global dominance, wants to advance and safeguard it.
If this is the thinking of America's political and intellectual class (again, to speak somewhat loosely) then we must expect much more subtle manipulation. Jacqueline Rose observed that the CIA had published details of its intention to set up a global disinformation network, which reached the press. It caused such an uproar that the CIA immediately went public and said they no longer planned to do it. "We have", she said, "no way of knowing if that second press release was disinformation or not". It would serve us well, then, to remember that the "coalition" is now sitting on 112,000,000,000 barrels of oil, OPEC is considerably weakened, the US Department of Energy has calculated that by January 2025, the US will consume 75% of the world's oil resources and all estimates suggest that as US oil supplies are running dry, the bulk of any future supply will have to come from the Gulf region and perhaps some of the 'Stans. Remember too that democracy in Afghanistan means the stoning of women, daily battles with competing tribal armies, bomb attacks and no elections in sight. Remember that the Defense Intelligence Agency produced internal reports before the application of sanctions to Iraq describing in pornographic detail the likely effect on the Iraqi population, thus rendering subsequent US policy toward Iraq intentionally genocidal.
Or, if you're a fellow-traveller, forget all that and remember its about liberation.
Saturday, August 09, 2003
The newspapers are warning us of likely increase in asthma, heart attacks, strokes, baldness, finger cancer, tube strikes, bunking off work, people being unnecessarily aggressive etc etc. As if we needed more scaremongering to make our lives easier.
On top of that, unlike Europe the United Kingdom has never got itself up to speed with air-conditioning. The tube carries us to and from work at temperatures that its actually illegal to transport cattle in. Being in a bus is like sitting in an enclosed magnifying box for some sadistic god to shine rays of sunlight through. My office is like a fan-assisted oven, with one pizza-sized whirring chunk of metal blowing warm air about the room. Proles inc. is a sweltering stove.
Bjorn Llomborg, the ubiquitous author of "The Sceptical Environmentalist" appeared on the box to tell us all to chill out.
"Hey, look, not all of the effects of global warming would be bad. Actually, the immediate result would be warmer winters. And that would save 9,000 lives every year in the UK. Now, far fewer lives are lost due to excess heat each year than are lost due to excess cold. And what I'm saying is, ought we really be diverting energy and funds to an enormously expensive problem that we can't really do anything about when there are other more serious problems that we can do something about right now?"
If this isn't deliberate casuistry, it is at the very least severely myopic. The issue, surely, is not that we might in the short run have slightly warmer winters. Rather it is that these trends are symptoms of an underlying problem. In the short run, warmer winters and a less cumbersome coat for granny. In the long term, polar icecaps melting, flooding, the dying out of animals, of certain kinds of plant-life and resultant changes in the eco-sphere whose effects are nigh-on impossible to account for. In addition, changes in the global flow of waters can wreak havoc on weather systems, well boyond making the winters less chilly. In fact, the loss of the Gulf Stream would deprive the UK of a vast protective barrier of warmth against freezing Siberian winds and then we'd be back to fucking square one, with a quarter of a million members of the Conservative Party dying off every winter... hmmm...
Anyway, it seems that there are a whole legion of pseudo-scientists and environmentologists dedicated to providing pat sophistries like those of Mr Llomborg every time a new warning shot is fired. Mark Saunders, head of the Climate Prediction Unit at the University College London, told Spiked Online recently that "'In 2002, the UK and European summer was cool and wet, with severe floods in central Europe. The flooding was attributed to global warming. Now in 2003 the UK and European summer is warm and dry, the opposite of 2002, and this is also attributed to global warming. It seems there is a tendency to attribute any anomalous weather as evidence of global warming."
Yes, but you pick your examples, don't you Mr Saunders? Even Llomborg had to concede that there were long term observable trends toward warmer winters and abnormally hot summers. If some people think 35 degrees Celcius is a pleasant summery temperature even with the humidity (it isn't, you bastards, how could it be), let me mention that the extreme end of the wedge is India, where Summer temperatures of 50 degrees Celcius resulted in people dying.
So, we can either face up to the problem and extricate ourselves from the fuel-economy death-trap, or we can do as Mr Llomborg suggests and fiddle, while London burns.
Tuesday, August 05, 2003
KILLING IN THE NAME OF... HOOVER, SHARP, SONY, PACKARD BELL, PANASONIC, MOTOROLA, ETC. ETC. posted by leninPremeditated mass murder is usually the kind of fun only really rich people can have. Personally, I try to knock off a few pensioners every day by yelling "boo!" as they amble harmlessly by the road. Heart attack or tyre tracks, it's all good clean British fun if you ask me. That said, it turns out that the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" had a sub-clause. It goes roughly like this:
"*Excepting circumstances under which millions of braindead morons will assume you're a hero just defending your property and livelihood."
I recently had a very dispiriting argument with someone whom I otherwise consider intelligent and personable. The cause of the dispute was his defense of Tony Martin, and my... well, just his defense of Tony Martin. I had no idea his philosophy was that flawed. I pointed out, of course, that Tony Martin had not fired in self-defense. The burglars were running in the opposite direction, fleeing.
Martin claims a torch was shone in his eyes, after he had just found a gun, and so he let rip in order to defend life and limb. He said he fired into a downstairs room from the stairs. Forensic tests revealed that in fact at least two of the shots had been fired from downstairs. Now, Martin's legal team might have argued that he fired the FIRST shot from upstairs, then the remaining two shots. However, in so arguing they would also have to explain why he fired a shot, then followed the two burglars downstairs, shooting twice more. This would not seem to be the behaviour of a frightened man fearing for life and limb. So, Martin changed his story and accepted that all shots were fired from downstairs. Did Martin, who had a history of gun ownership and abuse, simply walk downstairs one night, "find" an illegal firearm, receive a flash of torch in the face and then shoot a few times into the unknown? Possibly. Life, as they say, is a rich tapestry.
The prosecution pointed out that Martin did indeed have violent views towards both burglars and the travelling community that Fred Barrass came from. Martin had once recommended "putting gypsies in one of his fields surrounded by barbed wire and machine gunning them". Yes, well, my erstwhile friend argues, he might not go along with that, but he'd certainly have no trouble planting a bullet in any thieving little scumbag that broke into his house. Indeed, Martin believes that "99% of the people" would have reacted in the way that he did. Presumably, Martin was encouraged by opinion polls, which showed on the eve of the Jury's verdict that 85% of the people felt the Jury had reached the wrong conclusion. They having so much more information to hand than the dimwits in the court.
But the truth is, the vast majority of people would simply not behave in this way. I don't say that in order to redeem your Great British public. They talk they talk, and they'd surely love it if they could walk the walk. They love their "proud Englishman in his castle" phantasy, and they won't give it up for the whining liberal elite. I say they wouldn't do this because in order to shoot dead an intruder on your home who is fleeing, you have to be the kind of nutball that Tony Martin apparently is. You have, first of all, to be a dabbler in illegal firearms. It helps to have it butressed by racist views and pathological hatred of the criminal underclass (who, after all, gotta earn a crust as well, inney guv'nor). But you have to know how to use an illegal firearm, have one handy, be willing to kill. It isn't that easy. It isn't like on the Playstation where the evil mob guy takes eighteen nuggets of lead in the belly and crumples to the floor, leaving you standing in glorious victory. You're standing in blood and shame. The worst thing you can do is kill someone. And you killed someone over, what, a VCR? A television? A microwave? The poor bastard's bleeding to death on your lawn and you can proudly snatch the toaster out of his hands and call the police to confess all? Tell the wife, tell the children? Let the neighbours think what they want? Go to court and be tried because you couldn't let someone stay alive and make off with your laptop?
Sure, it's that easy. You just lift up the weapon, place the butt on your shoulder, and fire. Yeah, I can really see your average British goofball standing there like Clint Eastwood. In case this heavy-handed irony isn't piercing that thick armour of self-deception, let me repeat for you armchair Defenders of the Home: THE ONLY KINDS OF PEOPLE WHO COULD ACTUALLY KILL SOMEONE FOR THE CRIME OF BURGLARY ARE NUTBALLS AND GUN ADDICTS. GET OVER IT, YOU THICK-SKULLED FUCKING CIPHERS.
Gary Younge once put it aptly: "hardness of the heart is often in inverse proportion to hardness of the head". Our nation of crime-stoppers have runny-brains and hardened arteries. A very British disease.