Monday, January 30, 2006


Whilst the Stoppers continue to moan about the occupation of Iraq, their contemporaries in Iraq have grown a little weary of their reactionary antics.

Labour Friends of Iraq have published a statement from the Iraqi Communist Party. Despite being opposed to the war itself, they write:
We struggle for creating the conditions for the withdrawal of foreign troops at the earliest possible time. However, we believe that calling for their immediate withdrawal does not take into consideration the sharp current polarization in our country, the existence of paramilitary organizations, and the insufficient preparedness of the Iraqi security forces. Hence we call for a timetable for withdrawal together with doubling the efforts to provide the internal political, institutional and security conditions for this withdrawal. As was evident in the statement of the National Accord Conference held in Cairo last November, there is an Iraqi consensus regarding such a withdrawal timetable in order to avoid chaos and additional suffering. This is a realistic agenda and can be implemented in a relatively short period.

We hope that the anti-war forces take into consideration the complexities of the situation in Iraq. At the same time, we respect the right of all parties and organizations in the countries that have sent troops in Iraq to call for their speedy withdrawal. It is their own internal affair, while we too reserve the right to formulate our own position in accordance with what we consider to be in the interests of our country. Such an approach can provide an effective and practical basis for joint action that would serve the noble cause of world peace and the struggle for freedom, democracy, human rights and social progress.
The most damning part is the final paragraph:
We have to note, with regret, that the Iraqi democratic forces have not received, in their difficult struggle, effective solidarity and support from international forces of the left. As a result, most of the latter have unfortunately been rendered observers of events, rather than exerting positive influence on the ongoing struggle over the future course of developments in Iraq, especially in supporting the struggle for a democratic prospect, at a time when the Iraqi patriotic and democratic forces are in urgent need for such concrete and multifarious support and solidarity.
Could be fun popping along to a Stoppers meeting and asking what they make of this accusation.

Of course, the Stoppers haven't simply witheld their support from those brave enough to stand up for democratic principles in Iraq: at one point they went as far as renouncing the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions as "collaborators with imperialism". With comrades like these...


Last week the Guardian published a piece by Jonathan Steele which justifiably caused a bit of a stir in blog world. He gets a well deserved shoeing from neo-neocon:
I was most aghast at the following sentence of Steele's,
"Murdering a Palestinian politician by a long-range attack that is bound also to kill innocent civilians is morally and legally no better than a suicide bomb on a bus."
I've heard such sentiments before, it's true. But usually from commenters on a blog rather than a senior foreign correspondent of a major newspaper. If this is an example of his reasoning power, his editors should be canning him, pronto.

Interesting that Steele says "murdering a Palestinian politician," as though the Israelis are in the habit of killing the Abbas's or the Arafat's of the Palestinian world. The word "terrorist" seems to stick in Steele's craw, even when there is no doubt in the world that is what is meant. This sort of subtle use of inexact language is as pervasive as it is pernicious.

But even beyond that is the idea itself, treating all civilian deaths in a way that is devoid of context, intent, history, goal--anything but the sheer fact of a death. By that type of reasoning (and I use the word "reasoning" advisedly), an accidental traffic death is as bad as gunning someone down in cold blood, police killing a bystander with a stray bullet while pursuing a murderer would be the same as the killer him/herself, and on and on and on. Yes, the collateral damage resulting from the killing of a terrorist who purposely hides among civilians is a terrible thing, as is the purposeful blowing up of Israelis by a suicide bomber. But to say they are morally and legally equivalent is abhorrent.
Read it all. Steele's views on the democratic theory have been brought into question before - here's Norm's take from last May.

Not content with publishing Steele's suck-up to Hamas, the Guardian managed to outdo itself by printing an article today entitled: Hamas will make a deal.
If Israel withdraws from the territories it occupied in 1967, the movement will end armed resistance

Contrary to the claims of alarmists who see the Hamas election victory as a threat to peace, new opportunities for making peace could now emerge. The peacemaking episodes of the past were based on assumptions absolutely unacceptable to the majority of Palestinians and those who support the justice of their cause. From Oslo to the road map it was always assumed that Israel was the victim that needed to live in peace and security and that the key to this was the end of Palestinian terrorism. The new peace process that Hamas may indeed be willing to be part of should be based on the fact that the Palestinians are the victims and have been victims since Israel was created on their soil. It is not Palestinian terrorism that is the problem, but Israeli aggression.

Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, who was cut to pieces when Israel shot him with an air-to-surface missile, spelled it out long ago. We shall never recognise the theft of our land, he said, but we are willing to negotiate a ceasefire whose duration can be as a long as a generation, and let future generations on both sides decide where to go then. His ceasefire conditions are fully compatible with international law. Israel would have to give back what it occupied in 1967 - then without any Jewish settlements - and release all Palestinian prisoners. For that Hamas would halt its armed struggle and instead pursue peaceful means.
Nothing wrong with a bit of wishful thinking now and then. I mean, if Israel were to go back to her pre-1967 borders everything would be fine and dandy wouldn't it?

If this were true I'm wondering why there were two wars (1948 and 1967) which were fought between Israel and her neighbours when Israel had, um, pre-1967 borders?

Unlike the eternal optimist Jonathan Steele, I don't believe the author of this second piece can be accused of wishful thinking. That's because the article is written by none other than Azzad Tamimi who, at the bottom of the article, the Guardian tell us:
is director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought; his book on Hamas will be published this summer.
But that's only half the story. What they forgot to tell you was, and this from an article the same man wrote last January, also for the Guardian:
Azzam Tamimi is spokesman of the Muslim Association of Britain and director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought.
Oh the MAB. Everyone's favourite hardcore Islamists. Now why shouldn't I be surprised that he's shilling for Hamas? Perhaps because he's made his position on Hamas (and terrorism in general) quite clear. From CampusWatch:
Consider, for example, an interview given by Tamimi to a leading Spanish newspaper last November. Headline: "I admire the Taliban; they are courageous." Tamimi begins by assuring the interviewer that "everyone" in the Arab world cheered upon seeing the Twin Towers fall. "Excuse me," says the interviewer, "did you understand my question?" Tamimi: "In the Arab and Muslim countries, everyone jumped for joy. That's what you asked me, isn't it?" The interview continues in this vein, to a point where Tamimi accuses the United States propping up all of the dictators in the Arab world. "They must be eliminated if anything is to change." Interviewer: "And how to eliminate them?" Tamimi: "The people of those countries should rebel, fight, sacrifice, spill blood. The French Revolution cost lives. The American revolution cost lives. Liberty is not given, it is taken!" Later, Tamimi gives his solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict: "The Israelis stole our houses, which are today occupied by Jews from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Ethiopia, Brooklyn. They should return to their homes, and give ours back to us!...That's non-negotiable. Therefore I support Hamas."
What a nice chap. And just what you'd expect of a left-leaning paper like the Guardian: to be printing the opinions of a hardline conservative Islamist without mentioning his background. They seem to be making quite a habit of it these days.

Friday, January 27, 2006


Emanuele Ottolenghi at the National Review Online tries to put a positive spin on Hamas's surprise victory at the Palestinian ballot boxes: Hamas Without Veils:
Hamas’s favored outcome was not victory, but a strong showing that would leave Hamas with the best of both worlds: It would remain in opposition (or would be invited to join a coalition as a junior partner) but would impose severe limitations on the Fatah-led government on how to manage its relations with Israel. Hamas could thus claim to reject Oslo, decline to recognize the Palestinian Authority and its commitments under the Oslo accords and the roadmap, and continue to use its rising political clout and its military strength to sabotage any effort to revive the moribund peace process.

What victory does to Hamas is to put the movement into an impossible position. As preliminary reports emerge, Hamas has already asked Fatah to form a coalition and got a negative response. Prime Minister Abu Ala has resigned with his cabinet, and president Abu Mazen will now appoint Hamas to form the next government. From the shadows of ambiguity, where Hamas could afford — thanks to the moral and intellectual hypocrisy of those in the Western world who dismissed its incendiary rhetoric as tactics — to have the cake and eat it too. Now, no more. Had they won 30-35 percent of the seats, they could have stayed out of power but put enormous limits on the Palestinian Authority’s room to maneuver. By winning, they have to govern, which means they have to tell the world, very soon, a number of things.

They will have to show their true face now: No more masks, no more veils, no more double-speak. If the cooptation theory — favored by the International Crisis Group and by the former British MI-6 turned talking head, Alistair Crooke — were true, this is the time for Hamas to show what hides behind its veil.
It's crunch-time for Hamas. Once in Government, any Hamas sponsored attacks on Israel would effectively be a declaration of war. And I don't fancy their chances against Israel.

If they are to turn from violence and truly embrace the democratic process, a good place to start would be the wording of their Covenant. Quite how Israel is supposed to negotiate with an organisation that wants to see it destroyed I don't know.

Meanwhile, there was an election in Iraq. Iraq the Model reflects on the outcome:
Reactions to the results announced yesterday varied from one party to another but in general it seems that the results were welcomed outside Iraq more than inside as politicians here re still have the task of looking for a way to form a government that convinces all concerned parties.

The positive thing about those reactions is that objections weren’t as harsh as they were when the preliminary results surfaced. Now, those with objections confirmed that they want to push the political process forward; on al-Hurra, a spokesman of Maram said today that "although we have reservations on the results, we intend to go on with the political process" and this will most likely be enough to cast away the ghost of a bloody conflict we were afraid of.

All are convinced now that solutions lie within politics and negotiations but what concerns us now is that some parties will perhaps keep a high ceiling for their demands. It is true that no single bloc can form a government without forming a coalition with other bloc(s) but the number of seats each bloc got will remain the factor that decides the form of and terms of cooperation despite the calls for forming a government of national unity that overlooks election results and focuses more on dealing with the current challenges and dangers.
The BBC has a nice pie chart showing the breakdown of the vote:

As you can see, Iraq the Model's earlier predictions were quite right:
Although the liberal and secular powers aren’t yet ready to take the lead for a number of reasons related to 35 years of oppression and destruction but still, the progress they made in a very short time is impressive and I think their main duty now is to establish balance with the religious parties during the coming four years and I believe we already have a partial balance...
With all the fuss over the previous two, you may have missed the third election this week which took place in Canada. 12 years of Liberal government finally came to end with the Conservatives winning 36% of the vote, compared to 30% for the Liberals. In their inimitable style, Cox and Forkum captured the key moment in the Liberal Party's demise last November:

The lack of a clear majority will no doubt frustrate Stephen Harper, the new Prime Minister, but according to this editorial in the WaPo, that's because Canadians still have some reservations about the Conservatives:
Canadians, devoted as always to subtlety and prudence, refused to give Harper a majority. Diane Ablonczy, a Conservative parliamentarian from Alberta, offered a perceptive take on the voters' verdict. She said they "want to test-drive the Conservative Party" before allowing it to govern without help. In stable democracies, voters can take test-drives.
I'm not sure that's entirely true - unless Canadians have a special ability to arrange their votes to produce a hung parliament I'd say this vote represents more of a protest at the corruption of the last government than a ringing endorsement of Conservative principles.

Moving on, there were two other elections in the news this week. Firstly, two LibDem candidates managed to cause a commotion in Westminster: Mark Oaten resigned from their front bench over an affair with a rentboy and Simon Hughes managed to tell us all he wasn't gay only to tell us he was gay but not really gay, or something.

Apparently Hughes thought it more decent to lie to the public than to admit having had gay relationships in his past. A strange decision - after all, this is 2006 and if most core Tory voters couldn't give two stuffs about Cameron allegedly experimenting with drugs in his youth, did Hughes really think the voting public would care about who he chose to share his bed with in the past? It's none of our business.

Finally, George Galloway got himself evicted from Celebrity Big Brother. He claimed in his interview with Davina McCall that he'd just lost the last election he'd ever face, suggesting he won't stand as a RESPECT candidate next time round. Probably for the best. The caustic Charlie Brooker gets the last word on this one:
If Galloway wanted to make an impression, he succeeded. And if he wanted the impression to be that of a seething, swaggering, self-important bully, he succeeded spectacularly.

Because he could've ridden out all the cat stuff, all the dressing-up games. That's easily defused: just chuckle about it in your eviction interview, and hey, it's just a bit of fun. The humiliation would've been real, yet fleeting. What'll stick in people's minds, however, is his jaw-droppingly unpleasant behaviour in the days leading up to his eviction. Rounding on the nice-but-dim youngsters, taunting a recovering alcoholic, spluttering paranoid bile at every opportunity - I mean really. WHAT a tosser.

In PR terms, it's hard to think of anything worse he could've done during his stay in the house. But I'll have a go. He could have 1) masturbated repeatedly on camera, staring the viewer straight in the eye; 2) pooed into a big bowl of flour in the middle of the kitchen; and 3) killed at least nine of his fellow housemates. But those are the only worse things I can think of. He's screwed.

Even so, you've got to hand it to him: when he shoots himself in the foot, he uses a cannon so big it takes his whole leg off.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Another great report from Mikey on yesterday evening's 'Boycott Apartheid Israel' meeting organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is now available to read on the Engage website.

Looks like the usual suspects were out in force, from ISM activists to the loathsome Sue Blackwell. I would have gone but had a previous engagement that I couldn't get out of. Judging by the behaviour of both the audience and speakers, I might have had an uncomfortable time:
Sixth questioner: I want to ask about the boycott of Israel. Is this the boycott of any activity of Israel? Does it include the assistance the Israelis have given to Jordanians? Does it include the aid the Israelis have provided to the Rwandans? Does it include aid Israel offered to Iran?

There was quite a bit of uproar going on through this and the questioner was asked by someone in the audience if he had finished. The questioner responded that he had not even started. This caused more commotion. The questioner then said the point is that as the votes in the election seem to show the Palestinian people prefer blood thirsty murder to the rule of law. This caused further commotion.

Uri Davis: To the sixth questioner. I want to talk directly to you. What is your name?

The questioner responded – Jack. Uri then asked if that was his real name. The questioned retorted that "Do you want me to show you my passport". Uri asked him where he lived. The questioner responded that it was not relevant. Uri then said: 'Can you accept that collective punishment is wrong? That the sins of the parents are not something that children should be blamed for?'. The original questioner responded that he could accept this.

Uri then said that we could condemn suicide bombings together and that we could also condemn war crimes together. If you put list of all the crimes, the war criminals Ariel Sharon and Shaul Mofaz would rate much higher on the list than the suicide bombers that would be at the bottom. This statement was greeted by applause from the audience.

The original questioner said he could not accept that. At this point someone from the audience stood up pointing at the questioner and said "You, you shit". The original questioner responded to this man said "thank you". There was some more commotion and calls to move on.
How to win an argument, lifted straight from Moonbat Logic 101. Call anyone who disagrees with you a shit or intimidate them in a public building by asking their name and where they come from. How clever.

Noone appears to have brought up the issue of exactly how such an academic boycott might be enforced.
  • Would there have to be some sort of "Committee" to scan emails and listen in on phone-calls to check that people like myself weren't collaborating with Israeli academics?

  • Would those Israeli academics be able to transfer over to British universities to continue their research?

  • If not, would that be racist?

  • Or would we only accept those who swore no alleigance to Israel?

  • Hasn't Europe been down a similar route once before?
A truly nonsensical proposition. Read the whole thing.

And to Mikey: Good work fella!


Yesterday came the news that Google was to cave in to pressure from the Chinese government by censoring search results obtained via its site. Subjects deemed unpalatable for Chinese eyes include material on human rights, Taiwan, Tibet, democracy, the Dalai Lama and anything else deemed too risque by the current regime.
Within minutes of the launch of the new site bearing China's Web suffix ''.cn," searches for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement showed scores of sites omitted and users directed to articles condemning the group posted on Chinese government websites.
A strange move given Google's principled stand against the US Justice Department's demand that they hand over more than a billion queries to highlight the inadequacies of current content-filtering technology.

After all, the preface to their Code of Conduct states:
Our informal corporate motto is "Don't be evil."

We Googlers generally relate those words to the way we serve our users – as well we should. But being "a different kind of company" means more than the products we make and the business we're building; it means making sure that our core values inform our conduct in all aspects of our lives as Google employees.

The Google Code of Conduct is the code by which we put those values into practice. This document is meant for public consumption, but its most important audience is within our own walls. This code isn't merely a set of rules for specific circumstances but an intentionally expansive statement of principles meant to inform all our actions; we expect all our employees, temporary workers, consultants, contractors, officers and directors to study these principles and do their best to apply them to any and all circumstances which may arise.

The core message is simple: Being Googlers means striving toward the highest possible standard of ethical business conduct. This is a matter as much practical as ethical; we hire great people who work hard to build great products, but our most important asset by far is our reputation as a company that warrants our users' faith and trust. That trust is the foundation upon which our success and prosperity rests, and it must be re-earned every day, in every way, by every one of us.

So please do read this code, and then read it again, and remember that as our company evolves, The Google Code of Conduct will evolve as well. Our core principles won't change, but the specifics might, so a year from now, please read it a third time. And always bear in mind that each of us has a personal responsibility to do everything we can to incorporate these principles into our work, and our lives.
Is this an example of "the highest possible standard of ethical business conduct"? Does blocking sites that might undermine China's regime square with their motto "Don't Be Evil"? I don't think so.

It should be noted that Google are not alone in making shady deals with the Chinese government. Both Yahoo! and MSN already censor search results via their Chinese sites, Yahoo! even going so far as to hand over the name of a dissident responsible for sending "embarrassing e-mails" to the Chinese authorities. Their excuse? Conforming to the laws of the country in which they operate.

Comforting words no doubt for Shi Tao, the emailer in question, who is currently doing 10 years hard labour for his opinions. As Reporters Without Borders put it:
It is one thing to turn a blind eye to the Chinese government’s abuses and it is quite another thing to collaborate.
Elsewhere, without any help from dubious search engines, the Iranian authorities have just blocked the BBC Persian website. According to Iran Press Service:
When entering the BBC's Persian site, a message in Persian comes up saying "access to this site denied".


According to BBC sources, the Broadcasting Persian language site is the most popular of the BBC's non-English language websites, receiving about 30 million page impressions a month - about half of which are from inside Iran.


It is not clear if the filtering will be permanent, but many websites are routinely blocked in Iran.

Asked by the BBC’s correspondent in Tehran about the move, Mr. Mas’oud Fateh, a deputy to the Press Department of the Communication and Communication Technologies Ministry said the BBC Persian-language site had been blocked on order from the Committee for Defining the Filtering, a “chameleon” body created on decision from the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution, which is chaired by President Ahmadi Nezhad with the task of finding and blocking all internet sites with materials not pleasing the Iranian authorities.

Made of representatives of the Intelligence, Islamic Guidance and Culture ministries and the Radio and Television, the Committee singles out all sites containing items considered as “anti-Islamic, anti-Iranian, insulting Islam, making propaganda for illegal organizations and parties etc..” and urges Internet Providers Services to remove the faulty sites, without ever providing explanation on its decisions.
It's not just the ISP's who feel the wrath of "The Committee". IranPressNews reports (translation here, courtesy of Regime Change Iran):
ILNA, the regime-run news agency reported that a court in the Province of Gilan, in the second round of hearings sentenced journalist and blogger, Arash Cigarchi to 3 years in prison for insulting Khamnei, the supreme leader. Last February, branch 3 of the revolutionary court of Gilan sentenced Cigarchi who was the editor of Gilan Emrooz (Gilan Today) Newspaper, to 14 years in prison. He was charged with "cooperating with the terrorist government of America" because he had given an interview to Radio Farda (The Persian Broadcast of Radio Free Europe); his other charges were "insulting the leadership", "stirring public opinion against national security and publicity against the Islamic Republic of Iran’s rule". After serving 60 days, Cigarchi accompanied by his attorneys appeared at the court of appeals where he was released on $100,000 bail and had been free until his recent sentencing.
Three years for speaking his mind?

Remember this the next time some apologist for Ahmadinejad tries to convince you that Iran held truly democratic elections and that we in the West are guilty of unjustly demonising the current regime.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


On a day in which Palestinians take to the polls, University College London's Islamic Society and Friends of Palestine Society decided to host an afternoon seminar entitled "The War on Error". Featuring Daud Abdullah and Asim Qureshi. The former is a lecturer of Islamic Studies at Birkbeck College and member of the MCB, the latter (as far as I can tell) a lawyer who writes quite a bit for "Stop Political Terror!", a website whose most famous patron is Yvonne Ridley.

The flyer for the event featured a cartoon media anchor stating:

  • Palestinian gunman kills three Israeli soldiers - "TERROR!"

  • Israeli tank kills six Palestinian civilians - "ERROR!"

Despite the base moral equivalence of the flyer, I figured it might be interesting to pop along. After all, last term UCLIS managed to get a speaker in from Hizb ut Tahrir, despite an NUS ban (info here: look for comments by Bevan Kieran).

As usual, the UCLIS yellow-shirts were in attendance, marshalling men into the right of the auditorium via the sign that said "Brothers" and women, sorry, "Sisters" to the left. Upon entering I wondered what mayhem would ensue were I to sit with the women, but fortunately there were seats in the middle labelled "Mixed" for the sexually confused. Don't laugh - an aside from the Times today:
[Birmingham] Christian Union has been suspended and had its bank account frozen after refusing to open its membership to people of all religions.

The Christian Union, an evangelical student organisation, has instructed lawyers and is threatening court proceedings against the Birmingham Guild of Students.


Members claim the actions have been taken against them after they refused on religious grounds to make “politically correct” changes to their charitable constitution, including explicitly mentioning people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.

The Christian Union was advised that the use of the words “men” and “women” in the constitution were causing concern because they could be seen as excluding transsexual and transgendered people.
Good grief.

And now back to our scheduled broadcast...

The event hardly merited the large lecture theatre that had been booked - by my reckoning there were 25 Brothers, 18 Sisters and 10 Mixed present, the latter (perhaps unsurprisingly) including the only "Palestinian chic" on display in the building.

One of these women, it could have been "Lydia" but the microphones weren't working, was invited on stage to pass on a message from the UCL Friends of Palestine. Good wishes for today's election? Not quite. Rather nervously she told us that she was everso sorry that at a previous FOP presentation on Palestine in UCL's South Cloisters, one of the charities present (Al Aqsa) had been distributing some leaflets. Without going into any detail she apologised for the content and said such material would never be handed out under her name again. Fair enough, but you'd think as the event's organiser she'd have bothered to look at the propaganda she was helping to distribute, but there we are.

After she'd finished grovelling, it was the turn of Daud Abdullah to take the stand. Now I'm really not sure how his extended talk on the history of the creation of Israel came under the heading of a "War on Error" as most of it was factually correct and I'd wager accepted by the majority of historians today, regardless of their political affiliation. Well, up until 1948 that is.

After that there were quite a few bloopers, including a rather strange argument that involved criticising Israel for accepting a million "Russian" refugees between 1993 and 2000 of which a third weren't Jewish. Apparently Israel should have "given them [the million Palestinians in Gaza] a bus ride and driven them home if they wanted to solve the problem." By his estimation, 78% of "Jews" (I assume he meant Israelis) live on 16% of the land - they are "urban people" - that's why the kibbutz failed. Call me stupid but isn't Gaza a tad urban?

Well clearly I'm not as stupid as Abdullah who then told us why Israel hadn't given the Palestinians a "bus ride" back home - it's all because Israel wants to be an exclusively Jewish state.

In the course of four sentences he managed to undo his whole argument. If Israel was supposed to be "exclusively Jewish", how do 300,000 non-Jewish Russians he'd just got so upset about fit into the picture?

Being a fair and balanced debate and a "War on Error", it was a little disappointing to hear him describe Israel's "greed" being responsible for a failure in the Oslo Accords, without once mentioning the reasons for the failure of the later Camp David agreement. He didn't dwell on this for too long as he had far more important things to talk about.

Firstly, how the UN bullied Assad out of Lebanon but doesn't bully Israel to the same extent. You'd think in a hall full of students, someone trying to equate the leaderships of these two countries would be laughed out of town. Of course not.

He ended with reference to the "Jenin massacre". Bar Robert Fisk, is there anyone who refers to the goings on in Jenin in April of 2002 as a massacre any more? I've included the Wikipedia link because it links to a number of important documents and you can make up your own mind. Have a look at what Human Rights Watch, no close friend of Israel's, said.

You'd expect more perhaps of a man representing the "moderate" MCB. But you'd certainly expect a lot more of a lecturer at one of London's finest colleges.

At the end of his talk the first question came from one of the Mixed crowd. He wondered what Abdullah had meant when he'd said "massacre" - could Abdullah tell us how many dead? He couldn't. He dodged and dodged and then said nobody knows because Israel wouldn't let the UN in, despite the questioner (almost) giving him the correct figures. Another one of the Mixed crowd said "To bring some balance, the film "Jenin, Jenin" states"... and I gave up listening.

"Jenin, Jenin" was a propaganda film funded by the PA - there's an interesting take on it here by an Israeli doctor who was actually there. The somewhat unreliable WorldNetDaily also has a story on it, but as usual, take with several pinches of salt.

There was then a question about whether Hamas's use of violence should rule them out of the democratic process. Abdullah immediately went into a froth about the French Resistance and when it was pointed out they didn't target German cafes he resorted to quoting UN Resolution 2955 claiming that Hamas had the right to resist "by any means necessary". Nice. He backed off a little claiming that it wasn't for us to judge - "Let the Palestinians decide if Hamas are a terrorist group." But I think he knew he didn't really have a leg to stand on and was stalling to use up the allotted 15 minutes of question time.

One of the Brothers stated that Israel had started it all by bombing the King David Hotel so none of her politicians had any right to lead the country as they were all terrorists. He also claimed that the first suicide bomber was a Jew. I worried just how perverted his knowledge of history must be to make a statement quite like that.

Abdullah's side-kick Qureshi also jumped in stating that terrorist acts were fair enough as he believed Israel was a racist state. Unfortunately by this point my lunch-break was turning into a full afternoon bunk off work so I had to leave.

As I walked out I wondered if Qureshi's lecture would actually be about the media or as dull a history lesson as the previous talk. Shame I missed it - I had all my talking points prepared - but there's always next time...

One major issue I have with the event is that a lecturer of Islamic studies could be so ignorant about such a major talking point as Jenin, and prepared to stand up and describe it as a "massacre" without having any figures to back it up. That wouldn't have got me a GCSE in history, let alone a lectureship at the University of London.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


For those wishing to spruce up their current wardrobe, I give you Danish T-shirt company Fighters+Lovers. From their website:
Fighters+Lovers is the brand that takes fashion beyond new horizons. We have a passion for change. In a world obsessed with envy and hate, Fighters+Lovers dares to speak up for brotherhood and the right to fight for what is right.
A laudable aim I'm sure. The blurb continues:
Fighters+Lovers is a private enterprise dedicated to the cause of freedom and hard-rocking streetwear.
Mmmmm, niiice.

Cringe-worthy mission statement aside, here's how they intend to "speak up for brotherhood and the right to fight for what is right":
5 euros of the price you pay for our products at an authorized dealers are sent straight to Palestine or Colombia, where your money pays for new equipment for radio stations and graphics workshops run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). This is our tribute to these freedom fighters.
And there was me thinking they were against a world obsessed with hate. For those who may need to know, here's how the BBC describes these "freedom fighters":
The Farc has been involved in a 40-year conflict with Colombian state forces and right-wing paramilitary groups, in which tens of thousands of civilians have died.

It has increasingly turned to the illegal drug trade to raise funds.

The PFLP, which combines Arab nationalism with Marxist-Leninist ideology, has carried out suicide attacks inside Israel and against Jewish settlements.

It sees the destruction of Israel as integral to its struggle to remove Western influence from the Middle East.
Ah, speaking up for brotherhood. And the small matter of the destruction of Israel.

What could have possibly inspired Fighters+Lovers to come up with such a morally repugnant venture? Carlos the Jackal's shades? Castro's beard? Galloway's tash? Well that's not too far from the truth:
Fighters+Lovers is greatly in debt to the stylish classic coolness of Palestinian fighter Leyla Khaled and the funky outrageous style of Colombian guerrilla commander Jacobo Arenas. Our Collection 2006 is inspired by the style and principles of these legendary fighters.
It wouldn't be right not to include a photo or two of this pair of inspirational fashion icons:
Muscular Liberals photo of J
It would appear that Bobby at Fighters+Lovers has a thing about "Chicks With Guns" ( (c) Q. Tarantino) and, um, moustachioed men in wellington boots.

Well, whatever rocks your long-boat, I guess.

(N.B. He's not the only person to have a thing about "Chicks With Guns" but at least this chap uses the best Danish export since bacon: LEGO.)

Going back to their website, prepare to cringe for a second time as Fighters+Lovers express their admiration for their somewhat dubious style gurus:
Let them bring it on. You rock!
"Totally bodacious revolutionary T-shirts, dude," I hear you thinking, "but how can I get my hands on one?" Good question.

It seems that Bobby might have realised a fundamental flaw in his business plan:
When you buy Fighters+Lovers products you might experience legal problems because of US or EU "antiterrorist" legislation, outlawing financial support to organizations labelled as "terrorists", including the PFLP and the FARC.
Indeed you might. And Bobby also might have a few problems of his own. From the BBC:
Under Danish legislation introduced in 2002, anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly financing terrorist groups can be jailed for up to 10 years.
Oh dear. Bobby could end up a genuine fashion victim, languishing away in a Danish jail. Not that that seems to bother him:
But anyway, when was the last time you listened to someone who told you what you couldn't wear?
Oh, you rebel you.

How to sum up Fighters+Lovers? In the words of the footer on their sales page:
When style matters...
but ethics don't. And presumably when traditional "Palestinian Chic" is not enough.

You can contact Freedom+Lovers by emailing Bobby at: I'm sure he'll welcome your input.

HAT TIP: Mikey


New bloggers on the block Oli and Jonny have a template letter here that you can send to Fighters+Lovers to let them know just how much you appreciate their efforts.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Despite eight years of war, it was refreshing to see the mutual admiration and support shown between two of Iran and Iraq's best blogs, Iraq the Model and RegimeChangeIran in the run-up to the 2005 Weblog Awards.

From the former:
"Honestly, if your blog wins the title I will be just as glad as if it were my blog."
A somewhat more sinister affection was revealed yesterday when Muqtada al-Sadr opened his mouth on the subject of Iran. From Yahoo!News:
The Iraqi cleric who once led two uprisings against U.S. forces said Sunday that his militia would help to defend Iran if it is attacked, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Muqtada al-Sadr, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, said his Mahdi Army was formed to defend Islam.

"If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran, become the target of attacks, we will support them," al-Sadr was quoted as saying. "The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi army. It was established to defend Islam."
Right now I'll bet there's a lot of Iranians saying: "Thanks, but no thanks." As if they don't have enough religious crackpots of their own to deal with...

Speaking of which, Spirit of Man has written an interesting post about schoolchildren being used as human shields in Iran.
During school, we had the opportunity to go to museums or parks with the classmates under the watch of teachers which wasn't bad at all but seems these outtings have been radically changed. Thank heaven I am not in School any more.

This is the new type of scientific tour with the class, of course with a few major changes and well, what they do in these new sort of tours these days, is using the kids as protective shields to prevent an attack on their dangerous nuke facilities.
I hope this is wrong (and my Farsi isn't up to scratch to decipher the text on the linked pages), but I can't help feeling cynical about the current regime in Teheran and the steps it will take to defend itself.

Incidentally, if you really want to cheer yourself up, here's a Flash-based graphic of the development of Iran's uranium enrichment facility at Naranz over the past four years, courtesy of GraphicLens.

Happy days.


Oh dear. From the WaPo:
The Bush administration is spending foreign aid money to increase the popularity of the Palestinian Authority on the eve of crucial elections in which the governing party faces a serious challenge from the radical Islamic group Hamas.

The approximately $2 million program is being led by a division of the U.S. Agency for International Development. But no U.S. government logos appear with the projects or events being undertaken as part of the campaign, which bears no evidence of U.S. involvement and does not fall within the definitions of traditional development work.
So much for an ethical foreign policy.
U.S. and Palestinian officials say they fear the election, scheduled for Wednesday, will result in a large Hamas presence in the 132-seat legislature. Hamas, formally known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, is at war with Israel and is classified by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization. But its reputation for competence and accountability in providing social services has made it a stiff rival of the secular Fatah movement, which runs the Palestinian Authority and has long been the largest party in the Palestinian territories.
Exactly how are Fatah "secular"? Last time I checked they had a military wing called the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Mental note to self: check up on "secular martyrs".
Elements of the U.S.-funded program include a street-cleaning campaign, distributing free food and water to Palestinians at border crossings, donating computers to community centers and sponsoring a national youth soccer tournament. U.S. officials are coordinating the program through Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of Fatah.
USAID must be drinking from the same cup as Messrs. Wilson and Kessler who wrote the article. Given the astonishing way in which the PA has managed to mislay billions of dollars over the years, I wonder how much we should trust Abbas's chief of staff to ensure that none of this money finds it way into other, less savoury hands?

Presumably the rationale behind this move to fund these "small, popular projects" is along the lines of "Better the devil you know than the one you don't".

Hmmm. I'm not sure there's an awful lot of difference between Fatah and Hamas; I wouldn't want any of my taxes helping to prop either of them up.

But never mind, I'm sure it's all just a global Zionist conspiracy. Why else would Hamas need to pay spin doctor Nashat Aqtash over £100,000 to improve their image? After all, in Aqtash's own words:
"We don't need the international community to accept Hamas ideology, we need it to accept the facts on the ground. We are not killing people because we love to kill. People view Hamas as loving sending people to die. We don't love death, we like life."
Now that's a real jaw-dropper. Particularly when you read Jamal Abdel Hamid Yussef describing the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades military wing of Hamas in Gaza:
"Our suicide operations are a message...that our people love death. Our goal is to die for the sake of God, and if we live we want to humiliate Jews and trample on their necks."
Next Aqtash'll be trying to convince us they're a political movement that never target civilians. Oh hang on:
"Hamas does not believe in terrorism or killing civilians. But Ariel Sharon pressed buttons to make people angry. Sometimes we are innocent enough to react in a way that the Israelis use the reaction against us.
I'll leave it to the reader to untangle that web of garbled logic.

Sorry Nashat but if it's all the same, I think I'll stick to believing my lying eyes.


Of the advice Nashat Aqtash gave to Hamas, this one's caused a few raised eyebrows:
  • Change beard colour (if red)
Looks like our ginger Jihadi friend ought to think about a makeover.

Friday, January 20, 2006


The War on Terror's favourite bogeyman took time out from his busy schedule to release an audio-taped message to America and her allies yesterday. It contained several golden nuggets.

Apparently on Planet Jihad:
The operations in Afghanistan are on the rise in our favour, praise be to God.
Oh really? From an ABC News poll in December:
77 percent of Afghans say their country is headed in the right direction — compared with 30 percent in the vastly better-off United States. Ninety-one percent prefer the current Afghan government to the Taliban regime, and 87 percent call the U.S.-led overthrow of the Taliban good for their country. Osama bin Laden, for his part, is as unpopular as the Taliban; nine in 10 view him unfavorably.

Progress fuels these views: Despite the country's continued problems, 85 percent of Afghans say living conditions there are better now than they were under the Taliban. Eighty percent cite improved freedom to express political views. And 75 percent say their security from crime and violence has improved as well. After decades of oppression and war, many Afghans see a better life.
Not sure which of these stats square with Osama's worldview, but then this is a man who believes the US wanted to bomb Al Jazeera's offices in Qatar.

He continues:
The argument that [Bush] avoided, which is the substance of the results of opinion polls on withdrawing the troops, is that it is better not to fight the Muslims on their land and for them not to fight us on our land.

We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect.
Here we see Osama in his newfound role as Peacemaker. Shame he doesn't outline any of his conditions, but those who have read his previous remarks will know that he's still smarting over the loss of Andalucia from the Islamic world so they could be tricky for us to implement.

Dick Cheney seems to agree:
“I’m not sure what he’s offering by way of a truce,” said Dick Cheney, the Vice-President. “I don’t think anybody would believe him. It sounds to me like it’s some kind of ploy.”
Quite. If Israel's experience of truces from the likes of Hamas are anything to go by, this offer isn't worth the C90 it was delivered on.

But here comes the real chutzpah:
In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.
Offering to rebuild Afghanistan? A country he and his fascist friends helped take back to the Dark Ages? Now that's cheek.

In the unlikely event of the West meeting his demands for a truce, presumably there'll be a few empty windows in his timetable previously set aside for masterminding terror attacks on the West.

If that's the case and he's looking to rebuild Afghanistan, how about he gets himself a nice big vat of superglue and puts back together all those Buddha statues his Taliban chums saw fit to blow up a few years back?

Should keep him off the streets for a bit.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


The Bush administration has finally lost patience with the antics of Mubarak's regime and halted talks over a free trade agreement with Egypt. From a WaPo editorial:
The Bush administration has taken a first step toward adjusting its relationship with Egypt following President Hosni Mubarak's flagrant violation of his promises to lead a transition to democracy. An Egyptian delegation that was to visit Washington this month to discuss a free-trade agreement has been disinvited, and the agreement itself was put on hold. Thanks to Mr. Mubarak's autocratic backsliding -- including his crude persecution and imprisonment of his leading liberal opponent, Ayman Nour -- Egypt will continue to lag behind Jordan, Morocco and other modernizing Arab states that enjoy tariff-free access to U.S. markets. For Egypt's business community and the reformist technocrats in its cabinet, the message should be clear: Egypt won't join the global economic mainstream unless it abandons its corrupt dictatorship.

For much of the past year Mr. Mubarak, 77, sought to convince the Bush administration that he could dismantle the autocracy he has presided over for nearly a quarter-century. He changed the constitution to allow a multi-candidate election for president; allowed more open debate in the press; and eased repression of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition movement. Though his own reelection in September was heavily manipulated, Mr. Mubarak promised to carry out a long list of reforms in his new term, including more freedom for the media, independence for judges, greater authority for parliament and reform of the emergency laws that give him dictatorial power.

Now Mr. Mubarak has squandered the tenuous credibility he had acquired in Washington. When the Muslim Brotherhood's candidates performed better than expected in the first rounds of parliamentary elections in November, his government used fraud and brutality to alter the final results; security forces opened fire on voters trying to cast ballots. Mr. Mubarak, meanwhile, set out to crush Mr. Nour, a moderate, secular politician who won 8 percent of the presidential vote on a platform of liberal democracy. Though far weaker than Islamic leaders, Mr. Nour, 41, poses a threat to Mr. Mubarak's 42-year-old son, Gamal, who also presents himself as a moderate reformist. Without Mr. Nour, the only choices in Egypt are the Mubarak family and the Muslim Brotherhood. That's why Mr. Nour was sentenced on Dec. 24 to five years of hard labor on bogus charges of forgery.
Nice to see American economic muscle being used in an ethical way, although I imagine some commentators might see things differently. Egyptian blogger The Sandmonkey agrees:
Smart move, since Egypt really needs that Free Trade agreement with the US. If we lived in a society that values common sense, we would use that piece of news to critisize the government for their actions, which will hinder for years to come the always ailing Egyptian economy. But since this is Egypt where the opposition is retarded, knowing the anti-American leftist Egyptian opposition, they will probably criticize the US for their decision and cite it as an example of how the US wants to influence and rule Egypt and will probably be happy that the FTA is no longer a possibility. After all, an agreement that brings prosperity to egypt through closer relationship with the US must be evil, and we wouldn't want to seem as if we support the evil US now would we?
Seeing evil in every piece of American foreign policy is not peculiar to the likes of Pilger then.

One person I doubt will be too upset about the dark hand of American influence is Ayman Nour. After the US threatened to withold $130 million in aid over the imprisonment of dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Egypt's high court overturned his conviction and had him released.

Ibrahim has some interesting views on the prospects for democracy in the Middle East. From an interview in March 2005:
Q: So should are we witnessing the beginnings of an authentic change in the region?

A: Well you have the Orientalists or some so-called Arabists, or area specialists who talk a lot about “Arab exceptionalism”: this idea that democracy cannot exist in the Arab world. Somehow the democratic changes that spread throughout the Third World starting in Portugal back in 1974, and then moved to Spain, and then to Greece, then to Latin America and back to East Asia and then to Eastern and Central Europe and what we social scientists called the third wave of democracy has not rooted itself in the Middle East. Of course, this third wave is now 31 years old and people wonder why has the wave not yet broken at the Arab shores? And some people have said well, it’s Arab exceptionalism: that there is something about our culture, or Islam, which somehow defies democracy. And of course a few of us who have been fighting for democracy in the region have taken issue with this kind of proposition. Arab exceptionalism? We are human beings like everybody else, and we can have democracy too.
Cutting back to the chase, in an article written the best part of a year ago in which he called for greater pressure to be placed on Mubarak's regime, Max Boot wrote:
Dissident Saad Eddin Ibrahim credits U.S. pressure with helping to win his release from prison in 2003. And that involved a threat to withhold merely $130 million in supplemental aid. What might a threat to cut off $2 billion accomplish?
Well the US hasn't gone that far just yet, but restricting Egypt's access to US markets is still going to hurt. In the words of State Department spokesman Sean McCormack:
"We believe that these things are interlocked: democratic reforms, good governance going hand in hand with the expansion of economic opportunities and the expansion of trade."
The ball's now firmly in Mubarak's court.

The final word should go to Saad Eddin Ibrahim:
Q: One last question. What do you think America’s role in future should be in Middle East?

A: They should be concerned, but from a distance. If they move too close, then they will discredit us, the reformers and the human rights activists and those pushing for democracy. What we need for the United States to do now is to weaken their support for the tyrants: for the Mubaraks, for the Abdullahs. We can do battle with them on our own terms if they do not have the backing and support of the United States or other western powers.

Look at Egypt: they get $4 billion a year, $2 billion from the United States and another $2 billion from Europe and Japan. This creates a rentier state where there is no accountability for the state to its people since it is supported from abroad. And they can get away with more. Of course, there should not be sanctions which only end up hurt the people. But the United States should condition its financial support for different countries on a timetable for genuine political and social change. Enable democratic forces to have at least a stable footing against the dictators. I don’t have access to a newspaper, the maximum number of people I can get in my Center is maybe 100 per week. So we need more support.

But things are moving. Not as quickly as I would like, but gradually, and peacefully. And that’s important: we don’t want violent change—like what happened in Romania and Ceaucescu. The region has had enough bloodshed. So we want to fight our battles peacefully, and the United States and western powers can aid in this reform for greater freedom and political reform. And I think within five to ten years there will be major reform.
Here's hoping.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Time for a culture clash. From the BBC:
Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow women to attend a football match against Sweden, reversing an earlier decision.

On Monday, Saudi authorities had told the Swedish Football Association that a change of stadium meant women could not watch the match in the capital, Riyadh.

But after intervention by Swedish diplomats on Tuesday, the Saudi authorities backed down.

The ban on women spectators had caused upset in Sweden, one of the world's leading nations on gender equality.
As well it might. It's hard to think of two more polarly opposed societies.
A May 2005 assessment by international NGO the World Economic Forum placed Sweden highest in the world on gender equality. In parliament, 45% of MPs are women.

Women in Saudi Arabia must be covered from head to toe and stay separate from men. They have traditionally played a very limited role in public life.
To emphasize the point, the BBC include this image in their report

with the caption: Women's rights are limited in Saudi Arabia - you reckon?

Well at least (after threats of a boycott) they get to see some football. Shame they can't drive to the match though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


One of the things I discovered through blogging is that the term "liberal" is a dirty word in America. Initially I was puzzled: otherwise sensible posters threw the word around in a way that made absolutely no sense to me.

The term is still used to describe the outer fringes of the "reality-based community" (the kind that "Screw 'Em" Zuniga had to purge from his website) with whom I have very little in common. To this day, Kos's arch-enemies over at LGF use the acronym "LLL" (Lunatic Liberal Left/Logic - rearrange in an order to suit) much in the same way as our tabloid press used to refer to the "Loony Left" during the 80s.

You'd think those to the left of Noam Chomsky might be a little peeved at being given the "liberal" tag, but a cursory glance through Kos or DU's messageboards provides plenty of examples of the American Left proudly identifying themselves as "liberals".

I figured until recently this was a phenomenon peculiar to the US, where being liberal was more about being a liberal with a small L: the "anything goes" philosophy against the forces of tradition and small C conservatism, more about one's attitude to social issues than political or economic matters.

In contrast, I thought that in the UK being liberal meant floating somewhere towards the centre of the political spectrum.

Well perhaps not.

American trends eventually manifest themselves over here in one form or another (fast food and crack cocaine anyone?) and this looks like no exception. In an article in yesterday's Times Tim Hames considers the problems facing David Cameron in identifying what constitutes the centre ground in British politics:
I think there is a dilemma because there is not a single middle ground, but two, and part of Mr Cameron is aiming at a section of it that he should be avoiding.

One middle ground consists of what could be called the "hard centre" and comprises those who can properly be described as "floating voters". They are not anchored to a particular political party, are independent in their attitudes and were willing to support Margaret Thatcher at the polls - yet largely switched to new Labour in 1997.

The other middle ground involves those who might be referred to as the "soft fringe", constituting "drifting voters", essentially alienated from Labour and Tories alike, more sure of what they oppose than what they support and prone to a certain faddism. This category is placed in the political "middle"on the basis that the people involved cannot be categorised as "extreme"in outlook and are in neither of the main partisan camps, so there is nowhere else to put them.


The hard centre has distinctive features. It is sympathetic to market economics but not indifferent to social considerations. It broadly favours the liberty of the individual but is not oblivious to the consequences of anarchic licence. It is realistic about the nature of foreign affairs in the world we live in. If told of the dominance of Tesco at home or McDonald’s overseas, it tends to shrug its shoulders, muse that the public gets what the public wants.


None of this is true for the soft fringe. It is instinctively for the Liberal Democrats, or a minor party, or for staying at home on polling day. It is cynical about capitalism, yet with no coherent sense of an alternative. It is vaguely green and faintly pink. It warms to such themes as “small is beautiful”, “local is good” and “older is better”. It might, in the short term, be pleased to discover that the Tory leadership has evolved from the Iron Lady to a Muesli Man, but it is hard to believe that it would sustain that interest.

Even if it did, the price for its support is a manifesto of incoherent mush that would not make much of a programme. It is not where Mr Cameron should be making any pitch, not least because an astute Labour Party under Gordon Brown would welcome him to it and charge for the hard centre.
The "soft fringe" attitude sums up a large swathe of those who call themselves liberals in the US. Anti-Bush, anti-globalisation and anti-War without offering any realistic alternatives of their own.

I agree with Hames when he states that the British "soft fringe" tend to favour the LibDems and smaller parties (e.g. RESPECT). His claim that "the people involved cannot be categorised as 'extreme'" is harder to justify. In my opinion the soft fringe are lumped in the political centre precisely because traditionally this is where a supposedly "liberal" party ought to be.

Times have changed. If not, why the need for the Orange Book?

We now have a Liberal party that is to the left of Labour on many issues and the current leadership contest doesn't look like changing that any time soon. Both Simon Hughes and Menzies Campbell seem happy for a once centrist party to disappear off into political la-la land.

Barring an event of God, this leaves a rejuvenated Tory party and refreshened New Labour under Brown to court the "hard centre" liberals, who of course won't referrred to as "liberals" any more. Because as any fool knows, these days the liberals are on the left, right?

Monday, January 16, 2006


Where Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been been sworn in as President of Liberia. From MSNBC:
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a 67-year-old grandmother, surprised even the U.S. when she was elected Africa’s first woman president.

What was her slogan? "All the men have failed Liberia; let's try a woman this time."
Well it worked for her. Nicknamed the 'Iron Lady', I imagine she'd agree with our own Iron Lady who famously said:
If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.
Sexist nonsense aside, the BBC reports:
Loud cheers greeted her inauguration, with US First Lady Laura Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice among those at the ceremony.

Mrs Johnson-Sirleaf says her top challenge is to maintain peace, law and order after 14 years of civil war.
Just a few small matters then. And that's not all:
After a quarter of a century of war and misrule, Liberia's road network is in ruins, there is no national telephone network, no national electricity grid and no piped water.

A further challenge is to reintegrate the 100,000 ex-combatants, including many former child soldiers, into civilian life.
Ouch. Here's wishing her luck.


Oh dear. No new posts in nearly a week and all down to flu, an even iller PC and then a big weekend. Well, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, eh? That said, when play results in hanging around dodgy bits of Tottenham waiting for non-existent night-buses, perhaps work isn't so bad after all...

In my time off, I managed to miss:

It really wouldn't be right not to include two of the most sinister political images of 2006 thus far (taken from HP):

As Harry's Place points out:
Once upon a time, we'd have had to photoshop a picture like that.

Nick Cohen has the authoritative take on it:
Still, aren’t they weird? The liberals who think it is worse to appear on a TV show than in the court of a fascist tyrant; the socialists who believe that it is left wing to ignore Iraq as the forces of the far right blow it to pieces. Not just fatuous and immoral, but weird beyond measure.
whilst Stephen Pollard observes that a vote for Galloway really is a vote for fascism:
Just in case you think too much fuss has been made over The Gorgeous One's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, it has genuinely foul implications.

Interpal, his 'designated charity' is described by the US Treasury as a "Hamas-related charity" and has been listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. So a vote for Galloway is, quite literally, a vote for terror.

The real villain of the piece is not the odious Galloway, whose penchant for licking the backsides of terrorist sponsors we all know about. It is Channel Four, which is knowingly allowing such an organisation to benefit from its airwaves. Just in case you think too much fuss has been made over The Gorgeous One's appearance on Celebrity Big Brother, it has genuinely foul implications.
Oh and David Aaronovitch made the brave move of starting a blog with (*gasp-shock-horror*) comments. Nice one.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Scrappleface does it again: Kim Jong Il, Zarqawi Protest Belafonte’s Bush Remarks.
(2006-01-09) — North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il today lashed out at former entertainer Harry Belafonte after the ex-celebrity, in Caracas to express his support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, called U.S. President George Bush “the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world.”

“What does Belafonte know about tyranny?” Mr. Kim told the reporter at a rare news conference. “He lives in a country that lets him travel overseas, stand with a socialist dictator and slam his own president. Does Harry Belafonte thinks he’s qualified to rate the tyrants?”

Meanwhile, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, decried Mr. Belafonte’s “ignorant remarks” and invited him to visit Baghdad or Ramadi “to see who’s the greatest terrorist in the world.”

“I can assure Mr. Belafonte,” said Mr. Zarqawi, “that his visit here will be a short one. Daylight come and he want to go home.”

No doubt Mugabe, Assad and Ahmadinejad are feeling a wee bit miffed as well.


A website that somehow passed me by for too long: Sudan Watch.

Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Not suitable for bedtime reading.


From Egyptian blogger Seneferu (via Sandmonkey):
A headline in page 6, "Arab Affairs" section of Friday's edition of Al Ahram reads: "Official Source: The Egyptian Forces Practiced Self Restraint And Did Not Fire One Bullet"
"An official source explained that about 3,000 Palestinians gathered on the other side after a large number of them infiltrated in an illegal way from the 5m wide, 3m high breach they created. When the Egyptian forces confronted them, they fired ammunition on them while the Egyptian security forces practiced self restraint, following orders from the Egyptian authorities not to fire one bullet in the direction of the Palestinian brothers, but also to offer all facilitations to ease their crossing from the main border point in a legal way. The official pointed that the Egyptian authorities made great efforts until a late hour of the night to contain the situation and to not escalate it with the Palestinian brothers, and to stop the crossing of thousands of them from the breach to the Egyptian territories....and he said that the Egyptian security apparatus was careful not to injure one Palestinian and resorted to tear gas to disperse the Palestinian gathering on the border. And he said that 17 injured soldiers were treated and left the hospital, 7 others are still under treatment, and four of them were transfered to El Arish hospital for the severity of their cases."
I kid you not. This is not some fictional parody of black comedy. This is our government and this is our press. All what's left is for them is to issue an official apology to the Palestinian brothers for standing in the way of their fraternal bullets.
Unbelievable. If this is true, the Egyptian authorities consider putting their armed forces at risk an acceptable price to preserve the image of pan-Arab brotherhood. I guess their PR department decided that pictures of Egyptian soldiers shooting Palestinians wouldn't much help the latter's cause or Egypt's standing within the Arab world.

It gets better. Seneferu continues:

Abu Mazen declares in the front page of Al Ahram that the two fallen soldiers will be considered martyrs among the martyrs of the Palestinian people. Lucky Arafa and Sayed.
Quite how this works I'm not sure - presumably anyone who refuses to fire on a rampaging Palestinian mob despite being shot at gains martyr status? I wonder if the same logic applies to the victims of Palestinian terrorism? The old argument goes: "Ah, but they're not civilians," but neither were these Egyptian soldiers.

And the "Ah2, but they were only doing their job" rebuttal also holds very little weight as one might easily make the same argument about conscripts to the IDF.

Frankly, if I were related to the murdered or injured soldiers I might be looking for a bit more from Abu Mazen than the "Don't worry, your son's a martyr" line.

Perhaps to make up for the ridiculous orders that were given to the soldiers, the Egyptian government's coughed up some compensation: $15 to the injured and $150 to the families of the slain. Even taking into account the cheaper standard of living, this doesn't seem like an awful lot of money.

Monday, January 09, 2006


In my day it was all Meg and Mog and Allan Ahlberg. Times have clearly changed.

A while back I noticed this book being advertised on a number of right-wing sites: "Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!" No doubt a masterpiece of fiction,
This full-color illustrated book is a fun way for parents to teach young children the valuable lessons of conservatism. Written in simple text, readers can follow along with Tommy and Lou as they open a lemonade stand to earn money for a swing set. But when liberals start demanding that Tommy and Lou pay half their money in taxes, take down their picture of Jesus, and serve broccoli with every glass of lemonade, the young brothers experience the downside to living in Liberaland.
I thought nothing of it until I saw the following book in the BlogAds of several left-leaning sites: "Why Mommy is a Democrat". The book's website states:
"Why Mommy is a Democrat" brings to life the core values of the Democratic party in ways that young children will easily understand and thoroughly enjoy. Using plain and non-judgmental language, along with warm and whimsical illustrations, this colorful 28-page paperback depicts the Democratic principles of fairness, tolerance, peace, and concern for the well-being of others. It's a great way for parents to gently communicate their commitment to these principles and explain their support for the party.

"Why Mommy is a Democrat" may look like a traditional children's book, but it definitely isn't just for children. With numerous subtle (and not-so-subtle) satirical swipes at the Bush administration and the Republican party, "Why Mommy" will appeal to Democrats of all ages!
Now I know that researchers say most of us inherit our political views from our parents, but isn't this taking things a little too far?

(You can check out the characters hiding under the bed here and view some of the nice things Democrats stand for here)


Thomas Cushman (editor of one of the muscular liberal gospels - "A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for the War in Iraq") reviews Stephen Eric Bronner's "Blood in the Sand" in the current edition of Democratiya. Regular viewers may be able to guess what's coming up from the book's subtitle: "Imperial Fantasies, Right Wing Ambitions, and the Erosion of American Democracy". Here's Cushman's take:
Bronner's book is a fairly straightforward series of theoretical reductions, but the principal one is that the war was 'little more than an imperialist ambition' led by a cabal of neoconservatives in the United States, and supported by several deluded left-wing intellectual traitors.

This account, however, completely ignores the fact that the main ideological driving force for the war emanated from two sources that have very little to do with Bush, neoconservatism, or American imperialism. The first was the Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who has since changed his mind; during his recent trip to the Middle East he denounced the war as 'a mistake.') Bronner seems to remember nothing of this. He ignores the fact that regime change in Iraq has been a matter of public law in the United States since 1998 and was duly and legally authorised by the US Congress in 2003.

He also ignores another ideological source of the war. Tony Blair, perhaps the most principled liberal statesman of modern times, was a leading force in calling the world to its senses about the nature of Saddam's tyranny and the need to stop him from wreaking further havoc in the Middle East. In an impassioned speech in Chicago in 1999, Blair, a great friend of Clinton, and no doubt with Clinton's imprimatur and support, called for an end to Saddam and the democratisation of the Middle East. This occurred while George W. Bush, an isolationist governor in Texas, was most likely not dreaming of imperial hegemony, but figuring out how to get elected by appealing to domestic dissatisfactions. Bush was, so to speak, Blair's poodle on the matter of Iraq and foreign policy more generally after 9/11.
It's hard to believe that publishers are still willing to print books consisting of such long discredited arguments and even harder to understand how they keep selling. As Cushman says, once you've read one you've read them all.

In addition to his critique of the book, Cushman also asks some hard questions of Bronner, without resorting to the name-calling that the latter happily occupies himself with under the heading of "Dub'ya's Fellow Travelers: Left Intellectuals and Mr Bush's War".
Bronner has the distinction of having been one of the members of the Delegation of Independent United States Academics to the Iraqi-American Academic Symposium which was held at the University of Baghdad on January 14-16, just a few months before the war began. Bronner takes great pains to assert that he and his contingent, as well as the 33,000 academics who signed a related petition, sought to distance themselves from Saddam's regime. In his own words, he tried 'not to become a dupe.' He admits that Saddam was a brutal and ruthless thug. But how could Bronner escape the label of 'dupe' after failing to see that Saddam was manipulating this well-meaning group to his own advantage? There is little question that Saddam saw such people as dupes. He was enamored of the political simplicities of the anti-war movements in the democracies which were fighting to stop the war against him. To show up in Iraq at this time, at the invitation, and with the approval, of Saddam (there was no other way into Iraq) was to make oneself partisan to the regime.

While guests of the regime in Iraq, the US 'peace' delegation publicly named the numerous sins of the United States. But they made no mention of the transgressions of Saddam. How could they while on Iraqi soil with Saddam's apparatus of terror in power? The fact is that Bronner and others were lending symbolic legitimacy to Saddam Hussein's regime and no amount of posturing can deny the objective validity of this fact. The delegation confirmed George Orwell's famous dictum that in times of struggle between liberal democracies and totalitarian states, pacifists are 'objectively pro-fascist' despite their declamations that they are only third parties trying to seek peace through negotiations and diplomacy.
Well worth a read.

And Norm's got a review in Democratiya too: Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Approach.


I've finally fixed a number of links that worked on some PCs / browsers but not others. All to do with the wrong sort of quote marks on the track.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Been a long week? Why not watch David Letterman explode into a puff of Lefteous indignation at Bill O'Reilly? (Link to video courtesy of The Political Teen)

The money comment from Letterman is:
I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling that about 60 percent of what you say is crap.
I once debated a woman at college who used a similar argument as a get-out-of-jail card. It was along the lines of: ”You've obviously read more about this than I have but it's clear that you're wrong, just think about it!” I pointed out that was the crux of the problem: I had thought about it but come to completely the opposite conclusion to her. Thankfully we don't discuss politics any more.


After months of denial and several weeks of pressure from his own party, Charles Kennedy finally came clean and admitted he had a drink problem.
Over the past 18 months I've been coming to terms with and seeking to cope with a drink problem, and I've come to learn through that process that a drink problem is a serious problem indeed.

"It's serious for yourself and it's serious for those around you. I've sought professional help and I believe today that this issue is essentially resolved.
There are some who claim this as evidence the man is unfit to lead the Liberal Democrats. Given the President of the most powerful country in the world once reached a point where "Alcohol was beginning to compete for [his] affections" and that Churchill was sozzled for most of WWII, I'm not sure this is an issue. The matter at hand is whether Charles Kennedy is actually any good at his job.

Under his leadership the LibDems have failed to capitalise on an ineffectual Tory opposition and growing public disatisfaction with Tony Blair, remaining primarily a party for protest votes.

With David Cameron attempting to reclaim the centre ground and Gordon Brown currying more favour with traditional Labour voters and the unions, unless Kennedy has a cunning plan up his sleeve he might do well to quit now and leave the ensuing mess behind him.

However, he is adamant that he will retain leadership of the LibDems, putting his party's support for him to the test by standing in the forthcoming contest:
Given my statement today I believe it is only fair now to give our party members their say over the continuing leadership.
It is open to any colleague who believes that they can better represent the longer-term interests of the party to stand against me in such a leadership election.
Should be interesting. Orange Bookers versus Little Red Bookers.

I don't fancy Kennedy's chances though. On Monday, Lord McNully, leader of the Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords, said of him:
“In the months since the general election he has not addressed, as directly as he should have done, the concerns that were being expressed by his colleagues.
“Is it recoverable? Is it terminal for Charles? My view is that it is not. Does his leadership need a radical, rapid and sustained change in style and content? The answer is yes.”
This was followed by similar remarks from Simon Hughes who despite initially stating:
”If people want to discuss the leadership they must leave it until then. We cannot spend the months, on the run-up to polling day, endlessly talking about the leadership. It would not do us any good at all.”
went on to do exactly what he was advising others not to and discussed Kennedy's leadership:
“I am sure he [Charles] understands what people are saying and he knows he has to deliver in the next few months. I have no reason to believe that he is not heeding the criticisms that have been made. It is important that he is allowed to get on with it.”


“Charles has to demonstrate that he still wants it in his heart and in his mind. He has to win the confidence of his colleagues that he genuinely still wants it.”
This was followed by perhaps the hardest blow of all when 11 of the 23 members of his shadow cabinet decided to sign a letter of no-confidence in his leadership which somehow found its way to the Times. According to the article:
The Times has learnt that the signatories of the letter, which they never intended to be made public, included some of the party’s rising stars.

They included Sarah Teather, 31, who shadows John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, who in 2003 won a shock by-election in the former Labour stronghold of Brent East after the resignation of London Mayor Ken Livingstone.

Another signatory is David Laws, 40, the Work and Pensions spokesman, who is a co-author of the Orange Book which enraged Mr Kennedy after it challenged the party’s commitment to tax-raising policies to increase public spending.

Ed Davey, 40, the Education Spokesman, who has also signed, said this week: "The need for some sort of change was established before Christmas and we await developments."

Other names on the letter include Norman Baker, the Environment Spokesman, Sandra Gidley, the Shadow Minister for Women and Pensioners, who is defending a wafer thin 125 majority in Romsey, Norman Lamb, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, and Michael Moore, the Party’s Shadow Defence Secretary.
To top it all, Kennedy's international development spokesman Andrew George and trade spokesman Norman Lamb have both stated they will quit their posts if he does not resign.

Sadly for Kennedy, the only thing looking rosy at the moment are his cheeks.


That didn't take long. Kennedy's resigned.


Got home last night after an evening out celebrating my birthday, made a cup of tea and turned the telly on. My eyes nearly popped out. There, in all his grainy night-vision glory, was George Galloway taking off his dressing gown. I never expected to be treated to the sight of that man in his pyjamas from the privacy of my living room.

It turns out noone was putting hallucinogens in my ale, just Channel 4 giving pride of place to a fascist. Perhaps to help his PR in the run up to the council elections, Galloway's managed to get himself onto Celebrity Big Brother.
Mr Galloway, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was a surprise inclusion in the 11-strong cast for the show which started last night.

"It's good for politics. I believe that politicians should use every opportunity to communicate with people," the anti-war politician said in a statement issued today.
"Good for politics"? Remind me what politics is again George.

Is it getting elected and then using your MP's salary to flounce around the world, visiting your pals in Syria and then nipping off to tour the States to promote your latest book?

I wonder if by the end of Celebrity Big Brother you will have managed to improve on your dismal voting record in the House of Commons, where you failed to turn up to oppose the new terror legislation that you rant on about so much?

Or your overall attendance which according to the Guardian article extends to a mighty four debates since the general election, during which period you have somehow found the time to write one written question.

And your voting record isn't much better is it? Five out of six votes have occurred whilst you've been elsewhere, whoring yourself for the good of your bank balance party.

Sadly, I doubt many of the people who decided to vote for Galloway at the last election will worry an awful lot about his current antics, seemingly caring about UK politics as little as he does. On him missing the terror bill vote last November:
[T]he row does not appear to be affecting Mr Galloway's popularity among local Muslim supporters.

In Brick Lane, at the heart of the constituency, shopkeeper Rafiqul Haque said he should have attended the vote, but his broad view of the MP remained unchanged.

"I voted for him and I am happy that I did."

Nobab Uddin, editor of the Bengali newspaper Janomot added: "If he missed too many votes there would be a problem but people still applaud his tough stance during the war."
Presumably Mr Uddin feels that attending fewer than one in six votes is sufficient and that a tough stance on the Iraq War better serves his constituents than actually voting in the House of Commones on issues that will directly affect them.

That said, the general public don't appear to have had the wool pulled over their eyes so successfully:
[Galloway] stood at the top of the steps on his way into Channel 4's reality television house, held his fingers aloft in a victory sign and shouted "Stop the war". He was greeted by a chorus of boos.

Galloway also went on to say:
"I'm a great believer in the democratic process."
Heh. Except when that democratic process is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan, eh?

Going back to Big Brother, have Channel 4 no decency? Regardless of his politics, the image of that man undressing was enough to give me nightmares. Eugh.