Friday, March 31, 2006


The surprise appearance of Labi Siffre at last Saturday's March was the highlight for many. You can read the full transcript of his speech here.

A short extract:
It matters little that something is true, or not
till someone says you must live a certain way
because they believe something is true, or not

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw has said, "There is freedom of speech, we all respect that. But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. We have to be very careful about showing the proper respect.

Well, I say, not all beliefs are worthy of respect. Racist beliefs, homophobic beliefs, sexist beliefs, beliefs claiming the inferiority of the disabled, and claims to knowledge of the existence of a God, none of these are worthy of respect.

I reject the craven philosophies:
“I am sincere ... so I must be right”
and “I am offended ... so you must stop”.

When someone says, “I know God exists and so, you must behave in a certain way: that is offensive, insulting, inflammatory and unworthy of respect. But I would not campaign to ban their right to proclaim their beliefs, no matter how offensive I judge those beliefs to be.

I stand here able to speak in this way because a lot of people, many of whom would not have approved of me, died, so that I could have the right of “freedom of expression”. I have a duty to defend that right they gave their lives for.
Enjoy the weekend!


From the BBC - Darfur violence 'as bad as ever':
Conflict in Sudan's Darfur region has forced 50,000 people from their homes since the year began, the International Organisation for Migration says.

The group said this was the highest quarterly figure in three years.

The IOM warned the level of violence in Darfur had not lessened since fighting began in 2003, and was putting many areas beyond the reach of aid agencies.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the Darfur conflict, with more than 1.5m made homeless.

"Darfur is a difficult, dangerous conflict that has a good chance of getting worse," the IOM's head of operations in Darfur, Robbie Thompson, told journalists in Geneva.

An African Union peace force, which currently comprises 7,000 troops, has been in place for three years.

Earlier this week, Arab leaders agreed to pay for the AU peacekeeping force in Darfur from October this year, when its current funding runs out.

The United Nations had been making plans to take over the Darfur peace mission, but the Sudanese government objected to UN control of the mission.
Meanwhile, NATO has ruled out the prospect of sending troops to Darfur. From the Sudan Tribune:
NATO has categorically ruled out sending troops to Darfur despite pleas from U.S. President George W. Bush and several high-ranking senators for a more robust alliance role to prevent further bloodletting in the war-torn Sudanese province.

Last month, Bush phoned NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to press the case for the 26-member military bloc to "take the lead" in stopping the slaughter in Darfur. At a White House meeting last week, the U.S. president repeated his demand for the alliance to adopt a more muscular stance on Sudan. Bush said that if the African Union, which currently heads the peacekeeping effort in Darfur, hands over its mission to the United Nations later this year, "NATO can move in with United States’ help ... to make it clear to the Sudanese Government that we’re intent upon providing security for the people there."

Prominent U.S senators have also called on the Brussels-based military club to become more involved in Darfur. Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware and Kansas Republican Sam Brownback last month tabled a resolution calling for NATO troops to be sent to the region and for the alliance to enforce a no-flight zone over Darfur.

However, there seems to be little appetite for a greatly enhanced NATO role within the alliance. "No one is discussing, planning or considering a NATO force on the ground in Darfur. That is not one of the options," spokesman James Appathurai told reporters Wednesday after a meeting of NATO ambassadors.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a NATO official told United Press International that the idea of the alliance dispatching ground troops to the troubled province was a "non-starter with the Africans, a non-starter with the United Nations and a non-starter with NATO." Officials in Brussels also criticized the U.S. president for sending out confused messages about what he expects from the alliance. "Bush has been a little bit unclear in his language," said one, referring to the president’s call for 20,000 peacekeepers to be sent to Darfur under NATO’s command.
I'd say asking for 20,000 peacekeepers was pretty clear myself, but that's probably why I'm not an official in Brussels.


A couple of podcasts of note:

Firstly, BBC Radio 5 Live's Up All Night "Pods and Blogs" section had a feature on the March for Free Expression that went out early on Tuesday morning. You can listen to it here and read Chris Vallance's thoughts on it here. Yours truly got interviewed, but as I was suffering from a severe case of flu and we were busy running across Trafalgar Square to get out of the rain at the end of the rally, my thoughts aren't perhaps as clear as they ought to be - Peter Risdon and David T do a much better job!

On the subject of the March, Little Atoms have a podcast you can download here. I've not had a chance to listen to it yet, but if it's up to their usual standard you won't be disappointed!

They've assembled quite an impressive set of interviews over the past few months, even managing to catch Marcus du Sautoy, whose "Music of the Primes" was one of my favourite reads last year.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


A good article from Andrew Bolt in yesterday's Herald Sun, on the state of certain sectors of Leftist thinking today - "Are They All Mad?":
Many of Tony Blair's former comrades defend not democracy but mass-murdering fascists and head-lopping Islamists.

Yes, Tony Blair did sound good when he spoke to our Parliament on Monday about Iraq.

No wonder the commentators were awed. But here's his trick: it's easy for the British Labour Prime Minister to sound so sane, because much of the rest of the Left sounds so mad.

I mean, did you hear writer Robert Fisk, in a special ABC broadcast of his speech just the night before, suggest the September 11 attacks may have been the work of . . . Americans?

What on earth has happened to the Left when it has made a conspiracy monger like Fisk one of the hottest speakers on our literary and activist circuit, and a best-selling author and much-petted guest on the ABC?

To contrast him here to Blair is to see that the true icon of the Left is now not the red flag but the white coat.

Poor Blair, who thought he was of the Left himself, has trouble understanding why many of his former comrades now defend not democracy, but mass-murdering fascists and head-lopping Islamists.

In his speech to the joint sitting of our Parliament, he rightly said Islamist terrorists were ideologues "at war with us and our way of life".

But in a little-noted aside, he added: "Their case is that democracy is a Western concept we are forcing on an unwilling culture of Islam. The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them."

He's talking of his own Left here, and warns: "The strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European and in world politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in."

Madness? That brings me to Fisk, the ABC darling. But let me first describe the rank garden in which he thrives.

It was always going to be hard for Leftists to find ways to excuse the terrorists with whom we in the capitalist West are now at war. For many this strain of excusing the inexcusable has become just too much.
It's not just mainstream journalists such as Robert Fisk who are letting the side down. Even Daily Kos, the biggest pro-Democrat blog in the US, has had its fair share of lunatics, forcing its site-owner to start banning and removing posts from conspiracy theorists. Many found this especially ironic, given posters repeated claims to represent the "reality-based community".

So how to begin the "clean-up"? As publicansdecoy points out in the comments, the problem with Tony Blair highlighting the issue is that those who ought to be listening and reining in their impulses to spout conspiracy theories are unlikely to pay any attention, precisely because the criticism has come from the mouth of Tony Blair.

They might listen to Galloway or one of the better known Stoppers, but a look at Galloway's recent output suggests that he's as convinced as ever of a world Zionist conspiracy, or is happy to keep giving that impression to remain popular in certain circles.

I can see why many in the US decided the Left was a lost cause, achieving little but damaging the Democrats and jumped ship. Thank goodness in the UK, the opposite seems to be true - most of the loons made the first move, ditched Labour and are now either Lib Dems or RESPECT fanciers.

Now, about that Clare Short...


Over the weekend, Maryam Namazie had the pleasure of debating the merits of secularism with one Stephen Green of Christian Voice. Judge for yourselves, but it looks like Madeleine Bunting isn't alone on her cultural relativist perch.
Today, I took part in the Heaven and Earth TV Programme on BBC with Stephen Green of Christian Voice infamy. The bible-thumper (he had actually brought his bible with him) kept equating his religious belief with my demand for secularism and said basically that if one is to be imposed why not his 'world view' from the middle ages...

Err, because secularism isn't a religion. Secularism is a basic minimum for society and says you have a right to belief or superstitious mumbo jumbo as long as it is kept apart from the state and educational system. This benefits the religious as well as the non-religious though of course not the likes of him but they aren't happy unless there is a stoning taking place.

Now, this isn't rocket science. Even if someone is a Christian, she or he doesn't necessarily want to live under the system Green has in mind (now that's an understatement). Also, there are a lot of other people in society with other religions and with no religion who won't survive a second under Green's heaven on earth.

And of course there is that one small problem; even if there is historical amnesia about Christianity's inquisitions and witch burnings - there are ample current examples of religion in power – none of them very pretty I might add - to turn anyone off.
Spot on.

And a good excuse to reprint the following cartoon from Viz, when Terry F*ckwit decides to pay Club Cretinus, Britain’s leading dating agency for doofuses, a visit:

(Hat-tip: MediaMediaWatch.)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Another interesting look at the ways in which the Iranian regime is cracking down on bloggers was published in Business Week yesterday.
In the conservative Islamic Republic, where the government has vast control over newspapers and the airwaves, weblogs are one of the last bastions of free expression, where people can speak openly about everything from sex to the nuclear controversy. But increasingly, they are coming under threat of censorship.

The Iranian blogging community, known as Weblogistan, is relatively new. It sprang to life in 2001 after hard-liners -- fighting back against a reformist president -- shut down more than 100 newspapers and magazines and detained writers. At the time, Derakhshan posted instructions on the Internet in Farsi on how to set up a weblog.

Since then, the community has grown dramatically. Although exact figures are not known, experts estimate there are between 70,000 and 100,000 active weblogs in Iran. The vast majority are in Farsi but a few are in English.


To bolster its campaign, the Iranian government has one of the most extensive and sophisticated operations to censor and filter Internet content of any country in the world -- second only to China, Hopkins said.

It also is one of a growing number of Mideast countries that rely on U.S. commercial software to do the filtering, according to a 2004 study by a group called the OpenNet Initiative. The software that Iran uses blocks both internationally hosted sites in English and local sites in Farsi, the study found.

The filtering process is backed by laws that force individuals who subscribe to Internet service providers to sign a promise not to access non-Islamic sites. The same laws also force the providers to install filtering mechanisms.


The debates on Iranian weblogs are rarely political. The most common issues are cultural, social and sexual. Blogs also are a good place to chat in a society where young men and women cannot openly date. There are blogs that discuss women's issues, and ones that deal with art and photography.

But in Iran, activists say all debates are equally perceived as a threat by the authorities. Bloggers living in Iran understand that better than anyone else.

"I am very careful. Every blogger in Iran who writes in his/her name must be careful. I know the red lines and I never go beyond them," said Parastoo Dokouhaki, 25, who runs one of Iran's most popular blogs. "And these days, the red lines are getting tighter."

Dokouhaki doesn't directly write about politics. She sticks mostly to social issues, but in Iran, that is also a taboo subject.

"I write about the social consequences of government decisions and they don't like it, because they can't control it," said Dokouhaki.

Outright political bloggers have an even tougher time.

Hanif Mazroui was arrested in 1994 and charged with acting against the Islamic system through his writings. He was jailed for 66 days and then acquitted.

"It's normal for authorities to summon and threaten bloggers," said Mazroui. The government continued to harass him and three months ago, he was summoned once again by the authorities and told never to write about the nuclear issue. Soon after his release, he shut down his weblog.

"They kept pressuring me," he said.
As you might expect, the article gives a couple more examples of punishments meted out to Iranian bloggers who dared to criticise the current regime. Read it all.

Mentioned in the piece is the Community to Protect Bloggers. If you visit their site and like what they do, I notice they have a donations box. No pressure, mind.

(Hat-tip: Mikey)


In yesterday's Comment is free, Madeleine Bunting admitted she needed enlightening about the Enlightenment. Hold onto your hats, it's a bit of a bumpy ride:
I need some help. I've been getting increasingly disturbed at the way in which the Enlightenment gets invoked by the self styled 'hard liberals' as if it amounts to their tablets of stone. Something didn't seem to be adding up to me when they waxed lyrical about the Enlightenment legacy of rationality, secularism, belief in progress, the rule of law and the basis of all we know and love in western democracy and individual human rights.
Something not adding up? Time to consult the experts:
Hence I was gripped by the exchange between two philosophers, Eric Bronner and Jonathan Ree at the Institute of Public Policy Research/New Humanist conference last week on faith and politics. Bronner kicked off the debate by arguing that the Enlightenment is at the heart of all democracy. It forms the basis of freedom and human rights, for example its views on torture. It argued that we temper our worst tendencies through reason. It was not against religion, but against fanaticism, and argued that religion should be kept in the private sphere. He cited Comte as accepting religion but within the bounds of reason (I'm not sure how Comte was going to square that). He concluded by saying we need to pick up the Enlightenment legacy and adapt it.
Presumably this is the take on the Enlightenment that Madeleine has problems with, the approach that doesn't add up. Well, there's a good reason for that as Ms Bunting's preferred argument shows:
Ree countered by saying the Enlightenment had never happened - or at least certainly not in the shape we think it did. It was a retrospective creation in the nineteenth century designed to make the eighteenth century look silly - the gist was that excessive pride in human rationality was a story which had ended in tears in the brutal terror of the French Revolution. Ree pointed out that all the great thinkers attributed to the Enlightenment such as Hume, Locke, Kant were actually religious believers and none of them believed in progress.
If ever anyone was in need of a thorough pummelling with a cluebat it was her. Regurgitating nonsense about Hume being religious is bad enough but as David T says:
[I]t beggars belief that we are being asked to swallow the idea that the Enlightenment was a Nineteenth Century construct - unless she wants us to believe that the constitution of the United States and the laws of the first French republic were backdated forgeries actually drafted 100 years after the dates on the face of them.

It was enough to drive Norm to drink.

For those without the inclination to wade through all of her gibberish, Shuggy sums it up beautifully:
Ms Bunting - done gone and lost her damn mind. She actually said, "I'm no philosopher" - surely in the context the three most superfluous words in the history of journalism?

But for those with a little more time on their hands, Andrew Anthony's "A relativist in distress" does its best to enlighten Ms Bunting. The strap-line says it all:
Why do 'hard liberals' keep invoking the Enlightenment? It must be something to do with intellectual liberty, scientific rigour and freedom from tyranny.
but it's worth reading the lot. Here's an extract:
So when Bunting asks why we still hold to an understanding of rationality that is over 200 years old, the answer is that it works. Just as the understanding that the Earth revolves around the Sun works, even though - gulp - it's an even older idea. Rational debate and free expression allow for - indeed positively encourage - new and better ideas and hypothesis, while never settling on a definitive truth. All ideas are permitted but rationality also offers a means of testing their worthiness through open and vigorous debate.

But of course, this is a futile exercise. Bunting requests a justification of rationality, yet how is it possible to make an argument for reason other than through reason, the very thing that she suggest is out of date? It's as if she has said, I don't understand or recognise English, but could you explain why I should, and could you do it in English. What's the point of making a case for making a case if you're making it to someone who doesn't accept that making any case is valid? Or any more valid than religious edict?

There are other methods of understanding and discussing the world aside for rationality - religious fundamentalism and its apologist cultural relativism, for example - but in the former there is only a single truth and in the latter there are no untruths. They both, in their different ways, close down debate. Neither seems particularly attractive to me.

Finally, Bunting asks, "What is it about the Enlightenment that people are now taking it off the shelf to polish up and put forward as their political and intellectual credentials?" Well, only intellectual liberty, scientific rigour and freedom from tyranny. Maybe that all seems quaintly 18th century to Bunting but, call me a hard liberal, I don't see anything better on the horizon. Or put it this way, I prefer the ring of "Comment is free" to "Comment is regulated by the religious authorities".

Does that help?
I'll bet it doesn't, you know.


If he were not lying in a coma, I imagine Ariel Sharon would be quietly smiling. His decision to leave Likud to form the centrist Kadima was considered quite a gamble at the time, but their victory in yesterday's Israeli elections leaves his successor, Ehud Olmert, in a very strong position.
Addressing the Palestinian leadership, Mr Olmert said: "We are prepared to compromise, give up parts of our beloved land of Israel, painfully remove Jews who live there, to allow you the conditions to achieve your hopes and to live in a state in peace and quiet.

"I hope to hear a similar pronouncement from the Palestinian Authority. The time has come for the Palestinians and their leaders to relate to the existence of the state of Israel, to accept only part of their dream, to stop terror, to accept democracy and accept compromise and peace with us."
Hamas welcomed the Kadima victory with all the good grace one might expect:
Sami Abu Zohri, a Hamas spokesman, said: “The initial results show that the Israelis voted for Olmert’s plan, which is a declaration of war on the Palestinians and the liquidation of Palestinian rights. The occupation is pushing the area towards greater escalation.”

Mark Regev, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: “I hope the sort of remarks we heard today help to dissolve any possible illusion that might exist as to the true character of this new Palestinian leadership.”

Mahmoud Abbas was a little more reasonable:
There was a warmer welcome from Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate Palestinian President, whose spokesman urged Mr Olmert to deal with him through the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to which Hamas does not belong. “We hope to see an Israeli government ready to implement the road map and ready to work toward peace,” the spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said. “If the Israeli government is ready, the PLO is ready.”
Nice talk. But forgive me for thinking that these kinds of comments have regularly been spouted by PLO representatives for as long as I've followed the conflict. Whether this time is different remains to be seen.

Labour did better than expected (winning 20 seats) and with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud taking a pasting (winning only 11 seats), we could be an interesting few months. But isn't that always the way with Israel?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Whilst we were enjoying a peaceful rally in London, things weren't going to plan in Minsk.

The incredibly useful br23 blog sums up the sorry state of Belarussian democracy very well: Game Over.

Even though the camp was broken up, somewhere between 20000 and 30000 demonstrators tried to protest the recent election fiasco in October Square on Saturday but were blocked by the police and thus decided to use Janka Kupala park instead. (Photos from the peaceful part of the rally here.)

At some point, a group from this demonstration opted to march on Akrescina prison, where hundreds of political prisoners are currently held.

Then things turned nasty.

More photos here and here.

An estimate from br23 blog puts the number of those still being held from Saturday at around 1000, including a Canadian journalist, a former Polish ambassador to Belarus, two Georgian TV reporters, two Ukrainian activists and three Russian human rights activists. Here's a diary of someone who braved the cold last week to camp out in October Square, but (worryingly) is now missing.

Remember this the next time someone screeches about the heavy-handed tactics of our police on May Day.


Crikey. Tony's been busy. After last week's speech in which he spoke of a battle of ideals, he's now come out and delivered another cracker to the Austalian Parliament about the danger of European anti-Americanism forcing the US into isolationism.
Tony Blair gave warning yesterday that the “madness” of anti-Americanism in Europe was increasing the risk that the United States could walk away from world affairs.

Addressing the Australian Parliament, the Prime Minister said that he did not always agree with the Americans and that sometimes they could be “difficult friends”. But he said that the danger today was not that the Americans were too much involved in international affairs. The danger was that they might decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage.

“We need them involved. We want them engaged,” Mr Blair said. “The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them.”

He added: “The strain of anti-American feeling in parts of European and world politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in.”
Sure, some critics will simply see this as little more than cosying up to George Bush and the vast neocon conspiracy, but it's more than that. If vast swathes of the Left were not besotted with petty anti-Americanism, we'd be spared embarassing moments like the following from Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:
The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans.
At least she had the honesty to admit anti-Americanism was fuelling her repellent thoughts, adding:
The decent people of Iraq need optimism now, not my distasteful ill-wishes for the only hope they have for a future.
There will always be some for whom their hatred of America trumps their love of democracy and hatred of totalitarianism. Some on the Left may never forgive the US for bringing about the end of the Soviet Union by winning the Cold War. Funny how those who've benefited most from this American victory tend to be the most grateful, eh?

For example, this study, which showed that of Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, only in Britain and Poland did the majority of those polled speak favourably of America. This is not simply a reaction to the reelection of George W. Bush, although that is clearly a factor. The common prejudices overheard on the bus, in bars, at work and seen in our media of Americans as fat, poorly educated, uncultured, brash, geographically-challenged, lazy workaholics cannot be attributed to the rise of one man and his twisted tongue. These prejudices have been around for a long time and (sadly) still seem to be considered acceptable in polite society.

The old adage about "If I were to say that about X / Y or Z..." comes to mind. Frequently people I know make gross generalisations about Americans they would never dream of ascribing to another nationality, for fear of appearing racist.

With this speech, Tony Blair has gone some way toward reclaiming a love of America for the Left. No Leftist ought to be ashamed of the fundamental rights afforded to Americans through their Constitution, nor of her victory over totalitarian communism. And no sensible Leftist ought to consider aligning themselves with totalitarian fascists "to teach our side a lesson".

Let's face it, an internationalist Left without the support of America may as well pack up and go home. As the self-styled leader of the free world we need the US to accept the responisibilities that go with the role, not slip off into an isolationist coma. Those who would rather bash America over her past behaviour may like to consider exactly what would have been done about Kosovo and Afghanistan had the US not taken the lead and we'd had to rely instead on those well-known guardians of world peace: Russia and China. Not an awful lot I'll wager.

(Belated hat-tip to Stewie in the comments. Memo to self: Australians are hours ahead - always check Haloscan...)


The Guardian's Comment is Free blog seems to have got off to a good start. Contrary to expectations, they've managed to assemble a truly broad range of Leftist viewpoints, from the odious (Galloway and Tamimi) to the less-so (Harry of HP, Norman Geras, Linda Grant, David Hirsh and Jon Pike of Engage, John Lloyd), even providing some space for The Meme Machine's Susan Blackmore.

Indeed, the most popular post so far is David Hirsh's "Livingstone and the ayatollahs". Perhaps unsurprisingly, after all of one reply debate on the thread soon descended into arguing about Israel and Palestine. I wonder if the Guardian will have to employ moderators to prevent people going off-topic, or whether the blog will simply become like the BBC messageboards - full of those who intend to talk only about Israel and Palestine with everybody else left rather frustrated at the thread derailments.

Speaking of which, there's an argument of sorts going on here between two people I don't know from Adam (Steven and Rashid) taking it in turns to post their ideas on the very subject. It would seem that they've decided to use Blogger to continue an argument that must have started on another messageboard. Now if everybody was as polite as that, rather than going off-topic and hijacking threads about totally separate issues, I'm sure most of the blogging world would be very happy!

Finally, despite the Guardian getting top marks for its new uber-blog, Hugo Rifkind made me chuckle at the paper's expense today:
“We might have had snow in March,” said a little box at the bottom of The Guardian’s TV page on Saturday, “but officially it’s now summertime, Clocks back!” Actually, British clocks went forward for summertime. They have done almost every year since 1916. The clocks go back in winter. Which it isn’t. All those people in your office who were two hours late for work yesterday must be Guardian readers. But you’d probably have suspected that, anyway.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Depending on who you ask, Saturday saw somewhere between 300 and 600 people brave London's weather and turn up to show their support for freedom of speech and expression in Trafalgar Square.

Not a million man march, but given it was almost entirely advertised through blogs and word of mouth, not a bad turn-out.

As hoped, concerns about a presence from the far right turned out to be ill-founded as most of the protesters were the sort of people you'd happily have a drink and a natter with. I did my best to do so, although a severe bout of flu didn't help my cause much - thank goodness for the power of Sudafed...

Peter Risdon's report is here; what follows is my personal take on the event.

Firstly, big big thanks are due to Peter Risdon, Patrick Vidaud and Nick Pullar for their tireless work to get this thing off the ground. Despite traffic and tube problems, everything ran pretty smoothly which is credit to their preparations.

On the whole the speakers were very good. Maryam Namazie kicked things off with a empassioned speech, followed by Evan Harris who managed to milk the applause of the crowd by taking credit, as the only MP present, for the government losing the vote on the Religious Hatred Bill by one, for which he took the credit.

Peter Tatchell was as good as expected, his speech echoing the talking points from his article of last week. Rend Shakir managed to speak at both this rally and the MAC rally in Birmingham - it will be interesting to read what she said at the latter because she gave a fairly strong performance here, with Peter Tatchell being a true gent and holding an umbrella over her.

Surprisingly, Mark Wallace from the Freedom Association didn't generate any controversy on the day, sticking to the principles of free speech and expression and probably causing a lot of people to think, "Hmm, why were we so worried about him again?" In fact, the Leftist friends I had there were more outraged by some of Sean Gabb's comments, but I also saw similar disdain given to Peter Tatchell from a section of right-wingers in the crowd. Neither were particularly serious incidents and only highlighted the importance of dissent in public debate - this was a march for free expression after all!

There were a couple of surprises too - a bullfighter with a Danish flag running rings around Mark Wallace in the name of "fighting the bull of oppression" (was it Aaron Barschak?), Labi Siffre turning up and probably giving the best speech of the lot and an Iraqi called Ali giving an impromptu speech in which he pointed out that not only was he a practising Muslim, but that he wouldn't be if Islam didn't encourage independent thought. Having bashed those who use religion to rule their people with an iron rod, he made a joke about female suicide bombers scoring 72 men in paradise that seemed to go over the heads of about half those present.

On the nutter front, there were a few. A chap on a bike who kept shouting "And the Prophet!" despite on several occasions it making absolutely no sense, and a nun (I'm told she was) with a statuette of the Virgin Mary and Jesus and a Union Jack top on heckling Labi Siffre and calling for suicide bombers to be prosecuted?!? (Hat-tip - publicansdecoy) There was a bit of a hoo-hah when a chap turned up with a strange sculpture consisting of a rubber mask of Tony Blair with a swastika attached made out of L-plates. Stewards, police and the crowd seemed to be in some confusion as to whether he ought to be allowed to display his wares there, but common sense prevailed and calls from the crowd to leave him be seemed to win the authorities over.

I'm not sure that the guy body-popping behind the rally was doing his bit for freedom of expression or not, but he certainly kept us entertained and our minds off just how wet we were likely to get if the speakers over-ran!

One odd thing was that according to a local by-law, foreign flags cannot be displayed in the Square. Weird - I'm sure I've seen Palestinian flags there on the anti-war marches, but I guess it's easier to enforce when the people displaying the flags are part of a smaller crowd and aren't ranting about Zionist conspiracies and McChimpyHitlerHalliburton. It didn't really matter - those who turned up with Danish or American flags just wore them as cloaks and were given plenty of opportunity to have their pictures taken by the media and everyone else present.

Speaking of photos, it seemed EVERYONE was taking pictures of everyone else. I understand it's standard pratice at any rally now, but there was a heavy presence of police photographers. There was no hassle though, and they didn't seem to mind that lots of people were taking pictures of them taking pictures of us.

All in all, the police were pretty chilled. They had to act against one protester after a complaint about his placard. Rather rankly they had to take him to one side for questioning, but plenty of people from the March followed to check he was OK and Maryam Namazie then encouraged people to pass his poster around, using the logic "If we all touch it, they can't arrest us all."

Other than that, the only problem was with some masked youths who the police quickly spotted and had a quiet word. I saw an unmasked lad (maybe 18 years old) getting a little too larey and, within four or five seconds, a copper popping up saying "Would you like to calm down sir?" When he didn't, the policeman, simply nudging him on his elbow, took him and his friends for a little stroll and I'm not sure what was said, but the three guys decided that perhaps shouting for jihad or whatever they were up to wasn't going to get them anywhere other than a cell out of the rain.

One final thought - bloggers. Thaaasands of 'em. Well, a lot anyway. From publicansdecoy, Wardytron and chums who were busy arguing about nachos in the pub beforehand, to Jon from DrunkenBlogging who had (IMHO) the best poster of the day. In fact, the Infidel Bloggers did us all proud, with plenty of top quality placards. When checking the photos of the event, if the banner makes you laugh, the chances are they were behind it. I owe that guy a beer or two for all his effort - feeling fluey I didn't last long enough in the pub afterwards to find him at the time and say thanks. Power-bloggers David T of Harry's Place, Johann Hari and Perry from Samizdata were also present.

A big thank you also has to go to the Richard and Neil from Little Atoms and Chris from BBC Radio 5 Live who did their level best to bowl round the rally getting opinion and comment from the wide variety of people who'd kindly given up two hours of their weekend to come and support the demonstration. There can only be so many ways to say "Why are you here?" or "What does freedom of expression mean to you?" so full credit to all three of them for keeping it up for well over two hours.

Given the rain, we all legged it to the pub afterwards where we found a couple more Drink-Soaked Trots who were busy getting, um, drink-soaked. I also met the two guys who were arrested for counter-demonstrating at the Al Ghurabaa hate-fest outside the Danish Embassy - top fellas!

Overall, it was quite inspiring to see such great camaraderie between the politically diverse bunch who turned up on the day, whether bloggers or not. I only wish I wasn't so poorly that I could have joined in properly with the post-rally celebrations!

(In the order I found them...)

My photos - taken with my phone but not the worst I've ever seen...
Peter Risdon's report
David T's round-up at Harry's Place
BBC report
Marc Vallee's photos
Nordish Blog
More shots from Nordish
Samizdata's report
Another good placard
Schmoo on the Run
Pink News report
Johnno93's photos
Bagrec's Report

Please leave more links in the comments!

Friday, March 24, 2006


Having caught the leurgy that's been doing the rounds I'm feeling pretty grotty today, so won't be posting much.

Perfect timing when I intend to be standing outside in the cold for two hours tomorrow at the March for Free Expression in Trafalgar Square.

I'll be mightily impressed if anyone turns up in this motor:

and might even stretch to buying them their drinks for the night!

As it's Friday, here's some more bizarre Lego inventions - number 3 is proof that some people really do have too much spare time on their hands...

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A bit of a coup from Engage: as a fund-raiser they've organised the UK premiere of
Mark Levin's 'Protocols of Zion'

More info:
The Protocols of Zion

A film by Marc Levin

Tuesday 2 May 06, 6.15pm

Anthony Julius and Linda Grant will speak

Minimum Donation £15

Please secure your tickets in advance: we anticipate a full house.
Box office 020-8444-6789, open between 4.15pm and 10.00pm daily

Phoenix Cinema
High Road, East Finchley, N2
Easy parking and close to the tube
I expect to see tickets for this being flogged on Ebay shortly!


Another couple of interesting tidbits of information from b23 blog. Firstly, on the question of electoral fraud:
Since Alexander Lukashenka banned exit polls in Belarus, and since the official votes are massively falsified and no one even counted the ballots, there's no way to know how people of Belarus actually voted on March 19.

Well. Except for exit polls abroad, at the embassies. You can get a general picture of the scale of falsification by comparing official data from the Belarusan embassy in Czech Republic and the results of the exit poll:

OfficialExit poll
Hajdukevich - 2
Kazulin - 1
Lukashenka - 156
Milinkevich - 92
invalid ballot - 1
Hajdukevich - 1
Kazulin - 8
Lukashenka - 9
Milinkevich - 103
Against all - 6
Refused to answer - 30
The polling took place throughout the whole day from the opening of the embassy until closing. Even if we assume that during "early voting" there were additional 102 people (doubtful) and all of them voted for Lukashenka (very-very doubtful), still he could only get a theoretical maximum of 111 votes, not 156.

The official numbers have nothing in common with how people actually voted.
That was a bit slack of Lukashenko. You'd think if he were going to rig the ballot he might realise that fixing votes held in countries with more freedom than his own wouldn't be as simple as that.

The second story is somewhat grimmer:
People are still on the October square. The number of participants fluctuates from 6000-7000 (at around 6-7PM) down to about 500 people (at 5-6AM, the coldest time). Police is still blocking the square, searching through every bag, and not letting people with food and hot drinks to get through. People with blankets and tents get arrested.

A human rights organization “Spring-96″ published a list of about 300 people that were arrested for political reasons during this campaign, of them about 150 people were arrested near or around October square in the last four days.

Most of them are charged with 15-day administrative arrests.

Cars that honk when passing the October square get pulled over by road police and drivers are fined.

Today the main “lavatory” of the October square was closed down. The “lavatory” was just a tent which covered a sewege hole, with a trap-door removed. Today police sent city workers who blocked and welded the trap-door.

Now they got several buckets instead. City authorities refused to provide normal toilets.

Things don't look too promising for the protesters. Not only are they now hemmed in with little access to food, water or proper sanitation but calls for a re-run of the election have been quashed. From Yahoo! News:
The opposition in Belarus challenged President Alexander Lukashenko's re-election, saying authorities had "raped the minds" of voters, but officials dismissed their complaints on Thursday and endorsed the results.

Western countries, long critical of Lukashenko's Soviet-style rule, have joined the opposition in dismissing as fraudulent the poll which gave the president 82.6 percent of the vote in last Sunday's poll.

His closest rival, Alexander Milinkevich, got 6.1 percent.

The European Union said on Thursday it was considering imposing visa sanctions on the entire Belarus leadership, extending a ban which at present covers six officials, though it was not clear whether this would include Lukashenko himself.

Although security forces routinely disperse protests, up to 10,000 protesters have been allowed to stay in a Minsk square since the vote. A big opposition rally is scheduled for Saturday.

Another opposition candidate, Alexander Kozulin, who placed third with 2.2 percent of the vote, was allowed by the Central Election Commission to contest the returns.

"The presidential election was unconstitutional, unfair and does not conform to Belarussian laws," he told the commission.

"There was mass fraud and irregularities. Society has been infected by a malignant cancer of fear. The authorities have raped the minds of our people."

Commission members rejected his call for a re-run vote in September and Kozulin stormed out of the meeting.

"None of the arguments presented were of a serious nature and do not stand up to criticism," Commission head Lidiya Yermoshina said.

Commission secretary Nikolai Lazovik said Lukashenko's victory was underscored by a record turnout of 92.9 percent.

"Our citizens' reasonable response to outside pressure and calls to go into the street was to turn up at polling stations," he said.
And by the looks of those exit polls, have their votes ignored.

More photos of the protests here.

Despite promises of a bigger rally on Saturday, I fear the powers in be in Belarus will continue to keep the protesters under a state of siege and the demonstration will gradually be snubbed out. I hope I'm wrong.


Blogger was down for me today. Grrr.

But on the off-chance you missed it, here's a bit of Harry on Tony Blair:
For a long while, since his speech in Chicago in 1999 in fact, it has been clear that Tony Blair's foreign policy is based upon internationalist-interventionism and since September 11 he has been one of the few political leaders who has fully grasped the real nature of Islamist terrorism.

Today's speech from Blair was a continuation of this thinking but was significant in the emphasis it put on the 'battle of ideas'. So many times the refrain from Blair and Bush's critics has been that the 'war on terror' cannot be won by military means alone - I've always found this odd since neither of the two leaders has ever suggested otherwise. Nonetheless it was encouraging to hear Blair talk in clear language about the ideological struggle. Encouraging, primarily because it is a reminder that, unlike so many of his critics, he really does know what Islamism is, where it comes from and how it aims to defeat the values of human rights and liberal democracy that should be confronting it.

As he put it:

This terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core. By this I don't mean telling them terrorism is wrong. I mean telling them their attitude to America is absurd; their concept of governance pre-feudal; their positions on women and other faiths, reactionary and regressive; and then since only by Muslims can this be done: standing up for and supporting those within Islam who will tell them all of this but more, namely that the extremist view of Islam is not just theologically backward but completely contrary to the spirit and teaching of the Koran.
Great words Tony. Now let's see you put them into action. Let's see you affording the likes of Irshad Manji more time.

But this should also be encouragement for moderates and reformers within Islam. Those whose voices are frequently ignored or are dismissed for "not being proper Muslims" by the extremists they oppose; those who must be exasperated at the media presence enjoyed by the likes of the MAB and MCB. According to recent polls, neither can claim to be representative of most Muslims.

Tony continues:
But in order to do this, we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists.
Got it in one. He might be a smarmy git, but he's completely sussed this one out.

As for Harry, some have criticised his decision to write for the Guardian. But I'd argue that:

1) They owe him a penny or two for his hand in the Dilpazier Aslam affair - a blog is the least they can do.

2) He'll reach a wider audience than Harry's Place alone, which will still post his posts.

3) Nick Cohen could do with some company - it must be getting lonely over there.

Regardless of where it's published, it's a great piece. Read it all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


According to ABC News:
Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the center of the Belarus' capital Monday for a second night, hoping their protest would help overturn a presidential election that the U.S. said was flawed by a "climate of fear."

The United States and the European Union called for new elections and threatened sanctions on Belarus, where the numbers of demonstrators was smaller than on election night and prospects for a Ukraine-style "Orange Revolution" seemed remote.

With overnight temperatures at 28 degrees, protesters set up a dozen small tents and vowed to turn the demonstration into a round-the-clock presence. Most of the tents were draped with historic national flags favored by critics of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has scrapped them for a Soviet-style version.

"This is our last chance," said Vladimir Fivsky, a 20-year-old student who had wrapped one of the red-striped white flags around his shoulders and wore a pin in the same colors saying: "For Freedom!" He said came to the square to protest because he "had enough" after 12 years of Lukashenko's repressive rule.

The small but assertive move could rally others to the cause. But it could also prove unacceptable to authorities. Officials put on a show of force, with busloads of riot police fanning out into nearby streets and courtyards and preventing people from approaching the main square.
ABC don't provide any photos, but br23 blog comes to the rescue, with a couple of great shots:

Judge for yourself whether this protest is, as ABC puts it, "a small but assertive move".

Fewer protesters have turned out than did yesterday, but it must be worrying for Lukashenko nevertheless. Another photo, this time of yesterday's demonstration and some interesting stats to mull over, also taken from br23 blog:

[Minsk. October square. 22:00 Minsk time.]
[Est. 25,000 - 35,000 protesters showed up in Minsk center.]

Official results: Lukashenka will get 85%-90% of the vote.

Unofficial exit polls: Lukashenka got only about 45-47%.
And united opposition leader Milinkevich — about 30%.

Independent exit polls in Belarusian embassies across Europe:
Exit poll in Lithuania: 36% voted for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Belgium: 62% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Germany: more than 72% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Czech Republic: 81% for Milinkevich.
Exit poll in Poland: 88% for Milinkevich.
A Times article of two days ago reported:
Lukashenko, who has ruled his impoverished country of 10m since 1994, issued a decree last year giving himself the power to order troops to fire on unarmed civilians. He looks unlikely to give up without a fight.

In what many saw as a dress rehearsal for today’s demonstration, snipers were positioned around the square for the first time last month during a mass gathering of regional politicians loyal to his regime.

The election campaign has been anything but fair. Dozens of opposition leaders and youth activists critical of the president — a mustachioed former prison guard and communist collective farm boss — have been harassed, badly beaten and arrested by police.

At an opposition rally last week on Minsk’s outskirts, the two front rows were filled by burly security services men with shaved heads and leather jackets. They were the only ones not to clap the speakers.

To prevent people joining the protests, services to train stations and bus stops around October Square will be suspended from this morning. Tens of thousands of police officers are expected to seal off streets leading to the square.
I shall be writing to my fellow organisers of the March for Free Expression to encourage them to promote this cause on Saturday. The Trafalgar Square rally is just as much about the right to free expression as it is supportive of our right to free speech.

When even a joke about the President can land you in jail, the people of Belarus deserve our full support.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Today is the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

Here's what Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has to say about it:
"We must combat all forms of intolerance by celebrating the diversity and the differences that enrich the human family. But we must work to reduce the differences that are imposed, rather than chosen, that speak of deprivation rather than fulfilment and that fuel the xenophobic discourse about the relative merit and desert of individuals based on stereotypical attributes attached to their race, religion or ethnicity.
Laudable words, but interesting that for a day supposedly about combating racism, religion should sneak into her press release.

And here's the poster advertising it:

Hat tip to the Pub Philosopher, who reckons:
The lonely Lego brick graphically illustrates the struggle of the Danish people, deserted by their allies, against a power bloc united in its hatred of them.
Others aren't quite so sure. What do you think?

UPDATE: I'm fairly certain that's intended as a map of Denmark, with Sjaelland (the bit with Copenhagen on it) represented by the Lego brick and the message "Racism takes many shapes" referring explicitly to the row over the Jyllands Posten cartoons. A theory that is supported by the inclusion of "religion" in the statement from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Nice.


The March for Free Expression and similar efforts around the globe seem to have brought a whole load of loons out to play. Whilst their interest in the March is flattering, I'm sure blog owners are starting to get sick and tired of having to clear up after the mess they invariably leave behind.

After banning one quite keen troll last week, I stated:
[A]n Englishman's blog is his castle - do whatever you want in your own but play by my rules in here please. Which are pretty simple: No antagonistic trolling or Mobying.
to which he replied by email:
Comedy gold!

Thanks for that.


Ha! Trust a Marxist not to appreciate the distinction between public and private. I'm afraid I do.

I do no object to anyone's right to say and do pretty much anything they wish in public, in their own homes or on their own blogs. However, they do not have the right to accept an invitation round to my house, urinate in the sinks, vomit on the sofa and expect to be asked back for tea.

If they are under the impression that freedom of speech is somehow an absolute that can be exercised anywhere at any time, or that proponents of free speech consider it such, they are sadly deluded. Their right to free speech is not impinged by me exercising my own right not to listen.

That still sums up my attitude. Until someone can convince me that Jehovah's Witnesses have the right, after being invited in for a chat, to stay for as long as they want or until I have run off with them to Kingdom Hall, I will stand by my right to bar trolls from my website.

For the benefit of future trolls:

If for some reason you find yourself banned and consider this unfair, I will happily listen to your case via email and reinstate your comment privileges if you can argue that you actually had (or now have) something to add to the debate. Your right to free expression does not extend to defecating over my blog which I view as my private property. There are plenty of other places you can go to do that, most of which are inhabited with similar people who will better appreciate your trolling finesse.

Of course, if you find yourself banned and would rather make a public response or appeal, you are always free to post from another machine under your usual username.

I should tidy this up and add it to the evergrowing FAQ that I haven't got round to writing up yet, including an explanation of why the blog is called Muscular Liberals, mainly for the benefit of those who find the site by way of a search for "muscular young women". I can only imagine their disappointment.


I promised an update to my post about the Cairo Sit-in for Freedom of the Press and an Independent Judiciary.

Well, Freedom for Egyptians haven't disappointed, with a great tale from the event:
I called my mom earlier in the day today to talk to her about some arrangements for me. But guess where did I find her. I was stunned to know.

I believe now more than ever now that Egypt is changing and that there is whole new spirit for change.

If my mom was able to leave her books, newspapers, satellite TV channels and her favorite programs on the BBC Arabic radio to stand silently in a protest in solidarity with the freedom of the press and independent judiciary, then if I had slight doubts before about changes, they are gone today. Not that my mom did not believe in the freedom of the press and independence of judiciary, but she did not feel she needs to interact with any political changes happening in Egypt as those ones. I always appreciated my mom appreciation of art, classical music and literature, but she was like most of the secular silent Egyptians always silent.
Whether it be Egypt or Britain, it seems it's always a challenge getting the silent majority to attend rallies and make their voices heard.

So, what of the calls for an independent judiciary?
On Friday the General Assembly emergency meeting for the Egyptian Club judges convened to decide on the government slackness on deciding on independence of judiciary and re-drafting a law that further strengthen the grip of the executive authority over the judiciary system. The judges decided that on May 25 there will be another protest. May 25 will be the anniversary of the referendum of the article 76 of the constitution where violations were perpetrated by the government against the Egyptian people, including raping of women by thugs hired by the Egyptian ministry of the interior.

I felt extremely excited over my mom’s participation. It is the first time of its kind. She and my family members love to talk about politics and they avidly watch all political talk shows, but today was so special. She was live in the street in the middle of the protest.

She told me that meeting of the judges convened in a space under a tent next to the Cairo Club of the Judges headquarters in Cairo. The judges went out to meet the press and salute the people as heroes. Everyone was so happy to see them. The judges previously threatened the government that if there will be no guarantees for independent judiciary, they will take the case to international courts, a move that will be considered unprecedented since the July 23 coup d’etats came to power.
Good news.

And what of the press?
On the other side and at the Press syndicate another key meeting was held led by the dean of the syndicate to discuss the journalists’ reaction to the slackness of the government to pass the bill that provides protection to the journalists from jail for saying or revealing the truth. Many journalists in Egypt were sentenced to jail for speaking against government officials. All journalists agreed today that if the government (parliament) did not pass the new bill that annuls the current law that gives the right to the government to send journalists jail at anytime for speaking the truth, they will stop issuing the newspapers and magazines.

Today was indeed a great day in Egypt’s political history in the struggle for true freedom and democracy. Independent Judiciary will mean a lot to the Egyptian people. The least we can ask for, free fair elections and a democratic Egypt.
Indeed. I'll raise a glass to that.


Here's someone else who's missing the point of the March. From Dead (from the neck up) Men Left:
Liberal wog-bashers! Western civilisation needs you!
Since we are in favour of free speech, and because the reason why newspapers and magazines across Europe (though not, shamefully, in the UK) have republished the infamous cartoons was principally "We are Spartacus" - we stand together - we will be happy to see reproductions of the cartoons in question at the rally.

Maybe I should go with a big banner saying "MURDER THOSE WHO INSULT VOLTAIRE"? Just to show my support for Western values, you see.
Heh. Maybe you should, although perhaps you ought to consider how the Metropolitan Police might view such a banner.


Steve, the Pub Philospher, made a good spot a while back that I've been meaning to post for some time now:
Having read this article about the liberal establishment's spineless response to the cartoon wars, I don't understand why Workers' Liberty are trying to sabotage the March for Free Expression.

If they are as concerned about the threat to free speech as they claim, why have they written this letter to Maryam Namazie asking her not to speak at the rally?

OK, they don't like the Freedom Association because of its history of strike-breaking and anti-union activity. I have my doubts about TFA too. I suspect that many of its members have a selective understanding of 'freedom', which extends to the freedom to evade taxes and dump toxic waste into rivers but not to have gay sex or join a trade union.

That said, people on the left have always demonstrated alongside people they don't like. Anarchists and libertarian socialists know very well that Stalinists would have them all shot if they ever got into power. The Communist Party compiled lists on 'enemy' left-wing activists as well as those on the right. Many on the left have experienced intimidation from hard-line Marxists in the struggle for control of unions and campaign groups. None of this prevented left-wing groups from joining forces in greater causes like the miners' strike.
A very good point, and one likely lost on those who would rather use the March as an opportunity to smear their political opponents than join forces to stand up for one of our fundamental rights.

A few points on the AWL's letter to Maryam Namazie, each straight out the Little Red Book of Far Left Cliches:

Obligatory reference to the bourgeoisie? Check.
"We should not let the cause of "free expression" be appropriated and defined by the class-warriors of the bourgeoisie, and activists of the left be annexed by them."
No, of course not. Far better to sit around harping on about worker-communism, allowing the likes of the BNP to hijack this issue, gaining support in the process... Thankfully many on the Left do not share this view and the BNP have been told in no uncertain terms where to go with regards to this rally.

Complete ignorance of how politics works in the real world? Check.
"To ally with the likes of the Freedom Association, on the purely negative basis of opposing political Islam, is as self-destructive as would be allying with George Bush on the purely negative basis of opposing Iranian president Ahmedinejad, or Ahmedinejad on the basis of opposing Bush. It matters not whether Ahmedinejad could write a text denouncing Bush in which, formally, we could agree with every word, or Bush could draft words denouncing Ahmedinejad every one of which, on paper, was true: we should not sign either text, because we know that behind the words both Bush and Ahmedinejad are enemies of the working class."
Presumably they'd rather sit on their hands and moan about both, rather than dealing with one and then the other - how useful.

Mild accusations of racism backed up by a smear? Check.
"At the same time, our fight against political Islam must not diminish our solidarity against racism with Muslim people, as people. Any alliance with the Freedom Association and their like is destructive here, too. The Freedom Association opposes Islam - but in the name of Christian "values" which it considers proper to "Britain". Other organisers of the 25 March event associate with a website called "The Gates of Vienna", which evokes the memory of the wars of centuries past between Christendom and Islam culminating in the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683."
This view is not shared by the likes of the Free Muslims Coalition or Rend Shakir, who have appreciated that Muslims' rights are better protected by their support for freedom of speech and expression, encouraging Muslims to get involved in the March than remain on the fringes of the debate by objecting to the presence of the Freedom Association and staying at home.

Reference to a class struggle? Check.
"No, political Islam cannot properly be fought by attaching ourselves to the likes of the Freedom Association. We must fight political Islam as the principled Marxists fought Stalinism - on a working-class basis, on the basis of a "Third Camp". We can unite with other working-class forces on particular issues when we disagree with them on others - but with working-class forces, or at least forces close or friendly to the working class, and only when the agreement on the particular issue has real substance, and is not just a coincidence of words hiding radically different drives."
Their attitude towards the non-working class borders on 'racism' I'd say, but Trotsky knows best I'm sure.

Completely missing the point of the rally? Check.

I suppose it was wishful thinking expecting much support for democracy and free speech from that particular quarter.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I was sent the following from the organisers of the Iran Freedom Concert:
A coalition of students at Harvard, and across the country, is launching a national drive to support Iran's student movement for reform. This Saturday, March 18, Harvard campus groups - including an
unusual alliance between the Democrats and the Republicans - will kick off the campaign with the Iran Freedom Concert. SOS Iran will be broadcasting the event into Iran in hopes of reaching students, but we are also interested in spreading the word online, and to American audiences. Please see our press release below.


Harvard Students Hold "Iran Freedom Concert" in Solidarity with Iranian Student Movement for Democracy and Civil Rights

CAMBRIDGE – On Saturday, March 18, Harvard University will host the Iran Freedom Concert, a rally organized by Harvard students to support their counterparts in Iran. Prominent Iranian student leader Akbar Atri and Harvard's Undergraduate Council president John Haddock will address the crowd.

"As tensions rise over nuclear issues, our diverse student coalition wants to spotlight the human side of the Iran crisis," said co-organizer Adam Scheuer, a senior and editor at the Harvard Middle East Review.

"Iranian students are denied basic rights Americans take advantage of every day. But there is a brave student movement in Iran working for change, and we need to support them." Widespread student protests in Iran have broken out in recent years, despite a brutal crackdown by
the regime's security forces.

The concert, which begins at 9 p.m. at Leverett House, features leading campus musicians and speakers from campus groups exposing repression in Iran. Nine organizations are co-sponsoring, including an unusual alliance of campus Democrats and Republicans.

"The coalition doesn't take a stand on policy debates like foreign intervention," explained freshman co-organizer Alex McLeese. "But we agree that the fundamental rights of Iranians cannot be held hostage to diplomatic maneuverings over Iran's nuclear program."

The Iran Freedom Concert takes place just before the traditional Persian new year of Norouz – reflecting the students' hope for a new day for freedom in Iran.

"Iranian students are arrested for what they write on their blogs and have to take their exams in handcuffs," noted freshman co-organizer Nick Manske. "In fact, the essential elements of this concert are illegal in Iran: live singing, mixed dancing, and discussing social
messages. Not to mention the restrictions on women, minorities, and journalists."

That message is being echoed on campuses across the country, with simultaneous rallies planned at Georgetown, UPenn, Duke, and other schools. Prominent Iranian dissidents, as well as the American Islamic Congress, are sending statements of support.

"This is a critical moment for Iran," Scheuer said. "Iranian activists need to know that American students are ready to help them hold the Iranian regime accountable. We want to help our counterparts in Iran seize the moment and advance their civil rights movement."

For more information, see or call 617.661.0053.
They also add:
I hope you will consider spreading the word on your blog. Your help could go a long way.
Consider it done. And I urge other readers with their own blogs to do the same.


Bit slow off the mark with this one. With thanks to MediaWatchWatch:
Stephen Green of Christian Voice is not the only religious maniac to feature in Viz, the UK’s top satirical comic.

In this month’s issue Suicidal Syd (”He’s always trying to pop his cork”) is trying to top himself because he didn’t receive any Valentines cards. One of his attempts sees him drawing “an inflammatory picture of Muhammad” and taking it to show the local Mo-toon protestors. These chaps just happen to bear a close resemblance to the al Ghurabaa mob who demonstrated outside the Danish embassy in February:

So it’s “al Grrr-abaa” from now on, then.

Apparently Viz has a disclaimer at the back of this month's issue which states:
"Viz is a non-prophet-mocking organisation".

For what I thought was a fairly puerile comic, they've now managed to lampoon both Stephen Green of Christian Voice and the Al Ghurabaa lot who were threatening to get their choppers out.

Do these cartoons qualify as "hate speech"? Should Viz be punished for publishing them? I think not.

Incidentally, five of the protesters who were demanding the beheading of those who insult Islam last month have been arrested:
Five men were arrested today over their alleged role in protests outside the Danish Embassy in London last month against cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

Four of the five were held on suspicion of incitement to murder and all five are suspected of "using threatening words or written material to stir up racial hatred".
The Metropolitan Police said today: "A number of specialist evidence gathering officers were deployed who collected video, audio and stills of those within the crowd. A dedicated investigation team, Operation Laverda, was set up that day.
I'd like to think that the Met, with their "specialist evidence gathering officers", ought to be able to work out who was carrying the placards advocating head-chopping.

And why has it taken so long?

Thursday, March 16, 2006


The Freedom for Egyptians blog is promoting a sit-in in Tahrir Square, Cairo at 6pm today, for a free press and independent judiciary.

The sit-in is called in support of an independent judiciary system and a free press.

Egypt is not enjoying an independent judiciary system until this day. Some honorable Egyptian judges who are the elected members of the Cairo and Alexandria Club of Judges (Association) are going through one of the most important battles in Egypt's history. An independent judiciary means free home. Show your support and love to Egypt and show up.

The executive power in Egypt is in full control of the judiciary system and judges. Free judges mean democracy, free and fair elections and justice to all Egyptians.

Egyptian journalists can be jailed for expressing themselves freely or for exposing corrupt cases. Free press means a new Egypt that enjoys transparency and integrity.

A law was promised two years ago to free the Egyptian journalists is kept in the drawers and journalists are still given sentences. Most recent cases are jailing sentences to journalists from the independent Al Masry Al youm and Alfagr papers.

In solidarity with the Egyptian Judges Club in Alexandria and Cairo and the free journalists to call for an independent Judiciary in Egypt away from the grip of executive authority and for the annulling the law that stipulates jailing journalists if proven guilty for exercising their freedom of expression.

There is no free country without a free press and independent Judiciary system.

Well said.

Hopefully we'll have pictures soon.


According to IranFocus:
Iranians in the capital and across the country took part in a night of fiery celebrations that in many places turned into anti-government protests and clashes.

In central Tehran several vehicles belonging to the State Security Forces and a number of government buildings were attacked and set on fire.

They have more photos here, here, here, here and here, with a few more shots courtesy of the ISNA here.
(Hat-tip for the latter: Winston at The Spirit of Man.)

Looks like it was quite a night.


In the Times today, Hugo Rifkind sums up Isaac Hayes's overreaction to the Tom Cruise episode of South Park rather well:
The decisions by the Scientologist soul singer Isaac Hayes to quit his part as the voice of Chef on the series South Park, citing its “inappropriate ridicule” of religion, will come as a surprise to anyone who heard a radio interview he gave last December, soon after an episode attacking his chosen creed aired in America.

“One thing about Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker),” he said then of the show’s creators, “is they lampoon everybody. And if you take that s*** serious, then I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for $2.”

Who or what changed his mind?
Is it just me, or does Rifkind seem a little more blog-savvy than most in the mainstream media?

You can watch part of the offending episode here.

(Hat-tip: David T at HP.)


George Clooney.

From Max Boot in the LA Times:
Dear George Clooney,

Congratulations on that best supporting actor Oscar you picked up last week. I couldn't be happier for you. Not only because I admire your Cary Grant-esque panache but because I admire your politics. As an advocate of a hawkish but high-minded foreign policy, I can't find much to cheer about in Hollywood, but you, my friend, consistently deliver. Dare I say it — you're the No. 1 neocon in Never Never Land.

Oh, I know you try to hide your real views behind a lot of progressive rhetoric. You've compared George W. Bush to Tony Soprano and warned that he's leading the country down the same road as Nazi Germany. I don't hold it against you; you gotta do what you gotta do in a liberal business. But your movies are what really count, and, no matter what you say, they've made the neocon case.

Even "Syriana," which has been criticized for its America-bashing by a lot of conservatives (myself included), has a neocon message. It's a protest against the influence of Big Oil on U.S. foreign policy. Neocons couldn't agree more. They argue that the policy supported by the oil companies — backing Middle Eastern despots — is leading us to ruin. It only helps create anti-American suicide bombers — as illustrated by "Syriana." The movie suggests that we should be helping liberal Arab reformers, like the fictional Prince Nasir, just as neocons have been urging.
Worth a look, as is this story about a squabble between him and Arianna Huff(and puff)ington over her publication of his comments in the form of a blog post on Monday:
He says he gave permission to use quotes. "What she most certainly did not get my permission to do is to combine only my answers in a blog that misleads the reader into thinking that I wrote this piece," Clooney said in a statement. "These are not my writings — they are answers to questions and there is a huge difference."
More here.


The Muslim Action Committee (they of "civility" fame) have got the ache with the March for Free Expression in Trafalgar Square on March 25th.

In an item written by Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi entitled
Letter to Non Muslim organisations
they write:
Dear brothers and sisters in Islam,
Hang on, I thought this was supposed to be a letter to non-Muslim organisations? Or is this letter simply a snide attack on the Free Muslims Coalition? Anyway...
We have seen that your organisation has leant its support to the Freedom of Expression Demonstration due to take place on the 25th March in Trafalgar Square in London England. We have also read your blog comments about the demonstrations against the abusive Danish cartoons directed at our beloved Prophet (May peace and blessings be upon him) with interest.

I would like to ask you why it is that you haven't actually investigated what it is we as the Muslims of Britain (because from your website, it appears you are all Americans) have actually been doing in response to these cartoons.
I was tempted to ignore the rest of the letter - quite how Mr Hijazi could manage to convince himself that two Englishmen, a Pole, a Kiwi and a man of French descent were all Americans is anyone's guess. But like I said, this would appear to be an attack on the Free Muslims Coalition.
We'd also like to know why you have not attempted to make dialogue with any of the Muslim leaders in this country on this issue. Instead you have ignored our local situation and rushed to support a Freedom of Expression March which is being backed by many who hate us, our faith and our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Well, on the off-chance this letter is aimed at us rather than the FMC (although this seems unlikely), take it from me Mr Hijazi: we have. Perhaps you are upset that we haven't contacted you. This particularly fine post might explain why.

In the words of David T of Harry's Place:
The Muslim Action Committee demands:

"an undertaking by the paper that one Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) be printed every issue for the next 12 months on civility, as selected by the Muslim Action Committee."

But what if the Muslim Action Committee decided that Jyllands-Posten should print the following Hadith:

"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews."

Would that really promote civility? Indeed, should that Hadith be supressed on the grounds that it was incivil? Should a newspaper which printed it be censured by the Press Complaints Commission under the amendment to the PCC Code for which the Muslim Action Committee is campaigning? I doubt whether all the supporters of the Global Civility campaign - which include Hizb ut Tahrir - would accept such an outcome.

And anyone who, having namedropped the MAB, states:
For your organisation to lend its support to a demonstration that is defending these cartoons is problematic to say the least and is damaging and distracting from the good work we are doing here.
has completely and utterly missed the point of the rally.

People say things that may offend you. Get over it.

If the aim of this rally was simply to offend Muslims, does Mr Hijazi honestly believe the Free Muslims Coalition would have endorsed it?

This march isn't just about the reaction of a small minority of Muslims to the Muhammad cartoons: the response of a number of fundamentalist Christians and Sikhs to the Jerry Springer Opera and the controversial play at the Repertory Theatre in Birmingham were also factors behind our decision to hold the rally.

And it's not just about religion either. Around the globe millions of people are unable to criticise the way their countries are run, for fear of violence, imprisonment or worse.

This rally is about the fundamental human right to free speech and expression, one that Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi of the MAC doesn't appear to understand extends not only to criticism of corrupt governments and organisations, but also to religions and belief systems that individuals may find themselves at odds with.

Very disappointing.

I wonder whether the MAC support the right of a certain Wafa Sultan to speak her mind, or instead think that she ought to go into hiding in fear of her life (as she has done) for saying this or this?

That her remarks were inflammatory is neither here nor there. Would the MAC condone a death sentence against her? Do they believe she ought to be punished for stating her views?

From the material on their website, I guess not, but do they believe she has the right to make those points? Apparently not. Her views would be deemed by the MAC as "uncivil" and thus not worthy of consideration. The fact of the matter is that by making these remarks, Wafa Sultan has achieved her aim of provoking debate - the same aim that Jyllands Posten had in mind when publishing those cartoons. The real shame is that organisations such as the MAC are unwilling to listen.

Another classic case of "We'll defend your freedom of speech as long as we agree with what you say." Which isn't freedom of speech at all, is it?