Wednesday, 22 December 2010

What is our government doing about abuses in Bangladesh and Kashmir?

Wikileaks is providing a huge public service in highlighting the complicity of governments in human rights abuses, as the latest reports about Bangladesh and Kashmir illustrate.

According to today's Guardian the British government are involved in training what human rights organisations describe as 'Latin American style death squads' in Bangladesh. The Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has a notorious reputation. It kills and tortures with impunity and, allegedly, is responsible for 1,000 murders in the last 6 years. The Guardian says 'the cables make clear that British training for RAB officers began three years ago under the last Labour government' and that British officials had provided training as recently as October.

Wikileaks also revealed more evidence of 'abductions, enforced disappearances, custodial killings, rape, torture and detention' in Kashmir. Indian journalist Dilnaz Boga rightly asks what it would take for western governments to exert pressure on India over its blatant abuse of human rights.

Outside interference from Pakistan has often been used as a cover to justify human rights abuses in Kashmir but as Dilnaz comments, 'the summer of 2010 brought on a significant change in the Kashmiri struggle for independence from India. From being a pan-Islamic militant movement sponsored by Pakistan in 1989, it has now transformed into a non-violent indigenous people's movement. But the response of the state has not altered since the 1990s'.

For historic reasons Britain has a distinct influence in the region. It is time that influence was used to end human rights abuses rather than begin them.

Len McCluskey is right

Yesterday, Len McCluskey called on his trade union colleagues to discuss coordinated strike action to stop the government's 'austerity frenzy'. He also called for a coalition of resistance to unite trade unionists, students and service users. It makes sense to me. How else can an ideologically inspired attempt to destroy the welfare state be stopped without resistance on the broadest possible scale?

But some of the reaction to his interview has been very revealing.

Government officials weighed in with new threats to tighten anti-union legislation. They suggested that a legal strike should only be possible if a majority of union members vote for it, regardless of whether they chose to take part in the ballot or not. The double standards are breathtaking. This is a government that nobody voted for, in an election in which 35% of the electorate did not feel inspired enough to vote at all. Yet this is apparently a mandate to destroy the welfare state, and millions of jobs along with it.

The Guardian’s editorial wasn’t as threatening. It was just pathetically abusive, portraying McCluskey as a trade union dinosaur, misty-eyed with nostalgia for the 1970's. This is the same Guardian that advised its readers to vote for the Lib Dems, without which this Tory government would not exist. Perhaps they have resorted to Daily Mail-style clichés out of embarrassment. In any case, they offer no way of reversing this Tory agenda. In typical Guardian style they regret its excesses, appeal for a middle ground, and then conclude that resistance is futile.

Len McCluskey was certainly right to praise the way the student movement has shaken up this government. The heat has been turned up, and I suspect Vince Cable’s statement about walking out of government if 'pushed too far' over the cuts is directly related to it.

But students alone won't be able to reverse the government’s agenda. For that, we need a movement of similar militancy throughout the rest of society. We are not there yet. Many people still think the cuts are ‘necessary’.

Len McCluskey is right again that the unions, much weaker than they once were, are still uniquely placed to unite workers with users of public services, and the rest of the community, into a formidable alliance.

With unemployment predicted to hit 3 million in the coming year, a 20% increase in VAT on the way, and the public still to become fully aware of the assault upon the NHS, a fall in support for the Con-Dems is predictable. But without pressure being applied, on as many fronts as possible, the government could still emerge unscathed.

Len McCluskey is stating no more than the obvious truth when he says, “It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.”

Stopping 'austerity frenzy'

I was very heartened by this interview with Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of the UNITE union, in which he outlines his determination to work with students to undermine the government's 'austerity frenzy'.

Our ability to do so will stand or fall on whether we can forge a coalition of resistance: one the unites the trade unions, students, and the general public.

To that end the TUC’s national demonstration on 26 March is a critical event. Building the demo, and ensuring the largest turnout from Birmingham, will be central to my work in the new year.

Education plans fail the economic test

When the Tories are challenged on their devastating cuts programme they will deny it is an ideological choice and insist the cuts are necessary to reduce the budget deficit. Why are they so shy about revealing the truth about their plans?

One reason is that spending on health, education and keeping people working is generally popular. Most people understand it is something that makes our society a better place to live. So, the Tories would rather frighten people with talk of future generations burdened by a national debt that is out of control.

But almost every cut they make can be show to have the opposite effect. Cutting back on investment in education and jobs will invariably lead to a widening deficit. Investment, on the other hand, will almost always pay dividends by generating economic growth and reducing the deficit.

There is plenty of economic evidence that investment works. Michael Burke, at the Socialist Economic Bulletin, takes on the government’s plans for education funding and shows how illogical it really is.

In two articles he shows how cutting Education Maintenance Allowance for poorer families will widen the deficit and how investing in education as a whole delivers both short and long-term economic benefits.

These are important arguments as they undercut the ‘common sense’ propaganda from the Tories. They also show that the student protestors are not engaged in a selfish campaign. Their fight really is in the interests of the whole of society.

The psychology of a suicide bomber

Coming hot on the heels of the Stockholm suicide bombing, the Wikileaks cables expressing misgivings about PREVENT have reignited debate about the appeal of violent extremism in the Muslim community.

I was not surprised by the critical comments about PREVENT. I made most of them myself at the time.

PREVENT lacked transparency, was a gravy train for self appointed community consultants, and evaded addressing the fundamental issue; politics as the principal driver for those engaged in suicide bombing.

This latter fact has been proven again and again yet our politicians are reluctant to admit it, because to do so is to admit their culpability. Yet the academic evidence is conclusive.

A recent study from Tel Aviv University into Palestinian suicide bombers found that their 'depth or intensity of religious belief was not something which distinguished them from other non-suicide terrorists' and a sense of 'national humiliation' ranked higher than religion as a motivation for their actions.

Anthropologist Scott Atran makes the same point. He dismisses western clichés about incompatibilities of Islamic and Western identities and describes religion as a 'negative predictor' of violence.

Instead he points to the impact on those 'cast in the driftwood of globalisation', living lives that feel without meaning and purpose, subject to demonisation and marginalisation at home while their brothers and sisters are bombed abroad, and painfully aware of a sense of humiliation, not in individual sense, but in the collective of friends, family, and communities.

Instead of a global conspiracy pulling the strings of terror via brain-washed terrorist sleeper cells, Atran says the reality is the opposite.

He cites case studies to argue that Muslims caught up in extremism 'self-radicalise' in tightly knit groups of friends, neighbours, schoolmates, football and body-building circles.

Sometimes this self-radicalisation is triggered by encounters with people who have been to Afghanistan or Pakistan, sometimes not. Once it takes hold, those infected seek Al Qaeda, usually via the internet, not the other way round.

He highlights the example of the Madrid bombers. Five of the 7 bombers responsible, who blew themselves up when cornered by the police, all grew up living 200 meters from each other in a neighbourhood in northern Morocco.

They had no background in religious indoctrination and drifted into petty criminality and the drug trade when they arrived in Spain looking for work. They were attracted to extremism in the disastrously mistaken belief that they were doing something noble with their lives for others, in the process finally attaining purpose and meaning for their own lives.

For Atran the real battle is for the minds and souls, and for some, the outcome is finally balanced. Take the findings of opinion polls in the same Moroccan neighbourhood from which the Madrid bombers originated.

Shortly after the bombings, and before the election of Barak Obama, the top three heroes were 1.
Ronaldinho, 2. the Terminator (the character, not the actor, and even less the politician) and 3. bin Laden. After the US presidential election Obama had knocked bin Laden off the number 3 perch. Disaffected Muslim youth are finding themselves at the crossroads between 'yes we can' and 'happiness is martyrdom'.

Atran concludes that extremism 'cannot be fought mainly with bombs, traditional law enforcement or military means (although such means can help thwart attacks). It must be fought with ideas and proposals for action that appeal to this rising sense of injustice and moral outrage among increasing numbers of youth. In the long run, this is a public health issue rather than a strictly criminal or military issue.'

He is absolutely right.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

SUPPORT WIKILEAKS: STOP ASSANGE EXTRADITION

We protest at the attacks on Wikileaks and in particular on Julian Assange.

The leaks have assisted democracy in revealing the real views of our governments over a range of issues which have been kept secret, and which are now irreversibly in the public domain.

Everything we knew about the mass killing, torture and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan has been confirmed.

The world's leaders can no longer hide the truth by simply lying to the public.

The lies themselves have been exposed.

The actions of major corporations such as Amazon, the Swiss banks and the credit card companies in hindering Wikileaks, are shameful, bowing as they do to pressure from the US government.

The US government and its allies, and their friends in the media, have built up a campaign against Assange which now sees him in prison facing extradition on dubious charges, with the presumed eventual aim of ensuring his extradition to the US.

We demand his immediate release, the dropping of all charges, and an end to the censorship of Wikileaks.

For more info contact Stop the War Coalition.

Best wishes to students protesting! Don't let the liars off the hook!