Monday, 25 April 2011

SAS recruitment 'crisis' and BBC militarism

The BBC is reporting a deepening 'crisis' in SAS recruitment.

Various Ministry of Defence and political figures have been quoted by the BBC, offering explanations for the fall in applicant numbers, including the possibility that the SAS doesn't carry the same appeal of 'exclusivity' and 'danger' anymore:
"[Brigadier Richard] Dennis said the SAS was also losing its unique status among the services because "interesting operations are no longer seen as the preserve of special forces".  In the letter to the head of the Army, Gen Sir Peter Wall, he said he had deep concerns over the "challenge of fully manning the SAS" and urgent action was needed to improve the "depth and quality" of potential recruits."
 The article also offers this anti-war comment and counterview:
"Perhaps the decline in SAS recruitment is a good thing, indicating a receding inclination, even amongst the more 'daring' applicants, to join in useless, destructive wars. 

"Hopefully, potential recruits are coming to realise that the 'allure' and 'excitement' of such operations usually involves illegal and covert interventions in lands where Britain and its allies, under the guise of 'humanitarian assistance', are seeking to appropriate  natural resources and secure corporate interests.

"But even if the fall in SAS recruitment can be linked to more prudent factors such as increased fear of being killed or disillusion over the unit's 'elite' status, why is such reticence towards militarist activity portrayed by politicians and the media as a matter of 'national concern'? 

"Isn't the 'crisis' in military recruitment, more generally, a moderately encouraging sign that people are thinking twice about going off to kill foreign civilians in the service of western realpolitik and big business - however 'intoxicating' the experience?"
Of course, the article doesn't actually include these lines, because, despite its proclamations of 'balance', the BBC is only concerned with presenting one side, the militarist view.

As with current 'anxieties' over the availability of parts for Britain's Typhoon bomber planes, it's the same culture of militarism that pervades BBC news. 

Thus, MoD officials, parliamentary committees and BBC journalists speak in bland technicalities about the Typhoon's 'delivery deficits', expressing their collective worries over whether we can keep the bombs raining down on Libya:
"The committee said that the MoD relied on a "small group of key industrial suppliers who have the technical and design capability to build, upgrade and support" the jets.
"Problems with the availability of spare parts have meant that Typhoons are not flying as many hours as the department requires," it added.  "The Typhoon supply chain is complex and stretches across Europe. However, the department admitted that it had not been managed well enough or delivered all the required parts when needed."
 No mention of the appalling suffering of others at the receiving end of this 'awesome' technology.    

As with SAS recruitment, what's readily perceived as a 'problem' - failure to deliver the means of killing and violence - could, more reasonably, be regarded as positive, life-saving developments.  Fewer killers, fewer killed.  Less bombs, less bombed. 

Yet, pacifist perspectives or anti-war comment to that effect have no serious place in such output.  It's part of the special treatment reserved for 'our' armed forces and the wars they're engaged in.  The arms industry, the economy of death, is treated with due deference.  Like BBC coverage of the royals, militarism is 'just there', a 'benign' 'fact of life', something we should identify with as an unstated and assumed part of the 'national interest'.

Nor are we likely to see any BBC journalists deviate from the standard script.  It's all about keeping to the establishment consensus.  Say nothing that questions the integrity of 'our' wars and military culture - who dares, sins.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Hate crime and the BNP

As noted in the Sunday Herald, the British National Party has been reported to the Electoral Commission over race hate claims in its literature for the forthcoming Scottish elections.

It's an encouraging intervention, one that will, hopefully, see the BNP pursued through the courts.

The BNP election leaflet includes this malicious and fatuous statement:
"No more mosques!  There are already more Muslims in Britain than Scottish people."
Besides the facile 'logic' of such claims - as though there aren't any Muslim Scots - this looks like a clear incitement to religious and racial hatred.

There's a belief among some left-liberals that, however odious the message, the BNP should still be permitted to express their views and stand for election.  This is the basic 'freedom of speech' line, insisting that the banning of even such loathsome views is fundamentally illiberal and a slippery slope to further curtailments of civil freedom.

Another, I believe, much stronger, argument against a ban speaks of the reluctance to single-out the BNP when one compares their hateful words with the actual mass war crimes and violence committed by the 'respectable' mainstream parties.

After all, Nick Griffin may be a fascist, but his offences are of the 'petty/juvenile' type when set against the actual part played by Tony Blair and his friends in the murder of over a million Iraqis.

Yet, however valid, this argument still shouldn't preclude legal efforts to expose and prosecute the BNP's hate speech.

If it's morally appropriate to invoke international law in pursuing Blair and his fellow warmongers, it's also, by the same moral token, right to apply available domestic laws against the BNP.  

Preventing publication of such language, banning far-right parties and arresting their leaders will never, of course, eradicate the politics of hate.  That goes much deeper than the BNP.  The same kind of racist messages are being brazenly repeated in the Daily Mail, while 'humanitarian' politicians like David Cameron continue to speak of immigrants as some kind of sub-human problem.

Yet, without public resistance, including legal challenges, to such naked incitement, that kind of hate can only fester and spread.   


Thursday, 14 April 2011

Goldstone co-authors hold the line on report

The three co-authors of the Goldstone Report have written a devastating defence of their investigations, rounding on Richard Goldstone and reaffirming, unreservedly, their findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Their statement includes a complete rejection of Israel's claims to be conducting serious inquiries into cases arising from the report. 

While noting the pressure and personal abuse they have endured in writing and upholding the report, the three co-authors also insist that the main charge of pre-planning the attacks on Gaza has never been addressed by Israel.  Citing a further UN committee finding on the progress of the report, they note:
"In addition, with regard to the issue of the policies guiding Operation Cast Lead, the committee states that there is "no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead". In other words, one of the most serious allegations about the conduct of Israel's military operations remains completely unaddressed." 
This statement will come as a catastrophic blow to Israel and its lobby's efforts to have the report fully retracted at the UN.  It also leaves Goldstone himself badly exposed. 

Perhaps the Goldstone document should now become the Jilani, Chinkin and Travers report.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Goldstone's 'retractions' - caving-in to Israel's menace

Judge Richard Goldstone's apparent 'retractions' over his landmark report into the bombing of Gaza shows very clearly the powerful and mendacious impact of Israel and its lobby in pursuing, intimidating and punishing its 'errant own'.  

Honourable figures like Norman Finkelstein have shown a remarkable ability to resist, suffering a lifetime of opprobrium for doing so, but others seem unable to hold the moral line.

Ilan Pappe has felt and withstood the same terrible pressures:
"Readers might ask "so what?" and "why could Goldstone not withstand the heat?" Good questions, but alas the Zionization of Jewish communities and the false identification of Jewishness with Zionism is still a powerful disincentive that prevents liberal Jews from boldly facing Israel and its crimes.
Every now and again many liberal Jews seem to liberate themselves and allow their conscience, rather than their fear, to lead them. However, many seem unable [to] stick to their more universalist inclinations for too long where Israel is concerned. The risk of being defined as a "self-hating Jew" with all the ramifications of such an accusation is a real and frightening prospect for them.
You have to be in this position to understand the power of this terror."
Pressure on Goldstone has been particularly intense in his homeland South Africa.  Following the report's publication, Avram Krengel, chairman of the South African Zionist Federation, led a relentless campaign to get Goldstone to recant.   It seems to have worked.  As noted by Israel's Ynet News:
"He [Krengel] said the Jewish lobby in South Africa had a part in Goldstone's surprising confession. "We met him about a year ago, and during the meeting he insisted on his stance. We, on the other hand, told him why we were angry with him.
"We asked where were the investigation committees against all those countries which are undoubtedly committing war crimes and where was the UN on their matter, and why did he only come out against Israel, which was defending itself. He said Israel was the first among many, but that didn't happen of course."
Krengel added that "Goldstone was very quiet months after that. Perhaps he self-examined himself and realized that what we said was true – that there was a bias against Israel and not a bias to probe the truth – and then he started talking and expressing reservations." 
Or perhaps he simply just gave in to the psychological pressure exerted by an openly hostile Jewish community: 
"It has been like watching an innocent man whipped at the stake,” said Goldstone’s friend Letty Cottin Pogrebin, founder of Ms. magazine. “His dedication to Israel is so strong and rooted. He suffered at the thought that his work was being used to delegitimize Israel. It truly wounded and pained him.”

“His family is taking terrible strain,” reported a close South African friend who would speak only on condition of anonymity. “He told us, ‘If I had known what it would do to my family, I wouldn’t have done it.’”
Fearing protests and abuse, Goldstone even, initially, felt unable to attend his grandson's bar mitzvah.   

However, despite his apparent 'regrets', Goldstone's 'atonement' remains incomplete:
"According to Krengel, as far as South Africa's Jews are concerned, there is a long way to forgiveness. "He has a long road to take. The damage he has caused Israel and the Jews is very heavy. He has a lot to say and do in order to atone what he did."
Looking back, Krengel give South Africa's Jews credit for the battle against Goldstone. "He suffered greatly, especially in the city he comes from. We took sides against him, and it encourages us to know that our way had an effect against the international pressure and made him admit and regret his remarks." 
The obvious pride Krengel takes in saying that Goldstone "suffered greatly" resonates darkly with Pappe's own warnings about Israel's ongoing purges: 
"Just weeks ago, Israeli military intelligence announced it had created a special unit to monitor, confront, and possibly hunt down, individuals and bodies suspected of "delegitimizing" Israel abroad. In light of this, perhaps quite a few of the faint-hearted felt standing up to Israel was not worth it."  
Despite Israeli proclamations of a victorious reversal, the specifics of the Goldstone report still hold, and will continue to shape international opinion - legal, political and civil - on Israel's occupation and siege of Gaza.  As Jonathan Cook notes:
"Israel would certainly like observers to interpret Goldstone's latest comments as an exoneration. In reality, however, he offered far less consolation to Israel than its supporters claim.

The report's original accusation that Israeli soldiers committed war crimes still stands, as does criticism of Israel's use of unconventional weapons such as white phosphorus, the destruction of property on a massive scale, and the taking of civilians as human shields.
The report's findings were, despite its denunciations of Israel, always a conservative indictment.    On-the-ground human rights groups had gone much further than Goldstone in cataloguing and denouncing Israel's war crimes.   None are likely to follow Goldstone in reversing their findings.  Nor are the UN or any of the senior investigators who sat on Goldstone's panel.

Goldstone might win some 'rehab' points from Israel in the short-term, but his 'reversals' are likely to be seen as cowardly or fearful capitulation in the longer run.  

Again, one can recognise the context of fear and menace in which those retractions were made.  Yet, it's still, as Ilan Pappe says, a shameful u-turn for a man initially hailed and respected for putting duties of juridical truth before personal and emotional attachment to Israel.


Additional: LA Times editorial casts doubt on Goldstone's retractions and asks him to provide real evidence for his 'new doubts' about Israeli criminality.