Thursday, 28 February 2013

Blair's smooth talk, Wark's lame talk

It's hard to watch BBC presenter Kirsty Wark's interview with Tony Blair without feeling both staggered by Blair's smooth, ongoing deceit and appalled by Wark's tepid efforts to interrogate his lies.

Blair's "how many times have we been over this argument" denials, dismissals and evasions should be perfectly familiar to Wark, as they are to the millions who have rejected the claims for invading Iraq and 'liberal intervention' in other countries.

Yet, she allows Blair to dismiss the entire anti-war movement as some kind of tiresome, misinformed mass.

Having failed to pin Blair down on the WMD deceit and the whitewash of all the Iraq 'inquiries', Wark continues:
"But isn't it terrible, in a way, now that in this country we cannot go to war on the basis of intelligence again, can we?"
The premise and intimation of this question tells us everything we need to know about the BBC's power-serving mindset.

It's seemingly "terrible" that "we" find ourselves doubting the provenance of 'our' "intelligence" and what 'our' leaders do with it. Not "terrible" that we actually go to war, not "terrible" that a million people died in the process of that war, only "terrible" that we now find it so awkward to wage further wars.

Aside from the brutal Orwellian language used here, where is that most basic acknowledgement of the mass suffering caused by the 'intelligence' and those who used it?

Blair replies to Wark's question:
"Well, I think, you know, I don't know when we go to war on the basis of intelligence or not is really the issue. I think what is the issue, frankly, after Iraq and Afghanistan is whether we disregard the price of any such intervention as too high."
Wark completely ignores this deceitful inversion that the "intelligence [is not] really the issue", after all, moving on to ask whether there's now any moral right for invading/bombing Syria and Iran.

Some feeble objections are offered by Wark about the lack of UN mandates for any such 'intervention'. But, Blair is permitted to carry on enunciating the case.

However, Wark suddenly seems animated and on 'serious implication' ground:

"The problem is now, is that [sic] we're pretty sure Iran has [WMD...] or certainly on its way to getting them", thus, after Iraq, making Iran now "an absolute powerhouse in the region", the "number one enemy of the West" and "as a result of the problems in Iraq, Iran is gaining power, and another foothold in Iraq."

Wark's irately-delivered point is not about the actual problems for war-drained Iraqis, but a fearmongering worry about an 'advancing Iran'. Again, as with the media-hyped menace of Saddam, we hear the same alarmist warnings about Ahmadinejad.

Blair repeats his mantra about needing to tackle both Iraq and Iran, rejecting Wark's implicit line that because of the 'mistakes' in Iraq, 'we' now have the problem of dealing with Iran.

 Wark proceeds to remind Blair that there's no real public appetite for further wars, also asking him if he's seen Obama's recent address: "He's not going on any foreign adventure either."

Somehow, Obama's immediate commitment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, his murderous drone strikes on the Pakistan border and the extrajudicial killing of US foes doesn't appear to register with Wark as "foreign adventures".

Blair waxes on about the volatility of the Middle East and the need to keep a firm check on Syria and all these insecure regimes, carefully, of course, omitting Saudi Arabia.

Noting Britain's prior support for Mubarak, Wark offers another lame interjection: "You do agree with the [Arab Spring] revolutions?"

Pledging that he does, Blair trots out more standard lines about the "long hard struggle", of keeping the world "safer" from dictators and the need for 'encouraged assistance' to these countries, but Wark has nothing to say, in response, about Britain's and the West's dark posturing over Libya and other such states.

Continuing to play the 'voice of the people' role, Wark suggests that the public won't support any more such interventions because "you squandered it in Iraq."

Again, it's the 'bad mistakes we made in Iraq' line; the opportunity was "squandered". Nothing about the deliberate and calculated aggression in pursuit of oil and geopolitical control. 

The final perversion from Wark comes in this question:
"In your memoirs you write about redeeming something from the tragedies of the deaths in Iraq. In a way, is your role as a Middle East envoy some kind of attempt to atone?"
Blair, now in his best solemn-toned voice, reflects that it's not about his personal redemption but about helping others to find peaceful resolutions, notably his desire to bridge the Israel-Palestine "dispute".

Wark could, of course, have asked many more simple and pointed questions here, such as:
'Are you attempting to disguise your crimes in Iraq by hiding behind this envoy role?'

'How could someone with such accusations of mass war crimes hanging over them ever consider themselves suitable for such a peace-promoting role?'

'Given your own and Britain's long-standing support for Israel, isn't it vastly hypocritical to be seen promoting yourself to occupied and besieged Palestinians?'
In a last question, inviting more of Blair's affectations, Wark quietly asks: "But do you think you will be redeemed?"

She could more usefully have enquired: 'Do you think you will ever be brought to justice?'

But that would not be in the spirit of BBC questioning of 'our' leaders, past or present.

As Wark thanks Blair for speaking to her, we see the completion of yet another model exercise in liberal media protectionism.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Supporting Galloway, primarily

A few words on George Galloway walking out of an Oxford debate on Palestine-Israel.

Three, in particular: I support him.

Why? Because, first and foremost, he stands up for oppressed Palestinians. First and foremost, he supports the victims. First and foremost, he takes sides.  And, first and foremost, he should be supported for doing so.

Whether he refuses to debate an Israeli citizen is his call, a subjective judgement. What's clear, contrary to all the shrill and predictable media headlines, is that his refusal was not in any sense a racist act. It was a political act of solidarity.

Galloway's action is clearly not concerned with race, only with that person's nationality and what he says as an Israeli citizen about Israel.

Galloway makes it clear, in this regard, that he's not opposed to debating all Israelis, only those who back their state.

Why should a person of political conscience feel compelled to engage someone holding views which seek to legitimate the actions of their state - in Israel's case, an apartheid state built on ethnic cleansing and mass murder?

People on the left routinely refuse to share a platform with the far right, a rejection not of the person per se, but of that person's identity, what that person is defending.

Would it be racist of, say, an Iraqi person to refuse a debate with Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell or any other British person defending their state's mass crimes in Iraq?

Would it be racist of an Aboriginal Australian to refuse engagement of any other Australian defending that country's treatment of its indigenous people?

We can, of course, debate the tactics, whether it was 'bad politics' and whether Galloway's action concurs with BDS 'guidelines'. But, as this key part of the BDS statement explains:
"BDS does not call for a boycott of individuals because she or he happens to be Israeli or because they express certain views. Of course, any individual is free to decide who they do and do not engage with."
In effect, contrary to mass media misrepresentation, both BDS and Galloway hold legitimate, compatible positions here.

Imagine the same media which has vilified Galloway with all the standard labels - 'maverick', 'controversial', 'left-firebrand', 'storming-out' of the debate etc - taking the same amount of column space or airtime to reflect that essential point or, of course, to consider the actual criticisms of Israel he's raising.

Again, that doesn't mean people shouldn't partake in such exchange. Many Palestinians and their supporters do engage Israelis who support their state, believing that it helps expose their arguments.

But many also justly believe that rejecting the basic status of that state and its occupation - its 'normalisation' - better serves the Palestinian cause.  That refusal isn't based on racial grounds, but on moral/political ones in rejection not of the individual but of the state that individual is defending.

Which returns us to first principles: what matters, primarily, is giving conscientious support to those who conscientiously support oppressed others.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Nakba and the Holocaust - to know and learn

In his stark and meticulous accounts of surviving Auschwitz, the Italian Jewish chemist and writer Primo Levi said his greatest fear was that people wouldn't believe what had happened in the death camps.

Mercifully, most of the true horror has long been revealed, much of that dark detail recorded by Levi himself before his death in 1987, a year after his last publication The Drowned and the Saved.

After being liberated, Levi had dedicated the tortured remainder of his life to relating the horrors of the camps. But the understanding of that brutality also haunted him for the rest of his days:
"Reason, the weapon with which he was hoping to ultimately slay that Auschwitz Gorgon and unveil its true evil face, does not appear to hold against the lingering, long-term effects of the Shoah. Reason, in fact, can be a double-edged sword for it can also be applied to carry out evil deeds. In the essay "Useless Violence," in The Drowned and the Saved, Levi finally, and sadly, concludes that the actions of the Nazis were not the result of madness but, rather, the result of a "logica insolente" (84) ("insolent logic"). It was a warped and brutal kind of logic the Nazis adopted to justify to themselves the necessity of their evil deeds."
In one of the most notable and oft-cited lines from If This Is a Man, Levi recounts how, thirsty and seeing an icicle through his cell window, he tried to grab it, only for a guard to knock it from his hand. "Warum?" ("Why?"), Levi asked, and the guard replied: "Hier ist kein warum" ("Here there is no why").

Levi's task was not only to preserve the detailed suffering of the victims, but also the accounts of the perpetrators. For, perverse as it seems, how can we know 'the why' of what terrible fate befell the victims without having that which helps us try to comprehend the minds of those who committed such seemingly unfathomable actions?
"During the Nuremberg trials, the British ordered the top Nazis to write their memoirs, and these works have become crucial sources for understanding the banal perversions at the heart of the Third Reich. Forty years after the Holocaust, Levi agreed, despite the agony it gave him, to write the introduction to a 1985 edition of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess' memoir, My Soul. Hoess was the man who used Zyklon B to gas Jews, but Levi, while calling him a "blackguard and a scoundrel," provides us with a critical insight into humanity when he says that this blank-faced man was not a “monster.” He was something far worse—an ordinary man with a face like the rest of us, an obedient bureaucrat who never asked why. He goes so far as to describe Hoess’ autobiography as “one of the most instructive books ever published.”"
Why there could be 'no why' still seems hard to fathom: not just the magnitude of such crimes - the killing of six million Jews and other millions - but the routine participation in that terror.

I recall a moving experience some years ago on visiting Dachau concentration camp and being affected not only by the obvious horror of what had gone on there, but also by the idyllic, detached beauty of the surrounding environs. It brought home how this industrial-scale murder and brutality had gone on while people went about their daily business, many, of course, knowing.

Such readings and experiences are a vital reminder not just of past barbarities but also of a moral obligation to learn and know all we can about what Levi means by the 'insolent logic' of human suffering, all human suffering, and the ways in which we're screened from knowing about it.

To what reasonable extent can we invoke people like Levi when speaking not only of the Holocaust but of other human calamities? And in what sense might we explore the same 'failure of reason', the same, seeming negation of 'why' in seeking answers about their appalling continuation?

It's remarkable, in these regards, how relatively few people today know about al Nakba (The Catastrophe). And, largely because of this, it's remarkable how relatively few are able to comprehend the massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians undertaken by Zionist forces in the formation of Israel as a Jewish state.

It's particularly remarkable given the capability of academics and teachers, politicians and journalists to impart and report all this information. How could so many people not know? Or, at least, not know sufficiently well for them to understand the basic background of the Nakba as the formative act of Israel's occupation and apartheid policies?

In considering such questions, notably the 'absent why', it's always useful to think about how people are exposed to dominant narratives, sheltered from others, and how that information is fed through schooling, mainstream politics and the media.

Where in the West, for example, would you find any standard history lesson charting the Nakba or see a prescribed text on it like The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by eminent Jewish Israeli historian Ilan Pappe?

It's the book that Israel didn't want written and, like other such 'awkward' history, has no place in Israeli schools.

Pappe, whose parents fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and who lost family members in the death camps, has been demonised by Israel and Zionist others for writing such works and, effectively, exiled for his academic efforts.

How many will be seriously intent, like Pappe, in discussing the Nakba both as an historical event and as a continuing narrative of resistance?

Likewise, how many would be interested in exploring works like Nur Masalha's The Palestine Nakba in an effort to recover the deep, internal stories of Palestinian struggle and to convey the ‘memoricide’ which has served to "remove all evidence of the Palestinians presence in the land substituting for it a synthetic history of Jewish continuity"?

More particularly, how many will dare engage, like Pappe, the issue of how the Holocaust was used to justify the Nakba in the creation of a Jewish state?

Examining the situation of 1948, Pappe writes:
"One can read again and again the arguments put forward by everyone involved in proposing the partition resolution and later on the admittance of Israel as a full member of the UN, while Palestine was erased from the international public agenda, and see clearly that the Holocaust was the sole argument.

The argument for a Jewish state as compensation for the Holocaust was a powerful argument, so powerful that nobody listened to the outright rejection of the UN solution by the overwhelming majority of the people of Palestine. What comes out clearly is a European wish to atone. The basic and natural rights of the Palestinians should be sidelined, dwarfed and forgotten altogether for the sake of the forgiveness that Europe was seeking from the newly formed Jewish state. It was much easier to rectify the Nazi evil vis-à-vis a Zionist movement than facing the Jews of the world in general. It was less complex and, more importantly, it did not involve facing the victims of the Holocaust themselves, but rather a state that claimed to represent them. The price for this more convenient atonement was robbing the Palestinians of every basic and natural right they had and allowing the Zionist movement to ethnically cleanse them without fear of any rebuke or condemnation."
It's important, of course, to remember that Zionism traces back to the 1890s under its founding-figure Theodor Herzl, and that the essential movement towards a Jewish state was already in motion by the time of the Holocaust.

Even before the British Balfour Declaration in 1917, small numbers of Zionists had been acquiring Palestinian land (aided, from 1901, by the Jewish National Fund), a settlement process more eagerly facilitated after 1917 by the British mandated authorities.

As Britain and other Western countries sought to restrict fascist-fleeing Jewish refugees, many more came to Palestine, a further settlement which led to the Arab uprisings of 1936-39 and its quelling with brutal force by the British authorities.

By 1948 and its shambolic exit, Britain's collusion with Zionists and betrayal of the Palestinians had become a rearguard containment as Irgun and Stern terrorist units bombed British forces while the Hagana and other Zionist militia carried out Ben-Gurion's Plan Dalet.

Negating the 1947 partition proposal - a carve-up already rejected by the Arabs - awarding the now one third Jewish population (with still just 6% of the land) 56% of the territory, the Zionist leadership was ready to execute its own pre-determined plan to clear all Palestinians from the land, a realisation of Ben-Gurion's 1938 pledge to the Jewish Agency Executive: “I am for compulsory transfer; I do not see anything immoral in it.”

Here, we see the brutal, calculating 'logic' of Ben-Gurion's Consultancy as 750,000 Palestinians were removed from their homes and villages, many massacred in the process.

Yet, as Pappe asserts, it was Ben-Gurion's repetition and ideological invocation of the Holocaust which gave that Zionist land-grab its decisive moment:
"The Zionist movement had the military power to both ethnically cleanse Palestine of its original population and to face a military confrontation with troops from various Arab armies sent to try and prevent the creation of a Jewish state. However, it needed the Holocaust memory to silence any criticism of its ethnic cleansing operation and to prevent any international pressure on it to allow the return of all those expelled from the land after the 1948 war. Europe's guilt at allowing Nazi Germany to exterminate the Jews of Europe was to be cured by the dispossession of the Palestinians. This created what the late Edward Said called a chain of victimisation. The Palestinians became the victims' victim. This concept was never accepted by Israel and its allies; nor was it ever endorsed by the European political elite that felt very comfortable with the formula of Israel being the only and exclusive victim of the Holocaust and the only victim in Palestine." 
In effect, the mass murder and calamity of one people was used to inflict catastrophe on another.

Even with the horrors of the Holocaust, it didn't take the mind of Einstein to see the disastrous implications of an enforced Jewish state on the further suffering backs of the Palestinians.

But Einstein did actually issue that prescient warning, indeed, even before the Holocaust or declaration of a Jewish state. Restating that view in 1950, Einstein wrote:
"I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state. Apart from the practical considerations, my awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power no matter how modest. I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain – especially from the development of a narrow nationalism within our own ranks, against which we have already had to fight without a Jewish state."
Einstein thus denounced "the Irgun, led by Menachem Begin later a Prime Minister of Israel, and the Stern Gang, where Yitzhak Shamir also a future Prime Minister of Israel was a member, as terrorist organizations and refused to support these “misled and criminal people.”"

He also refused the presidency of Israel. And, despite some other 'cultural Zionist' leanings, falsely proclaimed after his death as 'evidence' of his support for Israel, Einstein remained firmly opposed to any idea of a Jewish state.

Today, as Einstein and other honourable Jews reliably foresaw, the oppression and conflict goes on with no just resolution for Arabs or Jews. Just as the international community in 1948 turned a blind eye to the Nakba, Palestinians remain "the victims' victim", one that not only feels oppressed but, for sixty-plus years, wilfully ignored.

While visiting the West Bank, I remember a recurring conversation, particularly in the refugee camps, in which Palestinians would variously ask: 'do people in the West, outside this place, really know what's going on?' Palestinians have long demonstrated their own resilient voice, their remarkable fortitude. Yet, still they ask that others amplify their situation: 'please tell everyone you can.'

One humbly complies. But, again, the basic question: why aren't our politicians, our schools or our media conveying such truths?

While those in the occupied West Bank endure daily brutality, from checkpoints and tear gas to routine murdering of children, Israel oversees the prison camp that is Gaza - even a shamed David Cameron was compelled to describe it so.

Calculating the combined effects of Israel's militarist siege, starvation blockade and repeated mass bombing of civilians, many others have come to the reasonable conclusion that Gaza is a "concentration camp".

But what has Cameron, Obama or any other official ally of Israel ever seriously done to help end that appalling situation, this affront to humanity? It seems there is no political 'why' to be answered when it comes to Palestinian suffering.

The answer, of course, is in the question. Over six decades after the mass removal of Palestinians, all these states are still dutifully aligned to Israel. And any 'criticism' they might make of Israel still has to be tempered with cautionary lines about 'supporting Israel's right to exist' and 'commending the peace process'.

Pappe talks about a "conspiracy of silence" over the international community's reaction to what befell the Palestinians in 1948:
"There were so many representatives of the international community on the ground, there were journalists, there were representatives of the United Nations, of the International Red Cross [who witnessed and knew that] Jewish troops were going from one house to the other, village to village, and were expelling by force people, massacring them when they resisted [...] Nobody in the Western world wanted to report that story." 
The ongoing reluctance of that same international community today to speak about the Nakba and its painful continuation means more shameful shrouding of the issues, more hiding of the victims, more barriers to peace and justice.

And the reticence to speak, as Pappe, Said and others have, about the Holocaust in relation to the Nakba and its ongoing effects only serves that concealment.

There is no dishonouring of the Holocaust, no disrespect of its victims, in knowing and learning of these issues. On the contrary, it properly serves the memory of those victims by recognising the lessons of what the ruthlessly powerful can do in the name of brute 'logic'.

Some Palestinians and their supporters feel that discussion of the Holocaust detracts from their own suffering. I respectfully disagree. Not only should the Holocaust be vigilantly remembered on its own human merits, it should be viewed as a supportive lesson for Palestinians and all oppressed others.

Nor is there is any need to 'compare' or 'equate' the Holocaust and the Nakba. There is no useful or valid comparison, equation or equivalence to be made.  In particular, any comparison between Nazism and Zionism, Nazis and Jews or any other such elaboration is not only empirically facile, but an encouragement to more reactionary mocking and liberal-coated outrage over how, and under what diversionary headlines, the 'issue' does get raised.

Israel's seemingly mindless acts of military brutality can also be delineated as 'logically wicked' without recourse to such labelling - not that this prevents politicians and media hyping ludicrous comparisons between Western-defined enemies like Saddam, Gaddafi et al and Hitler.    

What matters in discussing the Nakba together with the Holocaust is, as Pappe relates, their sequential significance; how one mass-murderous event created a key context for allowing further violence and displacement against another people.

So long as people write or speak of the Holocaust and Nakba in these respectfully-connected ways, they show humanitarian concern for both injustices and an interest in illuminating, opposing and preventing any other mass suffering.

In 1982, Primo Levi condemned Israel's bombing of Lebanon, further declaring: "Everybody has their Jews, and for the Israelis it’s the Palestinians".  It was a bold and thoughtfully-made criticism from a Jewish victim who had never till that point openly denounced Israel.  Yet, whatever task Levi felt compelled to undertake in addressing the evil of the death camps, particularly against Jewish people, he also recognised the wider capacity of the powerful to murder and subjugate the powerless.

As writer and philosopher Judith Butler, also a Jew, addressed this in a finely-argued piece:
"It would later turn out that Primo Levi, whose memoirs on Auschwitz have achieved enormous influence among U.S. intellectuals, would make clear his break with Zionism in 1982, after the assault on Beirut. It was on the eve of Primo Levi's departure to return to Auschwitz to commemorate the dead that he signed the petition, with other survivors, to demand the recognition of the rights of all peoples of the region, published in La Repubblica. In his views, the Israeli bombers in 1982 were not fighting for freedom, but had become the new oppressors, fighting to deprive another minority of their freedoms. He wrote, "Everybody is somebody's Jew. And today the Palestinians are the Jews of the Israelis." claiming that the Israeli state had become morally unacceptable to anyone who survived the Nazi genocide; after Sabra and Shatilla, he publicly asked Sharon and Begin to resign. And though he was told that he needed to remain silent, that in times of war, his open and public criticism could only hearten the enemies of Israel, he stood firm, and deepened his public criticism in 1984, three years before his death, calling upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories. 
I cite the example of Levi to you because it shows that precisely from within the moral framework derived from the Holocaust, an opposition to the Israeli state is not only possible, but necessary. This thought is nearly unthinkable within American Judaism or, indeed, from within the progressive Jewish movements who call for the end of the occupation. And until we can unlink the way in which the Nazi genocide continues to act as a permanent justification for this state and its policies, there will be a silencing of dissent, a muting of public criticism. Levi himself claimed that we must not let the sufferings of the Jews under Nazism "justify everything." And the reporter who received this statement responded, "You can reason very coldly." But this was not coldness on his part; it was feeling, it was horror in the face of atrocities committed by Israelis. It was staying alive to the possibility of knowing and opposing the suffering of others." [My emphasis.]
One can but speculate, in these very regards, what Levi would have made of other mass atrocities, like the West's genocidal sanctions against Iraq - "the price is worth it", thought Madeleine Albright - and the million people killed in its 'logically'-argued invasion. And, it is, indeed, sobering to think of the staggering death tolls the US, Britain and other Western powers are directly responsible for.

From the Holocaust to the Nakba, the slaughter of Stalin's gulags to the mass crimes of the West, the means and motives of considering the 'insolent logic' of all such inhumanity and Levi's question of why the powerful offer 'no why', remains a universal right of enquiry.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

David Ward - taking words and meaning in their intended spirit

A decisive effort is now seemingly underway to have the Lib Dem party whip removed from MP David Ward or even to have him thrown out of his party altogether.

Ward is now to be called before the whip and party leader Nick Clegg this week to hear details of his likely censure. Again, this is despite Mr Ward having apologised for the careless wording of his comments and even offering suggestions for alternative wording that would accommodate fair and useful discussion.

Perhaps the party summons will help confirm for Ward the decisively pro-Israel and other power-prostrating ways of the Lib Dem leadership.

As with previous party 'culprit' Jenny Tonge, it's a predictable fate for any political, media or other notable figure who dares to openly criticise Israel.

The overt focusing by Ward's critics on these two words, "the Jews", is also a convenient diversion from the actual issue Ward was intent on raising: the long-running Israeli atrocities being committed against occupied Palestinians.

The main reaction of Ward's adversaries, it seems, is not to engage him in debate or enter constructive exchange about Palestine-Israel, but to have him pilloried and punished.

As Ward noted in the recent Guardian piece on his comments, whatever he might say, and whatever words he uses to express his opinions, he's likely to face the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby:
"There is a huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who's seen to criticise the state of Israel."
That kind of flak also finds supportive expression through myopic, personalised journalism, as in this claim by Ward's Guardian interviewer:
"And yet at the same time he seems not oblivious, but uncomprehending and seemingly uninterested in comprehending why it is that he has upset people."
But what also to say of many on the left who have seemed unwilling to back or express support for Ward because of his error?

While - as Ward himself has now realised - it's always wise and prudent to be as concise as possible when using such references, it's also important to judge a person's comments in the overall spirit in which they're intended.

To any fair and reasonable reader of Ward's thoughts, there's no credible evidence to suggest that his words were offered in any anti-Semitic, racist or otherwise malicious vein.

While Ward's outright pro-Israel opponents show no obvious interest in engaging with the substantive spirit of his thoughts, others, perhaps more sympathetic to his motives, may have kept a pragmatic distance, not wishing to be associated with the perceived slur. In particular, many Jews may have taken legitimate and honourable exception to being 'lumped-in' as endorsing Israel's aggressions against the Palestinians.

In all such cases - including those of his fiercest critics - one would appeal for a more thoughtful, indeed compassionate, reading of Ward's message, as in the overall, progressive and justice-seeking spirit in which it is offered.    

And just to reaffirm Ward's own sincere qualification and general intent, it's worth noting this reading from Jews for Justice for Palestinians:
"Mr Ward expressed himself very clumsily. By using the words “the Jews” – for which he has now apologised – he unintentionally gave encouragement to anti-Semites, who associate all Jews with the Nakba and with Israel’s subsequent human rights violations against the Palestinians. There are many Jews around the world and in Israel who dissociate themselves from these violations and from the ideologies that justify them."

It goes on:

"Nonetheless, however poorly he expressed himself, Mr Ward did not equate the Holocaust with the Nakba and is not an anti-Semite. He was pointing to a real connection that tends to be denied both by some supporters of the Palestinians, who refuse to see the historical background to the birth of Israel, and by supporters of the policies of Israel, who deny the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the continuing human rights violations against the Palestinians. To mention just a few of these human rights violations: the demolition of some 27,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; the blockade of Gaza; the brutal Cast Lead attack on Gaza in 2008/9 that left 1,400 dead – most of them civilians – and destroyed Gazan civilian infrastructure; the military oppression, the theft of Palestinian water supplies and the violent attacks by settlers in the West Bank; the eviction of the Bedouin from their villages in the Negev."
The JfJfP statement concludes with a fitting citation of the late Edward Said's words:
"The connection between the Holocaust and the Nakba and continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people was expressed with great care and elegance by Edward Said, in an essay urging Palestinians and Jews to “think our histories together”.
“Who would want morally to equate mass extermination with mass dispossession? It would be foolish even to try. But they ARE connected – a different thing altogether – in the struggle over Palestine…..the distortions of the Holocaust created distortions in its victims, which are replicated today in the victims of Zionism itself, that is the Palestinians….Understanding what happened to the Jews in Europe under the Nazis means understanding what is universal about a human experience under calamitous conditions. It means compassion, human sympathy and utter recoil from the notion of killing people for ethnic, religious or nationalist reasons….such an advance in consciousness by Arabs ought to be met by an equal willingness for compassion and comprehension on the part of Israelis and Israel’s supporters, who have engaged in all sorts of denial and expressions of defensive non-responsibility when it comes to Israel’s central role in our historical dispossession as a people….Jewish and Palestinian experiences are historically, indeed organically connected…..we must think our histories together, however difficult that may be, in order for there to be a common future.
“Bases for Coexistence”, Al-Hayat, November 5th, 1997, published in “The End of the Peace Process” , Granta Books, 2002, pp 208-9)

[Said's words: my emphasis.]
David Ward may not have articulated his thoughts as concisely and eloquently as Said, but I'm reasonably sure he, like many fair-minded others, would approve the spirit of Said's appeal to address and understand such historical connections.

Perhaps those denouncing or keeping safe distance from Ward will, likewise, find the same suitable temperament to acknowledge the essential spirit of his own words and meaning. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

JC's 'little detail' problem in attacking David Ward

There may be a certain reddish face just now at the Jewish Chronicle following a piece by JC writer Jennifer Lipman entitled, 'Lib Dems could remove whip from 'the Jews' MP David Ward'.

In the article, Lipman continues to berate Ward:
The MP wrote on his website this week that he was a victim of "political and media hounding".  
In the statement, he said: "Whatever lack of qualification or carelessness in his words, were we really to believe that [he] meant or implied that all Jews were/are responsible for Israel's repressions?"

The post added that Ward had linked the Holocaust and the situation in Israel only "in the obvious sense that the Holocaust was used as a part of the Zionist agenda for occupying another people's land".

It said his "real 'mistake', as far as the Zionist lobby and many liberal commentariat are concerned - and as his Liberal colleague Jenny Tongue also found out to her cost - was to criticise Israel at all."
Alert readers of my own humble blog may recognise those words attributed by Lipman to Ward. In fact, they're mine, not Ward's at all, a detail that the most cursory examination of the piece and its footed source at Ward's site would instantly show.

The error - shall we be kind and not suggest calculated distortion - by Lipman was realised by fellow JC writer/blogger Matthew Harris in his piece: 'David Ward blog post written by John Hilley'.

Generously, Harris calls the gaffe "an intriguing PS" to Lipman's "very interesting article". Oddly, the words "careless" or even "carelessness in her words" didn't seem to occur.

An ironic omission, some might say, from someone who, like Lipman, shows no interest in letting up on David Ward's own careless use of language - for which he's apologised - or the essential points he's been trying to make on Palestine-Israel.


Update, 17 Feb 2013

The above-noted article by Jennifer Lipman has now been modified (16 Feb 2013), removing all quotations from the Zenpolitics piece and comments about what David Ward was reported to 'have said in it' at his site. There appears to be no acknowledgement or apology to Ward or anyone else for the error.

For the record, Lipman's original piece in full:

By Jennifer Lipman, February 14, 2013
Follow Jennifer on Twitter

Senior Liberal Democrats are considering removing the whip from MP David Ward in the wake of his repeated slurs against Jews and Israel.

The Bradford East MP is to meet Nick Clegg and deputy party leader Simon Hughes at the start of next week, where he will face further questions over statements such as that "the Jews" have failed to learn the lessons of the Holocaust or that there is a powerful pro-Israel "machine" in operation.

He had already been formally censured and had committed not to "again use the phrase 'the Jews' in this context", when, last week, he suggested that in discussing it might be advisable to substitute "the Jewish community" for "the Jews".

Speaking to representatives of Anglo-Jewry, Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael pledged this comment would be treated as a fresh issue.

Mr Carmichael has now confirmed that the party is willing to invoke "the full range of sanctions" over Mr Ward's conduct and that they will meet the MP again once Mr Clegg returns from a trip to Mozambique on Saturday.

The MP, who has been backed by anti-Israel academic Noam Chomsky, was summoned to Mr Carmichael's office on Monday and given a chance to explain himself.
But he clarified that his statements had not been misreported and there was "no innocent explanation" and refused to backtrack.

Mr Carmichael said he was following the parliamentary party's disciplinary process for breaches of party discipline. "Obviously without prejudging the outcome all options are available at the end of that process," he said. "I can confirm that these options include the suspension or withdrawal of the whip."

He said Mr Ward's was the most serious disciplinary issue he had encountered since becoming whip in 2010. "In the time I've done this job it is the first time I've even got to the point of issuing a formal letter of reprimand, and the first time we've gone beyond that."

The MP wrote on his website this week that he was a victim of "political and media hounding".

In the statement, he said: "Whatever lack of qualification or carelessness in his words, were we really to believe that [he] meant or implied that all Jews were/are responsible for Israel's repressions?"
The post added that Ward had linked the Holocaust and the situation in Israel only "in the obvious sense that the Holocaust was used as a part of the Zionist agenda for occupying another people's land".

It said his "real 'mistake', as far as the Zionist lobby and many liberal commentariat are concerned - and as his Liberal colleague Jenny Tongue also found out to her cost - was to criticise Israel at all."

Questioned on "MPs who use the conflict in Israel to make inflammatory comments about Jews" in parliament, Mr Clegg said he was "unambiguous in my condemnation of anyone… who uses insensitive, intemperate, provocative and offensive language to describe a long running conflict about which people have very strong feelings".

Najib and BN not so 'cool' after phony Tony's farcical promotions

The financial reach and calamitous hand of Tony Blair seems to have no limits.

Blair's PR-connected firm Centreground Political Communications has, apparently, been behind a truly cringing ceremah event in Penang held by the Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and his Barisan Nasional government.

In a pre-election effort to proclaim their 'cool image', Najib and other party heads had spurred-on the crowd to entice South Korean star Psy back on-stage. Introducing him earlier, the announcer must have worryingly realised the mood of the crowd: "Are you ready for Psy? Yeeeees. Are you ready for BN? Nooooo." And, apparently reluctant to be seen endorsing Najib and his increasingly unpopular administration, Psy seemingly reverted to 'gone-gone style', much to the acute embarrassment of the expectant clique.

It's rather pleasing to see both the BN elite and Blair's PR coterie undermined by a singer whose globally-renowned hit is actually about sending-up pretentious high-earners.

The hasty stage exit is also, perhaps, a bleak omen for the money-driven BN, a crony cabal which has bought it's way to power in Malaysia for over half a century. How fitting that Blair, a man in similar shameless pursuit of wealth and seeking to shroud his own dark record should be so closely associated with the BN network.      

Aside from using some classic understatements about Blair's 'tarnished image back in the UK' - he's actually a prima facie war criminal, a rather more serious indictment to be noted than any mere populist deficit - this piece from the Sarawak Report offers some illuminating background to the PR disaster and key insights into Blair's own wealthy operations.
Najib's apparent desire to style himself on Blair the 'cool moderniser' suggests all the same political nous as the Psy fiasco. And with all those earnest Blair advisers around him peddling the 'Tony brand', we see how that process of vanity-money politics comes together.   

As a desperate Najib and his worried BN friends spend millions on Blair's public relations 'expertise', they probably won't be thinking too much either about the million lost Iraqis and millions more still suffering the tragic consequences of 'cool Tony's' judgements.

One also wonders what ex-PM Mahathir Mohamad, the BN's most adept image man, money politician and now relentless critic of Blair's war crimes makes of the latter's advisory role in the current BN propaganda. The dark paradox of it all.

And so it goes on. The politically-connected get richer, the voters get seduced and lied to, the 'foreigners' get bombed and the politicians get ever-shadier in how they cover that mass deception. And all the while, criminal ex-leaders like Blair get ever-more pots of cash to dispense their facile advice on how to keep spinning the same brazen lies.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Chomsky defends David Ward's comments on Israel-Palestine

It was admirable and reassuring to see Noam Chomsky join others in defending MP David Ward over his comments on Israel's treatment of Palestinians. 

Chomsky said:

"I agree that there's nothing remotely anti-Semitic in his remarks, which are in fact familiar in Israeli discussions."

David Ward has registered his appreciations:
"I would like to thank Dr Chomsky for his comments. His comments are particularly important to me as he has been used by critics, without his knowledge or permission, to condemn my comments."
He continued: 
"The intention behind my comments was to start a genuine discussion about Israel's treatment of Palestinians and how the Israeli government seemingly acts with impunity for its actions in Gaza and the West Bank. I now intend to work with groups around the country to start a discussion that can take a frank look at this conflict and what we can do to bring an end to atrocities committed by both sides in this appalling and long lasting conflict."
Given the considerable power wielded by Labour/Conservative/Lib Dem Friends of Israel, it's very encouraging to see an MP stand up to such sustained flak from a highly-mobilised pro-Israeli lobby and a media ever-ready with its barbed responses to people like Ward.

It's also good to see him pledging to promote serious discussion of Israel's crimes and ask why it seems able to act with such open impunity.
While having little or no time for the Lib Dems - notably, its hypocritical, power-serving hierarchy - or any other mainstream party, it's important to defend anyone within or outwith any party willing to speak truthfully and without racist intent about the brutal treatment of the Palestinians. This, David Ward has conscientiously done, with all the backlash one expects.

However, it's also worth noting a key caveat here concerning his additional statement about "atrocities committed by both sides".  
While it's entirely right to make the valid case for non-violence in pursuit of a just outcome, it's crucial to specify and repeat with clarity which party is the principal aggressor here. The problem in using the 'both sides' line, even in the obvious humanitarian sense that David does in this comment, is that it often allows the demonstrably false impression of equal culpability - something that the Israeli state and its propagandist arm take great comfort in.

As ever, we need not approve of any such violence to see that it's an understandable response to oppression. The serious and constructive point is to recognise, understand and help amplify the context of that respondent violence in order that more people come to comprehend the source of the problem and how it must be justly resolved. 
Having read David Ward's diaries of his time in the West Bank and many of his other statements on Palestine-Israel, there's little doubt that he sees quite acutely the particular persecution and violence being visited on the Palestinians and that Israel is primarily to blame for this historical catastrophe.

And how are we to respond as humanitarians to that injustice? How do we ensure through our own considered use of language that the primary guilt of the oppressor is identified?  Ward himself makes the point admirably in citing this central lesson of the Holocaust
"In the words of the Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, as quoted in the booklet 'Holocaust Memorial Day - Learning Lessons from the past to create a safer, better future': "I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
David Ward's own refusal to be silent or neutral is commendable.  And that, primarily, is why he himself should be supported here.    

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Guardian continues the hounding of David Ward

The political and media hounding of Liberal Democrat MP David Ward continues despite his public apology for using the generic term "the Jews" when criticising Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Ward had said at his blogpost:
"Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."
It's notable, firstly, that Ward uses the generic term "the Jews" in an obviously sympathetic vein to note the horrors of the Holocaust. The second aspect of his sentence is to ask how they, "the Jews", could have gone on to inflict daily atrocities against the Palestinians.

While the first use of this generic term was treated as unproblematic, the second was regarded as an affront. Yet, whatever lack of qualification or carelessness in his words, were we really to believe that Ward meant or implied that all Jews were/are responsible for Israel's repressions and occupation?

In a particularly pernicious piece of liberal hatchetry from the Guardian's Aida Edemariam, Ward is taken to task for his comments. Asking him: "Was he surprised when the chief whip got in touch?" Ward replies:
 "There is a huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who's seen to criticise the state of Israel. And so I end up looking at what happened to me, whether I should use this word, whether I should use that word – and that is winning, for them. Because what I want to talk about is the fundamental question of how can they do this, and how can they be allowed to do this."
Amongst the barbed rebukes to this and Ward's other reasonable explanations, Edemariam opines:
"There is something admirable as well as foolish about the tenacity with which he insists on keeping his head above the parapet. Does he not see that to link the Holocaust and the Occupation is, among other things, a total category error? The Holocaust was genocide – an overt intention that the Jewish people should not exist. You might disagree with what the Israeli government does, but it is not setting out to annihilate a people."
She further berates Ward for asking how one can be free to state fair criticism without being labelled a racist. Edemariam replies: "Being careful who you are blaming for what would be a start."

Besides the expected criticism from outraged Zionists and disgraceful pressure from his own party hierarchy, Edemariam's article is a further shameless twisting of Ward's essential meaning and motives.

Behind the lofty defence of 'responsible language' which she uses to attack Ward, Edemariam, like all Ward's detractors, really knows what he meant and who he's blaming: he wasn't, in any meaningful sense, generalising all Jews, merely saying that Israel, a Jewish state, and one that does purport to speak for all Jews, was/is now in the process of persecuting Palestinians.

Nor was Ward linking the Holocaust and the Occupation by comparing or equating them as "categories". He was linking them in the obvious sense that the Holocaust was used as a part of the Zionist agenda for occupying another people's land. Should that preclude him or others from speaking about the Nakba/Occupation in the same, explanatory context as the Holocaust?

If only Edemariam had the careful integrity to state that basic truth and to highlight the main perpetrators of the distortion as the central point to her piece.

And if Edemariam really does believe after sixty years of ethnic cleansing, mass IDF murder, settler takeovers, apartheid transfer policies and the continued prison camp siege of Gaza that Israel "is not setting out to annihilate [the Palestinian] people", perhaps she is the one who should be more carefully considering her incendiary language.

Ward's point about the "huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism" also applies to this kind of liberal baiting.

Again, some still insist that Ward's key 'mistake' was to use the word "Jew" instead of "Zionist". And this, as his apology indicated, has now been unambiguously acknowledged.

Clearly, as Ward always understood, not every Jew is responsible for what the Zionist state of Israel is doing to the Palestinians. How facile that any serious commentator could even read his words as such.

If only Ward's sole 'transgession' had been the inappropriate use of those two words - even though his meaning is likely to have been well understood.

In truth, that wording looks more like an unconscious error than any major mistake. Ward's real 'mistake', as far as the Zionist lobby and many liberal commentariat are concerned - and as his Liberal colleague Jenny Tongue also found out to her cost - was to criticise Israel at all.  Not a word here from Edemariam on that much more central indictment.

Moreover, how likely is it that those same Zionist or/and Jewish denouncers of Ward would defend other Jews who do actually support the Palestinians and who find it immoral what Israel and Zionist Jews are doing in the name of all Jews? The reserved label for them is usually severe and similarly-generalised: "self-hating Jews".

In all this discussion, there's a rather basic set of sequential things to restate:
The Holocaust was an historical abomination, an unquestionable genocide, which sought to eradicate an entire race of people, the Jews.

It was part of a systematic purge on any community, Jews, Gypsies, Communists, deemed inferior or/and a threat to Nazi ideology and power.

Anyone who seeks to deny or misconstrue these basic facts is either peddling lies, misinformed or uninterested in the truth.

The Holocaust formed a central ideological, political and militarist agenda in the Zionist formulation and creation of a Jewish state.

The Nakba, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and ongoing Occupation have been the direct consequence of that Zionist process.

Anyone who seeks to deny or misconstrue these basic facts is either peddling lies, misinformed or uninterested in the truth.

We cannot reasonably learn or understand anything about Palestinian suffering without referencing the Holocaust and the ways in which Zionism has used it to legitimise the Occupation.
Significant public figures like Norman Finkelstein, whose own Jewish family were murdered in the extermination camps, has, with others like Noam Chomsky, written extensively on how this has been turned into ideological propaganda through the Holocaust Industry.

Those, like David Ward, who courageously speak in any kind of similar vein - despite his subsequent corrections - are, as usual, pilloried for being anti-Semitic and hounded by liberal media types for not subscribing to the template Zionist narrative.

And if we are to castigate such generalised labels, what of references like "Islamic terrorism" and "war on Islamic terror"? Would you ever likely hear the term "Jewish terrorism" or "war on Jewish terror" used by the BBC or in the pages of the Guardian?

Edemariam, like many other 'fair-minded' journalists, can take safe liberal refuge in the claim to be just ''guarding the language', just challenging people like Ward over their political/racial/religious 'insensitivities'.

What they're really doing is shrouding the central issue by focusing on a careless discrepancy, thus serving to keep other journalists in a state of cautious apprehension about discussing the Holocaust in relation to the Occupation.

The key media and educational development of this story should have been David Ward's honest point about that very issue. Instead, this kind of personalised hatchet-job does exactly what the Zionist lobby and self-protecting editors want in keeping all that prudently off-limits.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Richard III: those battles and bad back are just killing me

Fighting, killing, bad back: wish I'd
just stuck to the yoga
Remarkable news that the remains of Richard III have been retrieved from underneath a Leicester car park - some fatal altercation with a moody medieval ticket attendant, perchance?

And what astute combination of archaeological detection and scientific technology in authenticating the royal bones.

Evidence of multiple battle wounds combined with a pronounced spinal deformity testify to the probable extreme pain and discomfort of this last Plantagenet skeleton.

What point in being a king, eh? Why all this dreary weight-bearing armour, helmet-bashing and other tiresome bludgeoning when he could have been stretching out at the physio or doing some supple body balance for the dodgy back?

Which leads us to wonder what use was really served in the longer run by the Bosworth brawl and other such bad-tempered battling - or as the 15th century song hit goes: 'War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely everything if you're the victorious Henry VII and now in control of the national spoils.'

But even that only prompted more and more revenue-requiring, tax-gathering, arms-procuring and peasant-drafting wars.  You'd think the political economy of the kingdom somehow depended on it.

Still, it was, at least, pleasing of those past warmongers to name their conflict after some nice summer flowers - unlike serious-sounding slaughters like 'Desert Storm' and 'Cast Lead'. 

And so it's gone on, since time immemorial, war, feuding and quelling of the foreigner hordes: from monarchical pretenders to royalist defenders, lionhearted crusaders to crown invaders, despotic throne fillers to president drone killers.

In the 1954 film King Richard and the Crusaders, actress Virginia Mayo (playing the fictional Lady Edith) chirpily berates Richard I with one of the greatest ever 'anti-war' lines, delivered in finest Hollywood accent: "Oh, fight, fight, fight! That's all you ever think of, Dickie Plantagenet!"

And, you know, with all the mad warring, invading and occupying still to come, she probably had a point.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Reclaiming George Square

"You proud house town mouse, ha ha charade you are.
You're trying to keep our feelings off the street..."

As the £15 million George Square 'revamp' moves from fiasco abandonment to open recrimination, it's worth pondering just what essential issues have been ignored or circumvented in Glasgow City Council's invitation of the design proposals.

There must be a proper assessment of sustainable traffic arrangements.
It's remarkable that barely a city council memo or media report has been afforded to what should be the primary issue of environmental sustainability.

It's notable also that none of the design submissions made any firm proposal for traffic removal or prioritised such crucial environmental factors.

It is entirely feasible to either pedestrianise George Square's surrounding streets or, like the nearby Merchant City, curtail their use as traffic thoroughfares. Creating an extended concourse/piazza would demonstrate a serious commitment to discouraging city centre car use and reducing carbon emissions.

It would also provide greater pedestrian connectivity from all sides of the Square. Presently, the Square is an underused and still oddly detached public space.

Altogether, an extended pedestrian square would foster much-improved air quality and create a noise-reduced area in which people could relax and move around without the feeling of being in the middle of a bustling, polluted traffic island.

George Square should remain a public space, not an events-driven one. 
And that includes the right to free assembly, demonstrations, protests and any other such activity integral to citizen democracy.

The council's plans to further commercialise the Square has, unsurprisingly, seen efforts to serve notice on such activity, negating an entire social and radical history of mass gatherings, from the First World War rent strikes to the anti-poll tax and anti-war rallies.

It's always useful to 'follow the money' in seeking to understand such motives. The Labour Council Leader Gordon Matheson appears to favour a plan that links the Square's overhaul with an extended commercial plan for Buchanan Galleries and Queen Street.  As noted at the Guardian:
"Rather than a place for contemplation, assembly and meetings, the square was to become a far more commercial space, for events and money-spending; the square would effectively have become part of the so-called Buchanan Quarter redevelopment to its north. Demonstrations on the square were to be banned outright. A preview of the likely effect has been present for a while – for the last few years the council has been letting the square out for Christmas events and the like, making it feel like the concourse of a shopping mall rather than a public open space."
The warning is reinforced by campaign grouping Restore George Square:
"The continued emphasis on events (and the tents, portaloos and crush barriers that go with them) and the same funding source suggests the plan is generally the same: improve the events infrastructure of the square with a view to herding as many people as possible into the square in the hope they empty their pockets, particularly in Land Securities’, Buchanan Quarter, who are providing much of the cash for the development."
The Restore site also outlines some of the cosy interconnections amongst the business lobby pushing for an increased events agenda on George Square, including figures from the George Square Project Board and Glasgow City Marketing Bureau.

While nominally attractive, the 'winning' design by John McAslan (even with its extended revisions, left) still only envisages a sparsely green space which, one suspects, will allow for an events-driven concourse easily adapted to the staged commercialism favoured by the council.

Since the curtailment of his plan, McAslan and his team have made notable efforts to engage both the public and Matheson's council. He has also spoken encouragingly of incorporating new forms of sculptured design while retaining the generally favoured feel of the Square.

However, it remains to be seen what further consideration the McAslan plan would give to any more park-like and traffic-free space - and, of course, whether any of his proposals will ever be approved by Matheson.

Due time and consideration should be given to public views and wishes for the Square.
It's rather obvious now that Matheson's singular dismissal of the favoured bid and authoritarian handling of this issue demonstrates a flagrant disregard for due process or the actual feelings of Glasgow's citizens.

Matheson is keen to promote his own vanity project in time for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, one which, he probably prides, will be his 'political legacy'.

Such is the edict-passing style of Glasgow council leaders, notably New Labour's Frank McAveety who, in 1998, with barely even a nod to public opposition, ordered the bulldozing of 75-year-old trees and the green lawns to make way for the infamous red tarmac and more staged events. 

Likewise, the so-called 'qualitative research' exercise carried out by the current council in fact 'consulted' all of 42 people, arriving at the unsurprising 'conclusion' that: “They wanted a square that … had more staged events.”

In more democratic spirit, discussion sites like Restore George SquareGlasgow Guide and Urban Realm have been inviting wider and more thoughtful opinion on what people really want.

The Square and what eventually goes there will have to please and facilitate Glasgow and visiting people long after the games. Any refurbishment, 'grand design' or basic 'facelift', should be allowed ample time for consideration and completion rather than rushed through as some kind of flash presentation.

Alongside proper consultation and free assembly, people also have aesthetic rights. The appropriate way to resolve the issue is to have a fuller set of options and discussion of the details followed by a local referendum.

Should the statues stay, go, be replaced?
It's impossible to please everyone in such cultural or political regards.  But it's apparent from the gathering online campaigns that, with the desire for replanting trees and green lawns, most people want some kind of return to the old George Square, statues and all.

That fits with a seemingly common wish to regain or preserve things that were/are solidly familiar, an instinctive wariness - following years of closing cherished buildings and other public places (like Paddy's Market, shut down by Matheson) - of the council's 'modernist' ignorance and ineptitude:
"There is a feeling that the council’s ­vision of Glasgow as a shiny shopper’s paradise will eventually engulf entirely the older, rougher, more characterful city; a triumph of the bland."
However, it may be suggested that, while recognising the broad desire to retain a traditional Victorian square, there may still be careful room for removing, relocating or replacing statues that are not just ugly and monolithic to many an eye but redolent of a past imperialist age.

Would most Glaswegians really resist de-plinthing, for example, Field Marshall Lord Clyde (whose colonial exploits included quelling the 1823 slave rebellion in Demerara and putting down the Indian Rebellion of 1857) or Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore (whose military cv involved the crushing of Irish rebels, circa 1798)?
John Maclean

And if we are to cherish historical heroes and events, why not honour those like Glasgow anti-war radical John Maclean and commemorate the George Square riots which saw government tanks on that now red tarmac?

From the Merchant City's dark founding on overseas slavery to George Square's own Hanoverian and Victorian iconography, it's sobering to think that Glasgow has precious little in the way of truly humanist and revolutionary remembrance.

Of course, there are those supposed purists like Sandy Stoddart ("Sculptor in Ordinary to Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland DL RSA (London) RSE") who would little countenance any such radical imagery while zealously defending assorted statuary of the Empire.

Here's Stoddart on the above-noted exhibits and what he thinks of their critics:
"There is also one who fought in the Crimea and in India (Colin Campbell, Lord Clyde) and although his presence often most excites those with a pathological desire to make George Square statue-free, owing to his easy castigation as a soldier in service of the Empire, nevertheless he is certainly more of a man than any, or all of those put together, who would seek the erasure of the statuary on his account."
And Stoddart again on his own lofty architectural pedestal dismissing the 'philistines' of Glasgow for 'desecrating' the nearby Duke of Wellington:
"Marochetti’s statue of the Duke of Wellington is the one the abuse of which Glasgow has taken to its heart like a class delinquent (I mean the infernal traffic-cone at which our foreign visitors are aghast and about which we as hosts are perfectly mortified; what does the treatment of this statue indicate about Glasgow and its “authorities” in general?)" [My emphasis.]
Whatever it may suggest of the city's people - rather than its authorities - one hopes that it reflects the humanitarian heart of Glasgow life and a democratic appreciation of culture rather than the boorish snobbery of Stoddart, who goes on to damn, in more melodramatic tones, its 'barbarous iconoclasts':
"Be certain, then, that the Taliban in Afghanistan target the rock-cut Buddhas of Bamiyan with exactly the same sense of resentment against their perpetual peace, as certain thrusters in Glasgow seek to expel the statues from George Square. There is a deep-seated, natural-barbarian instinct to topple, oust or deface the graven image, as fundamental to Nature’s plan as the cycle of rebirth itself." 
So, anyone with the temerity to remove or replace a statue is to be equated with religious fanatics.

Such opinion, 'expert' as it may claim to be in the history of sculpture and, yes, helpfully defiant of the council's own commercial-led vandalism, nonetheless reveals itself as brutally fundamentalist in permitting no room for alternative sculptural innovation.

And while risking such opprobrium, why not open a proper citizen's dialogue on what might more appropriately replace the cenotaph structure - one that's more inclusively humanitarian in style and message rather than the present edifice which, like the villainous Field Marshall Earl Haig who unveiled it in 1924, seems only to lionise war and the tragically fallen?

While there may be little likelihood of any change to this section of the Square, it shouldn't preclude open discussion of it.

In that explorative spirit, there may be scope for introducing and blending other more imaginative statue and art forms across the Square which are representative of Glasgow, past and present.

Again, these are matters always subjective, the outcome of which, perhaps with a fair input from sympathetic artistic and architectural bodies, should be determined through a full consultation process and referendum.

Whatever eventually appears, the most vital task is to re-create George Square as an inviting, environmentally-friendly, people-centred, green-pleasing space rather than the creepingly privatised, money-driven blandscape controlled by ego-driven councillors and their commercial coterie.