Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ilan Ziv's Exile, a Myth Unearthed - uncovering BBC bias

Intriguing details are emerging of craven censorship at the BBC after an apparently well-regarded documentary by Israeli filmmaker Ilan Ziv was pulled by senior figures citing spurious excuses about editing, scheduling and other internal 'concerns'.

The central premise of Ilan Ziv's film, Exile, a Myth Unearthed, concerns the historical falsity of claims that Jews were expelled from their homeland in 70AD. An abridged version of the film was due to be shown on BBC4 under the (sanitised) title Jerusalem: An Archeological Mystery Story.

Following a flow of complaints to the BBC over its cancellation, Ziv has written a deeply-revealing account of why his film has now been discarded and the shameful subterfuge of BBC executives in coming to that decision.

Ziv's piece The exiling of my film is in itself a valuable unearthing of deep-rooted bias, fear and panic within the BBC. It also shows the extent of Zionist anxiety over the public showing of such scholarly and honest work.

The excellent independent journalist Jonathan Cook has posted these responses (at his facebook page) to Ziv's revelations:
A few days ago I reported on the BBC's apparent caving in to Zionist pressure to ditch at the last moment a documentary called Jerusalem: An Archeological Mystery Story. I speculated that this was an act of political censorship in line with other recent craven positions on Israel and the Palestinians adopted by BBC executives. Now we have the film director's input to help assess what happened.

First some background: the film uses archeological evidence to propose that the Zionist claim that the Jews were exiled from their homeland in AD70 is nothing more than a myth. This is a view now widely accepted by scholars, but is deeply opposed by Israel's supporters because:

a) it suggests the Zionist claim that Jews are "returning" to the Promised Land is bogus - the truth is they never left.

b) it also suggests that today's Palestinians are in fact descended from those Jews who remained (converting later to Christianity and Islam), while most of the Jews "returning" are descended from Jewish converts who never lived in the region.

One can see why Israel's supporters would not want a film like this airing on the BBC, even on the less-watched channel BBC4.

Ilan Ziv, the film's director, now gives his side of the story and, even given his diplomatic language, it's clear this was an act of clear-cut censorship.

In short, Ziv explains: The BBC editors who bought the rights from the Canadian producers clearly liked the film. But they also appear to have realised it would cause all sorts of problems with their higher-ups. So they gave the film a new name that concealed its true subject matter, heavily cut it, intended to take Ziv's name off the credits, and failed to inform Ziv about the cuts or even that it was due to be shown until the very last moment - apparently in the hope that they could steamroller through the watered-down version.

Ziv: "So back in November 2012, everything seemed to be on track to produce a cut down of the film without having to deal with the director, broadcast the film under a neutral title and hopefully avoid any serious political debate. A perfect solution!"

But things got complicated. Ziv found out about the showing and protested to the BBC. Then he discovered that the show's editors had panicked when one of the freelance staff they brought in thought even the neutered version was "propaganda". An internal review also found a scene showing Palestinians "too emotive". Ziv, realising the deal was about to fall through, offered to produce a defence for his documentary.

Ziv: "I told them that some of the academic participants in the program who saw the cut and are reputable scholars in their field did not find any factual errors or misrepresentations of facts or of the historical narrative. In other words, I argued that such a detailed and substantial defense would convince any objective reader and observer of the editorial integrity of the film. I repeated the request several times yet I never got a reply."

Instead the BBC pulled it from the schedules and are now saying they have no intention to show it.

Ziv: "I hope that somewhere in the BBC someone will rise above the hysteria and the attempts at self censorship to take a cooler look at the film and realize how it has been profoundly mis-characterized."

Nice that Ziv takes such a charitable view of the BBC, but the problem is not that the film's subject matter has been mischaracterised; it's that the BBC executives, or the lobby groups that have their ear, have understood the film's importance only too well.

Nonetheless, kudos to Ziv for going public. That takes some courage in a business where you have to rely on commissions. And kudos too for his pledge to show the film as widely as he can in the UK, in spite of the BBC.

(h/t Media Lens MB)
One can only trust that the BBC's prevarications and continuing web of deceit will now guarantee Ilan Ziv's film even better distribution and public illumination.
Between his film and exposure of the mendacious efforts to hide it, Ziv may have helped advance the unravelling of two enduring myths, one purporting Zionist 'ancestry', the other proclaiming BBC 'impartiality'.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Universal empathy - from Kabul to Boston

What feelings of empathy might we express for the victims of terrorism, all terrorism?

I heard someone remark after the Boston Marathon killings that seeing the actual names, photos and personal details of the victims 'makes all the difference' to how we react.

It was an honest and compassionately-felt view, yet one that, unwittingly, suggests much more about a wider lack of universal empathy.

It seems universally evident that the personalisation of any life taken in such horrific ways can invoke in almost anyone a natural sense of identification, sympathy and regard. Most often, that empathy reflects basic feelings of caring familiarity as we ask what it would be like if the victims were our own family or friends.

But what of all those victims whose names are never stated, their personal details never noted, their memories never recorded? What of those victims with little geographic and cultural proximity to 'us'? How much of that 'universal' concern and empathy is so readily dispensed?

More particularly, to what extent is that capacity for universal compassion conditioned by state officialdom, politicians and the media?

Barack Obama has been lauded for vowing to bring those allegedly responsible for the Boston killings to justice. Yet, alongside his continuation of US killing in Afghanistan, he is now directly responsible for more civilian drone deaths than any other president.

Remarkably, that's not news in itself. More remarkable is the accepted mode of information that keeps us from ever asking why it's not news.

Obama and much of the Western media have been consciously calling the Boston bombing not just an act of 'terror' but of specific 'terrorism', with all the key implications that carries. In contrast, the mass murder of civilians in US-waged wars around the globe carries no such descriptions. Unlike Boston, these victims are not only anonymous, but deserving of little or no empathy.

While a dutiful and fascinated media gazed over every conceivable aspect of the Boston deaths, from victim background to 'why America?' punditry, car bombings in Iraq, claiming the lives of 55 people, received rudimentary coverage from the BBC and other leading media.

In token fashion, Fox News used Boston as a "reminder of violence elsewhere", briefly noting the Iraq and other world terror killings as some kind of common, but distant concern:   
"because attacks like this usually happen in far-off, troubled places — not in the middle of a major American city."
Little wonder that viewers are not only disinterested in 'that kind of terror', but much more likely to excuse or ignore 'our' responsibility for mass killing in those "far-off, troubled places".

Thus, for example, a Western public will readily accept, if they ever get to notice, the bombing of civilians at an Afghan wedding party as a 'regrettable error' rather than 'state terror'.

Glenn Greenwald laments the prevalence of such selective compassion:
"The widespread compassion for yesterday's [Boston] victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers."
As Greenwald asserts, it's understandable for people to show greater and more immediate concern for the loss or suffering of those nearest to them. Yet:
"whatever rage you're feeling toward the perpetrator of this Boston attack, that's the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for yesterday's victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs. However profound a loss you recognize the parents and family members of these victims to have suffered, that's the same loss experienced by victims of US violence. It's natural that it won't be felt as intensely when the victims are far away and mostly invisible, but applying these reactions to those acts of US aggression would go a long way toward better understanding what they are and the outcomes they generate."
The psychological disincentive to showing universal empathy is closely bound with dominant messages encouraging loyal identification with 'ours' - as in the selective news coverage and mourning of lost soldiers, rather than lost civilians, in Afghanistan.

Anyone who dares extend that empathy to the suffering 'other', particularly after terror attacks on the West, can be maligned as 'provocative', 'disrespectful' or, in the heat of 'under-attack' America, a 'fellow-supporter of terrorism'.

British boxer Amir Khan was denounced for asking people to "spare a thought" for the victims of terror attacks in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Palestine in addition to those killed in Boston.

Why was this fair and compassionate appeal described as "controversial"? And what does it say about a media which so readily frames criticism in this way?

Similar condemnation was directed at Independent writer Owen Jones for daring to tweet:
“Thoughts with the people of Iraq, too. At least 31 dead in yet another day of bombs. Horrific.”
This had followed his initial tweet:
“Horrified by the scenes in Boston. The killing of innocent civilians is an affront to all our humanity. Solidarity and thoughts with Boston.”
Combined, both messages amount to a universal, humanitarian statement. Yet, those who venture such added compassion and speak about the "hierarchy of suffering" are immediately damned for making a 'political' point.

That censorious reaction makes it all the easier to promote an establishment-serving mood of populist retribution. The fervoured hunting-down and arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, wall-to-wall-media coverage, open celebration of his capture and ritualised "USA, USA" chants all fuel more reactionary patriotism, fear, repression and compliance.

As Greenwald suggests regarding the political efforts to curtail Tsarnaev's Miranda rights:
"Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure in America now. As a result [...] not many people will care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and Pakistan. But that's always how rights are abridged: by targeting the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to others[...]"
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has now reportedly stated from his hospital bed that he was motivated to plant the bombs in response to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whatever the brothers' own brutal crimes, it's, as Alex Thomson bravely asserts, a damning 'reap what you sow' indictment of Western warmongering, and ongoing politicisation of young, disaffected men which the US and its allies will, as ever, do their best to hide or ignore.  

With no apparent evidence of al-Qaeda guidance or any religious-jihadi hand, US authorities can only repeat that the brothers were 'self-radicalised'. Yet, what does that term usefully tell us? 

The word 'radicalised' here is used as a pejorative charge, equating a person's considered opposition to illegal invasions and inhuman killing as somehow dangerous, subversive and threatening. Yet, if opposing state terrorism is to be 'radicalised', whether through others or self-realisation, there must be many millions of 'radicals' out there - even if the vast majority, including devout Muslims, don't resort to exploding bombs to make their 'radical' point.

The indictment against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev includes the particular charge of using weapons of mass destruction. Yet, lethal as the improvised pressure cooker bombs were, are we to believe that these makeshift devices can be equated with actual WMD held and wielded by states like the US and Israel? The inclusion of WMD on the charge sheet seems intended to both maximise public fear and enhance the Federal prosecutor's case for a death penalty.     

Besides the still many unexplained circumstances behind the bombing, killing of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and apprehending of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, key questions and issues of disinformation remain over the relationship between Tamerlan Tsarnaev and US intelligence.

While patriotic citizens cheered the 'fine work' of the police, FBI and CIA, little did they know that the US authorities already had the elder brother 'in their sights'.  Why, many now ask, wasn't he properly monitored or detained, and why did the FBI and Russian FSB intelligence permit him free and unquestioned movement between the US and Chechnya/Dagestan? 

As with the latest Canadian claims of an 'al-Qaeda-Iranian bomb plot', much of what an approving public is being told, and repeated by the media, about 'close surveillance' and 'terror alerts' ranges from the spurious to the "hilarious".   

More familiar questions are being asked about how 'assimilated' citizens like the Tsarnaev brothers could bring themselves to reject 'American values' in this way. How could those, even of foreign background, raised in America come to embrace such 'radicalised' hatred of their 'adopted' home? Perplexed observers also wonder how their consumerist lifestyles and aspirations can be squared with their brooding ideological discontent.     

Again, the very framing of these questions suggests an insularity of thought, a negation of universal empathy and the feelings of those victimised and aggrieved by US/Western actions. For, why, beyond the political/media hype, would anyone living in the US not be able to see America's crimes and feel an urge to harbour such resentment?

Other 'clues' to a motive suggest the alienation Tamerlan Tsarnaev supposedly felt in never having made an American friend, as though this was a sign of social deviancy and terrorist intent. 

It's likely that he did shun or see little worth in such associations. But what does that 'isolation' really indicate other than the remoteness and antagonism many people from ethnic groups feel towards their 'host' country, particularly one engaged in murderous wars against those of the same religious and cultural belonging?

In a country where anti-Muslim feeling runs so perniciously deep, many Muslims do, indeed, live lives of precarious detachment and marginalisation. But it doesn't make them more likely than any other US citizen, Christian, Muslim or otherwise, to kill and slaughter.      

A more fitting question here might be: does the social experience of the powerful explain or legitimate their willingness and ability to take the lives of others? As one apposite tweet put it:
"What is the heinous motive of Barack Obama, who was born here and grew up here, to murder so many innocent civilians over the last five years?"
If the Tsarnaev brothers did carry their 'self-radicalised' beliefs into acts of unwarranted violence, what relative labels might we apply to Obama and those operating at the much higher level of terror? How about 'power-radicalised', 'devoutly-militarised' and 'socially-dehumanised'?

Even if all wanton killing is to be universally condemned, the actions of state terrorists still carry more weight, responsibility and criminality than the individual crimes inflicted by those in situations like Boston.  Of course, it's a measure of the power ideology noted that this differentiation would also be routinely denounced as 'radical' and 'indecent'.

In rejecting such righteous denunciation, universal empathy means transcending the conformist-serving propaganda that seeks to contain and prevent our capacity for true, all-compassionate awareness, a meaningful concern that extends sincerely and actively to all victims, all human beings, from Kabul to Boston and beyond.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Israel: Facing the Future - with added BBC stuffing

I read somewhere that competing pizza producers in America have been trying to figure out ways of getting even more fat-filling additives into their products by packing full even the inner crusts.

The stomach-bloating image came oddly to mind while watching John Ware's film Israel: Facing the Future.

From the introductory line that "Israel's once-peaceful southern border has turned hot", almost every part of Ware's product is stuffed through with fattening fabrications and indulgent cliches about 'necessary security', the 'Arab threat', the 'jihadist/Hamas menace', the 'separation barrier' (rather than the Wall) the 'intractable conflict' and the 'two-sided problem', with each side weighed down by a heavy 'mutual distrust'. 

If the 'new pizza topping' is convivial chats with young, life-loving Israelis and the ruminations of concerned elders on the country's social strains, militarist existence and internal religious divisions, the 'crusty filler' is the message that, despite the obvious discrimination on view, Palestinian Arabs in Israel are still broadly 'accepted' and can enjoy the 'freedoms' of being part of the 'only democracy in the Middle East'. 

For all its 'enticing taste' of a complex Israeli society, the real food for thought in Ware's report is notably absent from the table. There's no actual mention of the Nakba, no discussion of the ethnic cleansing and mass displacement of 1948, of Resolution 194 and the Palestinian Right of Return. The actual word 'occupation' may have been used, once, in the film, but there's no actual reference to 'The Occupation' proper.

There's no reference either to the long and brutal siege of Gaza, merely a passing aside on the recent assaults against its desperate people, along with the familiar refrain that Israeli settlers had 'willingly' left there in 2005 and the usual lines about Gazans wasting this 'kindly-given opportunity' in letting Hamas turn the territory into a 'jihadist launch-pad'. 

The only other 'crust-end' on Gaza is young off-duty conscripts relating how many Facebook 'likes' some Israeli sites get from there.

Ware might have ventured to ask how many Gazans 'liked' IDF soldiers smearing excrement on the walls of their homes during their 'Cast Lead' invasion or whether they felt any guilt over their daily killing of Palestinians, the 'administrative detention' of Palestinian children or the spraying of raw sewage on Palestinian homes across the West Bank. But that wouldn't have been to the BBC's liking.

Out on training operations with the IDF, Ware indulges their concerns about a 'once-again, all-alone' Israel and its survivalist fears of surrounding foes: "Syria is in flames with the risk of chemical weapons falling into Hezbollah's hands", the 'Islamist threat' is on the rise in Jordan, Egypt, and, of course, in "Gaza, now run by Hamas, backed by Iran, whose president has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and may soon be nuclear-armed." It's amazing, indeed, what can be stuffed into one fearmongering sentence. 

Beyond these tired distortions, Ware can't seemingly spare a moment to note the whole new dynamic of Hamas's difficult relations and estrangement with Tehran and its new engagement of Egypt and the Gulf states. Perhaps he doesn't even know about such things. What difference, so long as the 'media-baked pizza' has all the popularly-recognised ingredients.

In considering "Bibi" Netanyahu's popularity, Ware talks of Israel's difficulties over the "conflict with its Palestinian Arab neighbours", a term which, rather than 'occupied people', infers some kind of suburban hedge dispute.

Mingling at a football match with Likud-supporting Beitar Jerusalem fans, he asks how peace might be achieved with those "Palestinian neighbours", language, again, serving to pacify the relationship and the 'problematic' process of 'getting them to agree'.

Some of the Beitar fans express misgivings on the bigotry shown by a section of their support over the signing of two Muslim players, further suggesting a certain tolerance for Arabs and the notion that intolerance is still rather marginal. Never in any of these encounters does Ware ask whether the wider treatment of Arabs constitutes an actual apartheid system.

A sit-com series from an Arab writer about Jewish-Arab domestic sensitivities is also meant to suggest awkward but encouraging cohesion. But the propaganda value of such output - implying 'free expression for all' - is never considered by Ware.

Driving into an Arab town in northern Israel, Ware narrates that "most Arabs fled or were evicted" in 1948. It's a passive enough line to impart a basic truth without having to relate the terror of that mass ethnic cleansing and the Zionist militias who enforced it.

Reflecting on the 'failed Oslo' negotiations, Ware laments that Israel and the Palestinians "barely talk any more. They can't agree the terms of two states." Again, evading the Occupation-sustaining details of that loaded Accord, it's the familiar inference that the Palestinians 'lost the chance for peace'.

In the West Bank, Ware relates how, after defeating threatening armies in 1967, Israel was reluctant to give back the territories it had gained, "fearing the Arabs might strike again". Standing on the hills, he looks out in implicit agreement: "it's easy to see why Israel has been so concerned about its security".

And "security" is repeated as the defining reason for the settlement constructions that followed.

The settlements are noted as being illegal - with that ever-handy BBC caveat, "though, Israel disputes this" - and still expanding. But there's no actual explanation of their role in maintaining the Occupation and Israel's colonialist project, nor any linkage to American and Western support for Israel, its vital part in propping-up a militarist-apartheid state never countenanced by Ware.

Up on the sleek city hill settlement of Ma'ale Adumim, Ware is taken supermarket shopping by one of its proud residents. We see the Arab workers allowed in to serve there, the practical accommodations, the apparent harmony.  But never does Ware explore the moral malevolence of such places in the strategic promotion of Zionism and a perpetual Jewish state.  

Internal opposition is voiced from notable Israelis, like writer David Landau, who tells Ware that this "messianic" project is utterly irrational.

The latter may well agree. But what's killing any two state solution for Ware is still the easy liberal line of "mutual distrust", an opinion that includes his barely-disguised agreement that Israel has a case for not ceding any more power to the Palestinian Authority for fear it might eventually lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank. 

Ware does question the one state idea based on Jewish constitutional priorities, as proposed by a Likud politician, where Palestinians would be compelled to take citizenship oaths which invoke Israeli sovereignty.

Palestinians are also respectfully heard by Ware, in this regard, conveying their belief that the two state solution is dead and desiring a day when they can travel freely on buses to Jerusalem or the beach at Tel Aviv as free and equal citizens.  Following that aspirational theme, Ware surveys a prestigious Palestinian building project, pondering what might unfold for those lucky enough to get a set of keys. 

But, again, there's no central discussion of the insidious apartheid system preventing those equal freedoms, the deepening political obstacles to such desires or the mass of impoverished Palestinians with no hope of any basic deliverance from their controlled, humiliated and imprisoned lives.

Ware does ultimately come to posit the looming choice for Israel: the world's singular Jewish-only state or a full democratic one for all. With the image of the present state badly "tarnished" by attacks on Gaza and now, worryingly, under pressure from international boycotts, Israel is, he concludes, at that crucial "crossroads". 

Perhaps it is, and this film may have shed a certain light on that gathering dilemma for Israel and Israelis. Ware and his defenders might also say that this film is an actual examination of Israel's future, not Palestine's.  

Yet, at every point and turn in his commentary, Ware avoids the vital issue of rightful self-determination for Palestinians, a space as hollow as the propaganda crust he has sought to pack with Israeli-favoured fillers.   

Ware's concluding remarks leave hanging the possible evolution or continuation of a state that was founded on "secular and democratic" principles by those fleeing persecution.

It's a false and selective narrative which completely ignores the formative Palestinian experience, their loss, their imposed flight and their principal rights to live in a state, polity and society of their choice.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Thatcher's funeral - the greatest disrespect

Margaret Thatcher will take her last journey today. And, as Thatcher's earthly form is finally given up, we've seen that even in death her effect has been one of great conflict and animosity across the land and beyond these shores.

One might have thought the mood and response would have been more solemn and respectful, much more compassionate in marking the passing of human life. Alas, the sad and disappointing truth is that Mrs Thatcher's victims have barely even been mentioned, let alone marked, by the BBC and the state network it so dutifully serves.

Along with traducing North Korea's closed media, Britain's own state media have been busy this past week censoring the 'shocking offensiveness' of the Ding-Dong song rather than highlighting Thatcher's dark crimes, like those 323 Argentinian sailors aboard the Belgrano murdered on her direct instruction.

And there has been all the minutiae of the funeral service itself to cover, leaving little space for what should have been headline discussion of the mass murderers Thatcher supported: Reagan with his crazed Star Wars and global aggressions; Pinochet and other Latin America death regimes, genocidal killers like Suharto and Pol Pot and every Saudi-styled tyrant that ever strutted the Middle East.

For all those here who suffered the economic and social devastations of Thatcherism, there's also anodyne words from senior politicians, notably Miliband and Clegg, gushing that she was still a 'great leader' who deserves our special regard, crudely disregarding the feelings of a wide public who thought decidedly otherwise. 
Potential protesters at Thatcher's service have been warned not to disrupt or express themselves over-contemptuously. Back-turning on the cortege will, however, be tolerated. It's a token permission from a state which has turned its own back on Thatcher's victims and the mass of public sentiment opposed to this unwarranted ceremony. 

All told, the establishment have, as Seumas Milne notes, "only themselves to blame" for the protests.

So, contra these political obfuscations, state insensitivities and media panderings, what kind of reasonably compassionate view might we take of this funeral day?

What it shouldn't be: a celebration or gloat-fest over her actual death. Why? Because, not only is it hateful and inhuman to wish death and suffering upon another, it's more usually and insidiously done by those politicians and a media indifferent to others' mass suffering; those more prepared to celebrate the death of 'our' enemies than talk about the victims of Thatcher and her dictator friends. The real point of compassionate reaction is to rise above that kind of hate-speak and callous indifference.  And, of course, partying over Thatcher's passing does not end the spectre of Thatcherism, an ongoing set of forces which still hunts as well as haunts us.  Should we speak ill of this dead person? No need when all we have to do is speak honestly about her, in death as in life.

What it should be: a dutiful remembrance, a commemoration, a conscious marking of all those victims of Thatcher, Thatcherism and the system she/it served. Most of those crimes are absent from view, omitted, airbrushed and otherwise ignored. So, it should be a robust denunciation of media protection and all that elite closure. As George Galloway has defiantly argued, it should be a popular rejection of the attempted "canonisation" of someone who did all she could to destroy society. Indeed, it should be a demonstration against the British state itself which, so eager in its military-panoplied, clock-stopping £10 million-plus death celebration at a time of mass austerity, has shown, by far, the greatest distaste and disrespect.

Senior palace figures have apparently been anxious about permitting militarist ceremonial for such a divisive figure, supposedly concerned about popular reaction:
"It is understood that there were fears that the British tradition, in which the monarchy rather than politicians are associated with ceremonial aspects of the military, could be called into question."
One will struggle to recall any such royal 'misgivings' over the Falklands or any other of Thatcher's aggressive campaigns - including Britain's dirty war in Northern Ireland.

That closing of ranks is the real "British tradition", understood and steadfastly observed by every colluding part of the British establishment.

A last small reflection and anti-eulogy from someone who, like other millions, lived through the harsh excesses of Thatcher and Thatcherism: it wasn't just its wicked violence, its gross economic injustice, its political virulence, it was also its ideological and cultural mediocrity; it invoked nothing creative, inspiring or philosophical, only a bland, hostile landscape of Saatchi-sponsored spivdom where petty greed and mammonic narcissism sought to crush anything redolent of hope, love, solidarity or real communal feeling. It was utterly bereft of compassion. And the greatest tragedy of Thatcher's passing is that Thatcher herself will never now be held to account for any of those crimes against humanity.

Those crimes have continued unabated, dutifully executed by an unapologetic line of warmongers, welfare robbers and coalition collaborators, all, in true Thatcherite spirit, party to the ongoing evisceration of society. And, like the media sanitising of Thatcher's death, such crimes will go on being 'respectfully' concealed in her wake.

That's Thatcher's disrespectful legacy and the disrespectful conduct of those who think we should respect it. In paying our proper respects to Thatcher's victims past, we also express concern for those victims present, all, unlike this fraudulent ceremonial, part of a compassionate, truthful and just remembrance.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Thatcher's death - transcending hate and anger

What's sort of messages and impressions might we assume from these two pictures?


One shows people celebrating the death of Margaret Thatcher, the other, people celebrating the extrajudicial murder of Osama bin Laden. 
While a jingo-fuelled Daily Mail applauded the flag-bearing patriots chanting "USA, USA", the same Daily Mail fulminated at the left's 'callous grave-dancing'.

The particular circumstances of each death may be different, but political and media reaction to the revelry is much more telling: the demonising of one set of party-goers, the extolling of another. One is permissible cheering over the state's illegal elimination of a 'leading bad guy', the other an impermissible gloating over a 'leading lady' deeply involved in the elimination of people, economy and society.

Yet, while vital differences of motive and expression distinguish the respective assemblies, both still share an apparently similar emotion: taking pleasure in the death of an enemy.

The problem of such expression isn't just its 'inapropriateness', its lack of 'conventional respect' for the dead. Nor, more particularly, should we heed the kind of coy establishment etiquette that would have us keep quiet about the mass crimes committed and supported by an infamous leader like Thatcher.

This is someone, after all, whose dark activities included support for Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and other dictators like Suharto, someone who backed Reagan's murderous killings and death-squad coups across Latin America, who condemned Mandela and thought the US shooting-down of an Iranian civilian plane was "understandable". And that's before we even get to the historic crimes and miseries inflicted at home.

As millions are spent on a quasi-state funeral, with its royal presence, bowing politicians, militarist trappings and media deference, we not only have a right but a duty to speak out in marking the actual victims of Margaret Thatcher's cruel policies.

Yet, in doing so, how might we offer something which transcends such brutality, that which supplants the US mob's shallow concept of victimisation, that which offers a real progressive alternative, something more worthy, more compassionate, more humanitarian?

When Elvis Costello sang Tramp the Dirt Down, he was, like many long-sickened others, expressing due contempt for Thatcher and her ideological vandalism. But that sentiment doesn't in itself simply translate as a vengeful urge. Rather, it admirably lyricises the systematic abuse of people and a yearning for it to end.

So, the problem is certainly not the demonstrations against Thatcherism. It's not even the understandable antagonism we might have towards Thatcher herself as a person. It's the more corrosive and debilitating feelings of hatred, anger and retribution that often drive that opposition.

While many at the Thatcher street parties seem genuinely motivated by a legitimate desire to mark the iniquities of Thatcherism, open jubilation over the actual death and/or suffering of another, any other, should cause us to think about the psychology behind those emotions.

Many - notably those not born when Thatcher was in power - see such actions as a continuous statement of opposition to the current Tory ensemble, the new wave of cuts, TINA-type austerity and ongoing neoliberal disorder.

Yet, need this laudable exercise involve "rejoice, rejoice", champagne-popping and other hell-wish sentiment?

Indeed, do such personalised messages and retributive impulses suggest some replication of the  strident language and callous actions already projected by Thatcher and people like her?

As Martin McGuinness has said, in urging an end to celebrating Thatcher's death: "She was not a peacemaker, but it is a mistake to allow her death to poison our minds."

One also thinks here, as in the US example, of Hillary Clinton cackling about the death of Gaddafi: "We came, we saw, he died."

Is this what leftist responses to the death of even such a proclaimed enemy should look and sound like?

Some of this mirrors a more dubious 'left vanguardism' which, in its 'moral confidence', feels a need to demonstrate its 'full radical credentials'.

For others, it's a fair and necessary occasion, as in places like Glasgow, to recall evils like the poll tax and to counter the much more indecent Thatcher hagiography being propagated by the media.

For others still, Thatcher's passing will likely provoke a more resigned set of feelings, a deep lamenting of the Thatcherite 'project' with the realisation that her departure still takes us nowhere useful: the key ingredients of that ugly assignment - greed, individualism and selfishness still prevail.         

In an exemplary piece of humanitarian reflection, Russell Brand notes the perplexed emotions of a leftist friend who thought he'd be elated rather than have to confess the empty melancholy he actually felt on hearing the news:
"This demonstrates, I suppose, that if you opposed Thatcher's ideas it was likely because of their lack of compassion, which is really just a word for love. If love is something you cherish, it is hard to glean much joy from death, even in one's enemies." 
Special words, indeed, from Brand.

And what, after all, is 'the enemy' here?  Is it a person or a thing: Thatcher or Thatcherism? How easily do we project hatred towards leaders rather than try to comprehend and oppose the systems they serve?

As Media Lens editor David Edwards perfectly captures it:
"For me, hatred of individual leaders is an example of a kind of propaganda weathering and erosion - constant exposure to the corporate fringeswamp encourages us to focus towards leaders and away from systemic trends and underlying causes. If Thatcher was The Evil, then how do we explain Reagan, political 'convergence'  (Bush/Blair/Cleggeron, etc), US-UK foreign policy over centuries, the psychopathic corporate system, etc?

Thatcher was much more of a symptom than a cause. But our egos feel so good hating a symptom, especially as part of a mob brandishing our fiery torches. Working to address the more impersonal causes is much less exciting, especially as the ultimate causes are also very much in ourselves - our minds and particularly our thought-identified egos." (ML message board, 9 April 2013.)
An illuminating answer from Buddhist scholar John Makransky in his article Aren't We Right to be Angry (also posted by Media Lens) offers further clarity:
"Many activists see anger as a necessary and motivating force. Is there anything positive about anger? Most who attend my social justice retreats are social justice activists, including teachers, social workers, and health-care givers who see a need for systemic change. Many say, “My anger at injustice is what motivates me to work for change. So it doesn’t make sense to me to reject my anger.” Actually, given what we’ve discussed so far, I think there is truth in that. They are saying that anger is not just deluded, that they sense some wisdom in it, and I think that is true. For example, in trying to make oneself feel safe, anger knows that a ground of safety must be findable somehow. That’s true—there is a ground of safety here within the depth of our being, the deep nature of our minds, which we should try to find. Anger also knows there is something terribly wrong that must be destroyed to make things safe. It’s just wrong about all the details. Anger thinks that what’s wrong is another person or group that must be defeated or destroyed to establish dependable safety. That’s a big mistake. What’s wrong is how out of touch we all are with our fuller humanity and underlying potential of goodness. To correct that wrong, something does need to be destroyed, but it’s not other people; it’s the self-centered fixation that has everyone in its grip, which generates individual and social reactions that make things unsafe for all. So I think some social justice activists want to defend their anger because it indeed contains some wisdom, but it is a distorted form of wisdom. If the wisdom in anger could be liberated from its distorted projections, its intense energy could clarify into wrathful compassion."
What the powerful fear most is not these expressions of hate or even violence. Indeed, in many situations, like Israel's suppression of the Palestinians, they positively welcome, and will often promote or effect, incendiary feelings and actions that can, in calculating turn, be even more fiercely suppressed.

What power fears most is passive resistance and the much more 'dangerous' idea of compassionate activism.

Thus, the practical application of Makransky's radical meditation:
"When Martin Luther King demonstrated against social institutions of racism and economic inequality, his opponents used attack dogs and whips on him and his followers. Yet King repeatedly taught that unconditional love is the key to foundational social change. He taught that we must confront social structures of racism on behalf of everyone, including those supporting such structures. It was never only for the oppressed people. It was also on behalf of the racists, and he made that clear."
If there's such a possible humanitarian lesson to be noted here in the week we recall Thatcher's brutal policies, it's to think about how we might best focus our constructive attentions on systems of power rather than just hateful denigration of those who serve and manage them.

This most certainly shouldn't, and won't, preclude criticism of leaders like Thatcher - even on her  funeral day - and, as with shameless denouncers like Tony Blair, resilient efforts to bring still-living offenders to proper justice.

Rather, it asks us to reflect on what motivates those more aggressive feelings and how they might be more compassionately and radically directed.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Thatcher's remains

Many million words will now be delivered in reflections and testaments to Margaret Thatcher. Much of it will range from outright establishment admirations to queasy apologetics of the 'you may not have agreed with her, but she was still a great/conviction/decisive/female-inspiring leader' type.

Others will, of course, reflect upon the savagery of her actions, recalling the staggering economic and social dislocations she and her associates caused. Others, still, will cheer and openly celebrate her death. 

I've no notion to partake in any party celebrations of Margaret Thatcher's passing. I've no inclination to welcome anyone's passing or personal suffering.

Other than removing someone from positions of power and influence, hopefully with suitable indictments before a high criminal court, the taking or passing of their actual lives assists the greater cause of progressive humanity, including theirs, in no meaningful way.

A good deal of human suffering, past and ongoing, is directly attributable to Margaret Thatcher's wicked neoliberal and warmongering policies  - the decimation of industries, the crafting of unemployment and despair, the breaking of miner communities, deregulation, privatisation and the cultivation of greed, the protection of Pinochet and other dictators, the promoting of hunger strike deaths, the murdering of innocents aboard the Belgrano, the encouragements to hateful media jingoism and much, much more.

Yet those same policies and worse have continued relentlessly on, uncaringly and unsparingly executed by those, like Blair, Thatcher's natural heir, and Cameron, current enforcer of the same cruel 'philosophies'.  Both are, of course, lining up to commend her as an 'iconic' leader.

As will a dutiful, power-serving media. On this and coming days, observe the reserved and reverential treatment accorded to Thatcher - for all her 'faults', still, like Reagan, one of 'ours' - compared with the ready demonisation of 'mad' foreign others, like the recently-departed Hugo Chavez.

While BBC and other journalists wax hysterical about the dark 'lunacies' of Kim Jong-un, what kind of insane state media could still hold an historic criminal like Thatcher in such thrall?

All of which may cause us to reflect more particularly on the actual system, notably its ideological arm, which still rationalises and excuses the Thatcherite brutalisation of people, society and planet.

The remains of Margaret Thatcher will, like every other mortal, pass to nature. What still remains is the pernicious system she and those like her have helped build and impose on humanity.

One retains quiet hopes of a day when we might better celebrate the serious demise of that great evil.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Kim Jong-un - face of a 'global threat'

It's been a week of political and media froth over the 'looming threat' from North Korea.

In its main report, the BBC's Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman said of the country's leader:
"Kim Jong-un, a man with a more than passing resemblance to a haggis, after all". 
From "spiritual heir to Stalin" to "crackpot regime", this and other standard jibes are what passes for balanced, impartial and informed journalism from the BBC's flagship and other news outlets.

Imagine such personalised and pejorative remarks being used about Cameron, Blair, Obama, Netanyahu or any Western state.

Newsnight's skewed film report from Robin Denselow, dramatically shaking the small locked gates of North Korea's London embassy, had ex-US ambassador Nicholas Burns and an array of Western-minded policy analysts warning of Pyongyang's 'imminent nuclear threat', numbering its 'international violations' and probing 'China's failure' in bringing this "unpredictable" state to heel.

Paxman's package also had a placatory interview with a North Korean defector, a non-contested message from David Cameron on the case for keeping Trident at Faslane, a Tory MP using the North Korean 'threat' to defend Trident and a token, moderate counter-view from a Lib Dem MP.

Elsewhere, some of that liberal questioning has been more scathing of Cameron's postures. As Simon Jenkins noted in the Guardian:
"What is most frightening about the west's response to Kim Jong-un is the scale of the exaggeration. Cameron awards him the global reach of a superpower. We might almost ask which side is now impoverishing its people to pay for glamour defences, which is concocting blood-curling scenarios to justify them and which conjures up enemies to keep its people in thrall to its defence and security chiefs and their demands. Is it only North Korea that feels it must periodically flex its muscles and peddle a ridiculous view of the balance of world power? North Korea constitutes no conceivable threat to the British state, or to the US and its allies."
But what's never adequately stated or explored here, for all its reasonable argument, is the massively differing treatment of demonising states like North Korea as opposed to merely criticising the West.

Thus, Jenkins and others are ever ready to denounce the "megalomaniac" tendencies of Kim Jong-un in noting the expedient motives of those who benefit from his pronouncements:
"The lunacies of a Korean dictator halfway round the world is music to the ears of defence lobbyists, arms manufacturers, security consultants, generals and admirals."
But while these dark exploitations by the warmongering lobbies are implicitly criticised by writers like Jenkins, they are never condemned as "lunacies", a language of demonisation still specially reserved for the 'real crazies' like Kim Jong-un. 

And what of the lunacies of a US president and his Nato allies who have actually bombed Libya to bits, murdered thousands of innocents in drone strikes in Pakistan and continued a murderous war on Afghanistan? What of the megalomaniac lunatics before them, Bush and Blair, responsible for a million deaths and mass carnage in Iraq?

Where, more specifically, in such liberal critiques do we see any more than passive, nominal comment on such media bias and imbalance, that which, like Paxman on Newsnight, can only speak of the 'concerned' West and their 'crackpot' foes?

Rather than crude put-downs, here's an exercise which Paxman and other liberal-establishment presenters might more usefully put their minds to: a comparative table of the world's most dangerous states since 1945 based on an aggregation of the following:

1. Most war-waging
2. Most war-committed deaths
3. Most nuclear-threatening
4. Most regionally-destabilising 
5. Most coup-promoting
6. Most propaganda-effective

A strongly suggested top 3:

United States

One can argue over who might complete a top 10. But, for all its issues, 'haggis-looking' leaders and all, North Korea isn't even remotely on the page. 

The benefits of rational sanity

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
"That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed. "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

According to the Telegraph, a large number of potential claimants aren't re-applying for disability-based benefits, leading to claims that they're all malignant scroungers who have been fairly caught out. The voice of 'rational sanity', as ever, from the Torygraph.

Yet, maybe there are other reasons for this and other such avoidance of the benefits system.

Perhaps sick and stressed people don't claim benefits for fear of making themselves even more stressed and sick. This may seem irrational, even insane. But the rational and sane decision not to apply for benefits suggests that it's the benefits system itself which is irrational and insane in keeping already stressed and sick people away. Of course, the benefits agency would likely say that the very decision of the stressed and sick not to apply for benefits indicates their rational and sane ability to judge their situation and, thus, their sane and rational ability to function and work. In considering the tortured logic of the benefits agency's irrational and insane assessment, the rational and sane person may feel even more reluctant to apply. This, of course, may leave them even more sick and stressed, if, at least, still more rational and sane than the irrational and insane benefits system that's foisted this irrational and insane choice upon them.

Comprehension of the wider system of power is largely guided by the same kind of fear, apprehension and resignation we feel about authority and how it imposes its irrational, insane rules on the rational and sane. Indeed, rational and sane people can be encouraged into accepting almost any kind of social, political or economic control. Capitalism, particularly neoliberalism, as a system is premised on outright winners and losers, with inequality, worry, degradation and misery for billions all celebrated as the hidden hand of sane market rationalism. In other words, it's irrational and insane.  Yet, try telling most rational and sane people that capitalism is irrational and insane. The rational and sane mind may actually realise that capitalism is irrational and insane, but must react in denial of this, largely because to believe otherwise is to accept one's own possible irrationality, even insanity, in even considering such an idea. In effect, even if you don't rationally and sanely believe so, it's seemingly more rational and sane just to say that it's irrational and insane to say that the system is irrational and insane. However, this still bestows upon the system an undue sane rationalism, leaving the supposedly rational and sane person facing the ongoing irrational and insane-inducing dilemma of whether to keep saying the system is rational and sane or make that really rational and sane leap in actually calling it irrational and insane.

Corporate journalists will likely enunciate the similar view that it's irrational and possibly insane to claim that the corporate media is irrational and insane in protecting and reinforcing all the irrationality and insanity of the wider corporate-driven system. The Telegraph journalist who wrote the above story would likely call this blogger's reading of it, and the rest of this blog, utterly irrational and worryingly insane. One must, of course, leave sane and rational readers to judge whether such an assertion is sane and rational or irrational and insane. But to what extent can rational and sane journalists rationally and sanely comprehend the irrational and insane world of journalism they really inhabit? The self-defence of such journalistic rationality and sanity is nowhere better seen than in the rejection of claims that climate change, the irrational and insane destruction of the earth, is anything to do with the irrational and insane process of rampant corporate consumerism, or, more precisely, that such irrational and insane journalism is in itself feeding that irrational and insane process of eco-destruction through greenwashed reports, fossil fuel advertising, evasive editorials and other such irrational, insane copy. Speculating rationally on the very sane proposition of calling corporations, corporate media and corporate life at large not only irrational and insane but criminal and psychopathic in these regards takes us into a further whole dimension of rational and sanity-seeking thought. But that's another question which, with a rational and sane eye on space, time and rational/sane reader weariness, may be best left for the moment.

Is drawing attention to all of this irrationality and insanity in any way rational or/and sane? Perhaps not, for it can easily make one feel increasingly and uneasily, what's the words..., even if that's a seemingly imagined or even self-indulgent irrationality and insanity. On the other hand, feeling a rational obligation to highlight such insanity, sometimes with a rational and sane humour, can keep one grounded in the sure knowledge that while irrationality and insanity rages all around, the rational and sane mind can see corporate existence and the irrationally insane forces supporting it as the darkest possible form of irrationality and insanity, an insane irrationalism so insanely hidden and irrationally denied that the very irrational insanity of such deception and denial helps keep us questioning everything we understand, or rationally and sanely think we understand, as being rational and sane. A Kafkaesque inversion of irrational insanity, or what?