Thursday, 30 April 2009

BBC trumpets the last post from Iraq

A buglar plays the last post as British forces leave Iraq. It's the "winding down", the "end of operations", the "hand[ing] over" according to the BBC. Memorials are offered for the lost British service men and women. But no note is made of the catastrophic loss of Iraqi lives. Nor, of course, in passing mention of the "invasion" is there the slightest reference to the war's illegality and the awkward, persistent truth that those same UK forces have been involved in mass crimes against humanity.

Welcome to the new phase of media war distortion: the 'duty done' reportage, the post-conflict 'reflection', the 'laments' and 'soul-searching' - or BBC version of it.

Alongside shamefully distorted casualty figures, the BBC have been running news specials on the 'honourable departure', with obsequious coverage of the ceremonial and 'our boys' sentiment. A flavour:
"Army chaplain Father Pascal Hanrahan, who opened the ceremony, said: "Today is about remembrance and thanksgiving.

Sergent Steve Denny and Rifelman Sameer Hassan talk about their time on duty, and getting ready to leave Basra."

The BBC narrative of 'noble retreat' continues in fawning depictions and quotes:

"The last post was sounded by a buglar and prayers were said. There was also a roar overhead as a lone Tornado aircraft conducted a fly-past in tribute.

Lt Col Edward Chamberlain, commanding officer of Iraq-based battalion 5 Rifles, said: "We've been slowly working, as part of a coalition together over the six years, to achieve an end-state which is an Iraq which is secure, happy, at peace with itself and its neighbours.

"We're slowly but surely transitioning towards that."

Mr Hutton said the UK should be proud of what its troops had achieved.

"It's been a long and hard campaign. There's been no question about that, and we've paid a very high price," he said.

"And the families of those who've lost loved ones here today will be thinking very hard about that - and we should all as well.

"But I think when the history is written of this campaign, they will say of the British military 'we did a superb job', as we would expect them to, and we should be very proud of what they have done here." "

The furthest extent of the BBC's 'critical' citation is the war-supporting David Cameron calling for a public inquiry. Nothing from Stop the War, or the Lancet and ORB studies, the latter of which estimates in excess of a million dead in Iraq. Nothing on the mass population of Iraqi refugees and staggering human displacement that's taken place these six murderous years. All inconvenient, extinguished issues for the BBC as they celebrate the 'sterling job' carried out in Basra.

But, as Mr Cameron says, "vital lessons" have been learned - and, as dutifully intoned by the BBC, we must all, as a nation, learn from those vital lessons.

Quite what lesson the student of history will take from this kind of service propaganda is another matter. Perhaps they will reflect on how earnest-sounding BBC reporters gushed in selective tones about the singular difficulties faced by 'our' armed forces, or, in true lessons learned, despair at the kind of journalistic malfeasance which talked of British military "strengths and weaknesses" rather than complicity and guilt.

A last post selection of embedded BBC deference:

"BBC News defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt says there is a sense of relief for many British servicemen and women that their final tour of Iraq is winding down.

Some are now serving on their fourth tour, taking them away from home for two years out of the last six.

Our correspondent says many of them will look back with mixed emotions.

Southern Iraq is more peaceful than it was a year ago but when British forces invaded Iraq as part of the US-led coalition in 2003 few people imagined troops would still be in the country six years later.

As British forces prepare to leave Iraq, senior commanders admit they have learned lessons from the campaign.

It was a conflict that showed the strengths and weaknesses of the British armed forces.

There were acts of great heroism but also a force that came under great strain, fighting on two fronts - in Iraq and Afghanistan."

UK military and BBC duty done. Salute the troops and the correspondents. Another lesson learned in establishment whitewash and media complicity.


Thursday, 23 April 2009

STUC adopt BDS against Israel

Excellent news from the Scottish Trade Union Congress in Perth where the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel has been formally adopted.

This is a tremendous boost for the BDS movement, paving the way for a UK-wide declaration of trade union solidarity with Palestine.

Following an STUC visist and report on the case for BDS, alongside consultation with other interested parties, the General Council recommended to Congress a position of:

supporting boycotts and disinvestment against lsrael,

calling for sanctions against lsrael,

encouraging positive investments in the occupied territories.

The General Council is recommending this action because of lsrael's attacks on the human rights of Palestinian people, and its failure to comply with agreed international law. The STUC strongly supports a peaceful two state solution in Palestine and lsrael. lt is deeply disappointed at the failure of negotiation and diplomacy to achieve the two state solution to date. By taking the position of supporting boycott and disinvestments and by calling for sanctions, the STUC hopes to bring economic, political and social pressure on the government of lsrael and the world's powers, to reach a peaceful solution through dialogue. The STUC also intends to draw greater attention to the fact that international human rights laws are being violated by lsrael.

The STUC now join fellow trade union bodies in South Africa and Ireland in endorsing BDS. The almost unanimous support for the motion came despite significant fearmongering from Zionist lobbyists to Congress.

Scottish trade unionists will now concentrate on ways of effecting a boycott campaign in workplaces, promoting divestment in companies engaged in the Occupation and encouraging governmental-based sanctions against Israel. The decision also gives considerable impetus to the extension of cultural and sporting isolation of Israel.

This key development shows quite clearly how change is realised through persistent on-the-ground campaigning. It also illustrates the multi-fronted ways in which we can challenge power. As with the momentum against apartheid South Africa, the STUC's pledge in support of the Palestinian people signifies the gathering international pressure now being brought to bear on Israel.

And this feeling is being directed not just at Israel's political elite. To employ the Gramscian term, the Israeli 'historical bloc' - that is, not just its government, but its entire founding system and Zionist ideology - is now in a phase of hegemonic crisis. It has, in effect, no moral legitimacy, surviving instead through coercion, belligerence and the military fist.

The contradictory notion of a 'Jewish democratic state' built on the apartheid persecution of an occupied people has become critically apparent to reasonable people all around the world - even, in subdued tones, to many of Israel's nominal Western supporters.

The diplomatic cartel can walk out of the UN at the mention of Israel's racist and oppressive practices. But this standard defence of 'plucky little Israel' is looking increasingly thin against the violent murder of Gaza and international calls for war crimes investigations.

The decision by Scotland's trade unions and workers comes as part of that reactive wave of global humanity. While Brown, Miliband and other Labour Friends of Israel continue to defend the indefensible, workers and civil organisations are mobilising to defend the undefended.


STUC statement (24 April 2009):

Scottish Trade Unions Call for Boycott of Israel

24th April 2009

The Scottish Trades Union Congress this week backed boycotts and disinvestment, and called for sanctions against the state of Israel because of the state’s failure to comply with international laws and agreed principles of human rights.

Following extensive debate and deliberation, the Scottish trade unions have endorsed a report recommending the STUC support a boycott and disinvest from Israeli companies, call for sanctions against Israel, and encourage positive investments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Speaking after the debate at the Congress, STUC General Secretary, Grahame Smith, said: “The STUC is deeply concerned at the daily violations of human rights experienced by Palestinian people. The decision taken by our Congress is not a knee jerk reaction, but arrived at after careful consideration over a two year period. During this time the STUC engaged in discussions with interested groups in Scotland and the UK, and undertook a fact finding delegation to Israel and Palestine”.

Mr Smith added “by taking this decision, the STUC intends to campaign for economic, political and social pressure to be brought upon the Israeli Government, and world powers, to reach a peaceful and just two state solution for Palestine and Israel”.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

STUC report calls for BDS

Following their recent visit to Palestine, an STUC delegates' report has recommended the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

The report will now go before the STUC's upcoming conference in Perth (20 - 22 April 2009). If carried, it will be a landmark moment for the BDS movement.

The visit came on the instruction of a previous General Council decision to investigate the case for BDS:
"At STUC Congress 2007 a resolution was carried which called on the General Council to explore the merits of the calls for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel until it complies with international law and agreed human rights principles. In September 2007 the General Council agreed a process for considering the BDS calls. A crucial part of this process was to visit the region and discuss BDS directly with trade unions from Israel and Palestine. A delegation of eleven trade unionists from the STUC visited Israel and Palestine in Spring 2009."
During their visits to Nablus and Ramallah to meet Palestinian trade unionists, the delegates heard clear and unequivocal support for an international BDS campaign to help break Israel's oppressive occupation. A meeting with Palestinian women trade unionists reiterated the call, alongside the plea for a boycott of Israeli universities.

As stated in the report's conclusions, the situation is so bad for Palestinians that BDS could not substantially add to the sufferng they already endure.

Also included in the conference order of business is a call to terminate official relations with the Israeli trade union body Histadrut.

Lamentably, during the delegates visit, Histadrut officials failed to condemn Israel's recent assault on Gaza or denounce the Occupation. Beyond basic claims of support for a two state solution, Histadrut's statements to the delegates amounted to clear support for Israel.

Reading the report, it's abundantly clear that Histadrut's stated 'concerns' over BDS were motivated by the adverse impact it would have on the Israeli economy rather than any solidarity with Palestinian workers or adverse relations with the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions.

Despite Histadrut's claims to the delegates that it wishes to work closer with the PGFTU , it continues to operate as an exclusivist union and supportive organisation to Israel's apartheid policies. One damning example of such complicity, as noted in the STUC report, is the location of two Histadrut offices in the West Bank settlements.

Across the West Bank and Gaza, trade unionists, human rights groups and other civic organisations have all expressed their strong wish for BDS. Let's trust that those able to effect that wish do so in a spirit of moral intent and practical solidarity.


Thursday, 16 April 2009

Bowen's censure

The BBC Trust has charged BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen with violating the BBC's codes of impartiality.
"Bowen was censured for a piece which he wrote for the BBC website last June under the headline "Six days that changed the Middle East", attempting to give context to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by analysing the events of the 1967 Six Day War. The Middle East editor referred to "Zionism's innate instinct to push out the frontier". He wrote that Israel showed a "defiance of everyone's interpretation of international law except its own" and that its generals felt that they were dealing with "unfinished business", left over from the 1948 War of Independence."
It's another landmark example of the BBC's institutional bias and the Trust bowing to the usual Zionist forces.

The BBC's own reporting of the censure comes with all the standard denials of BBC bias, including this remarkable spin:

The BBC also stated that an independent inquiry in 2006 had found little to suggest deliberate or systematic bias in BBC reporting of Israel and the Palestinians and that there was evidence of a commitment to be fair, accurate and impartial."
This, of course, belies the actual findings of the inquiry's quantitative report (by Loughborough University, 2006) which recorded multiple instances of BBC disparities in favour of Israel.

So far, we've seen little critical reaction from Bowen himself. The Israeli lobby regard him as an irritation - like Orla Guerin, whom they managed to remove - one of the more 'troublesome' BBC journalists. Yet, it's worth rewinding to the recent massacre of Gaza, during which Bowen made numerous comments defending the BBC's rigid 'impartiality' and 'objectivity'. As an insightful Media Lens piece on Bowen and the myth of BBC even-handedness shows, those comments reflect the kind of ultimate toe-the-line conformity of even the 'braver' BBC journalist.

This is the real test for 'serious journalists' like Bowen. Are they prepared to criticise the institutional hand that feeds? Does his proclaimed commitment to 'impartiality' preclude him from criticising the Trust's own obvious partiality?

The default line
from some BBC staff in response to Bowen's censure is that the Trust 'has it in for us'. So comments a 'senior BBC journalist' for the Independent:

"There's no love lost between staff and the BBC Trust – we see them as a hostile body and they seem to be in competition with [broadcasting regulator] Ofcom to see who can kick us the hardest," said a senior BBC journalist.

"The trust is in a position where it has to be seen to be critical and tough because of the dual regulatory system we have been saddled with, which doesn't work. It doesn't waste any opportunities to kick us if it can do."

If only such senior journalists were as observant of the BBC's persistent biases, establishment contortions and their own delusions of journalistic grandeur.

If so, they might risk some critical investigation of the push and purge agenda of
CAMERA and the Zionist lobby who brought this formal complaint to the BBC Trust.

Aside from the lobby's power and the BBC's/Trust's succumbing to it, this judgement explodes the respectable notion that any kind of reporting can be objective and impartial. In the power-serving world of corporate and establishment media, a journalist writes what his or her employers broadly expect of them. The journalist's own judgement of what is permissible is based on a conditioned understanding of, and unstated adherence to, the subjective codes and leanings of the employing organisation itself - in this case, the BBC.

In faithful defence of such, the Trust's judgement in upholding this complaint from CAMERA and its Zionist accomplice is a subjective conclusion influenced by its own conservative views, which includes open, partial support and deference towards Israel.

None of this, of course, will be up for discussion by the BBC - or Jeremy Bowen.


Friday, 10 April 2009

Love, artfully

I've been greatly touched, once again, by a profound little Cogitation piece from one of the Media Lens editors. In The Art of Seduction and the Art of Loving, David Edwards invites us to think about the contrasting motivations behind self-interested love and love activated by a more wholesome concern for another person's happiness.

While one is an essentially contrived and often doomed love built around the psychology of domination and gain, the other grows as true individual care and mutual consideration between partners and friends.

Power, in its manipulative and controlling seductions, can be as much a part of personal relationships as political and economic ones. And, as Edwards shows, it's not hard to see how the acquisitive, competitive culture of market life conditions and encourages us to see private relationships in similar mercenary ways.

We may already consider ourselves giving, loving people. But it's worth just stopping to think about how much of that desire to love and be loved is premised on self-indulgent emotions rather than a spirit of true regard for our friend's or partner's happiness.

As Edwards caringly puts it:
"It is easy to understand how there can be no more stable foundation for friendship than the shared awareness that both individuals are strongly committed to the happiness of the other. What room is there for jealousy, anger and resentment when we know that our friend or partner is deeply committed to making us happy? When we know he or she values our welfare as much as, perhaps even more than, his or her own happiness? Who inspires greater confidence in us than the person who truly believes that they gain more from kindness than from greedy self-indulgence?

As with so much that matters in human life, the issue revolves around where we locate the true source of happiness. Our answer cannot be faked: if we believe that self-interest delivers, that everything else is naïve wishful thinking, then that will certainly be reflected in our behaviour.

If this is what we believe, then we should attend more closely to how we actually feel when we prioritise ourselves over others. How do we feel when we win and others pay the price? How do others feel and react to us? And how do we feel in the moments when, in giving, we make someone else happy? How does this warmth, tenderness and joy compare to the chilly, diminishing return of self-interested pleasure-seeking?"
It's also a paradigm thought for our times. Imagine, if you can, a society, polity and economy, local and global, which tried to cultivate relationships around the truly compassionate well-being of others rather than hoarded gratification.

Imagine, for example, the West thinking in this way about Africa and granting fair trade rather than dispensing Children in Need aid. Or Israel self-examining its desire to own and control 'its' beloved Holy Land to the suffering detriment of occupied Palestinians. Or the energy-guzzling consumer on the road to carbon oblivion undergoing a Damascene conversion about how to love, cherish and preserve the planet.

To be absorbed in 'fulfilling' our life desires is often to negate our true potential for loving generosity; our capacity to seek and practice a higher kind of love. It's a love that could enrich every aspect of our lives, from the intimate people we already love to the ways in which we redirect the global economy from its greed-driven crisis.

Higher love of partners, friends and the world: I think I need to practice a little harder and aim a little higher.


Thursday, 9 April 2009

Najib handover can't stem BN crisis

The expedient handover of power from Abdullah Badawi to Najib Razak does not appear to be holding the tide of electoral and civil dissent in Malaysia. Nor is their much faith in Najib's 'reformist' promises to review the hated Internal Security Act or release a few ISA detainees. Likewise, his removal of punitive suspensions on opposition party media outlets has been seen as a placatory gesture intended, once again, to demonstrate the Barisan Nasional's (BN's) 'new democratic engagement'.

As this excellent post-by election analysis from Anil Netto shows, the old lines of communal voting and racial-party affiliation are continuing to dissolve, with disastrous implications for the long-ruling BN. The BN's recently attempted 'power grab' in Perak has also badly backfired, with the by-election victory there sending yet another opposition candidate to the federal parliament.

As stated before, a large part of this new electoral awareness and mobilisation lies in Malaysians' growing access to, and engagement of, alternative media, notably sites like Anil's blog journalism, carrying up-to-the-minute reports and analysis, all - unlike the mainstream Malaysian media's accounts of Najib's appointments - unhindered by suffocating political and editorial constraints.

Anil and his activist peers are helping to build a new radical template for how an open, challenging and self-critical Malaysian media could look after the BN's coming fall from power.


Friday, 3 April 2009

GPHRC at the Scottish Parliament

Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign have just spent a very productive week at the Scottish Parliament holding an exhibition and lobbying for increased action on behalf of the Palestinian people.

We were most pleased to have a wide range of MSPs, parliamentary staff (of all levels) and members of the public (many on tours) stop to express their approval and support.

Part of those exchanges involved promoting a very impressive and critical motion initiated by Sandra White MSP (Scottish National Party), complete with a range of parliamentary backers.

S3M-3760 Sandra White: Israeli War Crimes Confirmed—That the Parliament condemns in the strongest possible terms what has come to light from the admission by Israeli troops in testimonies made to Danny Zamir, head of the Rabin pre-military academy, that civilians were deliberately targeted during Israel’s recent offensive in Gaza, including accounts of an unarmed old woman being shot, a woman and her two children being killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house and into the line of fire of a sniper and soldiers clearing houses by shooting anyone whom they came across; expresses serious concern that many soldiers believed that they were fighting a religious war given the fact that booklets distributed by military rabbis had given the clear message that "we are the Jewish people, we have come to the land by miraculous means, and now we have to fight to remove the Gentiles who are getting in our way and preventing us from occupying the Holy Land"; believes that this amounts to the admission that the Israeli state is operating a programme of ethnic cleansing, and calls on the international community to initiate proceedings to bring those responsible for these atrocities to justice and for international sanctions to be placed on Israel.

Supported by: Rob Gibson, Bill Wilson, Bob Doris, Anne McLaughlin, Jamie Hepburn, Gil Paterson

It was also very heartening to have First Minister Alex Salmond come over and express his outright support for the Palestinian cause and be pictured holding a copy of the motion.

Our hope is for a development of proactive support for the Palestinian case. Much of this is already explicit in the work of the parliamentary Cross Party Group on Palestine - as illustrated by the recent visit of cross-party members to Gaza. We urged in our discussions with various members of all parties the need to keep a committed and united front in finding ways of pressurising Israel over its continued occupation, aggression and apartheid policies.

Although subject to reserved Westminster powers, we suggested that part of this strategy might include more critical examination of Israel's trading practices within Scotland, in the context of Israel's favoured EU trade arrangements. While the parliament has no (for the present) authoritative powers or inclination to back the boycott, divestment sanctions (BDS) agenda, we'd like to see the authenticity of that gathering international strategy promoted by individual members and their parties.

We also talked of ways in which Scotland could forge closer political and cultural ties with Palestine as a way of expressing our particular support as a country. The analogy of Scottish solidarity during the dark days of apartheid South Africa comes to mind.

Awareness over the six decades occupation, Israel's ethnic cleansing and the resilient suffering of the Palestinian people is gathering impressive momentum. As a campaign, GPHRC are very aware of the emerging sympathy on the streets for the Palestinian people. Raising the issue of their plight, and Britain's own dirty arms-producing and political role in it, can, and should, be something that's within the scope of a 'parliament of the people'.


BBC: six facets of bias - more distortion

Here's a useful illustration of what passes for 'objective' BBC understanding of Hamas and the 2007 'coup against Fatah'.
"By overthrowing these forces, Mr Haniya and the Hamas militia effectively overthrew the democratically elected government".
It came from a senior BBC Complaints Advisor in response to my previous letter setting out six facets of bias in reporting Israel's recent mass assault on Gaza.