Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Spooks and feudalism: Greenwald savages Britain's secretive, archaic state

Consider these two 'home' truths:
The British state is a deeply secretive, anti-democratic entity, with GCHQ and its associate 'security' apparatus engaged in the most illicit forms of surveillance, manipulation and other mass violations of civil liberties. 
The British state is a deeply class-serving entity, underwritten by archaic institutions and selective 'traditions', all giving ideological continuity to elite privilege.
In a stunning indictment, independent journalist Glenn Greenwald has brought these two facets of the British state's dark actions and ideological powers together, via a comment piece on the UK court decision to uphold an 'anti-terrorist' detention order against his partner David Miranda.

 Miranda was held for nine hours at Heathrow airport in August 2013 under Section 7 of the UK’s Terrorism Act (2000).

As Greenwald brilliantly observes:
That such repressive measures come from British political culture is to be expected. The political elite of that country cling desperately to 17th century feudal traditions. Grown adults who have been elected or appointed to nothing run around with a straight face insisting that they be called “Lord” and “Baroness” and other grandiose hereditary titles of the landed gentry. They bow and curtsey to a “Queen”, who lives in a “palace”, and they call her sons “Prince”. They embrace a wide range of conceits and rituals of a long-ago collapsed empire. The wig-wearing presiding judge who issued this morning’s ruling equating journalism with terrorism is addressed as “Lord Justice Laws”, best known for previously approving the use of evidence to detain people that had been derived from torture at Guantanamo (he can be seen here).

None of this behavior bears any relationship to actual reality: it’s as though the elite political class of an entire nation somehow got stuck in an adolescent medieval fantasy game. But the political principles of monarchy, hereditary entitlement, rigid class stratification, and feudal entitlement embedded in all of this play-acting clearly shape the repressive mentality and reverence for state authority which Her Majesty’s Government produces. That journalism disliked by the state can be actually deemed not just a crime but “terrorism” seems a natural by-product of this type of warped elite mindset [...]
Ex-UK ambassador, turned dissident, Craig Murray has also condemned the "disgraceful judges of Britain’s High Court – who have gone along with torture, extraordinary rendition, every single argument for mass surveillance and hiding information from the public, and even secret courts".

For Murray, the effort to castigate Miranda as a 'terrorist suspect' illustrates perfectly the British state's deepening vindictiveness, a ''totalitarian" slide, he relates, evident in the additional intimidation of Edward Snowden's legal representative on entering the UK.  
While the surveillance and detention of Miranda reveals the extensive scope of UK spookdom, the holding of such people on specifically 'anti-terrorist' grounds shows the very 'British way' in which the establishment seeks to demonise as well as control.

Of course, the treatment of Chelsea Manning, and threats towards Snowden, Assange and Greenwald, confirm that similar punitive action can be expected from the US. 

But, as Greenwald argues, Britain's conduct in such matters also points to a deeper political culture of assumed hierarchy and demanded subservience.

In assisting the US purging of Snowden, Assange, Greenwald and their associates, the British state is deploying its most oppressive technologies and a feudal-style intolerance of dissent.

Greenwald's broadside against Britain's secretive state brings to mind the UK's wider record of black-ops, subterfuge and global warmongering, as documented by historian Mark Curtis, while his searing attack on the establishment network and fiction of 'noble Britishness' helps evoke Tom Nairn's landmark texts The Enchanted Glass and The Break up of Britain

Fittingly, Greenwald's charges on British elitism and the tyranny of Empire reflects a gathering crisis of legitimacy for 'old Britain', as variously registered in the large public rejection of UK wars, demands for Scottish independence, and a growing refusal to accept that state spying on citizens is in the 'national interest'.   

Nobel nominee and modern hero, Snowden's popular whistleblowing has helped undermine much of the traditional deference towards propagandist notions of 'vital state security', as have Greenwald's own key journalistic efforts in revealing US/UK criminality.  

Snowden's election yesterday as Student Rector of Glasgow University is another small but encouraging indicator that the old-order demonisation of dissidents is no longer holding.

Bit by promising bit, a modernist, radical politics and confident, alternative media is helping to expose not only the dark, malignant menace of the British state, but the "adolescent medieval fantasy" upon which its authority has been resting.     

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Stone Cold Justice - Australian TV reveal Israel's brutal abuse of Palestinian children

A remarkable, courageous film from Australian ABC TV's Four Corners programme has helped expose the systematic detention, traumatic interrogation, physical torture, fear of death and threats of rape inflicted upon Palestinian children. 

Warning: disturbing images and information.

Jonathan Cook comments:
I never thought I would see it. A mainstream TV programme, this one made by Australian channel ABC, that shows the occupation in all its inhuman horror. The 45-minute investigative film concerns the Israeli army’s mistreatment of Palestinian children. Along the way, it provides absolutely devastating evidence that the children’s abuse is not some unfortunate byproduct of the occupation but the cornerstone of Israel’s system of control and its related need to destroy the fabric of Palestinian society.
This shocking film should leave viewers in absolutely no doubt about the scale and wickedness of Israel's treatment of minors as part of its deliberate and vindictive occupation policy.

It's also a vital reminder of the 'international community's' shameful failure to challenge Israel's state brutality. 

Please share widely.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Killing, abuse and denial - the West's Olympian-sized record

How eagerly our media adopt the term 'human rights record' to highlight the villainy of other countries, while safely avoiding that same term when it comes to Western state crimes.

The BBC's coverage of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi is replete with reminders of Russia's gross authoritarianism, particularly its anti-homosexual repressions.

And critically alert they, like anyone else, should be over discriminatory attacks on any section of society.

But just try to imagine such media headlines over Britain's and America's own appalling human rights record in waging murderous, illegal wars.

It seems this sort of human rights record, the kind concerned with mass killing of others beyond our shores, doesn't really figure as measurable abuse.

For if it really did, the BBC would have to report and criticise UK/US conduct in the same, or much worse, terms as that reserved for demonised states like Russia, China and North Korea.

Highlighting the staggering scale of Britain's global crimes, as documented by historian Mark Curtis, John Pilger believes that the political and media deceit is becoming unsustainable.
Recalling not just the likely one million fatalities from the West's invasion of Iraq, but the half million dead from the effects of Western pre-war sanctions, Pilger says:
The truth about the criminal bloodbath in Iraq cannot be "countered" indefinitely. Neither can the truth about our support for the medievalists in Saudi Arabia, the nuclear-armed predators in Israel, the new military fascists in Egypt and the jihadist "liberators" of Syria, whose propaganda is now BBC news. There will be a reckoning – not just for the Blairs, Straws and Campbells, but for those paid to keep the record straight.
A day, indeed, to anticipate.

Yet, rather than shine a floodlight on Britain's shocking human rights record, 'smart' liberal 'journalism' continues to celebritise its greatest offenders.

Thus could the Independent's Andy McSmith muse dizzily over Tony Blair's 'pulling power' and alleged affair with Rupert Murdoch's wife, rather than even mention his arch criminality.

This kind of titillation over the 'alpha personas' of our leaders contrasts starkly with the much darker denigration of enemy others, such as the 'menacingly-muscular' Putin, or the 'sex-crazed' 'Mad Dog' Gaddafi.  

It's not that Gaddafi shouldn't be scrutinised. It's that you will never see our media use terms like 'Mad Dog' to label or scrutinise people like Blair, Cameron or Netanyahu. What makes a politician in a suit any less of an executive monster? 

Prince 'flash' Harry can, likewise, boast of his brave killing exploits in Afghanistan, while his disturbing war-games penchant from an Apache attack helicopter are all media-filtered as the over-indulgences of a 'playboy Royal'. At least the literary Harry Flashman of Afghan and other Empire campaigns really was an entertaining villain and battle coward.  

So much of the 'us and them' of public 'information', particularly over war, is distilled via this Hello-styled 'political info-tainment'.

The adulation of Obama as some kind of pop star is a media industry in itself, rendering unthinkable any notion of him as a drone-directing killer.   
From 'us and them' political selectivity, it's an easy step to an 'us or them' view of foreign others, as in the current media-hyped discussion on whether aid to UK flood victims should take priority over foreign aid.

Why is the question of vital human aid, foreign or domestic, never considered against bailout aid to bankers, or the massive state aid given to corporate arms companies to keep prosecuting wars?

Why is the cost of aid for people, internal or external, never pitched against the astronomically-draining cost of nuclear weapons?

How conditioned we are by accountant politicians and a conformist commentariat to think about the 'onerous costs' to the state when it comes to helping human beings, rather than the funding used to kill and immiserate them.

And what of all the selling of killer military hardware to allied regimes like Qatar and Saudi Arabia? Shouldn't that be on the human rights audit sheet?   

Corporate-driven climate change has brought the planet's seven billion inhabitants to the point of real, possible extinction. Beyond close awareness of this crisis, papers like the 'greensleeved' Guardian should be screaming emergency headline messages for action from their front pages. It's not there. 

A Guardian editorial talks alarmingly about a "Weather of Olympian extremes" and the need for greater climate change awareness, yet relentlessly refuses to end its own fossil-fuel advertising.

Reports file in of flooded plains, unprecedented storms and weather-tossed railway lines. Yet where's the crucial framing of all this on the BBC news as intensifying climate change catastrophe?  

Isn't all that a damning statement of our state-corporate media's very own dismal human rights record?

Aren't they Olympian-sized contenders in the great 'triathlon' of power, hypocrisy and denial? 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

The admirable George Galloway, mistaken, alas, on independence

I once recall a kindly acquaintance telling me during the course of a discussion, "you're not wrong, just mistaken."

It wasn't intended as a patronising rebuke, just an encouragement to think more closely, or perhaps honestly, about how faulty claims can make for unsupportable arguments.

Sometimes it's not the case for something that can seem wrong, but the mistaken notions used to advance it.

Semantics? Perhaps, but still a useful thought process. 

Whatever the possible distinction, this little adage has been occurring to me, lately, in reading George Galloway's case for rejecting Scottish independence - or as the vernacularly-gifted George more directly urges: Just Say Naw.

Of course, the default tendency of our service politicians and media is to malign Galloway whatever he says. Few other prominent leftists have been so readily smeared and vilified.

How routinely we hear those standard barbs - 'controversial' and 'firebrand' - see him 'ambushed' by coy presenters, and trivialised by smug journalists - usually to their own detriment.

So, a small, appreciative caveat: George Galloway is not just a talisman for the left, he's a political treasure, a person whose moral defence of human beings has been as relentless as the imperialist wars and warmongers he's opposed. 

Being part of the same movements, I've supported him consistently, in discussion and blog, from his inspiring anti-war positions to his heroic defence of Palestinians.

I also uphold his complete and unobstructed right to campaign for a No vote in the referendum - wherever he's politically domiciled, wherever he wants to stage it and however he wants to state it.

But I'd also like to suggest, with all-due respect, that George is basically mistaken in three key ways over the formulation of that case.

The first concerns his depiction of Scottish independence as essentially 'nationalist' in motive, character and aspiration.

This may seem an odd qualifier. Isn't the desire for independence simply nationalism by any normal definition? 

Well, not if the aim of independence is based on factors which put progressive social advancement before territorial or national identity. And it's socio-economic concerns which appear to be the basic determinant of how most within the Yes camp will vote.  

Even where people might assert their 'Scottishness', who, even amongst most declared Yes supporters, view themselves as 'pure nationalists' or 'separatists', as in the possibility of 'full independence' from higher political and corporate forces?

If this is 'nationalism', it's of a very abbreviated kind, based on a common understanding that we're all, willingly or unwillingly, tied into much bigger political-economic networks, most of it oppressive.    

What's reassuring here is the strong relative absence of crude nationalism - flag-waving and jingoistic proclamations of 'freedom'. For many in Scotland, this is matched by a basic ambivalence towards the Union itself.  Indeed, it's a deep paradox that, while abhorring the sins of Unionism, George is arguing to maintain that very political entity - a Union that's committed so many imperialist crimes in the name of Britain and Empire.

George has also, I believe mistakenly, followed the mainstream's false presentation of independence as support or otherwise for the SNP. Hence, his concentrated attack on Alex Salmond, rather than an urge to depersonalise the issue and engage more particularly on what more socialistic opportunities may or may not lie with a Yes outcome.

Galloway is on firmer ground in citing the compromised version of independence pitched by the SNP leadership - retention of currency links, Nato membership and monarchy.  

Yet, none of this legitimate criticism invalidates the core case for independence. This is a referendum on creating a new political system, one that's open to ongoing pressure and radical change, not a vote for any party, policy or leader.

Nor should we be persuaded by George's dark warnings that removing a vital share of Labour MPs at Westminster will ensure continued Tory rule. Should voters, either in Scotland or the rest of the UK, be held forever hostage to Labour's own gross failures, and the stranglehold of this neoliberal party cabal?  

I also suspect that much of George's animus towards the SNP at large, even its mainly leftist core, is symptomatic of an emotional link to Old Labour.

But even this can't explain his negation of a growing Labour for Independence movement, and the expanding argument within those ranks that Labour Scotland could be a newly-invigorated left force within an independent parliament. Why is George so seemingy estranged even from that position?

It should be noted here that some Yes voices have themselves mistakenly charged Galloway with 'double standards' in supporting liberation for Palestine, but not independence for Scotland.

It should hardly need saying that there's no comparable case: one concerns a brutal occupation, and its difficult overcoming, the other an issue of how to pursue major political-economic improvement.

What does qualify for similar consideration, though, is people's universal right to remove elite-constructed institutions and barriers to the better society - in this case, a Westminster system historically underwritten by elite financial and City interests - English and Scottish - and a Unionist ideology which holds all those hegemonic fictions of a British 'national interest' together.

This ties-in, secondly, to George's questionable claim that independence is an abrogation of class politics and solidarity. 

In reality, class factors are driving the question of independence.

The latest polls and qualitative information show that the greatest rise in support for independence is amongst the low-paid, poorest and most marginalised of society, reflecting a growing mood for more leftist, independent control:
It seems that independence is a movement of Scotland's societal left, the part that used to profess undying fealty to Labour. It's not a socialist programme, but it reflects revulsion at Westminster's equation of "realism" with free markets.
Thus, a growing class body is realising that's there's nothing to be gained from traditional, sellout Labourism, or the neoliberal/austerity politics both Labour and the ConDems rigidly uphold.

Against this, John Wight, a close associate of Galloway, makes the worthy class-based case for a No vote. But, like Galloway, his argument is still based on the mistaken view of Scottish workers 'abandoning' their UK counterparts.

Why stay with a political system that locks all into neoliberal servitude? Why would a shift of direction negate solidarity with others - English, Welsh or anyone else - beyond any new border? Wouldn't the effort to forge a new left economic model inspire greater class politics, encouraging others to follow real alternatives? And isn't that set of radical prospects precisely why an alarmed establishment, corporate elite and media-serving network is trying so hard to kill the independence case?

Galloway and Wight certainly aren't wrong in questioning what class gains may derive from a Yes vote - it's by far their strongest line of argument - but they are, I believe, deeply mistaken in believing that independence will actually undermine class politics and the drive for socialist alternatives.      

Honourable socialists such as Ken Loach support a class-rooted argument for independence, just as John Maclean once did in considering the revolutionary case for breaking the Union.

Almost every leftist grouping in Scotland, including the Greens, supports independence, believing it can strategically advance radical change - including vital climate engagement and the best-ever chance of removing Trident. Mistakenly, it appears, that's the kind of leftist, humanitarian company George has decided to shun.

The third, and perhaps most, mistaken strand of Just Say Naw is its supposed concerns over 'sectarian instability'.  

Here, alas, George has indulged in his own disappointing variant of Project Fear, allowing irrational alarm to cloud rational engagement of a still relatively marginal issue.

In a recent Twitter exchange over an alleged 'sectarian' attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon, George claimed this was further proof of Protestant-establishment power, and that the problem would only multiply with a Yes vote:
"but this element will be 12x more significant in Indy Scotland. Media and pol class scared of them"
If this really is the case, wouldn't Scotland benefit from independence, and a purge of those very forces most identified with virulent Unionism? Not, it seems, for Galloway.

George seems to be saying that the Union offers 'protection' from this lurking 'threat'; some guarantee of 'political security'.

But against what, precisely? Is it really credible that an independent state would start enacting anti-Catholic legislation? Would standard legal and civil protections no longer apply to Catholics?

Even with such sectarianism, would a 'Catholic community' really be threatened in an independent Scotland? Would they suffer political discrimination? Would we see a curtailment of, or end to, Catholic schools? Is there any serious evidence of such 'threats' just now? Why would that change?

While under no illusions about the spectre of sectarianism, the very notion of any post-independence threat to Catholics is not just mistaken, it's plain wrong.

I say this as someone raised in a Glasgow east-end Catholic-Marxist household, who knows all about the past oppression of my Irish family ancestry, who has witnessed all the ugly nuances of religious politics in the West of Scotland, but who also recognises the much greater extent of social integration, political-cultural complexity and, indeed, 'class ascendancy' of Catholics across many institutions.

Nasty, sectarian strands are still evident, for sure. Much of the media has been disgracefully mute on the issue. But the very idea that Scotland is anywhere near that kind of dark ethnic-religious fault line is simply untenable. The questions that absorb people here, Catholic, or otherwise, are basic day-to-day issues of economic existence.

Reactionary Protestant-rooted Unionism is still apparent, and no one can say that independence would eradicate it - all societies harbour such ugliness.  But, as a modern polity, independence would almost certainly be a healthier option than the status quo in helping to expunge it.

And even if the issue of sectarianism is as crucial as George suggests, should a society be hostage to an archaic Union through fear of atavistic prejudice and a bigoted minority?

In short, there is no decisive religious politics to speak of here. Beyond such peripheral 'religious identity', people of all religions and none generally think, act and vote on broad economic lines, many, across all social and religious backgrounds, now deserting a Labour establishment for the better, practical possibilities of smaller, independent governance. 

Whatever his campaigning approach, whatever the referendum outcome, my regard and support for George Galloway endures. Yet, Yes or No, George will likely be judged by many fellow leftists and progressives to have been on the wrong, or at least mistaken, side of history. 

Ever the shining politico, George says he might like to be prime minister in an independent Scotland.  A fascinating scenario, indeed - I might even support that. But, in contemplation of such office, real or imaginary, it would be great to see him acknowledge, at least, the case for independence as the legitimate pursuit of a real compassionate, socialist society.