Monthly Archives: August 2015

In Defence of Hamas and Hezbollah

One of the persistent attacks on Jeremy Corbyn is to portray him as anti-semitic and a friend of terrorists. He has met all kinds of apparently nasty people and has defended both Hamas and Hezbollah. These two organisations are still regarded by the establishment as terrorist organisations. However Jeremy Corbyn is quite right to speak up on their behalf. Their designation as terrorists is meaningless. It is also worth noting that they are very different organisations, working in different countries. They do have some things in common though. The leadership of both tends to be very socially conservative and strict in religious observance. Many of their followers will also fall into this category, but by no means all. For both Hamas and Hezbollah are also providers of social, welfare, health and education services.  But above all both are primarily resistance movements. Which means, like all resistance movements in history, they will when necessary, resist with arms. And this is what the British, American and Israeli establishments most dislike about them.

There are significant differences between the two organisations. Hamas operates solely in Palestine. Like most Palestinians its members are predominantly Sunni Moslems. It was formed to offer a more steadfast resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. An occupation which is illegal under international law and contrary to almost all UN resolutions. Despite this Israel continues to steal Palestinian land. What remains of Palestine in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza is effectively an open air prison. Israel controls just about everything, including the right to travel, both within Palestine and without. Unlike Fatah, which sold away almost all of the Palestinians’ cards with the Oslo agreements, agreements that Israel has never honoured, Hamas refuses to willingly accept Israeli demands for yet more subservience.

For this refusal to accept permanent second class rights in their homeland, Israel has repeatedly tried to obliterate Hamas as a movement, with regular invasions of Gaza and incursions into the West Bank. Israel clearly does not care that in waging war on Hamas their military murders thousands of innocent Palestinians, with their massive reservoir of jet fighter planes, tanks and warships. These Israeli wars are nothing less than the slaughter of innocents. Yet it is Hamas that gets called the terrorist. Welcome to the double speak of the western world!

Hezbollah on the other hand is a purely Lebanese movement. Unlike Hamas, Hezbollah is primarily a Shia Moslem movement. It was formed to represent, protect and advocate for the rights of the Shia minority in Lebanon. The Lebanon is a multi religious country with three main communities. Historically the Maronite Christians have been at the apex of Lebanese society and have dominated the offices of the state and the economy. Second in importance came the Sunni Moslem community, with the Shia more or less at the bottom of the heap. They were among the poorest and least represented people in Lebanon. However over the past decades the Shia have grown in numbers and by many unofficial estimates, due to the lack of any official census, the Shia may well be the largest community in the country. Alas for them they still remain third in the pecking order for state and government positions.

As well as representing and advocating for their own religious community, Hezbollah has always been at the forefront of resistance to Israeli aggression and occupation. It seems to be somehow forgotten but Israel has a nasty record of invasion and occupation of Lebanon. The south of the county has borne the brunt of these illegal invasions and occupations. And the south of Lebanon is where most of the Shia community resides. So it was not surprise that it was Shia groups, the largest and most important of which was Hezbollah, which led the resistance and fight back against Israel. Yet once again as with Palestine the aggressor, Israel gets off with barely a slap on the wrist from the west, while the victims, Hezbollah, get tarred as terrorists.

Absent further Israeli invasions of Lebanon, Hezbollah is most unlikely to get involved in any action against Israel. Its prime concern is the welfare and rights of the Shia community in Lebanon. As such they deserve our support and understanding. As does Hamas. As the main standard bearers of resistance to Israeli aggression, which goes on unabated, and mostly unreported in the west, Hamas will remain in the sights of the Israeli military. We should not be surprised if they from time to time choose to respond in kind.

In both Lebanon and Palestine the real aggressors and promoters of terror is israel and its unrelenting determination to absorb all of Palestine. Time for Justice for Palestine.

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Police Scotland

Police Scotland is once again in the centre of a media and political storm. The new single force has not had an easy start to its life. However the near constant harping on about the service seems to me to go way beyond legitimate and necessary scrutiny to bordering on media hysteria. The usual suspects are there, Labour and LibDem politicians ably abetted by their anti SNP allies in the media. Now a former leader of the SNP has joined this bandwagon. Gordon Wilson in the National has penned a blistering attack on Police Scotland and the SNP government. According to Wilson, rarely in the history of any police force has any force performed so badly as has Police Scotland.  It seems there has been scandal after scandal and everything has fallen apart. Really! Has Police Scotland really performed worse than some of the police forces in England? Not to mention the sad and sorry recent examples of police brutality in the USA. Methinks Mr Wilson doth protest too much.

Police Scotland only came into being in 2013. Such a major reorganization was always likely to encounter teething problems. But to call for the abolition of Police Scotland after just two years seems perverse and lacking any sense. That there have been some failures seems very clear, but is anyone seriously suggesting that similar type failures never occurred before? Before putting forward proposals for further major change, one would hope that these would be based on evidence of endemic and systemic failure and not just one or two particular incidents. I would contend that two years is insufficient time to have accumulated this evidence.

When it comes to evidence it is once again noteworthy that just about all of the critics of Police Scotland simply ignore the evidence from other similar sized countries. Single police forces have been established in many parts of the world. Just across the water for example, both parts of Ireland have always managed with single police forces. While the RUC had its own difficulties to contend with, it is surely worth noting that both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland continue to support a single police force, the relatively new Police Service of Northern Ireland. Further afield in Australia, the states also have single police forces. In northern Europe the trend is towards establishing single forces. This had already happened in Denmark and a new national police force was established in Sweden at the beginning of this year. The Netherlands too has joined the single force club. None of this makes a single force necessarily the right choice for Scotland, but I would have hoped that at least some of the critics in Scotland would have made some reference to the experience from elsewhere in the world.

I am also, rather depressingly, unsurprised by the approach from the other political parties in Scotland. Some like the LibDems and the Greens always opposed a single force, but Labour was in favour of establishing Police Scotland. If they are to begin to re-establish themselves as a serious party of government they need to start acting in a more constructive way, and not just blame the SNP. Alex Rowley, their newly elected deputy leader, wrote recently about the need for Labour not simply to criticize, but to always make clear what they would do as a positive alternative. Police Scotland would be as good as any place to start. What does Labour have to say about Police Scotland? What would a Labour government do differently to the current SNP government? With a new, well, very slightly new team in place, it is time for Labour to step up to the mark and put forward their positive vision and concrete proposals for Police Scotland.

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Can Syriza reform Greece?

It is interesting to note that media coverage of Greece has almost disappeared. For a couple of weeks in July, Greece and its troubled negotiations with the Troika was front page news, with rolling minute by minute reporting from Brussels and Athens. What most motivated this frenzied coverage seemed to be the prospect of a massive failure, with all the political bloodletting that would result. Great for selling newspapers and filling TV programmes. The main question was could Greece stay in the Eurozone or even in the EU or was the much talked about Grexit about to happen? When a last minute deal was somehow agreed the media quickly lost interest in the whole thing. The complex negotiations over a new long term deal for Greece is way beyond the interests or competence of our media. This tells us a lot about the media and its love of simplifying and bidding up any story. The latest media frenzy – the migrants at Calais, confirms yet again the failures of our media.

However this post is about Greece and the prospects for real change.  By whatever circuitous route it has been achieved it looks like Syriza is on the verge of securing a long term financial deal that will provide the country with support and stability over the coming few years. That this is a poor deal and not good for Greece is at one level, besides the point. For what Greece needs above all else is radical change, and only Syriza is in a position to ensure that this radical change is of a progressive and transformative nature. But in order to do this Syriza needs time and this is why a new financial package is so important. Syriza needs the time and space to turn away from negotiating deals with the Troika and get fully engaged in the serious business of transforming Greece.

This is in large part the key message from a longish article by Stathis Gourgouris on Open Democracy, entitled The Syriza problem: radical democracy and left governmentality in Greece. It is well worth reading in full as Gourgouris outlines in some detail the complexities both of Syriza as a coalition and of the challenges facing the government. The success of Syriza is vital for the people of Greece, but not only for Greece, but for the prospects of successful radical change elsewhere in Europe.

While most of the media attention is on the euro, the real challenge facing Syriza lies in Greece itself. As Gourgouris puts it: “Syriza needs time so as to set in motion the governance of its essential task, which is not so much the settling of accounts with the EU but, above all, the radical reorganization of Greece’s long term corrupt social and political institutions.”

It is in this context that reaching a deal that will bring stability to the country’s finances is of such importance. In the long run transforming Greek society away from the clientelist institutions and practices that have gone on unchecked for decades will do more for the people of Greece than anything else. It is also worth noting that even in times of great austerity, radical change can take place. Perhaps the immensity of the austerity that will be forced on Greece may even help win political and popular support for implementing the kind of radical change Greece so desperately needs.

The prospects for this are quite encouraging. As Jan-Werner Müller reminds us in an article for the London Review of Books, Syriza was elected on a platform not just to end austerity, but to tackle and change the root causes of the underperforming Greek economy. Austerity has not ended but much can still be done in reforming Greece. And as Müller points out, “Given his overwhelming support among citizens and the collapse of the conservative New Democracy and Pasok, Tsipras has a chance to become a great reformer.”

If Syriza is to achieve this then it needs all the support it can get. Tsipras and Syriza remain popular in Greece, but continuing support from the rest of Europe would no doubt be welcome. This support should include the left. We need to go beyond bewailing the nasty Troika and support whatever practical measures Syriza can enact to begin the radical transformation of Greece.

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Calais and Aspiration

The attempts by migrants and asylum seekers to enter the UK is not particularly newsworthy in itself. Getting into the UK illegally is not an easy feat and the Channel ports and the tunnel would seem to be the most obvious place to make an attempt. The recent and ongoing crisis in and around Calais must seem small beer to some of the other countries in Europe that continue to bear the brunt of welcoming migrants. Despite the best attempts of our media, most would be migrants do not want to come to the UK. Only relatively small numbers out of the large and growing numbers of migrants end up by Calais.

Unfortunately this is enough to create a mini panic within the British establishment. How to keep the buggers out seems to be the dominant line. Never mind the humanitarian suffering behind all these movements or what is causing hundreds of thousands of people to undertake the dangerous journey of travelling half way round the world. Much simpler to just unremittingly focus on portraying them all as untrustworthy scroungers who must be kept out at all costs.

What I find particularly fascinating about the media and political response is how it relates to the celebration of aspiration as a positive virtue to be encouraged. Now if the thousands of people who are camped in and around Calais are demonstrating one thing, surely that is aspiration. They want to improve their lives and are prepared to undergo all kinds of unimaginable suffering and dangers in order to achieve this. Allied to a large dose of aspiration, these would be migrants have also demonstrated endeavour and determination in spades.  All the kind of things that our media and UK political parties constantly praise as key British values. We should therefore be welcoming with open arms the prospect of more young people full of aspiration, endeavour and determination. Exactly what the UK needs to meet the challenges of competition from China and the rest of the world.

But it seems that aspiration is only a good thing if it is British citizens who are doing the aspiring. Others are most clearly not welcome at all. Underlying the nasty language of the opposition to these would be migrants is a barely disguised racism and narrow nationalism. Of the British variety of course. What is especially sad about this, but all too predictable, is the alacrity with which the Labour party has joined in this attack on migrants. What the response from the British establishment in both the media and political parties shows, is that nationalism of the worst possible kind is alive and kicking in the UK. It is telling that it is the SNP, along with the Greens, who have made a more positive response, accepting that the UK should be willing to accept its fair share of the migrants arriving in Europe. Yet it is the SNP that continues to get accused of narrow nationalism. The nasty nationalistic response of the British establishment is but further proof of how unreformable the UK has become.

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