Tag Archives: The Independent

Colin Brown: Bush threatens Iran with military action

George Bush has warned Iran that military action is still “on the table” if it fails to respond to tightening diplomatic pressure to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

The EU is planning to announce the freezing of all overseas assets of the main bank in Iran. Sanctions are also to be tightened on gas and oil exports by Iran.

But the US President’s remarks on the last leg of his “farewell tour” of Europe raised fears at Westminster that Mr Bush is determined to take action against Iran before he leaves office in January if the sanctions fail to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Standing alongside the President after more than an hour of talks in Downing Street, Gordon Brown surprised EU council officials by announcing that the EU intends to intensify its sanctions on Iran, including freezing the billions of euros in overseas assets of the Melli Bank of Iran.

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Robert Fisk: The West’s weapon of self-delusion

So they are it again, the great and the good of American democracy, grovelling and fawning to the Israeli lobbyists of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), repeatedly allying themselves to the cause of another country and one that is continuing to steal Arab land.

Will this ever end? Even Barack Obama – or “Mr Baracka” as an Irish friend of mine innocently and wonderfully described him – found time to tell his Jewish audience that Jerusalem is the one undivided capital of Israel, which is not the view of the rest of the world which continues to regard the annexation of Arab East Jerusalem as illegal. The security of Israel. Say it again a thousand times: the security of Israel – and threaten Iran, for good measure.

Yes, Israelis deserve security. But so do Palestinians. So do Iraqis and Lebanese and the people of the wider Muslim world. Now even Condoleezza Rice admits – and she was also talking to Aipac, of course – that there won’t be a Palestinian state by the end of the year. That promise of George Bush – which no-one believed anyway – has gone. In Rice’s pathetic words, “The goal itself will endure beyond the current US leadership.”

Of course it will. And the siege of Gaza will endure beyond the current US leadership. And the Israeli wall. And the illegal Israeli settlement building. And deaths in Iraq will endure beyond “the current US leadership” – though “leadership” is pushing the definition of the word a bit when the gutless Bush is involved – and deaths in Afghanistan and, I fear, deaths in Lebanon too.

It’s amazing how far self-delusion travels. The Bush boys and girls still think they’re supporting the “American-backed government” of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon. But Siniora can’t even form a caretaker government to implement a new set of rules which allows Hizbollah and other opposition groups to hold veto powers over cabinet decisions.

Thus there will be no disarming of Hizbollah and thus – again, I fear this – there will be another Hizbollah-Israeli proxy war to take up the slack of America’s long-standing hatred of Iran. No wonder President Bashar Assad of Syria is now threatening a triumphal trip to Lebanon. He’s won. And wasn’t there supposed to be a UN tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005? This must be the longest police enquiry in the history of the world. And I suspect it’s never going to achieve its goal (or at least not under the “current US leadership”).

There are gun battles in Beirut at night; there are dark-uniformed Lebanese interior ministry troops in equally dark armoured vehicles patrolling the night-time Corniche outside my home.

At least Lebanon has a new president, former army commander Michel Sleiman, an intelligent man who initially appeared on posters, eyes turned to his left, staring at Lebanon with a creditor’s concern. Now he has wisely ordered all these posters to be torn down in an attempt to get the sectarian groups to take down their own pictures of martyrs and warlords. And America thinks things are going fine in Lebanon.

And Bush and his cohorts go on saying that they will never speak to “terrorists”. And what has happened meanwhile? Why, their Israeli friends – Mr Baracka’s Israeli friends – are doing just that. They are talking to Hamas via Egypt and are negotiating with Syria via Turkey and have just finished negotiating with Hizbollah via Germany and have just handed back one of Hizbollah’s top spies in Israel in return for body parts of Israelis killed in the 2006 war. And Bush isn’t going to talk to “terrorists”, eh? I bet he didn’t bring that up with the equally hapless Ehud Olmert in Washington this week.

And so our dementia continues. In front of us this week was Blair with his increasingly maniacal eyes, poncing on about faith and God and religion, and I couldn’t help reflecting on an excellent article by a colleague a few weeks ago who pointed out that God never seemed to give Blair advice. Like before April of 2003, couldn’t He have just said, er, Tony, this Iraq invasion might not be a good idea.

Indeed, Blair’s relationship with God is itself very odd. And I rather suspect I know what happens. I think Blair tells God what he absolutely and completely knows to be right – and God approves his words. Because Blair, like a lot of devious politicians, plays God himself. For there are two Gods out there. The Blair God and the infinite being which blesses his every word, so obliging that He doesn’t even tell Him to go to Gaza.

I despair. The Tate has just sent me its magnificent book of orientalist paintings to coincide with its latest exhibition (The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting) and I am struck by the awesome beauty of this work. In the 19th century, our great painters wondered at the glories of the Orient.

No more painters today. Instead, we send our photographers and they return with pictures of car bombs and body parts and blood and destroyed homes and Palestinians pleading for food and fuel and hooded gunmen on the streets of Beirut, yes, and dead Israelis too. The orientalists looked at the majesty of this place and today we look at the wasteland which we have helped to create.

But fear not. Israel’s security comes first and Mr Baracka wants Israel to keep all of Jerusalem – so much for the Palestinian state – and Condee says the “goal will endure beyond the current American leadership”. And I have a bird that sits in the palm tree outside my home in Beirut and blasts away, going “cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep” for about an hour every morning – which is why my landlord used to throw stones at it.

But I have a dear friend who believes that once there was an orchestra of birds outside my home and that one day, almost all of them – the ones which sounded like violins and trumpets – got tired of the war and flew away (to Cyprus, if they were wise, but perhaps on to Ireland), leaving only the sparrows with their discordant flutes to remind me of the stagnant world of the Middle East and our cowardly, mendacious politicians. “Cheep-cheep-cheep,” they were saying again yesterday morning. “Cheap-cheap-cheap.” And I rather think they are right.

* The Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-the-wests-weapon-of-selfdelusion-842117.html

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Robert Fisk: So just where does the madness end?

I am not sure what was the worse part of this week. Living in Lebanon? Or reading the outrageous words of George Bush? Several times, I have asked myself this question: have words lost their meaning?

So let’s start with lunch at the Cocteau restaurant in Beirut. Yes, it’s named after Jean Cocteau, and it is one of the chicest places in town. Magnificent flowers on the table, impeccable service, wonderful food. Yes, there was shooting at Sodeco – 20 yards away – the day before; yes, we were already worried about the virtual collapse of the Lebanese government, the humiliation of Sunni Muslims (and the Saudis) in the face of what we must acknowledge as a Hizbollah victory (don’t expect George Bush to understand this) and the danger of more street shooting. But I brought up the tiny matter of the little massacre in northern Lebanon in which 10 or 12 militiamen were captured and then murdered before being handed over to the Lebanese army. Their bodies were – I fear this is correct – mutilated after death.

“They deserved it,” the elegant woman on my left said. I was appalled, overwhelmed, disgusted, deeply saddened. How could she say such a thing? But this is Lebanon and a huge number of people – 62 by my count – have been killed in the past few days and all the monsters buried in the mass graves of the civil war have been dug up.

I chose escalope du veau at the Cocteau – I am sickened by how quickly I decided on it – and tried to explain to my dear Lebanese friends (and they are all dear to me) how much fury I have witnessed in Lebanon.

When Abed drove me up to the north of the country three days ago, bullets were spitting off the walls of Tripoli and one of the customs officials at the Syrian border asked me to stay with him and his friends because they were frightened. I did. They are OK.

But being from the wrong religion is suddenly crucial again. Who your driver is, what is the religion of your landlord, is suddenly a matter of immense importance.

Yesterday morning (and here I will spoil the story by telling the end of it), the schools reopened round my seafront apartment and I saw a woman in a hijab riding a bicycle down the Corniche and I took a call from my travel agent about my next trip to Europe – Beirut airport reopened – and I realised that Lebanon had “returned to normal”.

The roads were open again; the hooded gunmen had disappeared; the government had abandoned its confrontation with Hizbollah – the suspension of the Shia Muslim security chief at the airport (who bought me a bottle of champagne a year ago, I seem to remember – some Hizbollah “agent” he!) and the abandonment of the government’s demand to dismantle Hizbollah’s secret telecommunication system was a final seal of its failure – and I opened my newspaper and what did I read?

That George Bush declared in Jerusalem that “al-Qa’ida, Hizbollah and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognise the emptiness of the terrorists’ vision and the injustice of their cause”.

Where does the madness end? Where do words lose their meaning? Al-Qa’ida is not being defeated. Hizbollah has just won a domestic war in Lebanon, as total as Hamas’s war in Gaza. Afghanistan and Iraq and Lebanon and Gaza are hell disasters – I need no apology to quote Churchill’s description of 1948 Palestine yet again – and this foolish, stupid, vicious man is lying to the world yet again.

He holds a “closed door” meeting with Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara – a man stupendously unfit to run any Middle East “peace”, which is presumably why the meeting had to be “closed door” – but tells the world of the blessings of Israeli democracy. As if the Palestinians benefit from a democracy which is continuing to take from them the land which they have owned for generations.

Do we really have to accept this? Bush tells us that “we consider it a source of shame that the United Nations routinely passes more human rights resolutions against the freest democracy in the Middle East than any other nation in the world”.

The truth is that it is a source of shame that the United States continues to give unfettered permission to Israel to steal Palestinian land – which is why it should be a source of shame (to Washington) that the UN passes human rights resolutions against America’s only real ally in the region.

And what is Washington doing in the country where I live? It has sent one of its top generals to see the Lebanese army commander, signalling – a growing Fisk suspicion, this – that it has abandoned its support for the Lebanese government. The Americans promise more equipment for the Lebanese army.

Yes, always more equipment, more guns, more bullets to the Middle Eastern armies though – I have to say yet again (and I repeat that I do not like armies) – the Lebanese army saved us all this week. Its commander-in-chief, General Michel Sleiman, will become the next president and the Americans will support him and feel safe, as they always do, with a general in charge. “Chehabism”, as the Lebanese would say, has returned.

But I am not so sure. Sleiman gets on well with Damascus. He is not going to lead his soldiers into a pro-American war against Hizbollah. And the Lebanese are not going to join Bush’s insane “jihad” against the “world terror”.

There was a lovely moment in northern Lebanon this week – and here a big cheer for my brave friend Abed – when a Lebanese soldier at a checkpoint spotted me in our car and ran into the road.

“You are Mr Robert!” he shouted. “I have seen you on television! I read your book!” And he gave the thumbs-up sign. And I had to like this man. And I think he will fight for Lebanon. But I do not think he will fight for the Americans.

Robert Fisk’s new book, ‘The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings’, a selection of his Saturday columns in ‘The Independent’, is published by Fourth Estate

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-so-just-where-does-the-madness-end-829936.html

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Johann Hari: Are there just too many people in the world?

This is a column I don’t want to write. Its subject is ugly; it makes me instinctively recoil. I have chastised people who bring it up at environmentalist meetings. The people who talk about it obsessively have often been callous about human life, and consistently proved wrong throughout history. And yet… there is a grain of insight in what they say.

The subject is overpopulation. Is our planet over-stuffed with human beings? Are we breeding to excess? These questions are increasingly poking into public debate, and from odd directions. Phillip Mountbatten – husband of the British monarch Elizabeth Windsor – said in a documentary screened this week: “The food prices are going up, and everyone thinks it’s to do with not enough food, but it’s really [that there are] too many people. It’s a little embarrassing for everybody, nobody knows how to handle it.” He is not alone. A strange range of people have voiced the same sentiments over the past few months, from the Dalai Lama to Hu Jintao, from Conservative mayor Boris Johnson to Democratic Governor Bill Richardson.

They start by listing the sums, which are indeed startling. Every year, world population grows by 75 million people – equivalent to another Britain and Ireland whooshing fully-populated from the oceans. At the turn of the 18th century, there were 600 million people on earth. At the turn of this century, there were 6.6 billion. By the time I am in my sixties, there will be more than nine billion – at which point there will be more people alive simultaneously than in the first 17 centuries after Christ combined.

The overpopulation lobby say this will inevitably leave more and more people chasing after a diminishing amount of resources on an ecologically-ravaged planet. At their most pessimistic, they say human beings will, in the long sweep of planetary history, look like a big-brained version of a locust cloud. They eat everything in sight and multiply fifty-fold – until they have consumed everything, when they turn in desperation on each other, munch off their siblings’ heads, and then fall out of the sky dead.

They say with a frown that this global swarming is driving global warming. How can you be prepared to cut back on your car emissions and your plane emissions but not on your baby emissions? Can you really celebrate the pitter-patter of tiny carbon-footprints?

Yet this subject seems to leech out all the dark toxins of environmentalism – a movement I believe is the most urgent and important in the world. There has always been an element of green thinking that viewed humans as a parasitic infestation, wrecking the Eden of planet earth. The philosopher John Gray calls our species “homo rapiens”. The founder of Earth First!, Dave Foreman, called us “Humanpox” and wrote: “The Aids epidemic, rather than being a scourge, is a welcome development in the inevitable reduction of human population… If [it] didn’t exist, radical environmentalists would have to invent [it].”

If environmentalism sounds – or is – misanthropic, we will lose the argument. Most human beings will never think the world would be better off without us. Nobody thinks they are the surplus human being who should not have been born. These strident arguments hand a huge gift to the anti-greens, who always said we were anti-human beneath the surface.

It also looks like displacement. The places where population is growing fastest – sub-Saharan Africa, rural China and Bangladesh – have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Cambodian woman would need to have 262 children. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?

Once this gut-reaction has kicked in, I then think of the horrible history of overpopulation predictions. Most famously, the 18th century demographer Thomas Malthus said mass starvation was inevitable because population increases geometrically while food production grows arithmetically. He didn’t anticipate the coming of the Industrial Revolution. His successors in the 1960s, like Paul Ehrich and the Club of Rome, similarly didn’t see the Green Revolution that was galloping around the corner of history.

So it is tempting to say now that the overpopulation argument will smack into some new technological development. It’s not quite true to say there is a diminishing amount of resources, because the genius of human beings is to find new ways to use what is there. Two centuries ago, nobody could have conceived that the sun’s rays or the waves in the ocean were a resource to be used – but solar and tidal power make it so.

And yet, and yet … why do my own arguments leave me echoing with doubt? A dark voice in my head says: you would accept that, to pluck an absurd number, 100 billion people would be too many. You don’t think human genius is infinitely expansive; there is a limit to what it can solve. So isn’t the question just where you draw the line? If 100 billion is too much, why not nine billion?

Hmm. You should always take on the best arguments of your opponents, not the worst. There are good people – a world away from the British royals or the human-hating fringes – who are sincerely concerned about population levels: people like Professors Chris Rapley and John Guillebaud. They argue that although the swelling billions are not now emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases, they will see that we are doing it and will (totally understandably) want to join in the carbon bonfire.

But if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn’t abhorrent? Some people seem to reach instinctively for authoritarian answers. The government of China has bragged that its “greatest contribution” to the fight against global warming has been its policy of punishing, imprisoning or sterilising women who have more than one child. Some environmentalists – a small minority – eye this idea jealously.

There is a far better way – and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies – through contraception, abortion and general independence – they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries didn’t want their last child, but didn’t have the means to prevent it. We should be helping them by building a global anti-Vatican, distributing the pill and the words of Mary Wollstonecraft.

So after studying the evidence, I am left in a position I didn’t expect. Yes, the argument about overpopulation is distasteful, often discussed inappropriately, and far from being a panacea-solution – but it can’t be dismissed entirely. It will be easier for 6 billion people to cope on a heaving, boiling planet than for nine or 10 billion – and we will only get there by freeing women to make their own reproductive choices. To achieve this green goal, it’s necessary to mix some oestrogen into the environmentalist palette.

* j.hari@independent.co.uk
* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-are-there-just-too-many-people-in-the-world-828254.html

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Robert Fisk: ‘You become accustomed to the smell of blood during war’

I was in the occupied Palestinian city of Hebron once, in 2001, and the Palestinians had lynched three supposed collaborators. And they were hanging so terribly, almost naked, on the electricity pylons out of town, that I could not write in my notebook. Instead, I drew pictures of their bodies hanging from the pylons. Young boys – Palestinian boys – were stubbing out cigarettes on their near-naked bodies and they reminded me of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, all arrows and pain and forgiveness, and so all I could do was draw. I still have the pictures. They are ridiculous, stupid, the work of a reporter who suddenly couldn’t bring himself to write the details on the page.

But I understand Hoyland’s picture, even if it is not my picture. After I saw the oil fires burning in Kuwait in 1991, an Irish artist painted Fisk’s Fires – a title I could have done without – in which she very accurately portrayed the bleached desert with the rich, thick, chocolate-tasting oil we tasted in the aftermath of the war. Sometimes, I wish these painters were with us when we saw the war with our own eyes – and which they could then see with theirs.

But John Hoyland’s Blood and Flowers quite scrupulously directs our eyesight on to the bright, glittering centre of gore that we – be we photographers or writers – look at immediately we enter the centre of that little Golgotha which we wish to visit and of which we never wish to be a part: the hospital. Blood is not essentially terrible. It is about life. But it smells. Stay in a hospital during a war and you will become accustomed to the chemical smell of blood. It is quite normal. Doctors and nurses are used to it. So am I. But when I smell it in war, it becomes an obscenity.

I remember how Condoleezza Rice, when she was Secretary of State, visited Lebanon at the height of the war – at the apogee of the casualties – and said that the birth of democracy could be bloody. Well, yes indeed. The midwifery was a fearful business. Lots of blood. Huge amid the hospitals. God spare us Ms Rice’s hospital delivery rooms…

I’m not sure how sincerely we should lock on to art to portray history (or war). I have to admit that Tolstoy’s Battle of Borodino in War and Peace tells me as much about human conflict as Anna Karenina tells me about love. I am more moved by the music of Cecil Coles – one of only two well-known British composers killed in the 1914-1918 war – than I am by Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. But this does not reduce the comprehensive, unstoppable power of great art to convince – just as a brilliantly made movie can do in the cinema.

I have to admit that I have a few worries about art and war. Can a painter who has never experienced war really understand the nature of the vile beast? Most of Britain’s First World War artists were in France, but that does not apply to Iraq. When I saw wild beasts – the desert dogs – tearing apart the corpses of men, women and children in southern Iraq (killed by the United States Air Force and, yes, by the RAF, whose pilots – God bless them – refused to go on killing the innocent) and running off across the sand with fingers and arms and legs, there was no art form to convey this horror. Film would have been a horror movie, paintings an obscenity. Maybe only photographs – undoctored – can tell you what we see.

Goya got it right. I went to see an exhibition of his sketches in Lille a few years ago – the irony of my father’s trenches a few miles away (he was a 19-year-old soldier in the third battle of the Somme) not lost on me – and was almost overwhelmed by the cruelty that he transmits. The collaborators hanging, near-naked, from the pylons seemed so close to the raped and impaled guerrilla fighters of Spain that art seemed almost pointless. What is the point of intellect when the brain will always be crushed by the body?

When the Americans entered Baghdad in April 2003, I ran into the main teaching hospital in Baghdad to find a scene of Crimean war proportions. Men holding amputated hands, soldiers screaming for their mothers as their skin burned, a man without an eye, a ribbon of bandage allowing a trail of blood to run from his empty socket. Blood overflowed my shoes. I guess it’s at times like this that we need John Hoyland.

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Johann Hari: Israel is suppressing a secret it must face

When you hit your 60th birthday, most of you will guzzle down your hormone replacement therapy with a glass of champagne and wonder if you have become everything you dreamed of in your youth. In a few weeks, the state of Israel is going to have that hangover.

She will look in the mirror and think – I have a sore back, rickety knees and a gun at my waist, but I’m still standing. Yet somewhere, she will know she is suppressing an old secret she has to face. I would love to be able to crash the birthday party with words of reassurance. Israel has given us great novelists like Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua, great film-makers like Joseph Cedar, great scientific research into Alzheimer’s, and great dissident journalists like Amira Hass, Tom Segev and Gideon Levy to expose her own crimes.

She has provided the one lonely spot in the Middle East where gay people are not hounded and hanged, and where women can approach equality.

But I can’t do it. Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.

Standing near one of these long, stinking brown-and-yellow rivers of waste recently, the local chief medical officer, Dr Bassam Said Nadi, explained to me: “Recently there were very heavy rains, and the shit started to flow into the reservoir that provides water for this whole area. I knew that if we didn’t act, people would die. We had to alert everyone not to drink the water for over a week, and distribute bottles. We were lucky it was spotted. Next time…” He shook his head in fear. This is no freak: a 2004 report by Friends of the Earth found that only six per cent of Israeli settlements adequately treat their sewage.

Meanwhile, in order to punish the population of Gaza for voting “the wrong way”, the Israeli army are not allowing past the checkpoints any replacements for the pipes and cement needed to keep the sewage system working. The result? Vast stagnant pools of waste are being held within fragile dykes across the strip, and rotting. Last March, one of them burst, drowning a nine-month-old baby and his elderly grandmother in a tsunami of human waste. The Centre on Housing Rights warns that one heavy rainfall could send 1.5m cubic metres of faeces flowing all over Gaza, causing “a humanitarian and environmental disaster of epic proportions”.

So how did it come to this? How did a Jewish state founded 60 years ago with a promise to be “a light unto the nations” end up flinging its filth at a cowering Palestinian population?

The beginnings of an answer lie in the secret Israel has known, and suppressed, all these years. Even now, can we describe what happened 60 years ago honestly and unhysterically? The Jews who arrived in Palestine throughout the twentieth century did not come because they were cruel people who wanted to snuffle out Arabs to persecute. No: they came because they were running for their lives from a genocidal European anti-Semitism that was soon to slaughter six million of their sisters and their sons.

They convinced themselves that Palestine was “a land without people for a people without land”. I desperately wish this dream had been true. You can see traces of what might have been in Tel Aviv, a city that really was built on empty sand dunes. But most of Palestine was not empty. It was already inhabited by people who loved the land, and saw it as theirs. They were completely innocent of the long, hellish crimes against the Jews.

When it became clear these Palestinians would not welcome becoming a minority in somebody else’s country, darker plans were drawn up. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1937: “The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.”

So, for when the moment arrived, he helped draw up Plan Dalit. It was – as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe puts it – “a detailed description of the methods to be used to forcibly evict the people: large-scale intimidation; and laying siege to and bombarding population centres”. In 1948, before the Arab armies invaded, this began to be implemented: some 800,000 people were ethnically cleansed, and Israel was built on the ruins. The people who ask angrily why the Palestinians keep longing for their old land should imagine an English version of this story. How would we react if the 30m stateless, persecuted Kurds in the world sent armies and settlers into this country to seize everything in England below Leeds, and swiftly established a free Kurdistan from which we were expelled? Wouldn’t we long forever for our children to return to Cornwall and Devon and London? Would it take us only 40 years to compromise and offer to settle for just 22 per cent of what we had?

If we are not going to be endlessly banging our heads against history, the Middle East needs to excavate 1948, and seek a solution. Any peace deal – even one where Israel dismantled the wall and agreed to return to the 1967 borders – tends to crumple on this issue. The Israelis say: if we let all three million come back, we will be outnumbered by Palestinians even within the 1967 borders, so Israel would be voted out of existence. But the Palestinians reply: if we don’t have an acknowledgement of the Naqba (catastrophe), and our right under international law to the land our grandfathers fled, how can we move on?

It seemed like an intractable problem – until, two years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted the first study of the Palestinian Diaspora’s desires. They found that only 10 per cent – around 300,000 people – want to return to Israel proper. Israel can accept that many (and compensate the rest) without even enduring much pain. But there has always been a strain of Israeli society that preferred violently setting its own borders, on its own terms, to talk and compromise. This weekend, the elected Hamas government offered a six-month truce that could have led to talks. The Israeli government responded within hours by blowing up a senior Hamas leader and killing a 14-year-old girl.

Perhaps Hamas’ proposals are a con; perhaps all the Arab states are lying too when they offer Israel full recognition in exchange for a roll-back to the 1967 borders; but isn’t it a good idea to find out? Israel, as she gazes at her grey hairs and discreetly ignores the smell of her own stale shit pumped across Palestine, needs to ask what kind of country she wants to be in the next 60 years.

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-israel-is-suppressing-a-secret-it-must-face-816661.html

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Sarah Churchwell: The big issue in America is not race, it’s class

They’re calling it bold, audacious and risky, a political milestone and the most important speech on American race relations since Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed that his children might be judged by the contents of their character, rather than the colour of their skin. But according to the pundits, the power of Barack Obama’s epochal “race address” will be gauged by “white males, especially working-class males”.

“Will it win over the blue-collar white males who have been trending toward his opponent, or drive them away?” wondered Newsweek. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd quoted “a top pol” who felt that the controversy over Reverend Wright’s sermon had transformed Obama “in the minds of some working-class and crossover white voters from ‘a Harvard law graduate into a South Side Black Panther'”. It sounds like the set-up to a joke, but it’s all too serious. Question: what is the difference between a Harvard Law grad and a South Side militant? Answer: class.

Everywhere Obama is praised for “telling the truth about race” – but the success of his “race speech” is incessantly measured along class lines, because Obama actually charted a course through the crisscrossing lines of race and class, a complex social web that he described with great delicacy, but never came out and named.

What was most remarkable about this speech to my mind was not that Obama confronted race “head-on” (although that has certainly become uncommon in recent years) but that he repeatedly, and correctly, called race “a distraction,” on both sides of the colour line, from class issues: “Just as black anger often proved counter-productive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle-class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favour the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognising they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide.”

In one sense, Obama’s point couldn’t be clearer: race is a distraction from class-based inequities. And if we dismiss working-class resentment as camouflaged racism, we will continue to be distracted by the spectre of race. So why has no one noticed that the much-vaunted “race speech” is also a class speech? The answer to that is very complicated, but its roots may be traced in large part to what Obama referred to as the nation’s “original sin” of slavery. In order to tell the truth about race in America, we need to tell the truth about slavery: which is that slavery was not racially motivated – it was economically motivated, and justified by means of race.

Race was invented in order to rationalise slavery: if black people are inferior, they deserve enslavement (or so went the logic). Racism is an effect of slavery, not the other way around. Once slavery was abolished, not only did racism not disappear, neither did the economic system it upheld. Slavery was simply replaced by a new feudal system known as sharecropping, which Jim Crow helped sustain. The legacy of slavery comes from the sustained political, legal and economic effort to link permanently an entire group of people to poverty – and to mystify that systematic disenfranchisement by making up something called race, which could serve as a distraction.

Black people in America remain, to a large extent, an underclass. But they are not co-extensive with the underclass. There are rich, powerful black people (take a bow, Condoleezza). And we have a significant white underclass, too, one which has been given different names, in different colours – white trash, rednecks, blue-collar. What they all share is the experience of economic deprivation, which is why 10 years ago Toni Morrison could call Bill Clinton “the first black president,” because, she said, he showed all the signs: “single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas”. The only sign he doesn’t show is colour: because race in America is overwhelmingly defined by economic conditions.

To be absolutely clear: I am not saying that race per se doesn’t exist, or isn’t a problem in America. On the contrary. But we will never solve the problem of race in America until we do exactly what Obama suggests: see it for the distraction it is. It was invented to deflect attention away from economic, legal and political inequalities. And the longer that the Democrats ponder the complexities of identity politics, the more distracted they will become from the issues that are actually driving voters – including their utter disillusionment with the current administration and its catastrophic policies.

Democrats need to keep their eyes on the prize – beating McCain in November. The irony is that Obama’s speech urging us not to be distracted by race has so far had quite the opposite effect. Obama now needs to confront with equal candour the lesson we were taught by that “first black president”: it’s the economy, stupid.

* The Independent
* http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/sarah-churchwell-the-big-issue-in-america-is-not-race-its-class-800223.html
* Sarah Churchwell is a senior lecturer in American literature and culture at the University of East Anglia

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