水曜日, 8月 16, 2006


Enshrined in Tokyo's Yasukuni Jinja, it seems, are the souls of Japan's war dead and the hopes of Japan's right wing politicians. Junichiro Koizumi took his last chance to disgrace his office on the 15th of August, by paying his respects to the 'heroic souls' of the shrine - amongst them 14 souls so heroic that they were convicted as class A war criminals. This was his sixth visit to honour Tojo et al, but the first on the anniversary of Japan's defeat in the war those heroic souls and 'Showa martyrs' started. One of Koizumi's own MPs who criticized the visit had his house burned down by an ultra-nationalist, who then tried to commit hara-kiri. Suicide is the one endeavour in which I wish fascists well but it seems our hapless xenophobe couldn't finish the job. China and South Korea quickly protested Koizumi's calculated glorification of the destruction of their countries and enslavement of their people. The usual crowd of the Yomiuri, the Sankei and the right wing weeklies blustered about outside interference in Japan's affairs - nothing to say of course about Japan's really quite extensive interference in Chinese affairs of the first half of the twentieth century. Koizumi's critics have mostly mustered no more than the objection that the Yasukuni visits alienate other Asian countries. This misses the point for two reasons. One is that the viewpoint enshrined at Yasukuni, in particular the Yushukan museum, epitomises the lachrymose falsification of history ('Japan's dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia') by Japan's racist right. This is the same as entrusting the Berlin Holocaust museum to David Irving. Second, Koizumi wants to be seen being attacked by Japan's victims. It appeals both to his own politics and to his base, who must soon choose his successor.

And here, precisely in Yasukuni's status as a poke in the eye to the comfort women and slave labourers, lies the importance of the shrine visits to the LDP. Koizumi publicly proclaimed his intention, like Nakasone, the predecessor he most resmbles, to visit the Shrine on the anniversary of Japan's defeat. He has also sought to 'break' the Liberal Democratic Party so as to make Japan a neoliberal economy and offshore ally of the United States much in the manner of Britain. This project is protected by an aggressive nationalism amenable to the LDP old guard who prosper on the corrupt proceeds of government debt in the construction industry. Koizumi must step down as LDP leader in September - his favoured succesor is Shinzo Abe whose foreign policy stance is not immediately distinguishable from that of Shintaro Ishihara. Koichi Kato, victim of the unfortunate pyrotechnics mentioned above, has said that the Cabinet Secretary 'basically does not accept the Tokyo [war crimes] tribunal.' Abe 'secretly' visited the Yasukuni shrine in April - imparting a nudge, wink, we're all war crimes apologists of the world air to his campaign. If, and when, Abe becomes Prime Minister he will not face an election for at least three years. Furthermore since the Democratic Party of Japan shares most of its polcies with part of the LDP, Abe will arleady have won the election anyway. DPJ Members of Parliament themselves visit Yasukuni, and the best that a DPJ spokesman could do was to criticise Koizumi's hesitation about choosing a day for his pilgrimage. In the last election the DPJ were roundly trounced - perhaps they ought to learn the lesson that voters don't respect people without the guts to take their own side in an argument.

Is there hope? The Asahi vox populi pieces displayed a disturbing complacency. But there were several brave demonstrations around the country including one in Tokyo on Sunday the 14th. To stop the visits to honour war criminals, however, requires a large and vibrant movement against Japan's current participation in war crimes. That, we still await.

火曜日, 8月 15, 2006

A Festival of Resistance

Every August artists and art lovers come to the Edinburgh festival. This year they were treated to an even more valuable fringe event, as demonstrators from all over Scotland protested the Israeli destruction of Lebanon.
The police, as is their wont, profusely photographed the demonstration to ignore accurately its size. The police on the demonstration itself gave a head count of 5000. Their estimate of 3000 demonstrators in The Scotland on Sunday should be taken as the Lothian and Borders' Police entry to this year's comedy awards. Since the demonstration stretched from the top of Leith Walk to the Mound at one point, a reality based estimate would be closer to 10000 people. And what people they were. They included trade unionists and students, Muslims and non-Muslims, Jews and Gentiles, the elegant and the Glaswegian. A sure sign of a large and diverse demonstration is when one meets a casual acquaintance from an entirely seperate context - as I did while waiting at the Meadows for the march to move off.

After chatting with a prospective landlady (my acquaintances are very casual) I joined the moving protest through the University district. The demonstration made its way to the US consulate on Regent Terrace. There we sat down and those at the head of the demonstration laid children's shoes in front of the consulate, to represent the hundreds of Lebanese children killed by US made bombs dropped from US made planes by Israeli pilots. We then walked around the terrace onto Princes Street - producing the exhiliration that comes from a mass of political people dominating a shopping thoroughfare.

Having reclaimed Princes Street, we turned our attention to The Mound, where the rally was to begin. The platform in front of the assembly rooms was mounted by speakers such as Aamer Anwar, Muhammad Sarwar MP, Barry Levine of Scottish Jews for Justice for Palestinians and Salma Yaqub of Respect. The latter's speech summed up the meaning of the march, referring to the transatlantic terror stramash in all the papers;
'We're here to protest against real terrorist bombing - that in the skies above Lebanon.'
The rally ended with a resounding call to converge on the Labour Party conference in Manchester on the 23rd of September. As I write, the ceasefire in Lebanon appears to be holding, a month overdue. Even more overdue is the consignment of Tony Blair, aider and abetter of Israel's month of madness, to the dustbin of political history.

月曜日, 7月 31, 2006

Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Blame, Blame, Blame

'Chutzpah' is one of the good and guttural words that the Yiddish language has bequeathed to English. A history teacher at my high school once explained the meaning of chutzpah, in contrast to the more pedestrian 'cheek', thus; cheek is when a little boy stands on your flower pot to piss through your letter box. Chutzpah is when he knocks on the door and asks how far it went. In justifying their attempt to set Lebanon back twenty years, Israeli spokespeople have displayed a level of chutzpah that would be admirable if it were not in the service of such savagery.

Those of you who have been following this dreadful business are probably still reeling from the news of around 60 civilian deaths in an Israeli attack on the village of Qana. More than half of the victims were children. Aware that we had watched the bodies incontrovertibly being pulled from the rubble, Israeli spokespeople were on hand with the same boilerplate response. The words of the Israeli Ambassador to the UN encapsulate the lachrymose brutality characteristic of Israeli "hasbara";

'Those people, including women and children, who were killed in this horrible tragic incident may have been killed by Israeli fire but they are the victims of the Hizbullah. They are the victims of terror. If there were no Hizbullah this would never have happened.'

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not record whether any of the audience objected that if Israel had not invaded and occupied Southern Lebanon for twenty years there would indeed be no Hizbullah. But no matter, when historical fact becomes part of the terrorist infrastructure, it must also be dispensed with. What is on display here is chutzpah of the most startling kind - not only must we condemn Hizbullah for killing Israeli civilians, we now must condemn Hizbullah when Israel kills Lebanese civilians. The argument is faulty in fact, logic and ethics.

First, IDF assurances are not worth the journalists they are leaked to. According to Mitch Prothero's article in Slate, Hizbullah figthers stay well away from civilian areas to avoid potential informants. That might be Prothero's impression alone - but one certainly cannot fire a rocket from inside a house. Yet YNet, (Yediot Aharanot's online news) reports a General Eshel as saying the targets were 'meticulously sifted' - including, then, the houses of the 30 odd children killed by Israel's precision bomb. Israel, then did not bomb the house by mistake and no Israeli spokesperson has said so.

A further reason to doubt the IDF reports is the cracking form that organization has in killing people and then covering it up. Ten years ago the unfortunate civilians of Qana, this time huddled in a UN Compound saw more than 100 of their number killed by Israeli artillery. At the time the IDF insisted they had accidentally hit the compound while aiming for Hizbullah rocketeers nearby - a version of events that the UN report into the incident gave extremely short shrift. Others amongst you will remember the more recent example of Huda Ghalia, whose family were blown to pieces by Israeli fire on a beach in Gaza in June. The IDF said that they had stopped shelling at the point when the family was killed and that the explosion was probably due to a buried Hamas mine. The Guardian and Human Rights Watch, based on the direction of the injuries and the timing of the hospital records, have demonstrated that this is the purest tosh. Now it seems the IDF are trying the same grotesque trick with Qana, suggesting that the dead families had been hiding Hizbullah explosives in their cellar. I leave to the reader the judgement of how base one must be to bomb civilians and then make unverifiable accusations that one's dead child victims cannot refute. Those who find the exercise too distasteful may recall instead the bombing of the UN observation post at Khiam that killed 4 UN personnel. Israeli spokespeople sputtered with outrage - not that they had killed 4 UN observers but at the suggestion this was no accident. Yet the attack lasted six hours during which time the UN post told the Israelis ten times to stop the bombing.

In a new front, best described as The War on Logic, Israeli spokespeople have justified their attacks by dropping leaflets telling the civilian population to flee. Where will they go? Israel is bombing the roads and the cities too. Since Hizbullah is composed of the residents of South Lebanon, Israel may well be right that the guerillas operate from areas in and around villages - although Mitch Prothero disagrees. We know that Hizbullah is bombing the civilians of Haifa - no Israeli, British or American would accept the argument that because Haifa is a major naval base and all Israeli Jews are conscripted into the IDF, the citizens of that town are fair game. Yet this is precisely what we are expected to take when the IDF tells us it has attacked 'logistical sites' full of Lebanese children. This is not just chutzpah. This is dreck.

Lebanon's Tragedy, Scotland's Shame

In more innocent times, the most famous American cargo to pass through Prestwick airport was Elvis Presley. The 'war on terror' has seen some more unwelcome stopovers in Ayrshire. I have already written in this weblog on the 'extraordinary renditions' whose gruesome itineray has included Prestwick. The latest front in the War on Terror, Israel's destruction of Lebanon, has given 'Scotland's fastest growing airport' a new role - conduit for Israel's weapons of mass destruction.

And how destructive these weapons are - described in the Glasgow Herald as 'the most horrendously powerful non-nuclear weapons on Earth.' Last week at least two cargo planes stopped at Prestwick carrying laser guided GBU-28 'bunker buster' bombs. A further two flights at least landed on Saturday the 30th of July. The bombs are part of the yearly largesse of weapons with which the US arms Israel - and with which Israel is now busting not just bunkers but houses, roads and UN observation posts.

As we have come to expect, the transfer of heavy weaponry to the project of 'setting Lebanon back twenty years' has provoked popular outrage and official inaction. The airport responded with obtuse minutiae, redolent of a driving instructor or PE teacher ;

'We are fully compliant with the rules and regulations laid down by government authorities, including the Department of Transport, and follow any directives we receive.

“The operation of flights which have been the subject of intense media attention recently is a matter between governments and discussions with regard to their operation takes place at a much higher level than us.'

Heaven forfend that the Dept. of Transport Rules and Regulations might be excluded. One expects this sort of thing from Ayrshire middle managers thrust into the mejia, but the 'higher levels' concerned have had resort to the same jargon laden pettiness in a matter of life and death. Margaret Beckett, in direct contradiction to the airport bosses, mustered;
' it appears that in so far as there are procedures for handling of that kind of cargo it does appear that they were not followed.'

There is only one defensible procedure for cargoes of weaponry to a state that has killed 700 civilians in the past fortnight - don't handle it at all. The planes that refuelled at Prestwick had been refused landing rights at Shannon airport in Ireland. The decision to aid the transfer of US weaponry to Israel is another act of British complicity in the slaughter in the Middle East, which Condoleeza Rice and George Bush have made clear is of a piece with US policy in the region. Bush and Blair may be prepared to fight to the last Israeli to weaken Iran but ordinary Scots are having none of it. Two vocal and well attended demonstrations have already been organised by Glasgow's Stop the War Coalition and they may have forced the diversion of the flights on Saturday night. More please - and more from the Scottish Executive. Transport is one of the Executive's powers. Is it not about bloody time they used it?

月曜日, 7月 17, 2006

Malevolent Neutrality

As Lebanon's apartments and airports collapsed in flames under Israeli missiles on Sunday, the G8 issued a ringing condemnation - of the Lebanese. According to the summitteers '[t]he immediate crisis results from efforts by extremist forces to destabilise the region and to frustrate the aspirations of the Palestinian, Israeli and Lebanese people for democracy.' This is hypocritical tosh. The Palestinians have democratically expressed their aspirations by voting Hamas into government, and the Lebanese by giving Hizbullah 28 MPs, one of whom holds the cabinet post of minister of Labour. Israel seems intent on protecting its self image as 'the only democracy in the Middle East' by destroying the other democracies on its borders. The G8 summit is one more stain on the blotted scutcheon of the EU and US as they join Israel's blockade of the Palestinians for electing the wrong government. The Palestinian raid which captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit on the 25th June was followed by an intensified bloackade. On Wednesday the 12th of July Hizbullah,presumably seeking to show solidarity with the otherwise abandoned Palestinians, also attacked an Israeli patrol and captured two Israeli soldiers. If this is a war, as Ehud Olmert says and the presence of indiscriminate bombing and lying suggest, then Israel could have accepted Hamas and Hizbullah's offer of a prisoner exchange. Israel did not, responding instead with the destruction of Lebanon from ground,sea and air - an assault that has left 200 Lebanese and 24 Israelis dead. At the head of the phalanx is Amir Peretz, Israeli minister of defence. Peretz was Olmert's opponent from the left in the election this past spring and inspired the hopes of many for a new rationality in Israeli politics. The attacks on Gaza, and now Lebanon, place him as simply the latest Israeli Labour leader who flattens to deceive. The Great Powers responded to the pounding of Lebanon with the traditional display of even bloodyhandedness, calling upon Israel 'to exercise the utmost restraint.' Suitably chastened, Israeli forces proceeded to kill 34 Lebanese the following day. But the G8 are worse than irrelevant - they are complicit. President Bush - caught off record demanding that Syria 'stop this shit' - and Tony Blair have made a great fuss about Syria and Iran's support for Hizbullah. Yet every Israeli warplane that bombed a Lebanese bridge or destroyed a block of flats comes from the West.

On Wednesday the 12th of July Hizbullah launched their daring raid and in a subsequent skirmish killed eight Israeli soldiers. That night Israeli warplanes bombed much of Southern Lebanon and Beirut, including an attack on the airport. Around 35 Lebanese people were killed. The warplanes were F 16 fighter bombers. Since the United States is the only country that makes the F 16 the planes were certainly American, and probably part of the 52 aircraft sold to Israel in 2002. 'Sold' is to be taken in its broadest meaning here, since the planes were paid for with the $2.8 billion the US gave to Israel that year.

Taxpayers money was put to good use again on Friday the 14th, when Israel bombed further the infrastructure of the terrorist threat such as roads, bridges and petrol depots. 50 Lebanese were killed that day. On Saturday Israeli expanded its assault to Tripoli in the north of Lebanon where are there are few Shia and even fewer Hizbollah supporters. 18 Lebanese refugees were killed by Israeli missiles on the road to Tyre. In response to the attacks and the bombing of its headquarters Hizbullah fired rockets into Tiberias and against an Israeli warship blockading Beirut. The warship was almost certainly one of 7 vessels sold to Israel by the Federal Republic of Germany, again bought with American money.

Sunday saw 30 Lebanese killed by Israeli missiles, including a Canadian family. A subsequent Hizbullah rocket attack on Haifa killed 8 Israelis. Monday brought the Lebanese death toll, paid for by the even handed West, to over 200 people. Hundreds of people are now dead for the sake of two Israeli soldiers - so ghastly an imbalance that even Israel has changed its public aim of the operation to forcing the Lebanese government to disarm Hizbullah and control the Southern border. It is no surprise that Israel wants to disarm the only Arab force that has beaten it on the battlefield but the demand is both hypocritical and illogical. Hypocritical because Israel, unrecalcitrant subject of 30 UN Security Council Resolutions, is insisting upon the implementation of UNSC 1599 which calls for the disarmament of Lebanese militias. Illogical because Israel couldn't disarm Hizbullah, a force established only to resist the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon. As the past week had made clear, Israel controls Lebanon's southern border. Hizbullah and Hamas have launched rocket attacks against the military that continues to occupy their land (the Shebaa Farms between Syria and Lebanon and the siege imposed on all of Gaza). That military is the one that the Western powers should think about disarming - or at least stop arming.

金曜日, 6月 09, 2006

Extraordinarily Rendered Democracy

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb ‘to render’ as ‘process (the carcass of an animal) in order to extract proteins, fats, and other usable parts’. Was Michael Shuer,the CIA agent who created the programme of ‘extraordinary rendition’ thinking of this ghastly and appropriate usage at the time? Given the candour of his testimony ( 'I check my moral qualms at the door') to the Council of Europe report on the subject, the reference may be intentional. One cannot say, but the report on the torture by proxy of people the US suspects of being terrorists reiterates one main point and introduces another. The first, fairly well known, thing is that the US has been kidnapping people and transporting them to countries where they are, well, 'processed to extract the usable parts.' The next point is that democracy has been abused twice over – first by the commission of the torture and second by the attempts of European states to hide their complicity in it.

The Council of Europe, which British tabloids maliciously but probably not ignorantly confuse with the European Union, was established after the Second World War to defend the human rights so grossly violated in that conflict. When the Washington Post and ABC television published news of 'extraordinary rendition' and secret prisons late in 2005 the Council ordered a Swiss lawyer, Dick Marty, to write a report. Lacking investigatory power, there is much the report cannot say but it contains a useful compilation of the (sordid) facts of the case. These are that 'an unspecified number of persons, deemed to
be members or accomplices of terrorist movements, were arbitrarily and unlawfully arrested and/or detained and transported under the supervision of services acting in the name, or on behalf, of the American authorities'. The destinations to which these persons were eventually transported include Cairo, Amman, Kabul, Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay. Although the number of victims is unknown, the report relates 14 cases. The common modus operandi described in the report seems to be something like this; the suspect is captured at an airport and taken for a 'security briefing'. During this briefing, silent hooded men in black clothes beat the suspect, cut off his clothes, blindfold him and insert something into his anus. The victim is then taken on board a plane, shackled to the floor and flown to a place of interrogation - perhaps the aptly named 'Prison of Darkness' in Kabul. Three cases in particular stand out for the brutality of the treatment, the flimsiness of the accuastions against the victims and the collusion of European governments.

Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese provenance, was seized in Macedonia on New Year's Eve. He was held for three weeks, questioned about Al Quaida and then 'rendered' to Kabul. In Kabul he was subject to further brutal interrogations in the presence of American officials, despite the fact that the only evidence against him was his association with an Indonesian suspect. Such information could only have come from a local - that is to say German- intelligence source. In May 2004, after the apparent involvement of a German officer, Al Masri was dumped in Albania and made his own way back to Germany. One particularly grotesque detail is that, as the Marty relates, '[s]ubsequent media reports confirm that senior officials in Washington, including the CIA Director Tenet, were informed long before Mr El-Masri’s release that the United
States had detained an innocent man.'

A further case of guilt by association is that of Bisher Al-Rawi and Jamil Al Banna. These men, holding permanent residence in Britain, attended the same mosque as Abu Qatada, a Jordanian cleric arrested by British police in October 2002. Al-Rawi had even co-operated with the police in that operation. The British state thus proved not only unjust but ungrateful when M15 in November 2002 sent false messages to the CIA indicating that Al-Rawi and Al Banna should be arrested on a business trip to Gambia. Al Banna reports his interrogator asking
‘Why are you so angry at America? It is your Government, Britain, the MI5, who called the CIA and told them that you and Bisher were in the Gambia and to come and get you.'
The men were taken to Kabul in December 2004 - there Al Banna was offered money to produce false evidence against Abu Qatada. This he refused to do and was subsequently threatened with further imprisonment and 'shameful' acts against his family, which Marty spares the reader. The two men were transported to Guantanamo Bay, where they remain.

The testimony of another man, once voluntarily resident in Britain and now also involuntarily resident in Cuba, completes a grisly triptych. Binyan Mohammed Al Habashi was an Ethiopian refugee living in Britain. He left his family in the summer of 2001, and was arrested by Pakistani officials in Karachi in April 2002, then transferred to American hands. Insisting upon his right to a lawyer, he was told;
'The law has been changed. There are no lawyers. You can co-operate
with us the easy way, or the hard way. If you don’t talk to us, you’re going to Jordan. We can’t do what
we want here, the Pakistanis can’t do exactly what we want them to do. The Arabs will deal with you.'
And how did the Arabs 'deal' wih Habashi? He was transported to Morroco in July 2002 and remained there until January 2004. He was interrogated by Morrocans apparently in the presence of American officers; in one instance he claims that one of his interrogators
'took my penis in his hand and
began to make cuts. He did it once and they stood for a minute, watching my reaction. I was in agony,
crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming. They must have done this 20 to 30
times, in maybe two hours. There was blood all over. They cut all over my private parts. One of them
said it would be better just to cut it off, as I would only breed terrorists.'
During this time Habashi was subjected to the familiar refrain of the sadist with authority -'if you say this story as we read it... all this torture will stop.' It is difficult to know if the torture has stopped, since Habashi was also transferred incognito to Guantanamo Bay and is still there.

The instances I have related above from Marty's report, as well as the rest of the evidence that document contains, are all in the public domain. Thus was Blair able to dimiss the report by saying that there was 'nothing new' in it. Is there an obfuscation more contemptible than this? In common with the other European governments fingered by Marty's report, Britain 'ignored them (the renditions) knowingly, or did not want to know.' But how did they know enough to know that they didn't want to know? There is, of course, little mystery here. The British Government, and some other European states, are allied with or providing aid to the United States in the 'War on Terror', which war will spread democracy and human rights to the dictatorships of the Arab world. Yet in this war the US and its co-conspirators make ample use of those same dictatorships, their fondness for the midnight hooding and the electrocuted testicle. One does not know whether to rage first against the brutality or the hypocrisy. The grim and grotesque business does at least provide more support for what we on this side of the house have always argued - that the defence of democracy and human rights begins with opposition to the war. A welcome move in that defence is the establishment of torture awareness month, happening now and awaiting your support.

水曜日, 5月 24, 2006

The Withdrawal Method

The occupation of Iraq seems to reach a 'new turning point' roughly once every three months. Saddam Hussein has been captured, elections held, a fresh, new and sectarian constitution draughted. Yet still ever more tunnel emerges at the end of the light. The feel good announcement for the spring quarter is the appointment of a new Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki. No sooner was Maliki in the job than Tony Blair arrived for a joint press conference - calling up the agreeable possibility of a journalists' sweepstake on which of the pair will last longer. Maliki gave Blair a bit of a shock by saying that Iraqi troops will replace foreign ones in sixteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces, beginning in June. This is unlikely actually to happen, since the occupiers think the Iraqi security forces are not up to the job, but Blair was expecting to announce a withdrawals of British troops starting in July. More interesting than this mix up about dates is the effect of the planned British redeployment on the Japanese troops in Iraq. The Japanese soldiers are currently stationed in the town of Samawa, in the province of Muthanna. If Muthanna is 'Iraqized' (a strange usage since it is already part of Iraq) then Japanese people will be unsure whether the Self Defence Force troops are coming home or not, as well as not knowing why those troops were really sent to Iraq in the first place.

The first troops of the 'ground self defence force' were sent to Samawa in January 2004. Since Japan is consitutionally forbidden, first of all to have an army and secondly to send armed forces overseas, one might ask how well the non-existent army could defend Japan on the territory of Iraq. At the United Nations University in the autumn of 2004 your correspondent was witness to a harangue on this very subject by Japan's former ambassador to the Netherlands. The nicotine stained functionary asserted, in the manner of a judo club senior member scolding an inferior, that Japan was fulfilling its humanitarian duty as a developed country. Indeed, the SDF forces are in Iraq,according to Prime Minister Koizumi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to provide 'humanitarian and reconstruction assistance' to the people of Samawa. But since under the 'Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq', the Self Defence Force are forbidden to operate in the battlefield,why send soldiers at all? Japanese troops are relying upon British and Australian soldiers to protect them - as any civilian contractors would be. So why are the Japanese soldiers in Samawa and how long will they stay? The answers to these questions have little to do with the Governorate of Muthanna and a very great deal to do with Japan's relations with the US.

Upon the extension of the SDF dispatch in January 2005 Koizumi borrowed the words of the constitution for which his actions showed such low regard,saying 'extending a helping hand for another country's nation-building is in accord with the spirit of Japan's "desire to occupy an honored(sic) place in the international society."' Iraq was a nation, albeit a rather unhappy one, before the US and Britain invaded it. There can be little honour in co-operating with the exercise in nation-destruction that has followed. Yet, on the grounds that 'mutual cooperation and fostering a relationship of trust [with the USA] is essential for Japan's peace and stability' Koizumi dispatched the SDF to Samawa to prove that Japan had soldiers and they would go where ever the US needed them to. Also instructive here are the words of Self Defence Agency Chief Shigeru Ishiba as he sent off the first troops; '[t]he reason we can lead such an affluent life...it is because we have a stable oil supply from the Middle East, isn't it?' And here lies the problem for Koizumi. To placate his allies he ordered Japanese troops to participate in the occupation of Iraq. Yet those troops need the allied soldiers to protect them against the resistance to the occupation. What will happen now that Britain says it will withdraw troops from Muthanna? Ishiba's successor Fukushiro Nukaga says that the SDF will go when the British and Australian troops go. This is not good enough. If the SDF are so unecessary that they are simply waiting for the British decision then they can come home immediately. Let us hope they would be swiftly followed by all foreign troops in Iraq.

土曜日, 5月 06, 2006

Life and Debt Film Showing

I have so far written only essay length pieces on this site. Now I want to give a brief notice about a film showing to be held in Shimokitazawa in Tokyo on the 14th of May. The film is Life and Debt, a documentary about the impact of globalisation on Jamaica. The event is organised by Spring, a group of activists doing sterling work in Tokyo and its surroundings. The event will be held in 'Heaven's Gate' close to Shimokitazawa station and will begin at 4 pm. A discussion will follow so, as they say, bring a friend and an open mind.
See You there

火曜日, 5月 02, 2006

Harassed in Harajuku

On the day before May Day I found myself particpant in, and witness to, a reminder of why the day and the movement for which it stands are so necessary. The occasion was a march in Harajuku held by the 'Conspiracy of the Precariat.' This group, who organise temporary, part time and otherwise shabbily treated employees, make up in chutzpah what they lack in discipline. The slogans of the march and rally ( Freedom and Survival!) were somewhat abstract. The violence of the police was distressingly concrete. By my own estimate, some three hundred odd riot police were on hand (and foot and club) to protect the public from fewer than one hundred and fifty demonstrators. Several arrests were made; those snatched included three activists, a van, a sound system and a balloon. Why such brutal treatment of such an unfortunately small group? The explanation begins with the rally that preceded the march.

The Conspirators held their assuredly public meeting in Onden-ku Community Centre in Harajuku. The venue was well advised since Harajuku is popular with the young and the different, those most likely to lead the precarious existence against which the conspirators ranged themselves. The heavy presence of note taking middle aged men outside the building, however, suggested more the secret policeman or the pervert (the two are far from mutually exclusive.) Perhaps one hundred people ignored the snitches and attended the symposium. The participants were noticeably younger and more female than those of other meetings of the Japanese left.The platform, two academics and a trade unionist, was somewhat conventional but a fairly interesting discussion followed their respective speeches. This discussion led naturally to the demonstration, upon which we soon set out.

At the head of the demonstration the organisers had arranged a van with a sound system, playing the cheerful trance music most likely to appeal to the Harajuku set. This van made the police very angry; most of all they were angry that they had no legal reason to remove it. Their attempts to do so say much about whom the Japanese state allows space and sound - any moustachioed xenophobe can blare racist dirges at passers by and expect no trouble. After some orchestrated scuffling the police allowed the march, which was legal and permitted, to proceed.

Harajuku's shoppers, many perhaps freeters themselves, appeared to welcome the march and many joined in with gusto. At the junction of Omotesando and Meiji Dori the police determined themselves to put a stop to such behaviour. Ranks of the riot squad amassed to bark and to bully. The police stopped the music van and arrested the driver and another particpant who ran to defend him. As they bundled these men away in a gunmetal van, the police surrounded the demonstration, violently shoving back anyone who tried to engage passers by. The slogans of the demonstration turned, naturally and humanly, to 'Give us back our friends!' This the coppers had no intention of doing and the confrontation continued for ten minutes or more. Once allowed to proceed, the march moved on again in the direction of Shibuya, remarkably still picking up passers by. Of particular note was the reaction to MacDonald's restaurants along the route. The march stopped at each of these fast food outlets and demanded 'higher wages! higher wages!' to the approval of the customers eating substandard food and the workers receiving substandard pay.

Displays of solidarity such as these were of course too good to be allowed to continue. With dreary and predictable thuggishness, the police launched another assault in the busy shopping area in front of Shibuya station. The pretext this time was the large red balloons one of the marchers had been carrying. The police violently parted the balloon from its owner and arrested both. Your correspondent and another particpant turned back to see what was going on, as did most of the demonstration. The police quickly surrounded the balloon carrier, and in the meanwhile around seven or eight of their colleagues rounded upon a leading female activist who was using a megaphone to draw attention to the brutality. The image of this courageous comrade can serve as a metaphor for the demonstration as a whole; weighing less than fifty kilogrammes and submerged in a sea of violent cop, she never once stopped dissenting through the megaphone as they forced her to the ground. Other demonstrators arrived to protest the shamlessness of the police and our comrade was released. The balloons were not so lucky; along with their owner they were taken away in the police van, hanging forlornly from the doors. It seems even reactionaries appreciate the theatre of the absurd.

Sans truck, sans music and sans balloons, the march returned to the orginal meeting place. There followed an impressive display of the solidarity and democracy from which the police did their best to protect Japanese society. After an open meeting and report of the day's, the group decided unanimously to go to the police stations and demand the release of their comrades. One of the prisoners has so far been released - two are still in custody. If you wish to support the balloon carriers against the baton wielders please send a message
I had intended to show pictures of the police at work in this report but cannot do so for legal reasons. When the other two protestors are released I will add photographic evidence.

There will be more May Days and more marches. It is likely that the state, in its tangible form as an extendable truncheon, will try to repress these also. The answer to this is not to be intimidated when police outnumber demonstrators. It is to make the demontrations too big to be outnumbered.

火曜日, 4月 25, 2006

Policies Without Politics

Multilateral organisations, those assemblies of ideology and acronyms, regularly produce documents with homilies for titles and non-sequitirs for content. It was with this thought in mind that your correspondent attended a seminar of the Inter American Development Bank on its report 'The Politics of Policies; Economic and Social Progress in Latin America 2006' . The report itself is remarkable only for its authors' ability simultaneously to state and ignore the obvious. The reaction of the audience at the seminar, made up of academic economists, ambassadors and their retinue, was rather more intriguing.

To offer up ‘The Politics of Policies’ the Bank sent two of the report’s authors. One, Ernesto Stein, is a plump, pleasant economist of the orthodox type; the other, Mark Payne, is what is known in the US as a ‘political scientist’. Their presentation, and the report on which it was based, offer little more than the commonplaces of both disciplines. They helpfully summarised the book length report into ten ‘main messages’. One usually lists points to make them more concise – a representative example of ‘Policies’ main messages reads
‘Effective political processes and better public policies are facilitated by political parties that are institutionalized and programmatic, legislatures that have sound policymaking capabilities, judiciaries that are independent, and bureaucracies that are strong.’


The IDB, one might object, is interested in financial performance not prose style. Perhaps, but the report is prolix precisely because it avoids anything to do with actual politics. For all the fluff about moving ‘beyond a technocratic approach to policymaking’ the authors remain certain about what makes a correct, or in their terms, ‘high quality’ public policy. The problem lies in the ‘making’. Good policies are those which in Stein’s words ‘ as technocrats we think are optimal’ – that is to say privatisation, wage cuts, lower social spending and all the other dreary panoply of neo-liberalism. It takes the specially trained obtuse not to see that the growing revolt across Latin America is directed against these policies, not the inability of governments to implement them. And one might expect such a revolt, given that the number of Latin Americans in poverty has doubled in the two decades of neoliberalismo.
At the beginning of the IPES report the wood peeps gingerly from the trees in the admission that the outcome of ‘Washington consensus reforms’ has been ‘somewhat disappointing.’ Intellectually incapable of criticizing those reforms, the authors briskly proceed to quantify cabinets, typologise judiciaries and regress re-election rates. All of this simply to repeat what one can already read in the Economist – ‘high quality policies’ are those that make businessmen happy.

Anxious to know the IDB’s quality control procedure for public policy, I asked Mark Payne, joint author of the report. Dr Payne cleared things up by explaining that good policies are ‘public regarding’ policies. But which public, and how is it regarded? A glance at point 5 of the appendix was revealing. Public regardedness, it seems, is based upon the responses of participants in the Global Competitiveness Report. That is to say, business executives are being asked about the impact of poverty, as the seminar panel later admitted. Ask a silly question…

At this sort of policy wonk bash, a lone radical is apt to feel compelled to stand up for the toiling masses. It was pleasing then, and testimony to the changes in Latin America, that the assembled high-heid yins started asking all the right questions. An experienced Chilean economist, author of a literally textbook model of international trade, protested that the word class appeared only five times in the report, and the word discrimination not at all. In his response, however, Dr Stein proved unable even to utter the word, let alone, analyse the concept, of class. Greater shock arrived when the Argentinian ambassador to Japan suggested that the report sought to promote stability at the expense of democracy. Most forthcoming was (His Excellency) the Panamanian ambassador, who attacked with vim and scorn ‘the financial policy of Wall Street’. Now, after this debate, the participants of course retired to slap backs and grease palms. Yet if the debate is being heard even here, what are they saying in the barrios and barricades? There's social progress worth writing a report about.

金曜日, 4月 14, 2006


Residents of Japan who were born in other places are often asked to take part in 'internationalisation' activities. This usually means visiting schools or community centres to explain that one's country has/ does not have four seasons and its people eat/ do not eat raw fish. The favoured nationalities with whom Japanese schoolchildren are expected to internationalise themselves are usually allies of the Japanese state. An American is always a star turn, followed by people from Western Europe or another of its overseas tendrils. Chinese people will find their mobile phones largely untroubled because if Japanese people want to do any thinking about China, the Japanese government will do it for them. This inane, sometimes well intentioned, guff makes up the efforts of the Japanese ruling class to 'internationalise'. Repugnant to that class is the quite different phenomenon of internationalism. Internationalism is a fine, and sturdy, and precious thing and it may be even rarer in Japan than in other advanced countries. Your correspondent was delighted therefore to encounter recently a group of activists trying to unite unorganised young and immigrant workers in Tokyo -as well as an immigrant worker seeking a hearty dose of organisation.

The 'Conspiracy of the Precariat', in addition to having a good eye for names, are bringing together a mix of the right type of people for 'Freedom and Survival May Day 06'. Their May Day rally and demonstration will be held on the 30th of April at 2 pm in Onden-ku Community Centre, Harajuku (神宮前隠田区民会館). The main conspirators are the "Freeter's General Union'. Freeters are those young people in Japan who work in petrol stations and convenience stores for little money and less security. Perhaps the only group worse off in the Japanese labour market are migrant workers - it was a stroke of luck, then that I met just such a worker the day before I joined the conspirators.

The worker I met was called Mali. Sri Lankan by birth, she was passing on her bike and gave a robust hello as I idled beneath the cherry blossoms. She joined me there and told me what had happened to her. She worked, very hard, in the kitchen of a local restaurant, Ton Q. I urge you to boycott this place. Four foreigners work in the kitchen there, it seems, none in the front of the resaturant. In the five years Mali had worked there, she told me, neither she nor the other foreign workers had received a wage rise. Japanese workers who started after Mali had had such a rise. She had left Sri Lanka because her husband was a drug addict. She described to me how she watched him get thinner and take all her money. She had two daughters with him - they were now safe but very far from Mali, with her sister in Sri Lanka. She had not seen her daughters for five years, and spoke to them only once a month by phone. I saw her photographs of two lively little girls, cherished each in a plastic sheath. Having told me these things, we exchanged numbers and she offered to make me a curry. I hope she has spoken to the union organisers before I enjoy her hospitality. I also hope to see as many people as possible in Harajuku on the 30th. There we can conspire for a world where cherry blossoms fall on people not ruled by need and fear.

金曜日, 4月 07, 2006

Bellowing Through The Lobby

People on the left who support the Palestinians are used to being accused, unfairly and with tiresome frequency, of anti-semitism. It is a measure of our opponent's calibre that their first resort is to call people who disagree with them Nazis; rather more intriguing is to find some of the highest panjandrums of American political science in the dock with Palestine solidarity activists and anti-capitalist protesters. Yet the flimsy slander of 'new anti-semitism' has now spread so far as to reach professors of International Relations at Harvard and Chicago Universities. Many of you are probably familiar with the stramash over the recent article in the London Review of Books by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. The article is interesting but wrong. The Zionist response to it is just wrong.

Walt and Mearsheimer's argument is quite a familiar one, although its proponents are unexpected. Both men are well known to students of International Relations as authors of spotlessly orthodox works in the 'neo-realist' school; Walt's 'The Origins of Alliances' and Mearsheimer's 'The Tragedy of Great Power Politics'. Neo-realists usually argue that a state's 'national interest' is its main business. It is no surprise then that Walt and Mearsheimer judge US support for Israel against that standard and find the policy quite unhelpful. The pair propose that '‘[t]he combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world." It's difficult to disagree with this, but Walt and Mearsheimer go further - the US alliance with Israel cannot be explained by either American geopolitical aims or moral sympathy for the plucky little 'democratic Jewish state'. Indeed, the only reason for the extravagant patronage is that "the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’." Much of Walt and Mearsheimer's analysis is a fine and rigorous assault on the piffle that informs commonplace apologies for Israel. The main argument, that the 'Israeli Lobby', as they put it, has skewed US Middle East policy away from the national interest is not so sound.

Where Walt and Mearsheimer go wrong is in their idea of 'the national interest' and the strategy necessary to protect it. They begin by saying "[b]y serving as America’s proxy after 1967, it [Israel] helped contain Soviet expansion in the region and inflicted humiliating defeats on Soviet clients like Egypt and Syria. It occasionally helped protect other US allies (like King Hussein of Jordan) and its military prowess forced Moscow to spend more on backing its own client states". After the Cold War, however Israel became a strategic liability; the US could not include Israel in either of its wars against Iraq for fear of alienating the Arab states. And there's more - Israel is no use in the War On Terror because "the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around." Well, and bravely, said but somewhat missing the point. Containment of the USSR, as described in Chomsky's response to the LRB article on Znet, was not the primary aim of US Middle East policy after the Second World War. The 'national interest' has always been to resolve the paradoxical presence of Western oil underneath Arab sand. But, the professors might retort, nothing alienates those oil producers more that US support for Israel. Well, the US does a pretty good job of alienating ordinary Middle Easterners without any help - after Israel the next largest recipient of US aid is Egypt's (tyrannical, corrupt, republican) government, before that it was the Shah of Iran's (tyrannical, corrupt, monarchical) government. US policy in the Middle East is a search for governments stable enough to keep the oil on tap but pliant enough not to nationalise it. The difference with Israel is that the state as a whole cannot survive without foreign help - it is impossible ever to imagine Israel, in the manner of Saddam Hussein, biting the hand that gave it such big teeth. American Presidents have understood this at least since Nixon ( whose own anti-semitism was as repulsive as the rest of his bigotries) and probably since 1967. You can find a further discussion in Avi Shlaim's book 'The Iron Wall.'

This lacuna leads Walt and Mearsheimer into all sorts of confusion in their discussion of 'the Lobby'. This they define as "shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction". Loose though this coalition may be, its real substance is the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. This committee, Walt and Mearsheimer propose, influences US Middle East policy through its "stranglehold" on Congress, the importance of Jewish voters to Presidential elections and the prevalence of the 'Lobby perspective' in the media. One needs money in politics, and a very great deal of it in US politics. AIPAC dispenses its funds to representatives who support Israel and vilifies those who do not. All very true but, as Walt and Mearsheimer must know, foreign policy is decided by the executive. The claim that Jewish voters decisively influence the occupant of that post is rather thin. As the professors inform us, the Jewish population is a small proportion of the US as a whole, it is reliably Democrat and it is concentrated in New York and California. The triage of the American electoral system ensures that no Democrat need care enough, nor Republican hope enough, to fight for these states in a Presidential election. AIPAC is well funded and well listened to - but only because the executive already likes what they have to say. Prior to 1967, as you may read for yourself in Abram Organski's 'The $36 Billion Bargain; Strategy and Politics in US Assistance to Israel', the US was no great friend of the plucky-only-democracy-in-the-Middle-East, despite the presence of just as many wealthy Jews in the US as there are today.

Where Walt and Mearsheimer do have a point, and their critics have proved them right, is in arguing that "[s]ilencing sceptics... by suggesting that critics are anti-semites – violates the principle of open debate." Only a true political fantasist could imagine that Professor Walt is distributing copies of The Protocols of The Elders of Zion in the lecture halls of the Kennedy School of Government. Still, before the article was published, the usual knees were poised to jerk. First and nosiest was (who else?) Walt's Harvard colleague, Professor Alan Dershowitz. "‘[W]hat " asked the avuncular apologist for torture, "would motivate two well recognized academics to depart so grossly from their usual standards of academic writing and research in order to produce a “study paper” that contributes so little to the existing scholarship while being so susceptible to misuse?" 'Misuse' here refers to the apparent quotation of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper by Ku Klux Klan has-been David Duke. That does not mean Walt and Meaersheimer are Nazis. Some sadists probably like the idea of a 'sterilised needle underneath the nail', such as Dershowitz advocates . Not one to be intimidated by logic, Dershowitz pleads once more in his response to the 'Lobby' paper "‘I simply do not understand, what is the motive? "
Come on old chap, spit it out. Professor Dershowitz seems surer of himself when he describes Walt and Mearsheimer's "charges...[as] indistinguishable from Pat Buchanan’s invocation of the U.S. government as Israel’s 'amen corner' and his reference to Congress as 'Israeli Occupied Territory,' allegations, among others, that led William F. Buckley to characterize Buchanan’s views as 'amount[ing] to anti-Semitism.'” Much better, now we know who we're dealing with. Other members of the commentariat were not so mealy mouthed. Eliot Cohen, another neo-conservative academic, entitled his piece simply ' Yes, it's anti-semitic'. Democratic Congressmen Eliot Engel also called the pair anti-semites and the New York Sun compared Walt and Mearsheimer to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

There is some vindication in all this for those of us who have long insisted that if it is just to fight against hatred of Jews it is also just to demand equality for Palestinians. If men like Walt and Mearsheimer can be accused of New Anti-Semitism, surely the slur has been reduced to its final absurdity. Still, it doesn't really matter to the accusers what people write, say or do. What matters is the charge of objective anti-semitism, much as the Stalinist show trials convicted their victims of 'objective' fascism. And perhaps this nineteen-thirties trope is appropriate, for Dershowitz et al recall vividly George Orwell's description of a propagandist ; 'simply an enormous mouth bellowing the same lie over and over again.'

水曜日, 3月 29, 2006

Unilateral Separation from Reality

Spring has arrived, bringing cherry blossoms and fresh Israeli governments. According to Ha'aretz, Ehud Olmert will move up from the post of acting Israeli Prime Minister, although he seems likely to remain simply an acting, rather than serious, peacemaker. Olmert's Kadima party has won 28 Knesset seats. The Likud, who want to keep all of the West Bank rather than the choicest bits on which Olmert has his eye, won 11 seats. Labour won 20 seats; Yisrael Beitenu, which promotes the expulsion of Palestinians to Jordan, follow with a remarkable 12 seats. We can learn all we need to know about the 'mainstream' of Israeli politics from the fact that Olmert seems prepared to include in his coalition Yisrael Beitenu, but not the representatives of the Arab Israelis that party is keen drive out - see http://www.haaretzdaily.com/hasen/spages/700363.html. Nonetheless, the editorialists are all telling us that Olmert has won a mandate to set new borders for Israel - a strange election this, in which Israeli voters give the mandate to dispose of Palestinian land, but Olmert's withdrawal plan and the reaction to it show us much about what is going wrong in the Middle East. Jonathan Freedland told us in the Guardian that 'language once confined to leftist intellectuals is now the argot of Israel's rulers'. Well, Israel's newest ruler seems to be speaking a dialect we're quite used to by now; one that lectures the Palestinians about how they must accept Israel's inalienable right to exclude them or face the consequences.

To understand this, look no further than Olmert's victory speech. Magnaminously, he offers to give up parts (only parts) of other people's land, thus 'We are prepared to renounce parts of the land of Israel so precious to us, in order to bring about the conditions for you [the Palestinians] to bring about your own dreams and to live side by side with us in peace and tranquillity.' That the parts of the 'Land of Israel' ( language once confined to Israel's religious right is now accepted by Guardian columnists) Olmert will not renounce might be precious to be Palestinians by virtue of their living in it, or that they might dream of living in it without fear of Israeli soldiers and settlers, is no part of the new Israeli dream. It cannot be, for, 'the time has come for the Palestinians to adapt their dreams to recognise the reality of Israel'. Wake up, you silly Palestinians! As if Palestinian life for the past thiry nine, if not one hundred, years has been anything but a nightmare of adaptation to the reality of Israel. But no matter - 'if they do not do this, Israel will take its fate into its own hands. We shall act without agreement with the Palestinians.' Forget the road map, it's his way or the high way.

What Olmert proposes to do, and what has brought out the starry eyes in Western pundits, is to annex bits of the West Bank, build a wall around them, and remove the Israeli settlements in the remaining cantons. The aim of this tank top gerrymandering is to 'bring about the shaping of the final borders of the state, guaranteeing a Jewish democratic state'. Aside from the odd notion that a state can be simultaneously democratic and yet restricted to one group of its citizens, and the even odder notion that it is worth guaranteeing this state of affairs, there is nothing new in concept nor in detail about the scheme. As a solution to the problem of taking Palestinian land with the unfortunate presence of Palestinians on it, the broad outlines of Olmert's new consensus were first proposed in the Allon plan in 1970. General Yigal Allon hit on the spiffing wheeze that Israel would keep the Jordan Valley,and Jerusalem and a corridor between these but avoid the trouble of repressing the bits where most Palestinians live. Presentation of this fait accompli to the Palestinians remained Labour's policy until the Oslo period - by end of which Ehud Barak was proposing almost the same plan again, with an extra morsel around the settlement of Ariel annexed to Israel for good measure. At first sight ( see Independent 30th of March 2006 http://www.independent.co.uk.html Olmert's plan differs in no significant detail except that the Palestinians will have no say in it whatsoever.

The remarkable thing about this 'unilateral separation' is the candour with which its proponents speak their aims, and the enthusiasm with which Western commentators ignore the racism that these aims embody. Editorials in The Guardian (Israel Must Aim for Peace 30th of March 2006), and the Independent (Ariel Sharon's Unlikely Bequest to His Nation 30th of March 2006) and the New York Times (West Bank Withdrawal 30th of March 2006) were eager to persuade us that Olmert's plan is a Good Thing and we should be in favour of it. The man himself knows very well why he wants to build his armour plated ghetto - in this interview (Ha'aretz 15th of November 2003) he described his unilateral solution; 'to maximize the number of Jews; to minimize the number of Palestinians; not to withdraw to the 1967 border and not to divide Jerusalem.' He said it and now he intends to do it, and with some urgency, because
'[m]ore and more Palestinians are uninterested in a negotiated, two-state solution, because they want to change the essence of the conflict from an Algerian paradigm to a South African one. From a struggle against 'occupation,' in their parlance, to a struggle for one-man-one-vote. That is, of course, a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle - and ultimately a much more powerful one. For us, it would mean the end of the Jewish state.'

Far from building a wall to stop suicide bombers, Olmert's plan is to stop ' a much cleaner struggle, a much more popular struggle'. We should do all we can to ensure that struggle emerges and succeeds. The first step is to reject Olmert's ultimatum and the brutal solipsism for which stands.