25 December 2004
Mulling over another EDP report on Climate Change, whilst I walked towards the city, beside grid-locked Christmas shopping traffic, I couldn't help notice an isolated and bored, unhappy looking young child strapped in the back of a 4by4 as it pumped out fumes.
By contrast, my return journey, by bus, was greatly cheered by meeting 3 year old Tom and his mother. Tom chatted endlessly about all he saw and on leaving bus called politely "Thank you Mr Bus driver" and all the women including me, especially me, coo-ed and ahh-ed.
"Christmas is a time for children" - these contrasting pictures of childhood reflect the opposite scenarios for the future security of the young generation. Tom's life was rich and full of adventure with opportunities to develop social skills and a sense of community. In deliberately using public transport, his mother is enriching Tom's outings now, and making a strong statement about her hopes for his future and the future of Tom's generation.
Giving our children a stable and secure future can no longer be regarded as a purely private matter as road transport produces a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change - our life-style choices now will have an impact on a whole generation, as Sir David King the government's chief scientist has said "global warming is greater challenge than global terrorism".
The UK has witnessed the catastrophic effects of climate change - unprecedented rainfall; widespread flooding memorably in Boscastle; overflow of sewers pouring out raw effluent; monsoon conditions in Scotland causing mudslides and trapping dozens of vehicles; severe storms and rising sea levels claiming low lying land experienced dramatically here in Norfolk.
We can expect more extreme droughts and heat waves, like in 2003, that lead to thousands dying in France; increases in skin cancer; and of course, wars over increasingly scarce energy resources, such as with Iraq. Despite, his mother's best intentions, the future for Tom and his generation looks grim.
The third world's picture is much worse - climate change will cause disease, flooding and loss of land on a huge scale.
Ordinary people are right to be concerned for the future of their children. According to a BBC poll most of us accept that human activity is responsible for changing the world's climate and 85% are willing to make changes to help the environment. Margaret Beckett writing in Renewal said "There is a growing public appetite for leadership on the environment". Where is it? With 3 million members of environmental groups in Britain, and the Green party holding five seats and the balance of power in Norwich, Mrs Beckett's instincts are well founded, despite her Government's lack of decisive policy and action.
Tony Blair's speeches endorse the need to reduce carbon emissions; yet, he has, given the go ahead for a huge expansion of airports, and has a £30billion budget for road building.
Air travel is the fastest growing source of CO2 - we have a choice of over 400 package holidays from our local airport whilst little thought is given to the real cost to the future generations.
This lack of consistent leadership permeates down to institutions. UEA has an international reputation on climate change studies, and CRed brings some of their expertise into the community, aiming to reduce local carbon emissions by 60% by 2025. However, living near the university one might doubt the renowned environmental department's existence as one witnesses a small city on the move every day at 5 'o clock with subsequent congestion and pollution.
Getting the 58% of car using students onto bikes and buses with generously subsidised bus passes would improve car travel for members of staff who travel in long distances … encouraging staff to use electric cars now only £5,000 with no petrol or tax costs … providing an efficient, reliable and comprehensive bus service - would all help the whole city and clear the route for emergency services to the hospital. Working with the council and bus company, the university would still have a huge amount of change from the £12million, planned for a new multi-storey car park.
Whilst wishing all the children of Norfolk a happy and joy filled Christmas, we need more to wish them a happy future, and to build it. Leadership from politicians may come too late. A recent paper in Science identified reducing car use by 50%, and increasing car efficiency by 100%, as key strategies to stabilize climate change by 2050. Let's allow our children the pleasure of walking, cycling and bus rides, and ensure their rightful inheritance; the earth.
18 December 2004
By Ian Sinclair
Recently I attempted to catch the direct bus from the Norfolk and Norwich hospital to the train station. Frustrated by the lack of a no. 25, I boarded another bus bound at least for the city centre. As the bus (no 22) travelled through Bowthorpe into West Earlham, looking out the window, it became increasingly clear to me there was defacto segregation right here in Norwich. That it was possible for two communities (say Eaton and Mile Cross) to live within a few miles of each other, but to live completely separate lives - working, shopping, playing and holidaying in two different worlds.
Of course I am talking about social class - which has become a dirty word under New Labour. However, social class is still a central concept in understanding society today, with numerous studies showing how the class a person is born into influences many aspects of their lives, and directly affects a person's life chances. But what does it mean to be on the wrong side of this class divide?
Poverty is seriously damaging to your health. Studies overwhelmingly show that for most health conditions, those with lower incomes have it much worse than those who are rich. Respiratory diseases, coronary heart disease, lung cancer, strokes, tooth decay and suicide are all more prevalent among the poor. Fat is also a class issue. Recent figures from the Department of Health show that the rate of obesity for girls in the most well-off quintile was 4.5 per cent, doubling to 8.8 per cent in the most deprived quintile. One of the reasons for this disparity might be nutritional. The Child Poverty Action Group note "the poorer you are the worse your diet", with surveys consistently showing poorer families tend to consume less fruit and vegetables, and more fats and sugars.
With all these odds stacked against them it shouldn't be a surprise to find out a man in social class V is likely to live seven years less than a man in social class I, while a child born into social class V is twice as likely to die before the age of 15 as a child born into social class I.
Children from poorer families tend to do less well at school than those who are richer, with less staying on after GCSEs. Those that do make it to university can expect more debt than other students, and by taking part-time jobs to ward off this debt, tend to depress their final degree mark.
To all this, the privileged reply: "Yes life is unfair, but if you work hard, you can make it". This meritocratic myth is a convenient justification for gross social inequality. However, as well as being an insult to the millions of people who work tremendously hard, just to survive, this argument is becoming increasingly dated. Over the past twenty years, social mobility has ground to a halt, with the gap between rich and poor actually widening. Today, a middle-class child is 15 times more likely to stay middle-class than a working-class child is likely to move up into the middle-class.
The system works by exploiting the many to create wealth for the few, not by rewarding hard work in and for itself. Interestingly, it is the countries with the least amount of social mobility (the US and UK) that have the strongest myths about working your way to the top (the 'American Dream' and Michael Howard's 'British Dream'). A coincidence? I think not. However, there are nations that do have a far greater amount of movement between the classes (and importantly, far less poverty) than Britain - Sweden for example.
So how do we get from here to there? In theory it's simple. As the majority, the working class simply need to vote for a party that will redistribute wealth in society (New Labour certainly isn't the answer, as it has become the acceptable wing of the Conservative Party). However, as the rich largely own and control the mass media, the corporate message of unfettered individualism rules all. This has led to two strange political phenomena. Firstly, since 1945 the Conservatives have been in power for 34 years. This means some working people are actually voting against their own interest. Voting, in essence, to keep themselves poor. Secondly, those living in poverty, who would benefit the most from a radical change in policy, are actually the least likely to exercise their right to vote.
So, ironically, I agree here with the Conservatives: The solution to this damaging class divide lies within each individual - who need to take collective action for radical change.
11 December 2004
By Ian Sinclair
The late American comedian Bill Hicks often used to pause during his stand-up routines, to urge those who worked in advertising or marketing to kill themselves, arguing "there's no rationalisation for what you do… you are Satan's little helpers… filling the world with bile and garbage." Now, of course, I am not advocating that those people who work in advertising and marketing kill themselves (this is, after all, a column that tries to promote peace!), but I do think it is important to look critically at the position of advertising in society.
Modern advertising emerged in tandem with the violent birth of capitalism. For working people, the movement from pre-industrial, agricultural life to an urban-based, factory system was a huge social and psychological shock, met with resistance and protest. It was quickly understood by the political and industrial masters of the time that they could only make people work long, regular hours if they were trapped into wanting commodities.
Advertising is the engine of capitalist, consumer society, envisaging a world in which happiness is equated with the accumulation of products. The author V.L Leymore argues this is done "first by posing essential dilemmas of the human condition and second, by offering a solution to them." Leymore notes "advertising simultaneously provokes anxiety and resolves it." In a consumer society individuals need to be constantly dissatisfied with what they have. Advertising then, doesn't help to fulfill desires, but attempts to create a permanent state of unhappiness.
However, the effects of advertising are far larger than simply encouraging a consumer orientated society. Advertising is generally an overwhelming conservative social force, powerful in preserving the status quo.
Take the relationship between advertising and the media. The national and regional press in this country are almost totally dependent on advertising for their survival - with approximately 70% of their revenue coming from this source. This reliance tends to create a politically conservative media who are afraid to offend the very corporations that fund them. However, it also results in a preference for entertainment over controversy, documentaries and political debate. What advertiser in their right mind would want to advertise their product during a John Pilger documentary that exposes UK involvement in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children? Hardly the ideal environment to promote a "buying mood".
The problem lies in the way adverts are beamed into every home irrespective of the occupant's ability to access what is on offer. This excess of expectations over opportunities, is often the underlying cause of many crimes. Contrary to the media's sensational portrayal of the issue, the majority of crime is non-violent property crime.
Take the following recent news stories: The obesity epidemic sweeping the western world. The calls for a complete ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. The recent revelation that 90% of Bliss readers are unsatisfied with their bodies. In each case, the interests of advertisers and the corporations they front, are in direct conflict with the public good.
Of course the advertising industry doesn't take this kind of criticism lying down. They would argue they do no more than provide necessary information for rational individuals. However, this defence (directed at the general public) is irreconcilable with the boasts advertisers make to their clients about their ability to secure a greater market share than competitors through the creation of new desires and by manipulating consumers. For example, a detailed submission by the advertising agency Leo Burnett to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising for an "effectiveness award" in 2002, explains how its campaign for Kellogg's Real Fruit Winders "entered the world of kids in a way never done before" and managed to "not let Mum in on the act."
So what is to be done? As with many areas of social policy, Sweden seems to be pointed in the right direction. Since 1991 Stockholm has prohibited all TV advertising aimed at children under the age of 12. So far, the British Government has bowed to pressure from industry and simply asked for voluntary compliance to regulations. Self regulation is obviously favoured by the advertising industry - and for that reason alone we should be suspicious of it. Also, we should move towards a ban on advertising in all public spaces.
However, ultimately the solution lies within each of us. The economist Clive Hamilton believes the greatest danger to consumer capitalism - and therefore advertising - "is the possibility that people in wealthy countries will decide that they have everything they need. For each individual this is a small realisation but it has momentous social implications."
4 December 2004
All war is terrible, but urban insurgency fighting, as in Fallujah, defies description. Whether in Iraq, Palestine, Vietnam, or Algeria, it produces war crimes, as soldiers' basic humanity is tested.
Veteran war correspondent, Chris Hedges, has said "You have an elusive enemy … in an environment where you are almost universally despised. Everyone becomes the enemy. And after your unit suffers-after, for instance, somebody in your unit is killed by a sniper … it becomes easy to carry out acts of revenge against people who are essentially innocent, but who you view as culpable in some way for the death of your comrades."
Shocking TV footage recently showed two separate incidents in which American soldiers apparently executed wounded captured Iraqis in Fallujah in what were surely war crimes. This raises the terrifying question: how many civilians and fighters have been killed in war crimes not caught by camera?
Such killings are atrocious, whether done in revenge, or in fear, or even as "standard operating procedure" as ex Falkland's soldier, Quentin Wright, has chillingly suggested. However, soldiers are dehumanised by their military life and training, reduced to "killing machines" and it will be quite wrong if this soldier is singled out to be punished as a "bad apple", in the Abu Ghraib fashion, whilst the military command chain is not held accountable.
We must become aware of the long-term spiritual and psychological damage that, being in this sort of warfare, does to those who find themselves caught up in it.
Stories of many Vietnam veterans reveal the suffering. Claude Thomas, was a 'star' gunner on assault helicopters at 17: the gunners bet each day on who would make the most kills, and Claude knows that he was directly responsible for the deaths of several hundred Vietnamese men, women and children. Upon return to 'normal' life, he hit rock bottom - "unable to function". Like many "vets", he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness.
Not just devastated psychologically by the trauma, he carried deep moral scarring - "at night the memories came - being shot down, the cries of the wounded, screams of people I'd killed". How can such a young person contain the guilt of killing entire villages? These intense flashbacks led him to regularly think of suicide.
Yet Vietnam veterans were helped little by their own society. For Claude, the turning point came when he attended a meditation retreat for veterans offered by, his previous 'enemy', Vietnamese Buddhists. In this immensely supportive community, he experienced forgiveness, and for the first time, he could see Vietnamese people as 'not enemy' - "the only experience I had with the Vietnamese was, they were my enemy. Every one of them: shopkeepers, farmers, women, children, babies." Now he is Zen Buddhist monk himself and travels widely to end violence (read his book At Hell's Gate).
Claude, and others who recovered, took decades to do so - their stories offer the hope of a deep transformation of the scars - but they are unusual: many simply do not recover and continue to live in suffering, or hold the pain in forever, or until it is unbearable. 58,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam, but, according to a former director of the Veterans Administration, over 100,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide in the years since.
In the UK, 264 Falklands veterans have now killed themselves, more than those killed in combat. 20,000 British ex-servicemen are estimated to be sleeping rough, in hostels or squats.
This is a conveniently 'hidden' problem in our society, and the government prefers it that way. Honour the dead, yes, but if the people knew the extent of the living suffering of our servicemen, then they would oppose any future wars in even greater numbers. No surprise that the MoD do little to help veterans, except provide some support to charities such as Combat Stress and Crisis.
The Iraq war will leave many shattered service men - we can expect over the coming years to see hundreds of suicides, thousands suffering with PTSD, thousands homeless from our Iraq veterans.
The media and politicians often say things like "Our Troops deserve Our Support" - they actually mean "Our Government deserves Our Support". What government deserves anything but contempt when it sends soldiers to the Gates of Hell, having misled Parliament and the people to do so, and provides little, if any, help afterwards?
Charities shouldn't have to pick up the pieces- we should demand the Government act now to properly fund care for UK veterans.
27 November 2004
"None of the doctors looked at me. I didn't exist. They stared at the bruises for a split second, then away ... there was nothing there. I could go to the shops ... and no one saw me. I could smile and say Hello ... they could see the mouth that spoke the words. But they couldn't see me. The woman who wasn't there; The woman who had nothing wrong with her. The woman who walked into doors."
In 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors', Roddy Doyle perceptively charts his heroine's gradual loss of identity, self-esteem and slide into alcoholism, trapped in a violent marriage. Women will understand - men may have to read it twice.
In the time it took to read the quotation, two more incidents of domestic violence will have been reported to the UK police. In Britain, on average 2 women per week are killed by a male partner or former partner and 1 in 4 women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime.
Amnesty International is currently running 16 days of activism to highlight its "Stop Violence Against Women" Campaign. Amnesty aims to raise awareness of a global human rights scandal that has yet to be fully acknowledged - and to challenge the attitudes, laws and practices that sustain it. Amongst the issues highlighted will be:
- Violence to women in the family (e.g. battering by partners, sexual abuse of female children, genital mutilation and marital rape);
- Violence to women in the community (e.g. sexual harassment, rape, forcible psychiatric treatment to 're-orientate' lesbian women, violence by officials against refugee women).
- Violence to women perpetuated or condoned by the state (e.g. rape by government forces during armed conflict, torture in custody, trafficking, forced labour and prostitution);
- Violence against women is not confined to any particular political or economic system.
Despite comprising more than 50% of the world's population, women remain under-represented as problem-solvers, decision-makers, elected officials or leaders. The UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) promotes women's efforts around the world to participate in the political and economic life of their countries, but the task is enormous and their resources are finite. Amnesty International's worldwide campaign is a contribution to these efforts - It aims to mobilise both men and women to counter violence against women. The main underlying cause of such violence is gender discrimination - the denial of women's equality with men in all areas of life. The structures within society that perpetuate gender-based violence are patriarchal, deep-rooted and intransigent. What divine right have men to under-privilege half the human population ?
Violence against women is neither 'natural' nor 'inevitable'. It persists only because society allows it to.
Violence against women during armed conflicts has reached epidemic proportions. It is used as a weapon of war to dehumanise the women themselves and to persecute their community. Wars are no longer fought on remote battlefields but in our homes, schools, communities. Post-conflict situations have accelerated the growth in trafficking of women and children. Trafficking is modern day slave trading. There is irrefutable evidence that the number of women trafficked in post-conflict zones is increased by the introduction of peacekeeping forces. This screaming paradox led to UN Deputy Secretary General Louise Frechette's insistence that women are vital to resolving armed conflicts and rebuilding the peace and they must be involved at every stage. The perpetrators of violent crimes must not be able commit them with impunity. Peacekeeping forces are immune from prosecution - and it has been suggested that this makes them 'more part of the problem than the solution'.
The main thrust of Amnesty's campaign in the UK is to make people aware of the problem and to work with other relevant agencies to overcome it. You can help by joining the Norwich branch of Amnesty International and becoming involved in this campaign and/or offering your support through donations. Telephone David on 01508-538353; http://www.amnesty.org.uk/; or http://www.problemwhatproblem.com/.
Thanks to Catherine Rowe, Norwich Amnesty, for help and inspiration.
20 November 2004
By Rupert Read
Remember the 1980s? Remember 'Neighbours', and the 'Pet Shop Boys'? Remember Kenny Dalgleish, Ian Botham?
Remember the Miners' Strike, and the Poll Tax? Remember Reagan and Gorby? Remember nuclear disarmament?
People used to talk quite a lot about nuclear disarmament. CND were big in the 1980s, and Labour believed in 'unilateral nuclear disarmament'. (That phrase meant what it said: getting rid of our nukes, our WMDs, unilaterally, without waiting for other major powers to do the same, but hoping they then would, so that the world could become nuclear-free.) Labour - good old Labour, not sickening shiny 'New' Labour - were condemned by the entire mainstream media for this, condemned as 'loony lefties' and 'appeasers'.
They believed in unilateral nuclear disarmament; everyone else believed in multilateral nuclear disarmament. What did 'multilateral nuclear disarmament' mean? It was supposed to mean that we would negotiate our nukes away. Nuclear disarmament would occur through multilateral negotiations between nuclear states.
The US and Russian governments did carry out some such negotiations, back in the 80s. Their armouries of nukes were reduced slightly. Now they can only destroy the world about 8 times over, not 18 times over… Cold comfort, really; it isn't much better to be obliterated 8 times over than 18 times over, if you are the person / city / country obliterated…
Nuclear weapons are perhaps the only true weapons of mass destruction. Of total destruction. And while Russia and America have reduced their huge nuclear arsenals somewhat, Britain has held on tight to its 200 nuclear warheads, these last twenty years. That's the equivalent of about 2000 Hiroshimas. That's about 300 million people that we can kill, at the push of a button.
Now, Britain is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which requires that its signatories disarm, multilaterally or unilaterally. But what has Britain actually done, since the 1980s, to rid itself of nukes? In fact: can you remember the last time that you heard any 'mainstream' politician talking about British nuclear disarmament?
Funny, isn't it; it seems like all those advocates of 'multilateral disarmament' stopped talking about it, as soon as the 'threat' of the unilateralists' popularity receded. As soon as the 'loony leftie' unilateralists were buried by Thatcherism and the right-wing press, and Labour gave up the ambition of unilateral nuclear disarmament so it could be 'electable', then all talk of Britain playing a part in multilateral nuclear disarmament … just evaporated away.
So: what did the words, 'multilateral nuclear disarmament' mean, in practice? That we would achieve nuclear disarmament - ridding the world of these worst-of-all weapons - multilaterally? Or: that we in Britain would have a label for our nuclear weapons policy that made it sound as if we were in favour of real peace (not endless war or threat of war), while in fact we intended no such thing? Is the meaning, in practice, of 'multilateralism' simply this: deterring any efforts to make Britain or Europe or the Earth nuclear-free, and then, once your efforts to deter unilateral nuclear disarmament have succeeded, no longer talking about nuclear disarmament at all?! Is that what Kinnock, Steel, Owen and Thatcher (remember the 80s!) meant by 'multilateral nuclear disarmament': i.e. no disarmament, except disarming the unilateralists of their arguments and their popularity, and saying disarmingly to the British people, "We too are in favour of disarmament", for as long as it took until campaigners had despaired of getting the government to relinquish its nukes?
Luckily, we haven't despaired. I served last month as spokesperson for 'Theatre of War' and 'Trident Ploughshares' - anti-war activists dramatizing the need for Britain to beat its Trident nuclear missiles into ploughshares - in their successful 5-hour blockade of Downing Street. And a fortnight ago I was in court supporting fellow members of the 'Peace Police' (who back in June cut into Burghfield nuclear base) as they presented arguments from international law to explain why they had acted to try to prevent a greater crime - the crime of nuclear blackmail (most recently applied by Geoff Hoon to Iraq).
The inheritors of the Greenham generation are still here.
So: Remember the 1980s. Remember and weep. Many were fooled by the government and media then. Fooled into thinking that 'multilateral disarmament' was anything more than an excuse for doing nothing, an excuse for holding on to our illegal WMDs. We've been fooled again, recently, by our government, which invaded Iraq pretending that it (Iraq) had WMDs.
Let's never be fooled again. As our international treaty obligations require, as any basic human decency or morality requires, let us get rid of our WMDs, our nukes, now. Unilaterally. Without excuses.
13 November 2004
At UEA, on the day of the US elections, I spoke with a young American student who had voted for George Bush. Why? First, he made her feel "safe", and, second, "moral issues". Familiar enough, as they had become the mantra of the Republican Party.
It was, nevertheless, shocking to hear someone admit that their feeling of safety is worth 100,000 lives, and the failure to see that this huge loss of lives is in itself, a major moral issue. Protecting American sensibilities is clearly very expensive for the rest of the world, and understanding their narrow view of morality very confusing.
Few outsiders have missed the irony of George Bush being re-elected on a 'moral ticket', not just the vote of ill-educated floating voters, but the beliefs of many educated Americans, as illustrated by my friend above.
George Bush, born-again Christian and devout church-goer, does not just believe in God, but is convinced that God believes in him. Indeed, a great part of America share this view - it is after all 'God's Own Country'.
President Woodrow Wilson, wrote "I cannot be deprived of the hope that we are chosen, and prominently chosen, to show the nations of the world how they shall walk in the path of liberty".
Now, strident ideas of chosen nationhood, and religious based self certainty, unite with "full spectrum military dominance" of the Project for the New American Century.
The Judeo Roman version of Christianity, used by the Roman Emperors to build Empire, is a dangerous excuse for oppression and despotism, then and now. Introduced to the western world by Emperor Constantine, this promoted the notion of self-righteous conquest in the name of the Christ
In holding 'belief' as the defining truth, Christian Neo-conservatism has little concern about empirical evidence, human rights and compassion. It is increasingly common here too, witness our Prime Minister clinging to his convictions, despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary, with words like "I believe I am right".
When 'belief' excuses cruel barbaric acts, it has gone beyond religion to ideology. Fundamentalism, Fascism and Communism have been condemned when they have abused human rights. Neither can the criminality of 100,000 killed in Iraq, families torn apart by grief, young men shockingly abused, hundreds incarcerated in Guatanamo Bay be waved aside under a Christian, 'liberating' agenda.
Some Americans choose moral issues that allow them dollops of self-righteousness - abortion, homosexuality and family values. While they abhor the loss of life of the unborn at home, they accept the loss of life of thousands of Iraqi babies and children as collateral damage. While they condemn homosexuality at home, they practice sexual torture of all varieties on Iraqi men and boys abroad. While they vow to protect the family at home, they wreck the family life of Iraqis abroad. These gross injustices, committed in the name of America should be profoundly humbling to those who claim the most basic of moral positions.
To their advantage, the conservative right spun the election as between God fearing Christians and non-believers, between passionate religious views and woolly political correctness. This is to deny the legitimate moral views of non-Christians and those Christians whose views are more closely aligned to the teachings of Jesus. Nascent Christianity has at its core a commitment to human rights evidenced in Jesus' rejection of vengeance, legal and penal moralities and of market place values. A philosophy which is staggeringly radical to western, consumerist view, and one most honestly adhered to by religious groups such as the Quakers.
The dilemma for Christians could not be more challenging. They must choose old testament tyranny, or new testament love and compassion. Embracing all the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus is clearly nonsensical and contradictory. Jesus came to challenge the brutal, vindictiveness expressed in parts of the Old Testament, and offer a more humane and forgiving way of life.
Ironically, it is the teachings of Jesus and not the Old Testament which Jefferson wished to embody in The Declaration of Independence. "The kingdom of God is within" is expressed when he declared, God is in the "head and heart" of every person. He was indeed determined to reject Judeo Roman Christianity, which he had seen the British use as a validation for its oppression of the American people. Human rights were the basis for all civil rights and were "self evident". When Republicans claim that George Bush expresses the Christian values embodied in their constitution, they are gravely mistaken.
6 November 2004
We are now in the season of remembrance of war past - a red poppy adorns the cover of this paper, and many of us wear them.
Thankfully, most of us do not have an authentic experience of war and its consequence. One person who does is Rose Gentle - her son Gordon was killed in Iraq, just a few months ago. Rose is a dynamic reminder of the cost of War - refusing for her loss to be in vain, she now campaigns for the withdrawal of our troops, despite the Government trying to prevent her.
The rest of us, not touched personally by war, cannot fathom the anguish. Gordon Gentle and 100 million others who died in the last hundred years cannot tell us.
However, most of us will have known survivors, who have been touched and damaged the fires of war. In my own family, a cousin was 'shell-shocked', now called post-traumatic stress disorder, in the Normandy landings. A young man, then, with life ahead, he never really healed, and suffered psychologically for the rest of his life, never being well enough to work. My grandfather was a doctor in the First World War, in Ypres and Gallipoli - he could never talk about his experiences of fixing those blown limb from limb.
And so, the enigma - within the enormous seasonal outpouring of pomp, glory and bravery, there is an immense silence of another reality - the reality that my grandfather couldn't share, and that my cousin was too traumatised to even bear. This silence - of the things which can't be talked about - is shared by many veterans, including many who will parade on Thursday.
The White Peace Poppy addresses the silence; it asks us to look beyond, touch the horror, and, like Rose Gentle, do something about it. Almost as old as the red poppy, it was launched in 1933 by the Women's Co-operative Guild - mothers, daughters and wives, who knew the loss of loved ones and the trauma of those who survived injured. Living under the cloud of an even greater European war, in the 1930s, they challenged people of the need for peace, and political leaders to find a better way to resolve conflict.
WWI was the 'War to end all Wars', yet it didn't. Neither did WWII, and since 1945, the world has continued to become an ever more violent and bloody place. Where previously warfare had essentially been conducted by armies, now civilians are increasingly becoming legitimate military targets - simply dismissed as 'necessary collateral damage'. Where clearly delineated 'wars' are being replaced by an ongoing culture of violence, revenge and retribution, and where the difference between 'war', 'civil war', 'terrorism' is being ever more blurred. In Iraq, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants is breaking down with so-called 'civilian contractors' (mercenaries) actually often providing battlefield support services.
Whereas WWI soldiers knew the gruesome reality of blood and gore, now combatants and planners can play out actions with the unreality of video games. A particularly chilling item on Channel 4 news recently showed an airman 'taking out' a group of about 30 people in Fallijah, now believed to have been civilians -no harder than pressing the button on a video game. Given his response, the airman did not appear to really know psychologically, or with any humanity, that he had just killed tens of people.
The White Poppies and their message for a Culture of Peace (see http://www.whitepoppy.org.uk/) is so vital today. The familiar red poppies remind us all of the ongoing suffering of war veterans, who are often soon forgotten by Governments, and raise money for the Royal British Legion's welfare services. The white poppies remind us of war victims worldwide, not to forget their shrouded silence, and the vital need to find non-violent methods to resolve conflict in the future. Proceeds fund the Peace Pledge Union's educational work, and any additional funds raised locally in Norwich will this year go towards Medical Aid for Iraqi Children (Reg. Charity No. 1044222).
This year, I hope you will join me in wearing your poppies to remember the sacrifices made in previous conflicts and commit yourself to working for a future free from the scourge of war. During the twentieth century, more people died in wars than we can imagine. We can't change the past, but let's work together for a different kind of future that the white poppy symbolises.
I am grateful to Richard Bickle from Norwich and District Peace Council, who distribute white poppies locally, for providing research.
30 October 2004
By Ian Sinclair
George W Bush vs John F Kerry. Republican vs Democrat. Alleged draft dodger vs war hero. On Tuesday the American people will go to the polls to elect a new President. But what kind of choice do they really have?
Bush and Kerry were both born into wealth and privilege, attended the same elite university (Yale) and joined the same secret society (Skull & Bones). Forbes magazine estimate the Kerry family fortune to be an extraordinary $525 million, while Bush's assets are worth as much as $19 million. Both candidates rely heavily on corporate funding. Currently, Bush has raised $260,500,000 of private money for his campaign, while Kerry has received $248,000,000. More importantly, both are funded by largely the same corporate powers - with the two candidates sharing four of the same ten largest corporate donors to their campaigns.
Concerning foreign policy, differences between the two candidates are so small, that they are almost invisible. In August, Kerry said he still would have voted to authorise the war on Iraq even if he had known that weapons of mass destruction would not be found. Kerry does criticise the Bush Administration's foreign policy, but always within very narrow limits - referring to "bad predictions" and "errors of judgement". America's right to intervene around the world is taken for granted then, and will be preserved for another four years. History isn't on Kerry's side either. In the modern era, most of America's wars have been initiated by Democratic presidents - Truman in Korea, Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam and Carter in Afghanistan.
All this is not lost on the American people. On the eve of the 2000 Presidential election, surveys showed over 80% of respondents felt the government was "run for the benefit of the few and the special interests, not the people", while 53% of respondents answered "only a little " or "none" to the question: "How much influence do you think people like you have on what government does?" It shouldn't be a surprise then to find voter turnout in 2000 was just 51% of the population.
The situation is not much better here in the UK. All three of the main political parties offer no real alternative to the dominant corporate agenda, and voter turnout in 2001 was a post-war low of 59%.
Is this how democracy works? If the (self-professed) centre of the free world is like this, what hope is there for the rest of us? To answer, it is worth focusing briefly on the other big election story of the year in the Americas. In contrast to the US, the August 2004 Presidential recall vote in Venezuela was the largest poll in the country's history, with a voter turnout of 70%. Selma James, an international observer at the recall vote noted "participation in politics, especially at the grassroots has skyrocketed", mobilising the working-class into action, traditionally the least active voters.
The existing President Hugo Chavez managed to gain 59% of the vote, in spite of hostility from the US Government, international capital and the powerful Venezuelan elite, who control the mass media. Commentators put this down to Chavez implementing home grown development and using the nation's oil revenues for social programmes for the poor, such as adult literacy drives, land distribution and free healthcare.
An important victory for democracy in Venezuela then - but we shouldn't underestimate what is at stake on November 2. There are small differences between the US Presidential candidates, and in a governmental system as powerful as the United States, this can translate into important differences for the average person. On domestic issues, Kerry has a more moderate programme than the Republicans, who seem intent on destroying every progressive social advance of the twentieth century - cutting back on the already limited medical care system, social security, education and progressive income tax. For the 45 million Americans with no healthcare, women, ethnic minorities, gays, lesbians and transsexuals, there are real consequences from the outcome of this election.
Progressives in the United States and around the world will undoubtedly be hoping for a Kerry victory on Tuesday, but let's not be under any illusions about what that really means. Movement building - for peace, for fair trade, on environmental issues, against corporate-led globalisation - needs to continue whoever wins.
Rather than focusing solely on the personal qualities of two very similar candidates, perhaps it is time to critically examine the system that only lets rich, conservative, white males who are overwhelmingly funded by big business, run for President in the first place?
23 October 2004
I started this column knowing little about black history. At the launch of Black History Month I embarked on a voyage of discovery and learnt about organisations and projects I never knew existed here in Norwich.
It was not just that I was ignorant of the contribution black people make to society in Britain and around the world, I also realised that the history I had learned had been distorted to prevent me from appreciating that contribution.
Empowered by my newfound knowledge, I asked 20 people, randomly chosen, what they knew about Philip Emeagwali. None had heard of him, which is astonishing because Dr Philip Emeagwali invented the 'super-computer' and is the father of the internet. Born in Nigeria, he survived as a boy soldier in Biafra and now works in America. President Clinton described him as "one of the great minds of the Information Age". He is the most researched scientist on the internet today - yet most of us have never heard of him. Why?
Ignorance of black history is not confined to white people. Young black people are often unaware of the achievements of black and ethnic minorities. This deprives them of meaningful role models. It is disenabling to live in ignorance of one's history.
One day Theo asked his mother, "What if there were no black people in the world"? Mum thought for a moment and said, "Follow me around today and let's just see what life would be like if there had never been any black people in the world". Theo got dressed but his shoes weren't there because Jan Matzelinger, a black man, had invented the shoe last. His clothes were wrinkled but Mum couldn't iron them because Sarah Boone, a black woman, invented the ironing board. "Oh, well," said Mum, "comb your hair, at least". But the comb wasn't there because Walter Sammons, a black man, invented the comb. Mum couldn't brush her hair either because Lydia O'Newman, a black woman, invented the brush! To help his Mum with the chores before going out, Theo swept the floor. When he looked for the dustpan it wasn't there because Lloyd P Ray, a black man, invented the dustpan.
Mum wanted to put the washing in the dryer but it wasn't there. George T Samon, a black man, invented the clothes dryer. Mum decided to go shopping; she reached for her fountain pen to write out her list but William Purvis, a black man, invented that. In the garden, Theo noticed that the uncut grass - John Burr, a black man, invented the lawn mower! The car wouldn't work without the automatic gearshift invented by Richard Spikes, a black man, and traffic clogged up the roads because there were no traffic signals. Garret Morgan, a black man, invented the traffic light. When they returned home with the groceries, Theo went to put the milk in the fridge but it wasn't there - John Stannard, a black man, invented the refrigerator. The evening grew chilly. Theo went to switch on the heating. Nothing happened - Alice Parker, a black woman, invented the heating furnace.
Theo's Dad was late home from work. There was no bus - the electric trolley was invented by a black man, Elbert R Robinson. He'd had to walk down from his office on the 20th floor because Alexander Miles, a black man, invented the elevator. When he got home Theo and Mum were sitting in the dark - Lewis Latimer, a black man, invented the filament in the light bulb. Dad then told Theo about Dr Daniel Hale Williams, a black doctor who performed the first open-heart surgery and Dr Charles Drew, the black scientist who found a way to preserve and store blood, leading to the first blood bank.
Inventions are one way of contributing to society; developing solidarity within local communities and gaining respect throughout a region, is another. Everjoice Makuve and Dr Eshetu Wondimagegne are two such black people, the first in her work with Norfolk Minority Ethnic Support Forum and African Worship ASOW, and the second with his work with the Norfolk African Community Association (NACA). It is through the work of these imaginative individuals that such groups become woven into the fabric of our society and enrich it - like the glorious quilt in black author Alice Walker's The Colour Purple.
In Western society, white arrogance often struts when it should pause for thought. As cultures from different sources pour into evolving societies, there are inevitably struggles, which Milan Kundera called "the struggle of memory against forgetting".
Remembering our common history is the best antidote to exclusivity.
16 October 2004
By Rupert Read
What would Britain look like if it were in Iraq's current situation? Well, the population of Britain is two and a half times that of Iraq. Violence killed about 1000 Iraqis over the last month, the equivalent of 2,500 Britons. What if 2,500 Britons had died in aerial bombardments, machine-gun spray, and rocket attacks, over the last month? That's nearly as many as died in the 30 years of Northern Ireland's 'Troubles'.
What if 'the Westminster village' were constantly taking mortar fire? And what if almost everyone in Westminster or Whitehall considered it suicidally dangerous to go over to the South Bank or to Camden?
What if reporters for all the major non-English-speaking media were in effect trapped inside 5-star hotels in London and Birmingham, wholly dependent on native 'stringers' to know what was happening in the West Country or in Norfolk? What if the only time they ventured into the Home Counties was if they could be 'embedded' in army patrols?
There are about 30,000 guerrillas in Iraq engaged in concerted acts of violence. What if there were private armies totalling 75,000 men, armed with machine guns and mortar launchers, hiding out in urban areas all over Britain? What if they completely controlled Hartlepool, Winchester, Leicester, Manchester, Sheffield, and Peterborough, such that troops and local police could not enter those cities?
What if, during the past year, the Attorney General, the Foreign Secretary, and the Queen herself had all been assassinated?
What if all the cities of Britain were wracked by a crime wave, with hundreds or thousands of murders and kidnappings in each major city every year?
What if the US Air Force routinely (I mean daily or weekly) bombed Camden, Soho, Moss Side, and Mile Cross, purporting to target 'safe houses' of 'criminal gangs', but inevitably killing a lot of children and little old ladies? What if from time to time the US Army besieged Camden and Mile Cross and the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, killing hundreds of armed members of the 'Christian Soldiers'? What if entire platoons of the Christian militia were holed up in Highgate Cemetery, and were bombarded by US Air Force warplanes daily, this bombing destroying hundreds of famous graves? What if the Archbishop of Canterbury had to call for a popular march of tens of thousands of Christian believers to converge at Canterbury Cathedral to stop the US from damaging it further, through its bombing raids?
What if there were virtually no non-military air or rail travel within Britain? What if many roads were highly dangerous, especially the M1 from the North Circular to Watford Gap, and the M6 from Birmingham to Manchester? If you used those motorways, you were gambling with your life, at risk of carjacking, or 'collateral damage' from American troops' guns.
What if no-one outside Westminster had electricity for more than 12 hours a day? What if electricity went off at unpredictable times, causing factories to grind to a halt, and air conditioning to fail in the middle of intense summer heatwaves? What if the North Sea oil rigs were bombed and disabled at least monthly? What if unemployment hovered around 40%, and in inner city areas was nearer to 80%?
What if veterans of the Ulster Freedom Fighters and ex-police officers who had been sacked for their 'shoot to kill' policy against Irish Catholics were brought in by the Americans to run the government and the army, on the theory that we need tough men in charge at times of crisis?
What if only 2% of the electorate supported the (American-appointed) Prime Minister? What if the British people consistently said in opinion polls that they wanted elections now, that they were more scared of the Americans than of the guerrillas, and that they simply wanted the occupying 'coalition' forces to leave now - and yet the 'coalition' leaders kept insisting that the people welcomed them, and that anyway they were only staying at the invitation of the new 'sovereign' British government
What if the PM was promising elections, next year, but was saying openly that maybe voting would 'regrettably' just not be able to take place in most of the 'middle England triangle', stretching from Camden to Oxford to Peterborough, because it was just too dangerous there?
What if the American and Italian leaders maintained that nevertheless freedom, democracy and peace, US-style, are just around the corner?
With thanks for inspiration to Juan Cole, Michigan University, USA. Join him, me and tens of thousands more, at the mass demonstration against the occupation of Iraq at the close of the European Social Forum, tomorrow, in Trafalgar Square.
9 October 2004
The passion and blood-letting that accompanied the pro-hunt demonstrators left the majority feeling bemused. Especially, if like me, you attended some of the regular peaceful demonstrations against the Iraq war where such incidents just didn't occur even when numbers touched 2 million as on February 15th 2003. It perhaps did not occur to those whose aims are peace to incite war, just as it may not occur to those who perpetuate violence to act peacefully.
Hunting conventions - tail coats, red waist coats, high leather boots, tally-hoing and horn blowing is a might too celebratory for the cruelty that lays ahead. A local farmer told me that a group of young people he knew had found it 'Fun' as if that was justification enough.
Fox hunting is a 'tradition', which people do not want to lose and of course war is another tradition that we are extremely reluctant to let go of. We continue to argue with what seems equal passion for both.
While fox hunting may be an anachronistic and cruel 'sport', the current furore distracts from the real countryside violence of which we are all part. While we cling to our image as a Nation of animal lovers, this can have little real substance when we also accept horrific levels of cruelty in the production of much of our food.
Eating out, TV dinners and supermarket shopping has accelerated in recent years, but few inquire about the origin of their food - most likely factory farmed and the end product of shocking levels of cruelty. Juliet Gallantly's and Tony Wardle's classic account, The Silent Ark chillingly describes dingy windowless sheds, crammed with tier upon tier of tiny cages housing 5 very distressed chickens. Suffering from brittle, often broken bones, or osteoporosis from unnatural levels of laying - they are covered in excrement from the droppings of the birds above resulting in ulcers, burns and disease.
Most would find this level of cruelty abhorrent, but stand by the egg shelves in any supermarket and watch as customers still go for the cheapest factory eggs. Is this a moment of forgetting or meanness or just plain ignorance.
Those increasing numbers who wish to shop without cruelty need constant diligence in our modern supermarkets where cheapness is of the essence and poor quality is disguised. A friend of mine, a practising Buddhist with a wish to live ethically, would often turn up with a supermarket quiche and seemed unable to see the cruelty she was endorsing.
And this is before you let a piece of meat pass your lips. Witness the meat marketeer's imagination - chicken tikka masala, satay, nugget, and kievs - an endless list. Follow the smell of cooking meat and you will find chickens roasting on spits, chicken in barbecue sauce - an infinite supply, and they are dirt cheap. No mention of the appalling conditions in which they were reared - crowded, filthy, diseased, and fooled into eating non-stop because of constant artificial daylight, and soon unable to stand.
If we want to live without violence we must challenge it at all levels of our society. That is challenging not just fox hunting, but also the whole way in which the countryside and our food production are managed.
The people and taxpayers of this country keep highly subsidised farmers in profit. People are prepared to pay for sustainable, caring stewardship, but are fed up with excessive exploitation for purely monetary gain.
Intensive agribusiness costs £1.5bn a year in damage to soil, air and water pollution in the UK alone, and factory farming methods contributed to the BSE and Foot and Mouth epidemics. Landowners would gain greater respect if they made less noise about outmoded 'sports' and came up with humane and respectful ways of managing the wild and farmed animals in their care.
Whilst not everybody would choose a meat-free diet, most health advice is for a drastic reduction in meat consumption. When we do eat meat we have a right to expect meat that is humanely produced from healthy animals that are not full of anti-biotics.
Country people have the stewardship of the land, animals and plants of our beautiful and fertile earth. Simon Hart, chief executive of the 'Countryside Alliance' (CA), describing the demonstration with hounds outside the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, said "the idea was to demonstrate the relationship between man and beast in the country". Sadly, the carcasses of a horse staked through the heart with a CA banner and the two young calves are tragic reminders of that relationship today.
2 October 2004
Tara Greaves' brilliant EDP article on the day of Tony Blair's Climate Change speech called for "action to achieve a more sustainable way of life". Indeed, to encourage Green innovation, isn't it time that a Nobel Prize was created for sustainability?
Ironically, another article that day praised the business opportunities as "Demand soars for flights to Dublin" from Norwich - there should also a dummy's prize for reckless business.
These extremes reflect the predicament of our fragile world. It's seriously endangered, yet we continue to use cheap flights and buzz everywhere in cars - our mantra "Don't worry, it may never happen".
We hope a wonderful, new technology will be discovered to keep us all driving and flying for another century.
Some American corporations have grasped biofuels as an extremely lucrative market, especially in the expanding, Asian countries, where the Indians and Chinese, 2.5-billion people, are set to dwarf economic growth within the United States itself. Just last month, the Pure Energy Corporation (PEC) and American Biofuels (ABF) announced exports of biodiesel to these countries.
Given the huge energy demand of the US - a major reason for the disasterous Iraq War - wouldn't you think the Americans would want to keep their biofuels to help make their own country more sustainable?
Greenwash, now a dictionary word, describes misleading disinformation used to project an environmentally responsible corporate image. Are biofuels being spun in greenwash by interests more interested in making money than sustainable transport?
Norfolk biofuels industry lobbyists, such as Georgina Roberts in this paper recently, bandy about figures of 70%, or even greater, for carbon emission savings. However, even if correct, these large, convincing sounding, figures are based on the pure, unblended fuel before many times dilution with conventional diesel at the pump.
The actual government figures, from research, for unblended biodiesel savings are 40% - 56%. If a market were to be developed on a quick-growth, highly intensive, agribusiness model, the UK whole-market savings could be 0.8 - 3.2% by 2010. It's worth noting, that taking an average of 2.0%, then the same result would be achieved by the typical 10,000 miles a year driver reducing their driving by 200 miles a year.
True sustainability requires introducing a technology with care, so as not to introduce more environmental problems along the way. With biofuels, this means protecting local sources of food production, ensuring land use is not expanded at the expense of biodiversity, restricting practices that lead to soil depletion, eliminating chemical fertilizer regimes to prevent emissions of the dangerous greenhouse gas (GHG) nitrous oxide, and passing legislation to prevent the use of any GM technology in the biofuels cycle.
The Large Scale Biofuels Concern Group is advocating that the public are presented with the real facts - ungreenwashed, and that the socially and environmentally sound applications of this technology are then promoted and funded. Sustainable development requires an accreditation system to ensure all suppliers meet high carbon saving targets, and producers can demonstrate sustainability of their supply-chains. It also means much greater emphasis on small-scale production units, eg on farm, which minimize GHGs from transport costs, and really benefit the local communities. EEDA should be funding more research into such smaller projects.
Localised, small scale, biofuels, are being developed elsewhere in the UK. For example, Pembrokeshire Bio Energy, a farmers' co-operative which supplies biomass for automated heating of buildings such as hotels, swimming pools and homes. Let's see similar, exemplar, small scale schemes in Norfolk, instead of the exploitation of our heritage by big business.
The 'Green Fuels' greenwash is distracting motorists from addressing the real issue that we need to be cutting world wide emissions by tens rather than units of percentages. We should demand that the Government urgently introduce a radical sustainability policy, including truly sustainable biofuels. A slower and more sustainable introduction of biofuels would inevitably yield less, short-term - perhaps less than 1% UK GHG savings by 2010.
But a wider sustainability policy would also reduce use of private cars, short haul air flights, make huge investments in public transport, develop electric and hydrogen transport, and introduce incentives for energy efficiency including domestic solar panels and small-scale wind systems.
Alas. no politician is yet prepared to say it - we need to cut private car mileage not by hundreds of miles, but by thousands of mile each year. One of those Sustainability Nobel prizes should go to the Transport ministers in the country, which first implements an integrated sustainability policy; otherwise, it may take an environmental 'September 11th' to compel Governments to take real action.
25 September 2004
Recently I wrote about five young men whose courage to refuse to serve with the Israeli Defence Forces earned them two years in jail.
Today I am delighted to report that the five - Haggai Matar, Matan Kaminer, Noam Bahat, Shimri Tzameret and Adam Maor - were released from jail on 15 September.
They had to endure several more days of nerve-wracking uncertainty as to their future before learning that they had been permanently dismissed from army service. Had they not received this dismissal, they would have been required to re-enlist or face further imprisonment if they refused. The military committee, in deciding to exempt them, particularly noted their contribution to society before they were taken into custody and also during their incarceration where they served as tutors and helped other prisoners in various ways.
Adam Maor said: "In spite of the heavy punishment we received, we feel victorious. We will continue working to end the occupation and to contribute to society." The loyalty and devotion to Israel of the refuseniks is unquestionable, "We refused out of love for this place and for the people who live here. All along the way, we asked to do alternative service to contribute in our own way to the community. With our release, we will work according to these principles", affirmed Matan Kaminer.
While still at school, Haggai Matar took part in a joint summer school for Israelis and Palestinians, and subsequently he became active in various anti-occupation groups.
He visited Salfit in the Occupied West Bank and what he saw there convinced him that he had no option but "to refuse to be part of an army occupying another people and destroying Israeli society". What he would say to anyone else considering military refusal? "I would say 'Hey, you are already doing the most important thing - and that is considering itself'. The problem with Israeli politics these days is that the majority just doesn't stop to think, to ask the question: 'What is the moral thing to do?'"
I asked him what people outside of Israel could do to help. He replied, "It is very important for us, and for future refuseniks, to get support from people all over the world. It makes you feel better in your hardest times in prison, that you are a part of something greater, international."
Haggai told me that there is a growing movement for change in Israeli society. Israel is one of the most militarised societies on earth, yet Haggai says, "Now, there are about 40-60 percent who either don't enlist or don't finish their first year in the army. This is an amazing figure, not talked about too often in Israel." Is this, perhaps, the outward manifestation of the internal struggle engaging the minds of many soldiers serving in the occupied territories: Can they treat the thousands of Palestinians passing through the road blocks like equal human beings? Dr Ian Gibson MP may have been asking the same question when the Palestinian ambulance taking him to hospital for urgent medical treatment for a stroke, was held up for 1½ hours at an Israeli checkpoint on Saturday.
Israeli culture and media portray a world in which the use of force is the normal means of solving political problems. Ilan Pappe, lecturer in Political Science at Haifa University, says, "Israel in 2004 is a paranoid society led by a fanatical political elite, determined to bring the conflict to an end by force and destruction, whatever the price to its society or its potential victims - while the rest of the world watches helpless and bewildered." He fears that "the critical instincts of both intellectuals and journalists have petered out in the last four years. There is an ethical void which allows the government to go on killing unarmed Palestinians and, thanks to curfews and long periods of closure, starving the society under occupation." A recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) states that the Palestinian economy 'will sink to mere subsistence' without aid and urges immediate action to shore up small and medium-sized business in the occupied territories.
This is Haggai's world - but it is ours too. Like Haggai, we must ask questions, like why the UN resolution 242 of 1967 calling for the withdrawal from the occupied territories has been ignored by Israel for over 35 years - with no action from the West?
We owe it to Haggai and all young Israelis fighting for justice, to demand answers. I am grateful to Haggai Matar in Israel for his input and inspiration.
18 September 2004
By Ian Sinclair
The experienced Middle East journalist Robert Fisk argues the Americans have faced the same problem in Iraq from the start: "explaining how Iraqis who they allegedly came to 'liberate' should want to kill them." The questions raised about US tactics in Iraq by Steve Snelling in last Saturday's EDP are thus very pertinent. The recent uprising in Najaf confirms Fisk's thesis, however nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in Falluja, where, during a week in early April, US forces killed over 600 Iraqis and wounded over 1,000.
For the Western media, events in Falluja began with the murder and mutilation of four US private security guards on March 31. However, the Iraqis know different. In April 2003 US soldiers killed 18 protestors during a demonstration. After six months of occupation, US forces had killed at least 40 people in the city. In response to the killing of an American soldier, on March 27 US Marines undertook a "sweep" through the city, killing at least six Iraqi civilians, including an 11 year-old boy. It was in this heightened atmosphere that the private security guards were murdered.
On April 5 the US military sealed off the city, cut the power and launched military operations, using heavy artillery, cluster bombs, 70-ton main battle tanks, F-16 fighter-bombers and Apache helicopters. The US commander explained that US marines are "trained to be precise in their firepower", and that "95% of those killed were military age males."
However, eyewitness accounts from those who managed to flee the city, international observers and journalists contradict the official US story. During the incursion, US soldiers occupied the city's main hospital, a violation of the Geneva Convention. Ibrahim Younis, the Iraqi emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres, said "the Americans put a sniper position on top of the hospital's water tower and had troops in the single-story building." Mr. Younis noted this meant many wounded died because of inadequate healthcare.
The heavy use of snipers by US forces is confirmed by testimony from both sides. A 21-year old Marine Corporal told the Los Angeles Times that Falluja was "a sniper's dream." He continued: "Sometimes a guy will go down, and I'll let him scream a bit to destroy the morale of his buddies, then I'll use a second shot." However, it is clear US snipers killed many Iraqi civilians. Journalist Dahr Jamail saw "an endless stream of women and children who have been sniped by the Americans." Jo Wilding, a human rights campaigner from Bristol said, "the times I have been shot at - once in an ambulance and once on foot trying to deliver medical supplies - it was US snipers in both cases."
Contrary to US military claims of precision firepower, the director of the town's general hospital, Rafie al-Issawi, estimated that the vast majority of the dead were women, children and the elderly.
With a few exceptions, the facts presented above have been largely ignored by the mainstream media in the UK. The chief of the Falluja delegation for the ongoing negotiations with the US said, "we are facing what can be called… war crimes." Amnesty International said they were "deeply concerned at the ever mounting civilian death toll" and that "the parties to the conflict have disregarded international humanitarian law." Even Adnan Pachachi, widely seen as the most pro-American member of the (then operating) Iraqi Governing Council said "we consider the action carried out by US forces as illegal and totally unacceptable."
In Najaf, the US forces implemented similar tactics to Falluja - sniping civilians, cutting the power and limiting access to hospitals. According to American commanders as many as 1,000 Iraqi fighters may have been killed in Najaf, compared to just 11 American deaths.
Last Friday, the vision of an independent Iraq, free of US/UK troops, gained an unlikely supporter. In its editorial the Financial Times argued "the time has come to consider whether a structural withdrawal… can chart a path out of the current chaos." And it is chaos. On Sunday 13 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad when US helicopters fired on a crowd of unarmed civilians. On Monday a US air strike on Falluja killed over 15 people, including an ambulance driver and two nurses when an ambulance was hit. On Tuesday 47 people were killed and over 100 injured in a bomb blast in Baghdad, and 12 policemen were killed in Baquba.
Only a complete Coalition withdrawal will bring this bloodshed to an end, because, as Kofi Annan said last October, "as long as there's an occupation, the resistance will grow."
11 September 2004
By Rupert Read
When I was at university, I took part in a debate. I spoke in favour of the motion, 'Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.'
Twenty years on, little has changed. For instance, I took no pleasure in this summer's Olympics: the naked jingoism of the media coverage, even that of the (supposedly 'objective') BBC, made the whole thing too painful to bear. I didn't necessarily want some British bloke I had never heard of to beat a skilful sporting opponent from another nation. Why should I 'support' someone, just because they are British? Isn't it a bit sad to feel happy if someone who you have never met beats someone else you have never met (but who has a foreign accent) at Synchronized Underwater Weightlifting?!
You could call me an internationalist. And an internationalist surely cannot be a nationalist. And yet, some of my cultural heroes call themselves 'patriots': Billy Bragg, in Britain; Michael Moore, in America.
And when I was campaigning in the Council elections, this June, I noticed something that surprised me: Many of the houses which were flying St. George's England flags (the elections took place about the same time as the 'Euro 2004' Soccer competition) were also sporting posters for one political party or another, including (indeed, especially) my own Party, the Greens.
That made me stop and think: Perhaps those people who identify with their country are not narrowly nationalistic? Perhaps many patriots are people who really care about their locality, and about their whole world, too.
Why else would it be that people supporting their national soccer team were also supporting political parties, parties trying to change things in a positive way? Maybe the reason why there were England flags and party-political-posters hanging from the same windows was that the same people who cared enough to shout for their country also cared enough to shout for the Party that they believed would make that country better. But then the following worry came to me: is Britain really a force for good in the world?
Next week, Norwich will be joining in the celebrations of 'Battle of Britain Week'. What is this event really for? Is it for the remembrance of past heroism? Or is the reason that our rulers fund events such as this that it helps them to justify present-day atrocities and illegalities? In the run-up to the attack on Iraq, in 2002-3 just as in 1990-1, we were often told that Saddam was 'a new Hitler'. This was silly propaganda: Hitler led the most powerful armed forces in the world, whereas Saddam's army was a pitiful remnant only. But invoking the ghost of the Second World War seemed to help Blair and Bush 'justify' their illegal war of aggression.
When the British Army is illegally occupying and subjugating another people, having first blasted many tens of thousands of those people to their deaths, some of us may find it hard not to feel ashamed of our country. It is hard to have any enthusiasm for the flag, when that flag has far too often thoughtlessly been waved - in our name - over the bodies of dead foreigners.
We humans need community. But too often, patriotism doesn't give us any real community. Instead, it gives us only a mythical sense of belonging, a sense that can then be exploited by unscrupulous leaders.
So I am still unsure. Does patriotism always lead to perdition? Or is it only that the worst scoundrels - such as the 'leaders of the free world' - use and abuse patriotism, to try to get away with murder? Is the problem really with the way that politicians and Generals twist love of country so that it turns into hate for certain foreigners?
It cannot be right to say, "We should not speak against war, when our troops are fighting", if what they are fighting in is an immoral war. It cannot be right to say, "My country right or wrong". That kind of disgraceful attitude is exactly what led to Hitlerism - and more recently, in the US, to the appallingly authoritarian 'Patriot Act' (introduced as a response to the events of September 11th 2001) which virtually abolishes free speech and 'habeas corpus'. Would a true patriot support the destruction of the very liberties for which the people have fought so hard, the very liberties that make one's country truly worth defending?
So: is being a patriot nevertheless quite compatible with being someone who cares about their neighbourhood, and about the planet as a whole?
Given the number of people who are keen to call themselves 'patriotic', we should hope that the answer is 'Yes'. Who knows; maybe one day, when patriotism is identified not with being a 'Little Englander' but with one's country doing the right thing the world over, then it will be easy for everyone to be proud of being British.
4 September 2004
By Ian Sinclair
Currently, the two main political parties in this country are going head-to-head over who has the toughest policies on crime. In July, Tony Blair heralded "the end of the liberal, social consensus on law and order." Not to be outdone, Michael Howard responded by arguing rising crime "is the reality of Britain today". If elected, Howard promises to send "an unequivocal message to offenders - if you break the law you will be punished."
However, these tough policies are not based on any objective reality, but rather implemented in response to the general public's often irrational fear of crime - a fear which our political masters, along with a pliant mass media (more about this below), have created in the first place.
The authoritative British Crime Survey (BCS) consistently concludes, "people generally have a poor knowledge of crime levels and trends" and of the criminal justice system. This misperception is based upon two commonly held beliefs. Firstly, most of the public believe recorded crime is rising. However, crime has been falling across the western world, with the BCS showing the number of crimes has fallen by 17% since 1999. Secondly, the popular perception is that we are soft on crime, with the system weighted too far in favour of the criminal. The 2000 BCS found over 75% of respondents believed the courts treated young offenders too leniently.
However, the fact is this country is currently experiencing the most punitive period of criminal justice for decades. The latest official figures show that 111,600 people were sentenced to immediate custody last year - the highest figure for at least 75 years! The courts are finding roughly the same number of serious offenders guilty as they were ten years ago, but are dealing with them much more harshly. A 2003 report by the Prison Reform Trust, noted that between 1991 and 2001, magistrates tripled the proportion they sent to prison (from 5% to 16%) while in crown courts it rose from 46% to 64%. Currently, England and Wales has more prisoners serving life sentences than the rest of the European Union put together.
Society's love affair with imprisonment continues, even though it is clear locking up people, especially children, does not work. The reoffending rates for Young Offender Institutions are as high as 84%, with a six-month custodial sentence costing the taxpayer an average of £21,000. By comparison, alternative non-custodial options for a similar six month period cost as little as £6,000 and have markedly lower rates of reoffending. The journalist Johann Hari summarises: "The choice is not between 'tough' and 'soft' it is between effective and useless. 'Tough' policies… just don't work. It is not those of us who want rehabilitation who are betraying the mugged grannies and the burgled primary schools - it is the Howards and the Blunketts, who choose facile posturing over policies that actually work."
So why is there a gigantic chasm between the public perception of crime and punishment and the reality? Most commentators agree that the media play a significant role in the public's misperception of crime. Commissioning a review of the literature on public attitudes to crime in the UK, the organisation Rethinking Crime and Punishment concluded "the media misrepresents the levels of occurrence and the nature of criminal acts." Interestingly, the BCS found those who read tabloid newspapers tended to have a poorer knowledge of crime and criminal justice than others, with 43% of tabloid readers thinking the crime rate had increased a lot compared to 26% of broadsheet readers.
We need to revolutionise the way we think about crime and punishment. We need fresh policies - that actually work. Building more prisons is not the answer, because, to paraphrase Michael Howard, prison does not work. The Government needs to be pressured into introducing policies that tackle the root causes of crime - poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. During the 80s and 90s, while Britain experienced a dramatic rise in poverty and unemployment, countries like Germany and France pursued policies designed to redistribute wealth and protect vulnerable members of society. At the start of the 80s recorded crime was roughly the same in Britain and France (3.5 million), but by the end of the decade it had fallen to 3 million in France, but increased to 5.5 million in Britain.
As the public's primary source of information, the media must also change, improving the way it reports crime issues. Rather than simply focusing on sensational, violent crime, the media need to explore the wider, societal problems that lead people to commit crime in the first place.
28 August 2004
"Not a lot of people know that", Michael Caine might have said about the 'refusenik' situation in Israel. Little information about their plight appears in our newspapers in the UK. However, in Norfolk we 'do different' and should acquaint ourselves with the principled refusal of a growing number of Israelis to serve in the occupied territories of Palestine and the effect that this is having on the Jewish community in Israel and abroad.
A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems further away than ever when set against the worsening cycle of violence, death and destruction in Gaza, where Palestinian homes are reduced to rubble, families made homeless and innocent civilians and Israeli soldiers killed .
Ariel Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement from Gaza has failed to gain majority support within his own Likud party and over the past year Israel has embarked on a large building programme in the West Bank where a minimum of 3,700 homes are being built with tacit US approval. This development has reinforced the fears of all those who want peace, that the intention to "retain in perpetuity" major Jewish settlements on the West Bank (illegal in International Law) will make any solution virtually impossible. Under the terms of the 'Road Map' endorsed by the Israeli Cabinet, Israel was asked to freeze all settlement activity and to dismantle 51 out-posts. The exact opposite appears to be happening.
It is against this background that the 'refusenik' movement is gathering momentum.
Currently at the forefront of the movement are five young men who chose to go to prison rather than serve with the Israeli Defence Forces in the Occupied Territories. Noam , Haggi , Matan, Shimri and Adam are ordinary young people, typical of their generation .Their protest began while they were at High School. They were amongst 300 signatories of the "High School Seniors Letter" in which teenagers shortly to be conscripted wrote to Prime Minister Sharon stating that they would not take part in the oppression of the Palestinian people by serving in the Israeli army. They are to be released from jail on 15 September - but they may be re-arrested if the army demands they serve or face further imprisonment. This movement of youthful refuseniks is called Shministim and, when combined with other groups like Yesh Gvul ('there is a limit'), Seruv, and Courage to Refuse, whose reserve officers published the "Combatants Letter" which now has over 500 signatures, brings the total number of refuseniks to around 1000.
Powerful and moving statements have been made by refuseniks of all ages and reflect a common realisation that - as 19 year old Daniel Tsal put it - "in the 37 years of occupation we have become gradually more violent, disdainful and racist towards Arab culture - I did not understand that the majority of the Palestinian people know only a life full of check-points, bulldozers, the uprooting of trees, humiliation and killings." The harsh sentences meted out to the young refuseniks and the refusal to grant them Conscious Objector status, reflect the Government's anxiety that their refusal will encourage others. They have good reason to be worried. The Israeli public generally are not yet sympathetic to refuseniks, but the fact that 344 faculty members from a number of Israeli universities have signed a declaration of support for their students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories, indicates a move away from the militarised culture. Bereaved Israeli parents have recently formed a group to campaign against conscription. Things are slowly changing in Israel thanks to the courage of the refuseniks.
Outside of Israel there is support too: Last October, 60 members of the European Parliament expressed "solidarity with the group of Israeli Air Force pilots who declared they would refuse to fly missions that could endanger civilians in the West Bank and Gaza".
Michael Ben Yair, a former Israeli Attorney General says of the situation: "Israel's security can not be based only on the sword; it must rather be based on our principles of moral justice and on peace with our neighbours - an occupation regime undermines those principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace. Thus, that regime endangers Israel's existence. It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories - their refusal to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognised in every democratic regime. History's verdict will be: their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone."
I am grateful to Mrs Jean Davis & Norfolk Jewish Peace Group for their input and encouragement.
21 August 2004
From throwing a cup of Ribena from the high chair, to finding how tall a lego tower can grow before it collapses, to marvelling at a jam jar of minnows, young children display all the attributes of a natural scientist. It is no surprise that primary school science is often the most popular subject on the curriculum. The awe and wonder of discovering eyes on the end of antennae on the garden snail and the hush surrounding the incubator as a class of six and seven year olds watch a tiny beak emerge from an egg means that this subject also becomes closely associated with a sense of reverence.
Reverence and intimacy with the natural world go hand in hand. Many scientists describe having deeply profound spiritual experience through their work. Einstein wrote, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed"
We could happily place our trust and the care of our eco-system in the safe hands of such respectful souls. However, nearly 200 years ago Mary Shelley warned against the dangers of complacency - 'Frankenstein' dramatically spelt out the horrors resulting from the clever scientist whose sole pursuit is a blinkered obsession with knowledge. Today, public trust in science is at an all time low. From nanotechnology, animal experimentation to GM's, the public has grown suspicious and cynical. When scientists seem divorced from the effects of what they do it is not surprising that the public become distrustful.
Today, scientists may invent or discover thing that are capable of wiping out the human race and it is only after the work is completed that we attempt to put restrictions on their use. By this time it is often too late, the "Pandora's Box" of nuclear and biological weapons, human cloning, GM's and climate change are a constant threat.
It is essential that we sacrifice some areas of knowledge as too abhorrent to research - science does not need to always be expanding. As Einstein again said "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius-and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction". If the rule of science is that knowledge is all, without ethical or environmental considerations, then it is time we changed the rule.
Science for Global Responsibility (SGR) has done just that. It is an organization of about 600 UK scientists supported by many eminent names, most famously, Prof Stephen Hawking, whose aim is to promote "principles of openness, accountability, peace, social justice and environmental sustainability". They publish advice on ethical careers in science and offer support for those scientists who wish to retain their integrity and independence. Their work involves research, education and lobbying.
It is a depressing reflection on our education system that somewhere between the ages of 6 and 26 a student of science acquires a huge number of facts but loses a sense of reverence. An absence of a mature morality may go unnoticed by an examining board but may be very costly to humanity. It is incumbent on us to provide a richer more holistic education for our young scientists and to ensure that the integrity of both life and the scientific process is protected.
Political and commercial interests are a great threat to this integrity and are in danger of plucking the soul out of science. The level (estimated at 80%) at which scientific research is funded by big corporations, driven by the desire for profits and out of control economic growth, is becoming quite frightening. Dr David Kelly's tragic death illustrates the problems faced by scientists involved in work with high political and commercial stakes.
We need scientists who can see the moral and ethical issues, and are not prepared to accept funding from industries which are trying to grow to quickly at the expense of ethics.
There is no shortage of challenging and essential work from the global to the local. As the government's Chief Scientist has said several times climate change needs to be urgently tackled. But don't forget, we need sustainable and wholesome ways of ending world hunger - and not by GMs produced by greedy companies - we need new clean energy technologies, and we need to decommission our nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations.
14 August 2004
By Ian Sinclair
The profoundly horrifying images of torture in Abu Ghraib shocked many in the UK - could people from our own nation be involved in similar brutalities?
History actually shows that torture often goes hand in hand with warfare, as does rape and other horrors. These awful acts manifest themselves in most military forces. We know that American forces are culpable in Iraq.
But let's look honestly at our own part of this legacy. The 100 men holding out against 3,000 Zulus at Rorke's Drift in 1879 is portrayed as a glorious military victory, in films such 'Zulu'. However 'Zulu Victory', published last year, written by two retired British officers, shows that after the battle, senior British officers and enlisted men of a force sent to relieve the garrison killed hundreds of wounded Zulu prisoners in revenge. Some were bayoneted, some hanged and others buried alive in mass graves.
Our national conscience has many similar "scars" - in the 1950s Malaya independence struggle, there was vicious conduct by the British forces, who routinely beat up Chinese squatters. There were cases of bodies of dead guerrillas being exhibited in public, and in 1952 a photograph of a Marine Commando holding two guerrillas' heads caused a public outcry.
In Kenya, British forces inflicted brutalities including slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set alight and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes. Former members of the Mau Mau independence movement are currently trying to sue the British government for these human rights abuses from the 1950s.
Last year, the journalist Natasha Walter, citing medical and police records, reported that 650 Kenyan women say they have been raped by British soldiers on exercise in the region over the past thirty years. Their nature and number suggest these rapes were not simply committed by a few soldiers -one woman said that she was caught up in an attack in which at least twelve soldiers raped six women.
Then Iraq - torture by British soldiers has been extensively documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International.
A notorious case occurred in September 2003, when British soldiers arrested seven hotel employees in Basra. Driven to a military base, Kifah Taha said "they started beating us as soon as we arrived." The British soldiers gave the prisoners footballers' names and made them dance. Taha explained, "They said if we didn't remember our names they would increase the beating." One of the prisoners, Baha Mousa, died in British custody, as a result of being "kickboxed". Taha himself was so badly beaten that the British military medical report noted, "it appears he was assaulted… and sustained severe bruising to his upper abdomen, right side of chest, left forearm and left upper inner thigh."
Baha Mousa's family was recently in London, presenting their case to the High Court. His family's lawyer, Phil Shiner, is also helping Iraqis pursue 26 other reports of unlawful killings, eight of torture and two of serious injury. The Ministry of Defence has investigated 93 allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq. Further, the allegations made last week by three Britons held at Guantanamo Bay, suggest that British officials were complicit in human rights abuses including beatings, sexual humiliation and holding a gun to a detainee's head during interrogation.
As lawyer, Mr Shiner says "This case involves issues which are not only important to the victims and their families and their right to redress … but significant in … ensuring that future conflicts, occupation and peacekeeping operations are subject to human rights law."
Given this serious evidence, we must demand that our armed forces put in place a culture which totally and finally eliminates these breaches in international law.
Internal military inquiries will solve little: Amnesty International notes Royal Military Police investigations are "shrouded in secrecy and lack the level of public scrutiny required by international standards."
A systematic ('top-down') review of the military should be undertaken with the objective of developing totally new approaches to their training, command structures and operational procedures so that torture ever being used by British forces again is precluded. Further the armed forces should be under continual external scrutiny, under British law, by external agencies, including human rights and legal experts.
Concerning the events at Rorke's Drift in 1879, the authors of 'Zulu Victory' note "the British government and public thought it was better to sweep it under the carpet." We must not "sweep under the carpet" recent events of brutality by the British soldiers in Iraq.