Sunday, 25 September 2016

Awful Arguments #7 - The 'Isn't Black Lives a US Issue' False Analogy

August the fifth saw the Black lives Matter movement cross the Atlantic, expanding its activism into the UK by blocking the main road to Heathrow airport, gaining global media coverage and according reactions of shock and support from those who cared enough to pay attention to the protest. Members of Black Lives Matter UK undertook a similar action on September 6th at London city airport in order to call attention to the disparity between the freedom of movement afforded to some and the forced deportation of black and brown migrants, and to protest the United Kingdom’s environmental impact on black lives locally and globally. Reading this, some may be inclined to question why black lives matter is needed in the UK. Surely America with its overtly liberal gun laws and history of Segregation is the only place where racism truly still exists, right? This is an extremely misguided view of UK justice however. To try and dismiss the struggle of Black Lives in the UK on the grounds that you hear about racist attacks in the US more often is not only intellectually dishonest but on par with the ‘but don’t all lives matter’ excuse. This blog post will look at the need for radical Black activism in the UK, and explain why these protests have come about.
 

Dismissing Black Activism.

As mentioned previously, much of the reaction to Black lives matter in the UK by the mainstream media has been one of condescension and dismissal. All too often, comparisons are made with the United States, purely in order to silence the voices of Black activists and shut down debate. British police are said to be benign and moderate compared to their American, gun wielding counterparts, or it is dishonestly argued that Black people in Britain lack the same sort of historical grievances of African Americans, that they have due to the legacy of slavery.    
This impression is due to the fact that, from a historical standpoint, Britain’s racial oppression has primarily occurred elsewhere. It is not that we were necessarily less racist, just that racism did not occur on our shores as often, abdicating us from a few stark historical reminders. Slavery, for example, was abolished on the British mainland in Elizabethan times, but Britain continued to engage in the trade across the globe for many centuries after. This kind of geographical removal, allied to the positive view of the British empire (about 40 percent of the British public have a positive attitude towards imperialism) means that while ‘whiteness’ is central to the British identity, this is far easier to ignore when compared to settler colonial nations like the United States. Nevertheless, Britain’s colonial past has left a legacy of racism that continues to affect the lives of racialized minorities in the UK. Many of the repressive practices used against colonized peoples were imported to the centre of the empire in the 1940s and 1950s – decades that saw a huge expansion of the prison system. This had first been systemically developed in Jamaica and Kenya. Such methods of social control were rooted in colonialism and disproportionately resulted in racism. Moreover, while other countries may have produced a more overt version of racial violence, that does not abdicate us from responsibility.
Perhaps more importantly, these methods of violence continue today. While the British police do not routinely carry guns and the intensity of violence is not quite as high as it is in the US, there is still an average of one death a week at the hands of police officers in this country. Black people are disproportionately included in these statistics, and are also incarcerated at a rate similar to that of African Americans. Furthermore, people still migrate to Britain from former colonies and elsewhere. This migration takes place largely because the resources and wealth extracted from the global south continue to flow to the UK. Companies listed on the London Stock Exchange control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s resources. In spite of the inevitability of migration from the global south, we rarely see aid and refuge for these migrants. Instead, we see the growth of detention centres and an increase in violence directed against migrants, even before they reach Britain itself, with thousands dying every year in the Mediterranean Sea. These factors, combined with the British empires legacy of racism and the disproportionate suffering of minorities under punitive systems, mean that this could not be a better time for Black Lives Matter in the UK.

Institutional Racism

An example of the criminal justice systems connection to race is the reaction to the civil unrest of 2011, which followed the police shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham, North London. News reports constantly showed mugshots of black and brown faces. This seemingly new form of humiliation is similar to how, in colonial India, the British tattooed the faces of those they believed to be predisposed to theft or other criminal activity. The sentencing that followed these events was widely used against Black and brown people – as it was in the civil unrest in the 70s and 80s. Even today, we see this racism in the concern around ‘gang culture’, a term that – In spite of the real issues surrounding gangs and their relation to social exclusion – is often used as a synonym for black and brown communities. This was shown by research conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University. Manchester police said they had a problem with gangs so the researchers asked them for the criteria by which they identified gang members and gang crime – these included things like violent crime and discharging a firearm.  While over 80 percent of people involved in the kinds of crimes supposedly used to identify gang members were white, around 80 percent of the people classified by the police as gang members were black or Asian. These forms of policing are particularly useful in allowing the state to avoid referring to race explicitly, in a tactic that can be best described as ‘dog whistle’ politics.
It is important to point out that these examples all link racism to practices developed to maintain social control, rather than the result of individual prejudices. Indeed, in 1999 the Macpherson report, which investigated the handling of Stephen Lawrence murder, found the police to be institutionally racist. Unsurprisingly, the police quickly tried to bury the findings of the report, as soon as it was published. As time passed, police officers started to refer to institutional racism in the past tense if they referred to it at all.  Of the many recommendations in the report, none have been put in place. On the contrary, police racial equality training seems to be largely focused on teaching officers what language to use if they are caught committing racial abuse. In one case, police officers who compared black people to monkeys and Neanderthals were found not to have violated the race relations act. Instead, it was absurdly claimed that they were having a debate on evolution. In 2012, a police officer knelt on the chest of a black man and told him ‘the problem with you is that you will always be a n****r’. The crown prosecution service refused to prosecute the officer, after hearing that he was trying to boost the self-esteem of the young black man. We even saw an example of this recently when a black firefighter pulled over to try to assist some officers. They pulled him out of the car, tasered him and beat him. However, while they were being investigated by the Independent police complaints commission, one of them received a promotion.
In my opinion, these examples show why justice cannot be achieved through the existing state sanctioned channels. According to the most mainstream reactions to Black Lives Matter, we should operate through such channels in a traditional, non-disruptive fashion. The problem with such arguments is that they imply that resistance to state violence began on August the fifth 2016, when Black Lives Matter activists blockaded the road to Heathrow Airport, in an action that was apparently motivated by no reason, other than wanting to get on the news. This is complete nonsense. Activists have been using ‘legitimate’ channels for decades without achieving satisfactory results – they have tried the court system, organised marchers and even signed petitions. Despite these efforts, as mentioned earlier, one person a week dies at the hands of police in this country and that officers are rarely prosecuted for their crimes. We can only reach two conclusions from this: either the ‘legitimate’ channels available to us are not fit for purpose, or there is a very unfortunate coincidence of people just dropping dead at the hands of police. Most people who are honest will recognise the former explanation as the case.

Racism and Neoliberalism

Unfortunately, many of the people I see making the argument that BLM is not relevant in the UK are left wing people who see the movement in the UK as detracting from the ‘real struggle’ for black liberation in the US. However, this view is deeply flawed. Firstly, just because black power movements have historically existed mainly in the US, this does not mean that their message is not relevant in the UK. Secondly, to hold such a view is to completely disregard the connection racism has to unbridled capitalism.
Instead of making resources available for self-help such as public services and welfare, the role of the state under neoliberalism is simply to facilitate the market. Of course, the role of the state has always been to maintain capitalism. Under neoliberalism however, this is no longer done through reforms and improvements in working conditions in order to preserve the whole system. Rather, it is achieved through putting sections of the working class, of all different races and backgrounds, in direct competition with one another. Of course, this has a wider effect on the ability of the working class to organise collectively. However, neoliberal capitalism also creates sites of opposition. This is why Black lives Matter activists in the UK and the US tend to focus on staging their protests on shopping centres or roads. One BLM protest that is perhaps less talked about is the mass ‘Die in’ of activists at Westfield Shopping Centre in London, In order to protest deaths in police custody. Such protests begin to help activists to shut down the ‘every day’, thus shutting down the everyday racism faced by black and brown people.
Disrupting such sites also gives social movements advantage, because under neoliberalism, shopping centres are places of power due to their role in facilitating the circulation of capital. With the mass outsourcing of industrial jobs from core capitalist countries, actions in places like shopping centres and roads give activists the ability to disrupt the flow of capital at the point of consumption, rather than the point of production, as in a traditional strike. Rather than shutting down the places where things are produced, we shut down the centres of capital circulation. Overall, while neoliberalism has been somewhat successful in disrupting working class organisation, it has unintentionally created new opportunities for disruption. Even if people do not understand the mechanisms of neoliberal capitalism, they do understand these places to be centres of power.

Conclusion

People can engage in solidarity with organisations like BLM UK in many ways. Many of these are as straightforward as simply identifying local groups. Many organisations challenge police violence locally, or pursue justice for a specific death at the hands of the state. Secondly, as the government seeks to disperse migrants across the country, developing spaces where migrants can rely on social and legal resources is as necceary as ever. Finally, it is important to understand the role that Britain and other wealthy nations play in under developing poorer nations. Activists can incorporate these perspectives into actions that they are already involved in such as challenging income inequality or the fossil fuel industry. By developing an understanding of how capitalism, environmental degradation, and other injustices affects black lives  not just in the US but across the globe, people who may not be immediately connected to anti-racist campaigns can show solidarity.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

What is the Tory's Economic Plan for Brexit?

Last week, David Davis (pictured), the minister for Brexit, was supposed to lay out a detailed and cohesive plan for withdrawing from the EU without harming Britain’s infrastructure. I have never been pro EU, because I essentially see it as a vehicle for forcing neoliberal policies on member states. However, before the referendum, I repeatedly warned that Brexit would be an absolute shambles, and would be a classic ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ scenario. The main reason for this is that, neither Brexiters nor the Tory government had an actual plan for what to do if the British public did vote to leave the EU. David Cameron not only gambled the future of the country purely in order to win over Brexiters both in his own party and on the electoral register, but he also failed to make a contingency plan just in case the gamble backfired. The fact that David Davis, in his Brexit speech to parliament, decided to present a load of incoherent waffle and meaningless platitudes, instead of a detailed plan is a clear demonstration that they never actually had a plan to begin with.
Indeed, had the Tory’s actually come up with a plan beforehand, they would not have been able to go around making a huge number of false promises. Within a day of the Brexit vote, high profile leave campaigners were already queuing up to deny the £350 million for the NHS lie. A couple of months down the line it turns out that what the Tory’s had in store was not extra money for the NHS, it was actually a secret programme of spending cuts, staff layoffs and hospital closures. Theresa May has dashed the hopes of many on the ukipper side of the debate by ruling out a points based immigration system. Also, any highly optimistic people that believed that Brexit was going to inspire a clamp down on tax dodging and a saving of British steel by the Tory’s is clearly living in cloud cuckoo land. Because there was no plan of action these cynical Brexiters felt free to promise people the world and more. The problem is, a lot of people who voted Leave, are now expecting it.

Backtracking on Austerity

When it comes to actual policy there really was not much at all to go on from Davis’ speech. However, in the part where he spoke about maintaining economic stability there were a few interesting points. One of them is that the Tory Brexit squad have secured an agreement from the new chancellor Phillip Hammond, that structural and investment fund projects signed before the autumn statement, would continue to be funded by the UK treasury after Brexit eventually goes ahead.
This is interesting because it is a 180 degree U turn on the previous Tory economic position that austerity creates economic stability. For the past six years they unwaveringly supported George Osborne’s austerity agenda that they have to ruthlessly slash spending on stuff like infrastructure projects, local government, emergency services and public sector wages in order to achieve economic stability. Now Davis is saying the precise opposite, that in order to achieve stability it is vital not to slash funding. Whichever way you look at it this is a complete and utter admission that they are wrong. Either Davis was wrong to seek assurances that agreed structural fund projects would not be axed, or he is right that austerity at a time of economic instability is harmful, which acts as proof that the last six years of Tory ideological austerity has been nothing but pseudo economic nonsense. If the economic policy of cut everything, which the conservatives have been pursuing since 2010, made any sense whatsoever (spoiler alert: It does not) then Davis and his friends in office would have happily withdrawn funding from the structural investments. The only reason they didn’t is because they know, as they have always known, that Osborne’s austerity agenda was a complete and utter con from day one 

Landowner Subsidies

One of the only bits of actual policy is Davis’ speech was unsurprisingly absolute nonsense. This was that the government will ‘match the current level of annual payments’ that the agricultural sector receives ‘through the direct payment scheme, providing certainty’.
Agriculture accounts for just 0.62% of the UK economy. It is obviously an important sector that employs several hundred thousand people. However, it is a blatant double standard that the conservatives are giving landowners a special announcement when other sectors like manufacturing, science, education, health etc. got nothing to provide them with certainty in the entire speech. Furthermore, the idea that the EU direct payment scheme provides a subsidy for agriculture is an absolute fiction. These payments are little more than taxpayer funded handouts to landowners and come with no obligation to actually produce agricultural outputs. The more land you own, the bigger the handout you get. This is despite the fact that many landowners do not even use their land for agriculture and instead leave it barren. These subsidies are just a method of making the lower classes subsidise the owning class, so no wonder the Tory’s are prioritising it over much more important stuff like the manufacturing sector.
If you look at this issue from the self-interested Tory perspective, the landowner class are probably the most loyal Tory demographic of them all, so why wouldn’t Davis prioritise them? He must have been inundated with calls from his wealthy landowner mates worrying about their tax payer funded handouts coming to an end. Look to Paul Dacre, the editor of the rabidly anti EU Daily Mail, for instance. Since 2011, he has claimed an extraordinary £460,000 in landowner subsidies for his country estates in Sussex and the Scottish highlands. If he hadn’t had guarantees from his Tory Brexiter mates, that these vast handouts were going to continue, do you really think he would have pushed so hard for Brexit? The fact that David Davis made this a priority of his Brexit speech shows clearly that he is going to negotiate the whole thing on the back of the Tory’s financial backers, and show complete and utter lack of concern about the consequences for the rest of us.  

The Norway option or ‘Hard’ Brexit?

Up to this point Theresa may has refused to say whether leaving the EU entails staying in the single market. Indeed, she repeatedly evaded the question at Prime Ministers questions. When asked by Angus Robertson about the government’s plan for a post Brexit economic settlement, all May could come up with is a lot of incoherent floundering about how ‘Brexit means Brexit’, while the Tory benches tried to drown out Robertson’s questions with hooting, jeering and other such noise making. It is absolutely impossible that Theresa May will be able to continue stalling on the issue, but that is what she has been doing for ten weeks so far.
One option favoured by a lot of people, assuming the procrastination will finally come to an end, is the so called ‘Norway option’ where we leave Europe, whilst remaining a member of the single market. The problem is for Brexiters that access to the single market comes with a load of stipulations including the free movement of Labour within the single market zone. The idea that, during the Brexit negotiations, the EU are going to let us remain a single market and retain control of our borders is a complete fantasy. Indeed, not scrapping the free movement of Labour would cause a massive storm of protest from the Xenophobic Brexiters, who were so fixated on having their cake and eating it, that they voted leave in order to keep all those ‘pesky’ foreigners out. That said, I am not exclusively criticising the right. Those on the left of the Brexit crowd are equally as guilty of playing utopian politics for thinking that we can retain access to the single market, while having control over how we choose to run our industry. It seems from this like many people who voted Leave have got nothing that they actually voted for.
That only leaves ‘Hard Brexit’, the option overwhelmingly favoured by the ukipper brand of Brexit voters. The problem with this option is that it would have severe economic consequences for huge numbers of businesses and jobs. Anyone rooting for ‘Hard Brexit’ whilst working for a Japanese car company in Sunderland – where the majority of people voted leave – really does not know what is best for them. They would be arguing for the endangerment of their own jobs and livelihoods, purely because they have fallen for some tribalistic crap about ‘taking back control’. This option would also mean we would have to revert back to basics and try and renegotiate a trade deal with Europe. Given the fact that Boris Johnson and Theresa May would be in the driving seat on this one, I don’t think we can expect a deal that works in the interests of British workers. Finally, under these circumstances every EU nation would have a veto on the deal, making it an extremely hard negation to make. 

Conclusion

From reading this, some people might think I support the campaign for a second referendum. However, doing so could only lend greater legitimacy to Brexiters, especially those on the far right. The main reason I voted remain in the referendum, was not some misguided love of the EU but an understanding of the near inevitability of such a vote resulting in a mess, with a savagely right wing bunch of Tory’s running the show for their financial backers. As such, it is my personal opinion that rather than looking to things such as referendums as a means to initiate further change we should be looking at grassroots direct action.

Monday, 12 September 2016

No Blood for Oil: Chilcot's Missed Oppurtunity

February 23rd 2003 saw one of the biggest protests take place in British history. This was of course the protest against the invasion of Iraq by Tony Blair’s government. We can have a debate about the effectiveness of demonstrations in light of the Iraq war another time, needless to say however, the protest showed the lack of support for the invasion throughout the country. On that day, millions held banners and signs which read ‘no blood for oil’. These people rightfully saw corporate interests, not stopping terrorism or finding Weapons of Mass Destruction, as the primary motivation for the attack. Since then, Tony Blair has dismissed the theory that Iraq was a war for oil as an ‘absurd conspiracy theory’, and many well-known media outlets have joined him in their condemnation of the protesters. However, is it really so absurd to suggest, that resources and those that profit from their exploitation may be a large part of the motive for war? Surely with any government action that is as widely opposed by the general public as this one, we should be asking some serious questions about whether it is right or not. By the standards of an official inquiry, Chilcot’s was rightfully damning of a government that took the country to war without legal or moral justification. Consequentially, Tony Blair has already been forced to claim responsibility for the war, and Jeremy Corbyn has officially apologised on behalf of the Labour Party, to veterans and their families. However, compared to the evidence Chillcot actually had, his conclusions were mild. Indeed, despite acknowledging that there is no compelling evidence that Iraq had weapons of Mass Destruction, chillcot failed to address in his report how other political and economic motivations affected decisions.
 

A War for Oil

 A year after the 2003 demonstration, an international opinion poll conducted by the US think tank, Pew Research Centre, asked sample populations from the US, Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco and Jordan, about the so called ‘war on terrorism’ (Note at this point that the survey was not specifically about Iraq but the western foreign policy following 9/11). The majority of people in all but the US and Britain, thought that it was intended to control Middle East Oil.
When it comes to the Iraq war, they were right. Evidence released with the report shows that unequivocally using Iraq oil to boost British energy supplies was a central pre-war aim. In fact, A February 2002 Cabinet office paper described the UK’s objective as ‘preserving peace and security in the gulf and ensuring energy security’. Right up to the withdrawal of British troops in 2009, successive British strategy documents, also released by Chilcot, show two three mostly consistent aims: transfer the oil sector from public ownership to multinationals, and ensure that BP and shell get a large share, and to make Iraq an advocate of low oil prices within OPEC.  The summary of the Chilcot report does briefly mention this once, when repeating a claim by the then Iraq envoy Jeremy Greenstock that under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) the UK had less influence over oil then the US. This is typical statement for Greenstock to make, as on his return from Iraq he took up a job at BP. In most cases, a civil service committee reviews these sorts of appointments in order to prevent conflicts of interests and in this case ordered Greenstock to do no Iraq business for six months. Despite this, within three months of this order he was lobbying interim Prime Minister Allawi on behalf of BP. people who originally worked at oil companies got deals with the UK government as well. Terry Adams, a former head of BP Azerbaijan, was funded by the UK government to work on oil issues under the CPA, and then in 2004, to begin drafting new Iraq oil policy under Allawi. He even wrote a ‘code of practice’ for the Iraq oil ministry, which called for multinational companies to play a major role in developing Iraq’s oil and for the ministry’s policies to be compatible with specifically for those of BP.
One thing that clearly stands out from these examples and from reading the factual material in section 10.3 of the Chilcot report, is that policy on Iraq oil was consistently made ‘working closely’ or ‘In close contact’ with BP and shell. Indeed, the book Fuel on the Fire by Greg Muttitt reveals that, six months before the war actually began, the UK government held at least five secretive meetings with heads of BP and Shell. These were obviously denied at the time, but the Chilcot report notes three of these specifically, also mentioning one meeting in November 2002 where the minutes were forwarded to Blair himself. The Inquiry also noted many more examples of meetings with oil companies that occurred throughout the occupation. What is remarkable about Chilcot’s reporting on the oil issue is that, while this damning evidence is buried deep in this 2.6 million word report and can be found with enough digging, not one of the corporate officials involved in this complex web of secret meetings, deals and negotiations was called by Chilcot to give evidence. Here are a number of possibilities for why this might be the case, maybe Chilcot does not want to present a too damning case against Tony Blair and the Iraq war? Maybe he does not consider it important to interview some of the most important people involved in the invasion of Iraq? Either way, this is an extremely misguided thing to do when reporting on the political event of the century. What is important is that such judgements are noticed and held to account.

Profiting From War

The UN gave the US and UK governments the authority to spend Iraqi oil revenue on the reconstruction of the country infustructure. However, it did not anticipate or give their ruling to US and UK companies’ receiving 85 percent of the value of all contracts worth $5 million or more. Iraqi firms however received just two percent of those oil funds which, unsurprisingly, were paid for with Iraqi oil funds. In fact, shortly before the war, Patricia Hewitt, as trade and industry secretary, lobbied the US not for more funds to go to the Iraqis, but to go to British firms. The Chilcot report also revealed that by June 2003, foreign secretary Jack Straw was urging Blair to lobby on behalf of Siemens UK for access to power supply contracts. By the end of the CPA’s first year of occupation, there were over 60 UK companies working in Iraq on contracts worth about $2.6 million US dollars. This use of war in order to allow firms to expand their business was a striking characteristic of the Iraq war. Some of the companies that profited included Aegis, Olive Group, Armour Group, Control Risks and Janusian. Private contracts were let for ridiculous amounts of money as millions was pumped into the war industry.
These facts are justly documented in the Chilcot report, but they are not investigated or even treated as significant. Neither Jack Straw nor Patricia Hewitt were scrutinised about their role in lobbying on behalf of British Business. This is despite the fact that the role of private companies is important context for understanding how the war played out. It is absolutely clear that the US and the UK as occupying powers, forced through a series of neoliberal reforms that placed Iraq at the mercy of international financial institutions and transnational corporations. The CPA ended protections for local producers and forced factories and farms out of business. The creation of a corrupt economy based on reconstruction, left education and welfare systems, already weak after the combined effects of sanctions and war, decimated.  Not only is profiting from war in this way completely immoral, but it is illegal. So is attempting to reconstruct an economy in favour of the Washington consensus neoliberal policy prescriptions. A memo from the attorney general to Tony Blair on 26th march 2003, which was put before the Chilcot inquiry as evidence, made this absolutely clear. Neither Tony Blair, nor Hillary Benn, the then international development secretary, can possibly claim that they did not know that the occupation was conducted illegally. Again, Chilcot did not question either of them on this.

The Aftermath

For the Iraqi people the war never exactly ended. As Iraq body count has pointed out, the number of deaths every month since the 2003 invasion has never fallen beneath 250. The highest monthly total was 4,083 in 2014. According to official figures from the UN, by 2007 at least four million Iraqis had become refugees. Since then, water shortages have been described by Iraqi government officials as the worst ever and agricultural food production has been at record lows. Today, things are clearly even worse for the Iraqi people, with the World Bank warning of up to a third of the population below the poverty line. Private companies are by no means free from guilt either. Private armies have been able to act with impunity, often adopting a policy of ‘shoot first, ask questions later’. The most infamous incident was Blackwater’s 2007 massacre of 17 unarmed civilians in Nisoor square Baghdad, but reports indicate that such incidents were common, and some involved British Private military companies. At the launch of the report much was rightly made of the rights of families of the 179 British war dead, to know about the reasons for going to war. However, the rights of the families’ of the unknown total of British Private military personnel who were killed went without mention.
In a way, Britain achieved its objectives. Since 2010 Iraqi oil production has mostly been in the hands of multinationals, with BP and Shell holding some of the largest contracts. After their arrival, corruption went through the roof. Two western oil companies were investigated for giving or receiving bribes. Contractors are heavily overcharging for drilling wells, which the companies don’t mind, as the Iraqi government pays for it. All the while, in order to protect the oil giants from dissent and protest, trade union offices have been raided, computers seized and leaders arrested and prosecuted. That is just in the oil rich part of the country. Corruption is rife throughout Iraq, and it is shameful that Chilcot has failed to investigate most of it.

Conclusion

If it was lack of concern that led to Chilcot drawing the conclusions that he did from the inquiry, then it is a distinctly pro establishment way of thinking that shaped the practice of who and what could come before the inquiry. The fact that Chilcot’s evidence was drawn almost exclusively from the public sector represents an extremely market fundamentalist ideology, prevalent in all liberal democracies: that the private sector has a right to intellectual property. Contrary to what we were led to believe, the Iraq inquiry did not take a ‘neutral’ stance on the issue. It made a clear decision to allow the ‘private’ world of corporate capital to remain private and the intimate relationship between government and big business that allowed the war to happen in the first place, to remain hidden.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

The Other 9/11

Since the atrocities on September 11th 2001, this date has naturally become one of pity, for the victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre. It would take a very biased view of history to not acknowledge that the in the 1980s the US funded, supplied and trained Al Qaida in Afghanistan. Then they were considered ‘brave freedom fighters’ against the occupying forces of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, in the 1990s, the US intervened to support Islamist fanatics in Kosovo, this was only a few years after Al Qaida launched their first attack on the twin towers in 1993. Over the space of just a few years, Al Qaida morphed from US allies to supposedly the greatest threat to American freedom and democracy in history. This is a threat that has been used to impose all kinds of unconstitutional and totalitarian attacks on the liberties of American citizens, such as the patriot act and the incredible expansion of NSA spying activities.   The extreme ignorance and gullibility that would be necessary to believe the idea that the US were not siding with terrorist organisations, simply because Al Qaida’s actions supported their imperial and economic interests is on par with believing that America ‘fights for peace and democracy around the world’. An idea now commonplace at remembrance ceremonies.

One event no one in the US ceremoniously remembers however is what has been called ‘the other 9/11’ by writers such as Noam Chomsky. This was the attempt to undermine and destroy democracy in Chile, after a US backed military coup on September 11th 1973, which removed the left wing government of Salvador Allende and replaced it with the fascist government of Augusto Pinochet. Importantly, this coup marked the birth of the toxic neoliberal ideology pursued by the Chicago School economists. In 1973, neoliberalism was a fringe anti left wing ideology endorsed by almost no one. Today this bankrupt pseudo economic gibberish is the global economic orthodoxy pursued by most mainstream political parties in the west. It is therefore important that we realise where this idea started, and the victims that died as a result.

Allendes Government

When Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile in September 1970, the regime that was then inaugurated was supposed to make the case for a peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism. I have trouble myself with this form of government. Indeed, as it turned out over the following three years, the ‘socialism’ part was a bit of an exaggeration. Allendes government achieved a number of economic and social reforms under incredibly difficult conditions. However, it remained a deliberately moderate regime.
In spite of this, we were told by experts such as professor Thomas from Reading University that the trouble with Allende is that he was too much influenced by such people as Marx and Lenin, ‘rather than Mill, Tawney or Aneurin Bevin, or any other European democratic socialist’. This being the case, defenders of what happened in Chile argue, the coup cannot by any means be regarded as a defeat for democratic socialism but a defeat for Marxist Socialism. The Trouble with Allende to many of his detractors was that he was not Harold Wilson, surrounded by advisers and steeped in Keynesianism. Regardless of what type of Socialism Allende appeared to be offering however, the coup in Chile gives an excellent example of what may happen when a government gives the impression, in a bourgeois democracy, of wanting to bring about lasting reform and real change; to move in socialist directions in however gradual or transitional a manner. Whatever else may be said about Allende, there is no doubt that this is what he wanted to do. Allende and his supporters were neither Marxists nor mere Keynesians. They were people who believed in democracy.

The result of the Coup

To say that neoliberalism started with the military coup in Chile is an understatement. The man that the neoliberals backed to replace Allende was a brutal dictator called General Pinochet. During his dictatorship, over 3,000 people were ‘disappeared’, which as we now know meant captured and tortured to death. In addition to this, another 2,800 were detained without trial, most of whom were suffering torture and in many cases sexual abuse as well. Aside from those tortured and killed and the families that survived, other victims of this brutal US backed dictatorship included protesters that were burned alive in the streets by police and musicians that had their fingers broken before being machine gunned to death.
This cruel and undemocratic regime was supported by the US every step of the way. To successive American governments and their corporate backers, military dictatorship, imprisonment without trial, torture, rape and murder were an insignificant price to pay when it came to securing and defending access to the Chilean government so it could be used as a mechanism for making profits for US corporations, and letting the neoliberal pseudo economists from the Chicago school rule over the country with an iron fist. In fact, the Chilean regime was part of the US financed Operation Condor, which was a plan to control the population of the southern zone of South America through the installation of numerous brutal military dictatorships. The members of this anti-democratic group were the Pinochet military dictatorship in Chile, The Stroessner dictatorship in Paraguay, the Banzer military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 1985 and the 12 year military dictatorship in Uruguay.
Chile was by no means the only country to suffer at the hands of neoliberalism. Undoubtedly the most brutal members of Operation Condor were the US backed Argentine Junta that joined in 1976, after the military coup against Isabelle Peron. Whilst the US backed military dictatorship were busy murdering an estimated 30,000 Argentine civilians and torturing countless thousands more, the Chicago boys were imposing their favoured economic ideology of deregulations and privatisations, resulting in poverty and chaos for millions of Argentines. The state terrorism of this savage regime meant that few people spoke out against this economic vandalism. In the late 1970s the US and the Argentine Junta even collaborated to export their model or brutal right wing dictatorship Central American nations such as Guatemala and El Salvador, and in 1980 the Argentine Junta, the US administration and the Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie collaborated to assist the ‘cocaine coup’ in Bolivia, which installed Luis Menza. Menza was another brutal dictator who, upon his instillation to power, outlawed all political parties and oversaw the murder of 1,000 people in just thirteen months. These are the consequences of neoliberalism.

Conclusion

The 43rd anniversary of the US backed military coup in Chile passed virtually unnoticed in the United States, and great swathes of the public will continue to believe the comforting lies that the US has a history of promoting democracy and freedom, rather than a demonstrable history of undermining these values. The millions of victims of the vile US backed Latin American dictatorships are not the only ones who should be remembered however. The countless global victims of the entire ‘greed is a virtue’ economic ideology, born in Chile in this day on 1973, are just as worthy of remembrance as the victims of the September 2001 atrocities.  

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Islamophobia In France

The controversial Burkini Ban has been rightly overturned in French courts. Despite this, the ban was only the latest event in a series of Islamophobic attacks endured by French Muslims. This is not a recent development. The French government was exploiting Muslims long before the recent terror attacks. However, it is undeniable that these events have sent Islamophobia in France to fever pitch. Of the 3,500 raids conducted since January 2015, only six have led to investigations. In December, authorities in Eure et Loire, admitted that they were targeting Muslims with no evidence against them, on a supposedly ‘preventive’ basis. Many innocent Muslims have been handcuffed and dragged from their beds by heavily armed police. When a State of Emergency was declared after last year’s attack on the Bataclan, 274 people were placed under house arrest, the vast majority of whom were Muslims. In addition to this, Mosques have been violently ransacked by police. Around twenty Mosques have been closed, with many more to be soon shuttered. Political organisations with Muslim links such as solidarity with Palestine and the BDS Movement have been outlawed in the name of national security. Things are even harder for Muslims appealing for Asylum, many of whom have had their camps destroyed and have been made vulnerable to deportation measures.

In pursuing these sorts of policies, French politicians have knowingly ignored the reality of state sponsored Islamophobia. Combined with military activity in Muslim countries this has only fuelled further extremism, and encouraged the same kind of social isolation that encourages people to join groups like ISIS. The correct response to this, from those of us on the left, should be to recognise Muslims as victims of capitalism and neoliberalism, and to show solidarity with them. However, when it comes to defending the right of French movements, the Radical Left has been missing in action. Reluctance to defend religious Freedom and fear of being labelled ‘terrorist sympathisers’, seriously undermines the left’s solidarity with Muslim refugees. This blog post will look at where the problem of Islamophobia in France stems from and why the left should do more to tackle it.

The political roots of Islamophobia

There are about 5 million Muslims living in France today. At roughly 7.5 percent of the population, this is the largest share of any country in Europe. Out of these, just over a Third say they actually practice the religion.
Historically, Muslims came to France following the country colonization of North Africa. This means that the contemporary relationship between the Muslim population and the French government, was conditioned by the legacy of imperial history and economic exploitation. Unlike other colonies, Algeria was officially considered a part of France, meaning that Algerian Muslims could freely live in France. In spite of this, they often faced brutal repression. Indeed, antagonism with a Muslim population is even written into the French political structure. The current constitution, which established the Fifth Republic, was explicitly designed to quell Muslim resistance to colonialism. Although General De Gaul called for constitutional reform in 1958, he did so in order to restore presidential authority, which had been weakened by the Upheavals during the Algerian war of independence. 
During the Algerian Independence Movement, members of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) inflicted real damage on French authorities. One of their many actions saw them setting a fuel depot near Marseilles alight in 1958. In response to this, the French state intensified its repressive tactics. In 1961 – the year before Algeria gained its independence – at least one hundred Algerians were massacred by Paris police, simply for protesting curfew orders that had been placed on them. This conflict is not easily forgotten. After Algeria rightly gaining independence in 1962, the Algerian community in France often discouraged its members from seeking French nationality, as doing so would mean identifying as citizens of the very nation that had persecuted them. Indeed, it would be a mistake to say that persecution of Muslim communities in France is a thing of the past. Starting In 1966, a new agency – the directorate of population and migration – enforced policies that limited Algerian migration to France, restricted family reunion migration and enhanced authoritarian tracking of immigration. In addition to this, many former French colonists live in the southeast of France. Unsurprisingly then, characterised by racist hate crime, this is one of the strongholds of the far right. However, if we are to truly analyse Islamophobia in France, we need to look far beyond constituency politics.

The Economic Roots of Islamophobia

In addition to understanding the political status of French Muslims following colonialism, it is also important to understand their economic position and relation to the labour movement. In 1904, there were already five thousand Muslims working in French industry and mining. In contrast to the current climate, the French government and employers saw catering for religion as very important. The main reason for this is that they saw religion as having the potential to counterbalance the influence of Labour unions on North African immigrant workers. Businesses would sometimes even make prayer rooms available to their employees. This marks a startling difference from today, when the private sector is actively collaborating with the government to eradicate Islamic religious expression in all public spheres.
Allowing a Muslim workforce to pay was nothing more than a token gesture from French employers. Improvement in living standards only came from militant organising. Many Muslims supported the Popular Front movements in the 1930s. Today, Muslims hold progressive views on many social issues including social welfare, redistribution and racism. They are also a left of centre voting bloc. In 1982, Islam was brought to the forefront of French political life when there were strikes against redundancies in the car industry. Immigrant workers initiated a major industrial conflict when they occupied the Citroen and Talbot factories in Aulnay and Poissy, with the backing of unions. As a result of this, factory owners believed that the immigrant workers were being manipulated by unions and pressed for police intervention. This marked the first time the word ‘Muslim’ entered public discourse as a standard label for a segment of the population, replacing class based descriptions. While the spread of Islamophobia can be partly attributed to the spread of racist ideas, in line with the electoral success of the National Front, it also has strong economic and political roots. What this means is that rising Islamophobic attacks by the state, despite being undoubtedly racist, grew out of the governments need to manage working class resistance.

Inequality under the Law

Political secularism has deep roots in French life, originating with the post 1789 fight against Catholicism’s reactionary power. Indeed, secularism has been signed into the French constitution since 1905, when a law was passed guaranteeing the separation of the Church and State. Anticlericalism, which initially referred to hostility towards the Catholic Church, is now all too often used as a pretext for anti-Muslim tirades. When Charlie Hebdo publishes racist cartoons directed at Muslims, as it regularly does, they are celebrated as expressions of French secularism and anticlericalism. This ideology traces its roots back to republicanism, the principle which underlined the 1789 revolution that demanded freedom and equality. As such, when French politicians invoke secularism today they often do so to affirm the importance of the republics founding ideals. In practice however, appeals to secularism and republicanism simply serve to disguise and consolidate inequalities. It rationalizes the dominance of the French ruling class, by providing them with an excuse for whatever policies they want to implement. Manuel Valls, the current Prime Minister, is a prime example of this kind of ideological manipulation. As interior minister in 2013, Valls cited ‘republicanism’ in order to justify the destruction of Roma camps and the expulsion of many thousands of people. Likewise, his authoritarian response to the November attacks was also justified in Republican terms.    
What secularism and republicanism have meant for French people depends largely on their religious beliefs. In the past, secularism meant the separation of church and state. In recent decades however, it has undergone a repressive reinterpretation. As can be seen by the Burkini ban, it has been used to strip Muslims of their outward religious affiliations. As a result, Muslims must renounce an element of their identity if they are to be treated equally under the law. The 2004 law on the ‘secular character of schools’ is the most famous instance of this ongoing exclusion of Islam. While the law prohibits students from wearing any ‘conspicuous’ religious signs, it has not been applied equally. When an earlier version was proposed in 1994, the Prime Minister reassured France’s Jewish representative body that the measure would not target students wearing the Yarmulke. Young Muslim girls, banned from wearing headscarves to school, undergo the most pressure. To illustrate this, 130 cases of schoolgirls being excluded from school for wearing headscarves were reported in 2014.
The laws hypocrisy and its status as an instrument of anti-Muslim repression are glaringly obvious: separation of church and state does not even exist in the eastern departments of Alsace and Mosselle, which were still part of Germany in 1905. There, rabbis, priests and ministers earn a government pay check-but a Muslim can be removed from a public school because of what she chooses to wear. State sanctioned disregard of secularism often goes further. In 2013, the National Front mayor of Marseilles set up a nativity scene in the town hall – directly violating the law - and suffered no penalty. It would seem as if only Muslims are required to enforce the separation of church and state. Indeed, how Muslim women constitute the state – and therefore threaten secularism by wearing headscarves – has never been adequately explained. The perception that they do is recent: In 1989, an attempt to ban school girls from wearing headscarves was rejected by the courts. The change, brought about by the 2004 legislation, is usually explained as a direct response to the 9/11 attacks in the US and the ensuing ‘war on terror’. All the law achieves however, is to exclude certain members of the public from education, therefore strengthening the use of schools as a repressive instrument. If the national education system in France is, as it purports, designed to treat everyone equally, the law makes no sense. Instead, it demonstrates that the school systems real purpose is moulding students so that they assimilate into an authoritarian and discriminatory French society.

Leftist Islamophobia

What is perhaps less known is that leading members of France’s revolutionary organisations such as Workers Struggle (LO) and the Revolutionary communist League (LCR), played a major part in events leading up to 2004 law. They did this by pushing for the expulsion of two Headscarf wearing adults from public education. Alma and Lila Levy, the schoolgirls in question, did not exemplify the stereotypical problems of Muslim integration in contemporary France. Their mother came from a Muslim family but had been baptized a Catholic, and their father was a Jewish left wing lawyer.  Despite this, the Communist mayor of Aubervilliers, supported the student’s expulsion. In fact, trying to control what Muslims can and cannot wear has become something of a tradition in left wing circles.  A 2010 law banning the face veil was sponsored by Communist deputy Andre Gerin, working in concert with a right wing MP. People within the wider left wing movement are split on the issue. However, in my opinion, to take part in the anti-Muslim charge is to hold up those same ideas of inequality, perpetuated by our socio-economic system.  Instead, the left should be directing our efforts towards anti -racist and anti – fascist activities. Only then, will we be able to call ourselves defenders of equality and political secularism.

Conclusion

The escalating Islamophobia in France is especially worrying considering the context. Left wing movements like Nuit Debout came to life in response to repressive labour laws that also target Muslims. In July, the mayor of Cannes banned the Burkini from his town’s beaches. The decision was copied in around thirty council areas, and was vocally defended by the Prime Minister, before the council of state reversed it on August 26th. How far the French elite will extend their Islamophobic attacks remains to be seen. As such, It is urgent that the left correct its record on the question of anti-Muslim repression to meet the challenge.