Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Why British Bombs would not have helped Allepo

As the Battle for Aleppo ends and the territory falls into the hands of the murderous Assad regime, people are turning to all sorts of explanations as who is to blame for this tragedy and the sickening human cost that occurred as a result. Predictably, front bench Tory's and the mainstream media have pointed the blame to those who prevented the bombing of Assad's forces in 2013. They accept that the killing fields of Iraq and the disintegrated state of Libya have tainted the west's decision to become involved in these conflicts. Many of them even admit that the moral case for western military intervention has become significantly weakened due to the mistakes of the past. The horror of Aleppo presents a counter argument: the cost of non-intervention. Those who opposed the intervention must bear part of them responsibility for Assad's actions in the region goes the argument. The problem with this argument though is that it is such a gross revision of history that, even as Aleppo burns, it requires a response. 

Let me be clear. Assad and Putin are responsible for horrendous crimes. Social media flocks with their apologists, those who think they are so radically minded and opposed to western imperialism, that they can't help but hypocritically lecture us about how Russia's horrendous actions in Syria are justified or even moral. Earlier this week, the morning star newspaper rightly provoked disgust when they described the fall of Aleppo as a 'liberation'. When the U.S. bombards countries with bombs, such apologists would not dare to deny civilian casualties. When Russia and its allies are responsible, they ape the rhetoric of the most ardent conservative: that the dead in Aleppo are not civilians but terrorists; that civilian deaths are either the fault of the rebel militia or a necessary evil; that civilians are rejoicing at their 'liberation'. On Tuesday Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari even went so far as to hold up a photograph of a solider helping a woman from a truck. 'This is a Syrian solider' he proclaimed 'She is a woman fleeing eastern Aleppo'. In the age of the Internet such lies are unwise. It was quickly discovered that this was, in fact, a woman in Fallujah, in Iraq, being helped by state militia
Indeed, Fallujah itself should serve as a stark reminder of the moral bankruptcy of those who condemn the war crimes of the U.S. and UK but support those of Russia and Syria. They rightfully denounced U.S. Forces who assaulted Fallujah in 2004, using white phosphorous as they did so, a substance that can burn down to the bone. In spite of this, they shake their heads and cover their ears when confronted about the horrors of the Russian assault on Aleppo. The UN has received credible evidence of up to 82 Aleppo citizens being shot dead where they stood. Amnesty International have reported cases of civilians - including children - being massacred in cold blood, and accused Russia of showing a 'callous disregard for international humanitarian law'. In addition to this, thousands of civilians are said to be crammed into an area of no more than two square kilometres and Lina Shami, an activist in Aleppo , reports there are 'no safe areas' and that civilians are 'threatened with field executions or are dying under bombing'. All the while, Russian bombing has been indiscriminate, destroying local infustructure.  This is not to say we should never criticise the rebels. What began as a democratic struggle in Syria more than five years ago has been sabotaged by Islamist extremists such as Islamic State, which came in from post invasion Iraq. However, Aleppo had a democratically elected council and Independent civil service, now lost.
 Are those who opposed military intervention against Assad in 2013, before the west turned its firepower on his Islamist extremist opponents to blame? Here is what the then Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons in 2013 in the debate before the proposed intervention ‘It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict, it is not about invading, it is not about regime change and it is not even about working more closely with the opposition: It is about the large scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime’. Similarly, US president Barack Obama, portrayed the case for intervention as being solely about degrading Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons. Nothing about the specific areas of Syria, nothing about the rebels. It was specifically sold as a limited operation focused entirely on chemical weapons. Yes, there was the obvious fear that that this would mean creeping direct military involvement, and there is no precedent of western military involvement in the Arab world ending in anything other than disaster. It was, nonetheless, not what was debated.
There are however concrete actions that the west could be undertaking now. The case for British humanitarian aid drops in Aleppo and elsewhere is overwhelming. These would show support for the people who are besieged who Assad and his Russian backers are trying to starve out. A UN monitored evacuation plan needs to be put in place. Syria is a reminder of the need for consistency. Those of us who passionately opposed the disastrous western wars in Libya and Iraq are not apologists for Putin or Assad. Similarly, those who denounce the opponents of western military intervention should have far more humility about Iraq and Libya: The hundreds of thousands dead, the sectarian conflict, the millions displaced and traumatised, the extremist groups flourishing in the chaos. They should speak out against the wests alliance with a head chopping dictatorship such as Saudi Arabia, which exports extremism – including to Syria – and which is butchering Yemini civilians with British made bombs.
If you oppose war crimes, if you oppose the murder of innocent civilians then you should speak out about whoever is responsible. There is no contradiction in opposing the crimes of western or Russian foreign policy, or in denouncing both the bombs of Syria and of Saudi Arabia. Call it consistency, or perhaps a better term to use is morality.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Why The Snoopers Charter is Unsafe and Immoral

The Tory introduced Snoopers charter became law on the 29th of November 2016, meaning that the UK now has the most invasive state surveillance laws of any nation in the developed world. The invasive domestic snooping legislation means that the UK government will be able to maintain a mass database, recording the entire online browsing history of every person in the UK, regardless of whether they are doing anything wrong or not. They will then allow dozens and dozens of government organisations and agencies to trawl through this database looking for dirt. The only people exempt from the Charter are MP’s themselves, who seem far too interested in their own political careers that they clearly don’t want to be caught doing things contrary to the interest of the people, like say spying on the plebs that they claim to represent. While it makes sense for the secret services to look into what suspected terrorists are plotting, this legislation goes a lot further than that. First and foremost, it presumes that every single UK citizen who does not hold a position in government is a potential criminal who needs to be spied on, then it requires all kind of non-security related agencies to trawl through their internet history.

The Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd has continued with the pathetic excuse that this bill is about preventing terrorism by claiming that ‘the internet presents new opportunities for terrorists and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront these challenges’. However, this kind of fearmongering provides no excuse for why the government just passed a law that allows people working for the Health and Safety Executive, the food standards agency, various fire and rescue services, The NHS Business Services authority and even the Gambling Commission to rifle through peoples Internet Browsing histories. Even the smallest understanding of the unprecedented powers this bill gives to non-terrorism related government agencies and quangos should be enough to tell you that that Amber Rudd’s justification story makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Despite this, the problems with this bill go well beyond the fact that Rudd has lied about its intensions.

A major concern is the potential for corruption in allowing so many agencies to trawl through people internet histories. Just imagine the potential for scammers and stalkers looking for dirt to blackmail their victims with. Allowing the employees of such huge number of agencies to access peoples private data doesn’t just provide direct opportunities for scammers and stalkers who might work for these agencies, it also offers them opportunities to steal and sell peoples private data to criminals. Aside from the extraordinary number of agencies that will be required to trawl through people’s internet histories, there is obviously the problem of keeping such massive stockpiles of private data safe from data loss and hackers. We all remember stories of government ministers and civil servants losing vast amounts of data by leaving it on the train, sending it via unrecorded mail, or simply stuffing it into bins in public parks. The creation of such vast databases of private information means that the potential for human error is absolutely enormous, and that’s before we even get to the damage hackers could do with access to the Internet browsing histories of pretty much every single person in the UK.

 The German Government has recently claimed that their worried about Russian hackers could interfere with their voting systems and the Chinese have developed incredibly advanced cyber warfare technology. The idea that Russian and Chines Hackers wouldn’t see the potential value in access to massive dumps of the Internet browsing records of pretty much every UK resident and business requires some serious mental gymnastics to wrap your head around. Not to mention there are also plenty of criminal hackers out there who must be ecstatic at the idea of the government creating massive stockpiles of private information for them to get their hands on.  

Aside from the security issues and the assault on British liberties this legislation represents, just imagine the precedent the UK is setting to other authoritarian regimes across the globe by collecting the browsing histories of every single member of the population, who does not is not in some way able to rule over the country. Just imagine the potential for political repression when barbaric and repressive regimes like Turkey follow Britain’s lead and begin spying and begin spying on every single citizen and trawling through their private data looking for anything to persecute their citizens for. Predictably, despite the obvious concerns, large numbers of right wing authoritarians are cheering up this appalling insult on the right to privacy, the presumption of innocence and the ability of British Journalists to do Investigative journalism without fear of being of meddling from any number of state agencies with vested interests in interfering in their work. As I explained in my previous blog post, I am no fan of Fidel Castro. However, I find it especially ironic that the same right wingers who were only a few days previously busy lecturing everyone about how authoritarian Castro was, are now wildly cheering an invasive state surveillance regime that Cuban Communists could never have imagined in their wildest dreams. These right wing authoritarians endlessly repeat the mantra of ‘If you’ve got nothing to hide you have got nothing to fear’ without the remotest concern that this law creates huge opportunities for repression, persecution of the innocent and for the loss/theft of private data.

In a way these people are displaying an astonishingly na├»ve and staggeringly hypocritical faith in the government. When it comes to the latest Tory Privatisation scam these right wing apologists will always claim that the state is woefully inefficient and that the private sector has to take over. However, when it comes to the government running vast databases of private information they’ve trawled from innocent people, suddenly in their minds the state becomes so wonderfully and exceptionally efficient that the chances of corruption, data loss and vulnerability to hacking are non-existent. The hypocrisy of right wing authoritarians really does seem boundless.