Back in the Fold (a.k.a Business as Usual)

With a few master strokes – principally paying off the billions in compensation to the families of the victims of the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie and renouncing its ‘advanced’ Weapons of Mass Destruction program, Libya has wormed its way right back into western favour.

So now the rewards will flow in earnest. Libyan oil will again fill American engines and McDonald’s will open a halal outlet in downtown Tripoli. Colonel Gaddafi will continue to dispense tyranny to his people, only this time the vilification will be a little muted. Who criticises when ‘we’ all profit?.

Having failed to achieve the regional supremacy that he quietly sought whilst a pariah by the west – his murky paws have been found in the unrests in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad and a host of other African nations that have experienced internal instability. He has tried the respectable statesman route, and done the Pan Africanist tango. He has walked the walk of African Solidarity and toasted to communist ideals. It now seems that the contingency is to pally with the west and surge forward as a feted junior partner rather than as a dastardly mastermind. It must be so satisfying in the White House that they finally got him in a way worse than death! (ponder Mr Reagan’s attempt to assassinate the head of sovereign nation).

The timing of all of this seems of some relevance, why now? After so many years of isolation, what has Libya to gain by this positive posturing? At a time when the west can be justifiably rallied against for the debacle of Afghanistan, the injustice of Iraq and what is perceived as a new crusade against Islam.

Never mind the questions that need answers amongst Libya’s peers in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) – from a religious standpoint; and from the African Union from a political standpoint; perhaps the most important questions would come from the Libyan people themselves, if they were permitted to. Unfortunately with such tight control on what , when and how one can question the Colonel it is unlikely these questions will ever be asked nor indeed answered.

Questions about the suffering caused to millions of Libyans, the denial of their right to freely associate with the global family. The abuses that have been committed against them by their state, given carte blanche without the regulation of international observation. Why they were taken into a confrontation with the west that resulted in all this and for the final betrayal of their sacrifices by this apparent kowtowing.

The world is not safer because Libya gave up its WMD program. The dangers that face us as a world are worse now because of the complacency that pronouncements by leaders have lulled us into, whilst they know full well that their actions and those of their predecessors have condemned us all to a terrifying future.

One particularly nasty legacy of colonialism was that it left a cadre of young charismatic officers, trained and armed by the departing colonial masters. These young, ambitious (not particularly socially responsible though) officers understood that they could hijack their nations with their newly acquired skills and weaponry to realise their ‘destiny’ as the new lords. With the now proven goals of plunder and pillage, most of Africa has suffered immeasurably. This can also be seen across most of the colonised world. Of course, as history as shown, the greater the spoils the bloodier the battles. So perhaps the depth of carnage and cruelty seen in Biafra, Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Sierra Leone and Liberia pay bloody testimony to the wealth (human and otherwise) that exists in these countries.

All now seems forgotten about what Libya did or did not do. Forgotten or forgiven is largely academic, the result is the same. It is an ’emerging’ market, left to fallow and now its time for the western capitalist cow to come and graze it bare. Of course, the people of Libya will become tempted into lusting after western goods, developing the taste that will condemn them to an eternity of consumption and peonage to fund it. Across boardrooms in the UK and the US, there must be such elation that the red lining of the last few years indeed looks like history now that a new host has been fostered.

Libya is back in the fold and it is (big) business as usual. With the re-entry into the fold, undoubtedly Libyans will have to pay more for their own oil, endure privatised healthcare, pensions and the destruction of whatever social system they have. They will find that Libyan grain no longer graces their tables (US and EU subsidy will ensure that). More of what they consume will be coming in than their produce goes out. Their army will be stronger, better trained and fantastically armed – by British and American corporations (who knows perhaps the Uzi Corporation of Israel might get in on the action!).

In the moment

Looking out from my third floor flat , out over the lights of small town England. The lights, the quiet, the peace; a wave of humility hits me, a spontaneous connection to the human family and I cast my mind to what may be happening at this very moment, elsewhere in the world.

Somewhere in the world at this moment are people getting killed, robbed , raped. Somewhere someone is getting told they have a terminal illness and their days are numbered, their cards marked for a slow and painful slide to stop.

Some lucky folk somewhere in this world are falling in love, getting laid, experiencing parenthood.

Perhaps at this moment someone is going blind, consigned to a future of darkness,confusion and discrimination.

Right now some one somewhere is cursing God (god or gods?) whilst another is praising Him (or Her/Them?).

Somewhere, at this moment, someone is being abused. Their basic human rights are being violated as I stand here. Perhaps they are a child, a woman, old or young.

At this moment people with the hope of a better life are stranded in the Sahara desert because the truck they hired to smuggle them to a new life in the west just broke down and by morning they would be dead – of thirst, slow and painful.

There are so many scenarios of what could be happening at this moment. For sure death, loss , love, joys and sorrows are certainly being experienced. To what extent and whether they are in balance is entirely something else.

An emotional overload, the sheer quantity of possibilities and the emotion contained in each is so overwhelming. Somehow it feels like if I just listened hard enough or made myself feel it strongly enough, I could somehow experience a deep connection with each person.

There is no logic for it , certainly medicine would find a name for it (if you can name it, you can treat it n’est pas?). I cannot explain why I felt this, but I’m glad I did.

(to be continued)

Calm and Restraint

‘… we appeal for calm and restraint…’ – part of US statement on Israel’s assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Just as it seems things could not get any worse, events conspire to ensure they do.

Usually these events, especially in the murky world of international diplomacy and paranoid national interests, are masterminded to have exactly that effect.

Ariel Sharon – a suspected war criminal and current Israeli prime minister, personally orchestrated the state assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin – the spiritual leader of Hamas – the leading Palestinian resistance group.

‘Spiritual leader’ – presumably means the source of religious justification for the cause of liberating Palestine from oppressive occupation by Israel. Every cause needs one, and indeed has one. The crusades and the Spanish inquisition had the Pope, ridding South Africa of apartheid had Mandela, Sisulu and others. The Russian revolution had Lenin. Cuba had Castro and Guevara – every major resistance (just or otherwise) has its inspirational leadership. Whilst not trying to equate the stature or indeed the objectives of any of these characters, the point is clear – every cause needs its visionary.

To condemn the assassination of Sheikh Yassin because he was an old man, a wheelchair bound paraplegic is to shame his cause. To condemn it because it does nothing to advance peace talks (which have been silent for a long time), or because it stokes the fires of ‘terrorism’ and continues the cycle of reprisals – whilst all valid reasons, do not speak to the heart of the matter. It must be condemned because it is illegal, unlawful and plain wrong for so-called democratic nations to go about assassinating private citizens in violation of established national and international laws.

Sheikh Yassin was under no illusion of what the risks of resistance were. In the eyes of Palestinians and the wider Islamic world that sympathises with the Palestinian cause, he is a martyr. A further testament to why Israel must be fought by any means necessary. Whilst he may not have sought martyrdom (like many of the suicide bombers that he allegedly organised) neither did he shirk from it.

The US – Israel’s major political, military and financial backer has not condemned the assassination , rather it has appealed for ‘calm and restraint’. Perhaps what it has in mind is the kind of restraint it showed in Afghanistan where it carpet bombed indiscriminately; or in Iraq where it applied such force as to describe it (itself) as ‘shock and awe’. Or perhaps its a calm akin to the unlawful removal and detention of hundreds of people from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay for over two years; and the interment of thousands of Iraqis.

In situations like this, not condemning such illegal actions is to lend tacit support to them and their perpetrators. For those that recognise the pattern of US support for Israel and are familiar with the dynamics of that relationship, none of this is surprising. It is in fact expected. From bankrolling Israel’s relentless militarisation to become the world’s fourth most powerful army; to standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel in defiance of long standing UN resolutions to end the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank; the message to the world is clear – the US will stand with Israel regardless of what laws it breaks and how heinous its actions are. This applies not just to the Palestinians, but to its regional neighbours.

A nation’s right to self defence is intended to cover protecting itself from unjustified attacks upon it by an aggressor. It does not cover, under any stretch of the definition, the aggression of the nation against others. So pre-emptive strikes are not self defence (US take note). Simply put, you cannot claim self defence for subsequent blows if you struck the first blow.

Whether one agrees with the route of violent resistance or not, one must understand the dynamics that make it the only option.

The cause of Hamas is the full withdrawal by Israel from ALL of Palestine – not pre 1967 borders but from 1948 partitioning. This original cause, noble as it is, seems to me unrealistic and unattainable , but it has been further compounded by the increased brutality of successive Israeli administrations. Israel does not have the political will to concede the vital resources of water (of which it controls over 80% of this crucial resource), arable land or trade routes (ports etc). All the arguments of resource allocation and security aside, the Zionist cause of resettling the Judaic holy land – the land promised by God himself to the Jews, appears to be at the root of this lack of will.

The Jewish state of Israel does genuinely feel that it has divine right to this disputed land. How does one even begin to compromise with this unshakeable belief? How does one reason with such ideology that dismisses all resistance to its oppressive insistence as tests from God on his chosen people? Where does that leave the rest of us – seemingly unchosen folk?

History is littered with the devastation of entire civilisations and societies. Even if one excused all but the last hundred years because of ignorance and social backwardness, modern history is only marginally better. Not in the prevention of such acts but in the increased criticism (read lip service) they court. There has been genocide in Armenia by the Turks; the Holocaust; the rape of China and Korea by Japan; Rwanda; Serbian ethnic cleansing; the wasting and suppression of Chechnya by Russia and a myriad of others including of course, Israeli occupation of Palestine and its attendant attempts to destroy their identity.

All along there have been those, with power and influence, who have appealed for ‘calm and restraint’ whilst letting the injustice continue.

A Preoccupation With War

No matter how hard they try, it would seem the specter of launching an unjust war, invasion and the sustaining of an occupation refuses to be shifted. But it is interesting to note the uses of this lingering historical footnote by an American administration with no clear progressive domestic agenda AND facing re-election (or not); and by a British government NOT facing impending elections but with a far more comprehensive set of domestic reforms they wish to push in to the public domain.

Mr Bush recognises he has not done anything for the ordinary American on the street, sure he tried to bribe the country with his tax return (every tax payer got a cheque of at least $500 in 2001 – as a return on excess taxes), but how long does that money last especially as its taken right back off you in sales tax (who saves ‘free’ money?!). Of course he knows has done nothing worth remembering for the ordinary American – he never intended to. His ticket to the White House was booked and paid for by an unholy alliance of neo-conservative king makers funded by Big Business – in this case, oil and defence industries. The remit was to ensure that the neo-conservative agenda of clear global dominance through the undisputed projection of force, thereby ensuring that defence spending became effectively uncapped, along the way fattening the treasure chest of an American empire by exploiting global markets through pliant regimes.

But none of this is of any consequence to his re-election campaign, he is betting on the American way of patriotism. With his campaigned TV adverts of the September 11 attacks movingly presented the message is clear – ‘War is the way to avenge this attack. War is the way to prevent other attacks. War is the way, George W Bush Jr is the man to lead the war. Re-elect him.’. There is no masking his position – he has said he is a ‘war president’ overseeing a war economy. (FYI – a country at war is not bound to exert normal limits on budgets nor uphold full respect for neither law nor human rights. Sound familiar?).

Results of Mr Bush’s domestic policies (or lack of) are well documented. From healthcare to education, environment to social services, his policies have done nothing to enhance American society and in most cases have actually set them back years. In short, they are failures. This is no surprise, they were not meant to be successful simply because his administration did not have them on its agenda. An agenda to reduce corporate and ‘rich folk’ taxes, reduce government scrutiny on big business, allow the plunder of resources from endangered ecosystems regardless of the global environment consequences. This actual agenda is being actively pursued. The ‘other’ agenda of social responsibility, justice and provision which all good politicians sell themselves on are simply vapourware.

So for Mr Bush, the War on Terrorism is the hot ticket to the stay in the White House – so long as the casualties (that is Americans killed or wounded) are kept well out of the compliant media’s view. Never mind how expensive its costing American tax payers to maintain such a staggering military occupation force in the middle east – this will all be repaid with interest when Iraqi oil starts flowing. Besides, Iraqi reconstruction contracts are awarded to US companies (mainly Bechtel and Halliburton) so all this money will ultimately flow back into the US economy.

It would be interesting to see if the contracts are are awarded to companies from the coalition partners in proportion to the cooperation offered.

As for Mr Blair, he has a problem on his hands. How to quieten the noise of opposition to the war in Iraq – the UK’s role in executing it and in maintaining the subsequent occupation – long enough to get his other policies due attention? But the questions won’t go away simply because the answers hitherto provided are completely unsatisfactory. On the case for war – we are told the government’s legal counsel said it was legal, but no evidence is presented to substantiate his crucial endorsement of action that clearly violates international law. Then we learn that perhaps he only did this under duress. What the government knew and when it knew it are still unanswered.

It would appear that for Mr Blair the War of Terrorism is a pain in the behind. Sure it keeps the special relationship smouldering and it clears the way for increased spending on defence. But it won’t win Mr Blair a third term in office. He knows this, he knows that he cannot even use it in his re-election campaign. It simply won’t fly.

Indeed it is interesting to see the main proponents of war reacting so different to the overall preoccupation with the war. One embraces it entirely – wanting to keep it in the public view for his own ends and to fill in where he has no viable policy (which is pretty much anywhere else, it has gone from ‘…its the economy , stupid’ to ‘its the war, stupid!’). The other cannot seem to get far enough away from this issue or try and get his other policies the necessary ‘airtime’. If only he could somehow combine the war with healthcare or the war with education….

Yet with all this preoccupation with the War (rightly so), Mr Blair’s government is unfolding some unprecedented reform of the legal system, sweeping reform of healthcare, education and a raft of other social programs. This is not to say they are good or bad reforms – just that they are proposed. Yet all the focus is on the War, the media that was so well behaved (by and large) and supported wholeheartedly the invasion of Iraq now seems unable to focus on anything else BUT the war and the claims and counter-claim from government to anti-war opposition.

Perhaps this preoccupation with war will benefit democracy. By keeping the war, its causes and its consequences in the public eye perhaps we might succeed in making those who take up the mantle of leadership more accountable to the led.

Of Hornets and Terrorists

More blood in Baghdad, more suicide bombers and more raids against the occupying forces.

It is billed as Shia on Sunni violence (or Sunni on Shia). But these two groups have never conflicted. Not before Saddam nor indeed during his regime. Iraqis are not civil war enthusiasts, their history has not shown this. Even under the tyranny of Saddam when the Shia were terribly repressed, there was no civil war. Not the Shia, the Sunnis or the Kurds (who across the border in Turkey have maintained a freedom fight).

This makes the current talk (principally from the US) of civil unrest and ethnic tensions all the more questionable. What has been proven though, are the attacks against people deemed to be collaborating with the occupation forces – clerical staff, informers, translators etc. This is not an Iraqi phenomenon , it happened in France under Nazi occupation, it happens in Palestine under Israeli occupation and I suspect it would happen in New York City if it were under occupation. It is just the nature of distrust among people under occupation.

As a reaction to this escalation in violence (or freedom fighting?) and as part of its separate War on Terror, the US occupation force (A.K.A the coalition) headed by Mr Paul Bremer has reportedly detained over 10,000 Iraqis – men and boys, peasants and professionals – without charge in detention centers in their own country. This same tactic of detaining so many has been employed in Afghanistan where thousands are held without charge. What could the possible aims of this be? Well there are many. It may be the continuation of the pre-emptive strike strategy on a smaller scale – detain them before they get a chance to attack us. It may be valid intelligence exists that those detained present a risk to US national security (I doubt this though). Or one aim of this that I feel is far more credible, given the announcements by the Bush administration , is that wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are election winners, they make budgeting easier (there are no limits in a war economy, as the rubber stamping of the war bill by US congress as shown). Mr Bush has said he is ‘a war president’ after all. His re-election campaign is using imagery of the burning twin towers of the World Trade Centre, almost saying ‘…I’m getting them for this, re-elect me’.

In fairness, the troubles of the middle east cannot be pinned solely on the US, any regional or imperial superpowers. There are well researched and much documented histories of the issues that have mixed and mingled to lead up to the current troubles.

These are not traditionally democratic societies.

Nomadic tribes and desert fiefdoms evolved into kingdom states, which under pressure from western trading partners, mutated into some parody of democracy – by having elected representatives, appointed cronies and ultimate veto held by a dynastic monarchy. Well it looked good on paper and eased the requirements of the west to allow trade to proceed at the cost of human rights and social progress.

The abuse of Islam by fundamentalist mullahs and so called guardians of the word has further fermented the frustration of the suffering masses. Who this frustration and its attendant anger and resentment is aimed at depends who you speak to. How it is manifested is anyone’s guess. Who can predict the trajectory of an explosion of such pressure? Terrorism is only one very visible manifestation of this force.

Anger and resentment runs deep in the psyche of the middle east. Not just against the west – seen ,dually, as encouragers of state oppression and strategically unwilling to apply its considerable pressure to require Arab states to respect democratic principles and human rights. There is also considerable anger at the governments of the countries of the middle east, partly because of the lack of accountability and their complicity with the west in pillaging the national resources (principally oil!) without equitably sharing the wealth. So long as these injustices persist domestically within Arab states, regionally and internationally against Arabs and in a wider sense, Moslems; there will be anger and hatred. Those who manifest this anger through terror will be continually fuelled.

With particular regard to Israel-Palestine, the political will to resolve the underlying political issues that feed the cause of the liberation groups (Hamas, al Aqsa and the rest) has never been there. Not with the Camp David accords nor for Oslo and certainly not for this new roadmap (the over optimistic timescale and the simplistic approach to the whole thing is evidence enough of this). If a fair (not necessarily equal) agenda was adopted and the realisation that failure to resolve this mammoth issue was not an option then a solution would be found. Instead all we are left with are failed circus performances imitating peace, dashed hopes , more death and greater oppression.

There is a stirring of a hornets’ nest of the frustration of millions of oppressed. It is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but in every continent of the world. From Israel to Sudan, from Colombia to Mexico, there are those who have legitimate grievances that have been ignored, repressed and manipulated for generations by those who have done so for their own ends but at the risk of the world.

The hornets are maddened and the stinging is underway. A hornet sting generates an alarm that invites other hornets to join in the attack. Its a venomous sting , born of the frustration of generations and delivered with a rabid fury and determination only possible by those who feel there is no alternative.

Crimes of the Elected , Sins of the Electorate

It is impossible not to feel revulsion at the bombing of the rush hour trains in Madrid. Ten simultaneous explosions ripped through trains and stations killing hundreds of people, injuring thousands and plunging a nation into stunned mourning. The legacy that this leaves the families of the dead and injured is deplorable and wrong.

It seems to me rather academic all the furor about which terrorist group is involved. Of course a criminal investigation is required to capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice. But how relevant is it that we know ETA did it or indeed one of Al Qaida’s affiliations?

Spain has enemies, as indeed the US , the UK and other countries which have a legacy of perpetrating injustices against others. ETA sprang up as a result of the persecution and occupation of the Basque people by General Franco. The inability of the Spanish to oppose Franco and his occupation, either by lack of motivation or a failure of sympathy for the Basque suffering essentially condemned the Spanish to guilt by association. Despite deals made to give the Basque region more autonomy than anywhere else in Spain, ETA still insisted on full independence (which is what they had before Franco occupied – seems a reasonable request).

When Tony Blair says that ‘terrorism is the greatest threat to democracy…’ , he may just be saying the required soundbyte because the democracy he espouses is that of exploitation, caballing and a mutation of capitalism into a political ideology with some socialist make up. If terrorism is indeed such a clear and present danger to democracy, then the causes of terrorism – that which fuels the fundamentalist mindsets that perpetrate terrorism must be a greater threat than the acts of the terrorists themselves. It would also follow that those who exercebate such situations that feed terrorism are themselves implicated in it.

When the US and its and their coalition partners hold an entire nation hostage within its own borders under the guise of liberation ; bomb a sovereign country back into the middle ages; impose deplorable sanctions on medicines and food against hundreds of thousands of innocents ; covertly work to destabilise socially responsible democratic governments to install pliant elitist regimes that do the master’s bidding; when ‘peace plans’ and ‘roadmaps’ are drawn up to perpetuate the injustices of occupation and its attendant social genocide. When all these are done with such far reaching effects, the fires that heat the fundamentalist fury are stoked immeasurably.

By signing up to the Iraq coalition, Spain’s outgoing administration turned deaf to the overwhelming opposition to the war in Iraq by the Spanish people. Millions of people demonstrated across Spain in opposition to the war and their country’s governmental support for it. As they did in the UK and many other European countries. But with the mandate handed to the elected by the electorate, the Spanish government of Mr Aznar took his country to war. Perhaps the potential of getting in good with the only superpower, the new empire; was too much to pass up. Perhaps the lure of the spoils of Iraq – with reputedly more oil than Saudi Arabia was just too enticing.

This attack in Spain marks a continuation of the insecurity in the world – an insecurity that is made worse by imperial ambitions of the US and its junior partner in reshaping the world. All these countries (of the coalition) are by and large democratic (with the exception of some unnamed Arab countries), yet they all committed their people to war by the mandate of their electorate. A mandate that now exposes all to such vengeful attacks as seen in Madrid. If nothing else, this new turn of events may actually be good for democracy. It may almost instantly wipe out the apathy that so much money (advertising!) has failed to do. Maybe voters will sit bolt up and recognise the responsibility they have to holding their elected governments to account. Not accountability at the ballot box, but every day – questioning and demanding transparency, an end to this horse trading that is international diplomacy and statesmanship and for which the pain and suffering of the poor and vulnerable are too often sacrificed for the gains of the elite.

Whatever the reason why the Spanish actually joined the coalition, the crimes of the elected are now the sins of the electorate, and for those who feel vengeance is theirs it would appear judgment day just passed.

Enough is enough

The Guantanamo Five – five British men held in Guantanamo Cuba (formerly Camp X-Ray) have now been released to British authorities and returned home after two long years of being interned in a military prison without charge nor access to legal support.

These men were captured in Afghanistan during the War on Terror response for the 9/11 attacks. Held for two years in Guantanamo under conditions considered both harsh and inhumane, they faced regular interrogation and psychological abuse that may well constitute torture. Their status as ‘unlawful combatants’ and thus seemingly ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention (one must question if they were obviously eligible would they actually have been accorded the prescribed rights?) was ill conceived and illegal.

With their detention by the US Army, one would expect that every reasonable effort would have been made by the British government to ensure their welfare and fair treatment – especially as they had not been charged with any crime. In essence they were unlawfully held and the British government failed in its duty to its nationals.

The Geneva Convention clearly proposes that ALL combatants captured in conflict must be accorded the protection of the convention. If their status is in question (which it is), they must be accorded protection until the appropriate status was decided by a recognised legal body (military or otherwise).

It seems that the fate of these men (innocent or not) was sacrificed at the expense of the so-called ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK. This relationship is a myth. A capitalist imperial power like the US and indeed as the UK once was, has no special relationships. It has preferred economic partners – friends whilst economic interests converge, adversaries when they do not. As the saying goes ‘ there are no common enemies, just common interests’.

Sacrificing Britons in the name of the ‘special relationship’ is nothing new for successive British governments – the British government has consistently failed its nationals held in the US prison system, particularly those facing the death penalty. This is not about saving clearly guilty criminals from deserved punishment (the abolition of the death penalty is a separate debate) , its about those judgments that have been independently assessed as miscarriages of justice. By not enforcing international human rights law in the name of its nationals against the US ; and being an accessory to the denial of rights to the nationals of other countries, the UK government stands in the dock as a human rights abuser.

In any case, these detainees have been released to the British authorities, without charge or compensation. None has been sought on their behalf by the British government. Instead , upon their arrival they have been held by UK authorities – again without charge and again subject to ‘questioning’. When will it be over for these individuals is anyone’s guess, no doubt they will be subject to surveillance for a long time to come and perhaps inexplicable travel restrictions. I expect the deal that saw them released from Guantanamo was based on the promise of prosecution by UK authorities. But it seems ridiculous to think that after two years of harsh treatment and constant interrogation by the US military could not uncover incriminating evidence (scant as its requirement is under secret military tribunals), the British authorities would somehow be able to uncover sufficient evidence to charge or prosecute them under British law. Clearly a face saving, teflon shoulder move by the US to mitigate its responsibility in this violation of international law.

It is time to say ‘enough is enough’ in the denial of the human rights of these individuals, the suffering of their families and the irreplaceable time they have lost under unlawful detention. Whatever their reasons for being in Afghanistan, until their motives and actions have been deemed illegal under recognised law they must be accorded the rights of the innocent, regardless of the seeming goal of scapegoating someone, anyone for the 9/11 attacks.

A Question Of Humanity

I have just read a photo journal of a retired Israeli physician working in the Israeli occupied territories of the West Bank. (Photo Journal ). The idea of this, seeing it in pictures and reading a little about what this person is contributing to a alleviate human suffering moved me to tears. It wasn’t the cliché of enemies extending care to each other, or the selflessness of this individual nor indeed his upholding of the professional oath that moved me. What moved me was the realization that within every one of us there exists an stream of humanity that flows into the collective conscience. I concede that in many people it may as well be dry, but there is always a trickle however tiny of the stuff that makes us care for some other living creature – that makes us sensitive to the pain of others (perhaps not all others, but certainly some other than ourselves). This was a realisation of something fundamental yet forgotten.

In the midst of the struggle against the ills of the world – disease, poverty, conflict, injustice, natural disasters and environment destruction (its a daunting list!), one forgets the people who make little dents in this seemingly insurmountable task. It is the very stream of humanity that is alive and free flowing within them that enables them to face the pain and suffering of others every day.

Teachers, nurses and others who sacrifice personal material gain for the good of others do so out of humanity – they make no fanfare of this, nor do they seek riches. It is seldom financially rewarding work, but the rewards of humanity are the smiles and thanks of those who’s lives are touched , enhanced, saved and the knowledge of making a difference.

Activists, conscientious objectors, prisoners of conscience, peace observers and others who face persecution and peril to ensure that they bear witness (if nothing else) to inhumanity and injustice. All of these people have something many of us do not yet possess – the conviction that we can make a difference, that the humanity we feel can extend beyond the donation to charity at Christmas or the sighs and passing sentimentality of moving paid advertising for good causes.

So take a moment to question your own humanity, your ability to imagine walking in another’s shoes, to feel another’s pain. Try to see the world through the eyes of the homeless guy on the corner, the abused child, the starving and the dispossessed. Put yourself in their place rather than simply thank God for not being in their situation (which you can’t really appreciate unless you have been in their situation).

Its a frightening exercise that either hardens your conscience and further droughts the trickle of your humanity or (hopefully) dislodges the dam of indifference and apathy, opening the floodgates of your conscience and care.

Haiti Voodoo

A lot of speculation surrounds the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide; popular reports suggest he resigned the presidency and is now in exile in the Central African Republic with his wife and close aides. Another report – verified by distinguished and independent observers – is that he was forced into exile by the US who have promoted the rebel cause ahead of the Haitian democratic mandate.

Whatever the true events are, one thing is clear. There are dangerous forces at work in Haiti.

This land of magic and mysticism, ravaged by decades of brutality by the Duvaliers and their dreaded Tonton Macoute militia, then by a string of military coups and puppet administrations has succeeded in oppressing Haiti to the unenviable statistic of poorest country in the hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.

This land that gained independence from its French colonial masters 200 years ago has had few years of prosperity. Since Haiti fought and defeated France during the revolution that won its independence , it has faced oppression and domination by the other imperialist in the region – the US. From crippling sanctions and blockades to covert operations against progressives and support for ruthless regimes in return for maintaining the status quo of neo-capitalist economic ravages, the US has played a key role in getting Haiti to where it is today. But all of this is neither new nor ingenius. It is the same tried and tested formula used against Cuba, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua and it is the same that is being attempted in Venezuela today. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, ‘popular’ dissent is engineered against democratically elected and progressive governments to promote the elitist agenda of resources of the many for the benefit of the very few.

Mr Aristide was the first democractically elected president of Haiti. Much was made of his being a former priest, the media profile of him was one of integrity and forthrightness. Whatever can be said about the progress or lack of, he was elected by the popular mandate of the Haitian people. No one should be able to remove him outside of the legal constitutional process – that is after all what a law abiding , democratic society is built on.

For the shadow of US intervention in removing Mr Aristide (kidnap, intimidation or otherwise) to hang over this whole affair echoes the days of black ops, CIA sponsored executions and illegal (under domestic US law and every international treaty – even under the far reaching powers of the US presidency) activities against sovereign states. So it seems that the CIA (and other intelligence agencies) cannot stop terrorists blowing up US institutions,but they are well capable of deposing democratically elected leaders in dirt poor islands and organising bloodthirsty militia into ‘rebel’ groups – hurrah!

The key complaints leveled against Mr Aristide’s administration by the US was the non-deliverance of key legal and economic reforms. All agreed and signed up to in regional talks (chiefly the organization of American States), but not delivered on. Was this as a result of actual non chalance on his part or were his efforts thwarted by those with their own agendas for this little island that stands (with Dominican Republic) at the gateway to the Caribbean.

Also at issue is the compelling corruption that has seen millions of dollars in aid siphoned away with little to show. So the solution was to boot him out by force, subverting every constitutional and legal route in the process.

Now, with the remnants of the older regime (of the Duvalier clan and their goons) securely installed in Port-au-Prince and controlling the reins of power over a destitute people, a distracted world may not even notice the renewed suffering of the Haitian masses.

Voodoo has always been the last weapon against oppression for the masses of Haiti in the past, perhaps it will be again. But certainly the machinations of those with sinister agendas have already produced far more sinister results with longer lasting consequences than any voodoo doll or zombie potion could conjure.

Can The Rich Help The Poor?

Apparently there isn’t enough money in the world to address the serious problems facing the planet and its inhabitants. The serious problems identified include hunger, poverty, lack of education, disease and pollution.

This is the conclusion of Professor Bjorn Lomborg, author of ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist’ and host of the Copenhagen Consensus 2004 – a conference of leading minds (Nobel laureates included) to come up with proposals for prioritising the addressing of the world’s most serious issues. They hope the outcomes of this conference will be adopted by political policy makers who have to juggle the limited resources against need (often they make these decisions based on applause levels or media friendliness).

In any case, the general consensus seems to be that money and the political will to spend it correctly (rather than popularly) are the main push in addressing the ills of the world. In my view (uneducated but well informed and idealistic as it is) is that the world’s problems can only be solved when everyone cares just a little bit more than they do.

According to the UN statistics, a sixth of the world’s population lives in the most developed regions of the world , the rest in the less developed regions. One could get more detailed about this and find the statistics to back it up, but these are the basic implications of this statistic – a sixth of the world

– is richer;

– is healthier

– lives longer

– consumes more of the world’s resources

– is generally more secure than the rest of the world.

Would it be so impossible for the better off to take responsibility for five others from the less well off (ok – adopt a less off – if you will) and helped to educate the children, provide a basic balanced diet, help to transfer skills of production and generally take more interest in the existence of others and the larger human family. These are emergency times calling for emergency measures.

Could all those involved in the delivery of goods and services that are engaged in the struggle against global poverty (which frankly is at the root of the attendant hordes of hunger and disease) not simply work for the survival of the species by volunteering their services and products. Sure they cost something – but if no one took payment what would it matter?

Increasingly , people from all over the world are realising that we are going through unprecedented times. With the rise of multinational corporations’ scope and power, elected governments are often forced into a subordinate role to the interests of the corporation and thus its profits. People are realising that real power is theirs and are increasingly trying to wrestle back the power they relinquished to the state. The realisation that grassroots movements and people caring for other people is the only way forward.

The days of paying some money into a charity box and supporting the work of charities and NGOs with a clear conscience are numbered. NGOs and charities are fighting a losing battle. Most do a great job, are manned by dedicated and passionate people but they are overwhelmed by the scale of the humanitarian catastrophes across the world. The global development aid budget exceeds $50 billion and this is merely a dent. Throwing more money is not an option, nor would it be a viable one if it were.

There will never be enough money to fix the problems that face us as a world if we have to factor corporate profit into the budget or have to work against those whose primary business is promoting the very issues that we are working against (defence companies, arms suppliers etc – you know yourselves!). No amount of money can stop world hunger and disease (at least not for long) when huge profits and power are gained from maintaining these very same conditions.

All this may indeed be idealistic hogwash – but it is an alternative nonetheless. Once we conclude that individual care and concern and the will to help other human beings out then we would have taken a massive step to facing our global responsibilities that we each have to our collective human family.

There is not enough money in the world to absolve us of this responsibility.