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Ceasefire is a quarterly cultural and political publication, concerned with producing high-quality journalism, review and analysis. We cover a wide range of topics – from Arthouse to Žižek.
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Politics | The UK’s arming of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is immoral. It should be made illegal too.

Fri, 2017-07-28 10:36

A child receives treatment at the Sab’een Hospital in Sana’a, Yemen, 12 May 2017. (Source: UNICEF/UN065873/Alzekri)

This September, military reps from a range of human rights abusing regimes and dictatorships will descend on London for Defence & Security Equipment International 2017 (DSEI), one of the biggest arms fairs in the world.

While there, they will be welcomed by government ministers, greeted by deferential civil servants and glad-handed by enthusiastic arms company reps that are looking to sell as many weapons as they can.

The main business will all take place behind security fences and rows of security guards, where buyers will be free to browse tanks, guns, warships, fighter jets and almost any other weapons they could conceivably want. There will be guides to chaperone them between exhibits, and UK soldiers on hand to demonstrate how it works.

Among those that are almost certain to attend is the Saudi Arabian military, which, despite its appalling human rights record, is by far the largest buyer of UK arms. In the last two years alone, the UK has licensed over £3.5 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, including fighter jets and bombs.

These arms haven’t just offered political and military support for the regime, they have also played a central role in its terrible two year long bombardment of Yemen. As I write this, many of the same  model of BAE Typhoon fighter jets that will be on display at DSEI are flying over Yemen and dropping the same Paveway IV bombs that Raytheon will be promoting.

These arms sales have been subject to a landmark legal action, with the High Court ruling in the government’s favour last earlier this month. The disappointing verdict followed a high-profile legal action brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade. We are currently pursuing an appeal against it. Our case argued that arms sales to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen are not just immoral, they are also illegal.

UK arms export criteria are very clear in saying that an arms export should not go ahead if there is a ‘clear risk’ that weapons ‘might’ be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law (IHL). Not only does the Saudi military have one of the worst human rights records in the world, it has also been widely accused of very serious and severe breaches of IHL.

To cite just one example, a UN Expert Panel report, leaked to the Guardian last January, accused Saudi forces of “widespread and systematic” abuses of IHL, including air strikes against civilian targets. They aren’t the only ones to do so, similar accusations have been made by the European Parliament, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and two House of Commons committees.

If the judgement stands, then it will be viewed by the government as a green light to continue pushing arms exports to some of the most brutal and repressive regimes in the world. It will be regarded not just as a vote of confidence in the system that has allowed these sales, but also in those that are buying them.

Last week’s verdict will have been celebrated in the palaces of Riyadh, but also in the offices of BAE Systems, Raytheon and all of the other companies that have willingly armed and profited from the destruction.

The consequences for the people of Yemen have been devastating. For over two years now they have been living amidst a terrible civil war. Figures from the UN show that 75 people are being killed every day as a direct result of the conflict, the majority by Saudi forces. However, even more deadly is the humanitarian catastrophe that has been created by the breakdown of vital and lifesaving infrastructure.

According to the World Health Organisation, the last three months have seen over 360,000 suspected cholera cases, with over 1800 people killed by the deadly disease. This comes on top of a horrifying report released by UNICEF last December – which found that a child in Yemen is dying every ten minutes from preventable causes. The collapse of the health system has meant that medicine is unable to reach those in need.

The tragedy and destruction on the ground has done little to reign in the bombing. As I write, news is still coming through of 20 more civilians who were killed while trying to escape to safety. These terrible deaths have become all too common in a bombardment that has seen schools, hospitals, homes and even funerals turned into the sites of massacres.

There is no telling how long it will go on for. In military terms it has become a stalemate, with little chance of either side ‘winning.’ Saudi forces are unlikely to end the bombing off their own accord though. On the contrary, Mohammed bin Salman, who has overseen the deadly intervention, has recently been made the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. It is likely he will become King in the near future.

So where does this leave campaigners in the UK? First of all, the legal challenge must continue, we cannot accept a verdict which allows for the government to continue arming and supporting a dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, which has a terrible humanitarian record and has shown a blatant disregard for IHL. It would set a dangerous and wholly negative legal precedent.

But the arms trade isn’t just a legal issue, it is also a moral one. The recent election saw all opposition parties with MPs, except the DUP, standing on manifestos that specifically opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Campaigners need to do all they can to work with these MPs and make sure they put pressure on the government to end its toxic relationship with the regime.

However, parliamentary pressure is only one aspect of the campaign. We also need to make sure we work to hinder and stop the arms trade wherever possible. The next big opportunity for that will be when DSEI comes to London. Campaigners are planning a full week of action in the days preceding the event. We want to stop the setup and end the arms fair for good.

As long as the war continues, the situation will only get worse for the people of Yemen. Governments like in that the UK have played a complicit role in the destruction. If they are to play any kind of positive role, then they must finally end the arms sales, make sure aid is reaching those in need, and do all they can to bring about a peaceful solution.

Ideas | Making Britain safer: A bold alternative

Fri, 2017-07-14 12:39

A minute’s silence is held to remember the victims of the van attack in Finsbury Park in June. (Photo: BBC)

Last week, a report entitled ‘The Missing Muslims’ was published by Citizens UK. It was commissioned by the Conservative government to assess a plethora of issues pertaining to “unlocking the potential” of British Muslim communities.

The report was praised within some quarters of the British Muslim community, whilst others rightly raised legitimate concerns regarding its tone, language and insinuations. At face value, it was certainly refreshing to see the inclusion —in an advisory capacity— on the “Muslim Leadership Group”, of some mainstream activists and imams, such as Sahar al-Faifi, Maulana Yunus Dudwala and, surprisingly, the Muslim Council of Britain (who had been isolated by the Tories for the past seven years).

In this regard, compared with previous efforts —and despite the inclusion of other advisers with dubious track records— the report was more “representative” of the groups and individuals being consulted.

But while this undoubtedly represents a step forward, the diverse list of Muslim leaders who were consulted cannot be used as a pretext to automatically accept the findings. Rather, what gives the report its greater claim to objectivity (compared with previous efforts, notably The Casey Review) is the significant shift towards responsible language and evidence-based conclusions.  

Putting the bulk of the areas covered in the report aside, there were a few points about integration, with a specific focus on English-speaking imams, and an independent review of the UK Government’s flagship counter-extremism strategy – Prevent – which caught my attention.

Integration

The integration of Muslims, principally third-generation British-born Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, has been an area of contention for the best part of 20 years. Indeed, it predates the War on Terror.

From Tony Blair’s failed attempts at multiculturalism, to David Cameron’s ‘muscular’ approach to enforcing ‘fundamental British values’, the same questions have been asked over and over again: “Are Muslims doing enough to integrate?”, “Why are Muslims so segregated and isolated?”, “Muslims don’t mix enough with the wider public”, “Do Muslims see Britain as their country or does their loyalty lie elsewhere?” and so forth.

Numerous surveys and polls have shown that Muslims are, indeed, “loyal” citizens. They are proud of being “British” and do not see a conflict between being British and being Muslim. Most importantly, they have consistently shown that they would report others —including co-religionists— to the authorities if they ever suspected them of being involved in terrorism-related activities. However, as has been made extremely clear to Muslim communities in Britain, this is evidently insufficient for them to be fully trusted.

British Muslims have been intermingling with non-Muslims at schools, colleges, universities, at workplaces across numerous industries and sectors, as well as neighbours, for decades. And yet, the myth of Muslim “self-segregation” is consistently peddled by the establishment and corporate media. Perhaps the undeniable realities of “white flight”, the concentration of Eastern Europeans in particular towns and cities, the segregation of the white “underclass” across hundreds of housing estates in the Midlands and the north, and the ghettoisation of black communities is something of less concern because these communities seem to have “culturally integrated” without posing a national security threat.

But the reality is that humans are social creatures. Whilst we love to meet, greet and walk on our two feet, we tend to also be inclined towards residing amongst those we have religious, cultural, racial, ethnic and linguistic affinities with – especially when living as minorities.

However, the ‘Missing Muslims’ report, as indicated by its very title, ultimately concludes that British Muslims still need to do more; rather than taking an honest look into how State policies (domestic and foreign), institutional Islamophobia, structural racism, employment discrimination, media demonisation, and attempts to redefine Islam via the lens of  “good” and “bad” binaries,  have shaped the Muslim psyche of today.

Prevent

This brings me onto the issue of policies, more specifically: the Prevent strategy. The report highlights that Prevent has been evidently problematic in terms of implementation —resulting in causing further mistrust and alienation among British Muslims— while concluding that an independent review of Prevent was long overdue.

I think it is fair to say that opposition to Prevent, and calls for its abolition, can no longer be dismissed as propaganda by Islamists and their “regressive lefty” allies; unless we count the United Nations, the National Union of Teachers, 300 academics, and 140 experts in that category.

Both the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the former independent reviewer of anti-terror laws, David Anderson QC, amongst others, have called for an independent review of Prevent, with a judicial oversight. However, after the damning recent revelations about the flawed scientific research (EG22+) underpinning Prevent (research which had been used to place it on a statutory footing under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015), is an independent review really enough? In my humble opinion, such a review would not be worth the paper it would be written on.

The issues highlighted in my earlier points about integration are intrinsically linked to the ideological objectives of the Prevent strategy, which claims to also pursue far-right extremism, though statistics strongly suggest otherwise.

Ultimately, the task of getting Muslims to accept an arbitrary set of ill-defined “British values” whilst assimilating to a secular, liberal lifestyle, under the banner of being “moderate” or “progressive”, is at the heart of the Prevent strategy’s McCarthyite cold war against normative Islam, which it sees as an ideological threat at home, and a geopolitical one abroad.

Those who try to smugly counter the case against Prevent by asking “what is the alternative?” do so either out of vested interest or genuine ignorance, notably by accepting the premise that there is an inherent issue of violent extremism within Muslim communities. I’m sorry to disappoint them, but the only genuine “alternative to Prevent” is No Prevent at all; including any attempts to re-brand the strategy through the inclusion of handpicked “mainstream Muslims”.

A real and radical “alternative” to Prevent

But if there was ever a real alternative to Prevent, one that actually does what it says on the tin – i.e. to make the streets of Britain safer by preventing acts of terrorism carried out by “Islamist” terrorists – I would argue that it ought to do the following:  

– Abolish the existing Prevent strategy without creating re-branded “alternatives” claiming inclusivity of “mainstream” Muslims.

– Abandon the post 9/11 Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE) framework, set out by the Rand Corporation and neoconservatives in the US. I am not referring here to the flawed science of ERG22+, which underpins Prevent, but the pre-crime “conveyor belt theory”.

– Allow mainstream Sunni Muslim scholars and activists, even those whose views the government may find abhorrent, illiberal, or distasteful, the freedom to discuss normative Islamic concepts like Sharia law, the Caliphate, Jihad, citizenship in a non-Muslim country, and the liberation of Palestine, Kashmir and Syria. By criminalising and censoring mainstream figures, the British Muslim youth’s genuine and sincere grievances are not addressed properly, leaving them vulnerable to online grooming or adopting distorted interpretations of Islam.

– If the UK government is going to “engage” with mainstream Muslims, it should do so without dangling the carrot of state funding, pushing army recruitment drives, or promoting assimilation agendas dressed up as “integration initiatives”. The government should seek the counsel of mainstream Muslim leaders but deal with them as equal citizens, not as colonial subjects of the British Raj.

– Tighten press regulations, which currently allow the freedom to mock mainstream Islamic beliefs, concepts, figures, and rituals with impunity.

– Treat Islamophobic hate crimes exactly as it does similar offenses, such as anti-Semitic hate crimes. This includes hate speech and social media abuse.

– Be absolutely transparent about the definition of “extremism” in its non-violent variants. We are aware that Prevent’s definition of “extremism” is the only one available in the absence of a legal definition. However, many Muslims would like to know whether the government is referring only to ISIS and Al Qaeda when talking about “extremist ideology”, or does it also include law-abiding, non-violent groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut Tahrir, Salafis, Deobandis and traditional Barelvis, who conceptually believe in the re-establishment of the Caliphate, Sharia law being superior to secular laws, the illegitimacy of Israel, and Islam as the only religion of truth that will lead to eternal salvation – do these views qualify as espousing “extremist” beliefs?

– Scrap all post 7/7 anti-terror laws, and instead deploy existing criminal laws like murder and the Explosives Act, which were sufficient during the era of the IRA bombing campaign.

– Last but not least –indeed, arguably the most important of all these points– the UK government must radically change its current foreign policy in the Muslim-majority world, and at the very least acknowledge the damage it has caused historically in the region, especially during the era of British colonialism. This includes closing down all military bases and bringing back every single British soldier and MI6 agent stationed in the Muslim majority world, as well as reviewing the UK’s unstinting support for Israel, the selling of weapons to despotic regimes, the looting of natural resources, political interference in democratic processes, and backing the violent censorship of Islamic movements and resistance groups in occupied lands.   

I am confident, that if the above recommendations were implemented, there would be minimal to zero “domestic terrorism” in the UK, and I strongly believe Downing Street already knows this.

The reality

Many reading this will think these demands excessive or unrealistic, and they would be right. What I have presented above is unrealistic because that is the nature and scale of the hegemonic political and ideological system we are dealing with; the same neoliberal system complicit in the tragedy of Grenfell Tower while striking a £1bn deal with Christian extremists and watching nurses being reduced to visiting foodbanks.

As to those of my fellow Muslims who are constantly seeking “engagement” opportunities with the government in an effort to pragmatically deal with the hand Muslims have been dealt, I realise it is a genuine case of damage limitation. By all means, Muslim organisations and leaders can continue playing the never-ending game of fire fighting, especially when it comes to watering down discriminatory legislation. Sadly, however, the majority of Muslim groups and figures are not highlighting even some of the points that I have presented when sitting at the negotiating table, thereby continuing this perpetual cycle of self-blame and self-critique.

Additionally, no amount of peer-reviewed research into anti-terror legislation, or independent reviews of Prevent, or integration initiatives, or community engagement will be able to stop a handful of criminals from carrying out heinous crimes based on a distorted interpretation of Islam.

As such, giving out roses and samosas after these attacks, refusing to pray funeral rites over the perpetrator, and issuing endless joint condemnations will not make this country safer, or prevent the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth – but we already know this, because, as a community, we have been doing the aforementioned for the last 15 years.

I am well aware of the sociological, psychological, socioeconomic, structural, and institutional factors which make the issue of home-grown terrorism a multi-causal quagmire, but, in my opinion, they are all incidental issues, not causally central in leading someone to commit violence.

The only strategy that has not been attempted or tested in trying to understand the Muslim psyche in the age of the War on Terror, is for Britain to stop sponsoring and committing terrorism abroad. And yet, Muslim representatives have generally failed to articulate this basic point —or explain how it is linked to issues of integration, radicalisation and domestic terrorism— without resorting to academic jargon and obtuse abstractions. 

Whilst I appreciate that continuously citing historical and foreign policy grievances is becoming something of a broken record, and that it can seem like a deflection strategy to evade some collective responsibility for politically-motivated violence committed by Muslims, one must ask why this remains a song on repeat? 

So let’s conclude by asking ourselves the following questions, each inviting a glaringly obvious answer:

Did mass-scale Islamist-inspired terrorism exist before 9/11 and 7/7 in the Western world? No. Did poverty, high unemployment, “ghettoisation”, lack of integration, and racial and religious discrimination of Muslims of Asian and North African descent exist in Europe before the War on terror? Yes.

Did these sociological and socioeconomic realities ever transpire into religiously or politically motivated violence before the War on Terror? No. Did Western powers begin their political and military interference in the Muslim majority world after 9/11? Of course not, that history stretches back at least 150 years (in the case of Europe).

Taking all of the above into consideration, surely it is time to have an honest and open discourse about how we can collectively make Britain a safer country? Even more importantly, surely we can do so without the deflective and deceptive rhetoric of politicians, who seek to justify a global hegemonic order by blaming minorities and censoring peaceful dissent?

Film & TV | Zeus in Gaza: On the cognitive dissonance of watching Wonder Woman

Wed, 2017-06-28 06:01

A man who can erupt in flames and fly through the streets of New York. An alien who crash-lands in a Midwestern farm as a baby. A Cairo street urchin worshipped as a goddess for her ability to manipulate the elements.More than any other modern story-telling medium, tales of superheroes require a constant suspension of disbelief.

Knowing this, their creators often imbue these fantastical characters with humanity, emotion and purpose, in an attempt to make them not only believable, but also relatable.

Peter Parker is a teenager dealing with the struggles of adolescence while coming to terms with the responsibilities of “great power.” The mutants of The X-Men are faced with prejudice, discrimination and threats of destruction by the very Homo sapiens many of them choose to protect. Bruce Banner, a brilliant scientist, must learn how properly to temper his emotions, and the monster stress brings out in him, in order to keep himself from becoming “the living engine of destruction” known as the Hulk.

In these stories we see extraordinary characters faced with incredible circumstances as they try to navigate through universal struggles. This is why we continue to follow their long, winding stories, no matter how unbelievable or ridiculous they may become.

Created in 1941, Wonder Woman, a demigoddess Amazonian warrior princess, was originally envisioned as “psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who…should rule the world.” She was the pin-up who left you “both frightened and aroused” as she took on Greek gods and German generals while invoking “all 12 volumes of Cleo’s treatises on body and pleasure.” But the new Wonder Woman film, starring Gal Gadot, requires a level of cognitive dissonance that may be far too great to overcome.

As an entry into the much-maligned DC Comics’ cinematic universe, Patty Jenkins’ film about Diana, the best fighter among a tribe of warrior women living on an island paradise, who are forced to confront the realities of World War I-era Europe, is a noble effort. Indeed, it may very well be the best film in the D.C. canon since 2005’s Batman Begins.

More than 76 years since her introduction, Wonder Woman has become an iconic character, whose powers and origin are known by even the most passive of superhero fans. We are all familiar now with Diana Prince’s lasso of truth, bullet-proof Bracelets of Submission and her days as the Princess of Themyscira.

What is too difficult to overcome, the real challenge to the film’s believability is lead actress Gal Gadot.
This has nothing to do with fanboys angered by the casting of a Jewish woman to play an Amazon, or complaining that herfigure fails to live up to the character’s “Amazonian” proportions. The disappointment of Gadot’s casting lies not in her physical appearance but in her politics.

Like Superman and Captain America before her, Wonder Woman —both as Diana, the Amazon princess, and as Diana Prince, modernity’s New Woman — has always been a politicized character. Whether embodying a twentieth century feminist ideal on the cover of the inaugural issue of Ms Magazine, or as a Hellenic fighter of fascism in the pages of one of the world’s most famous comic book franchises, Wonder Woman was always used as a symbol for something larger than herself.

Gadot acknowledged this when she said: “I represent the Wonder Woman of the new world.”
However, it seems what the Wonder Woman of the new world, as portrayed by Gadot, represents is an odd paradox and a sad irony. Both of which make believing in her as a defender of justice and truth too difficult to accept.

As an Amazon, Diana is sworn to fight for and defend “all that is good in the world,” and yet Gadot, a 32-year-old Israeli is a noted supporter of the Israeli Defense Forces. In 2014, Gadot expressed her support of the IDF during their shelling and airstrikes of the Gaza Strip, which led to the deaths of at least 2,200 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians. Gadot herself served in the IDF for two years as a combat trainer.

Gadot’s support of Israel and its aggression against occupied Palestine brought a profound level of cognitive dissonance to her portrayal of Diana Prince, who is shocked at the brutality of the so-called “war to end all wars.” Every time Gadot’s Wonder Woman expresses her confusion and dismay at the cruelty of war, one can’t help but think of the 500,000 people left displaced by the 2014 Israeli incursion into Gaza or the impact of the decade-long economic blockade that has led to a 68 percent youth unemployment rate in the strip.

When Wonder Woman speaks in horror of the Germans using weapons “against people they cannot see”, one wonders whether Gadot, when uttering those lines for the cameras, ever once found herself reminded of the impact of the Israeli bombing campaigns she so vehemently supported, carried out by IDF pilots against “people they cannot see”.

Sitting in the theatre, seeing villagers in “no man’s land” hiding behind rubble and debris, my mind flashed back to a 2012 CNN interview with Mohammed Sulaiman, a Palestinian living in Gaza, who was constantly interrupted (and abruptly cut off) by the sounds of bombs being dropped all-around him by Israeli warplanes.

Given her defense of the 2014 bombings, one would suspect that Gadot also supported the 1,500 airstrikes Israel conducted in 2012, which led to the deaths of at least 101 civilians in Gaza, or Operation Cast lead in 2008/9, during which Israeli bombing killed 1,400 Gazans, almost 500 of whom children. Back in the movie theatre, that scene ends with Diana’s comrades, all male, telling her that she “can’t save everyone in this war.”

In another scene, Diana has a conversation with ‘The Chief’, a seemingly generic indigenous man of unclear origins, who has escaped from North America to Britain. Diana, ever the idealist, cannot understand how The Chief fights in a war in which he hasn’t taken a side.

His answer is simple, in Britain he is “free.”

As The Chief explains that the last war his people took part in saw the white man, embodied by Chris Pine’s Captain Steve Trevor, take everything from them, Diana looks on in disbelief. Her reaction may have been less jarring, even believable, coming from another actress, but with Gadot as Wonder Woman, it takes on an especially ironic tone.

Again, I was left to wonder whether Gadot could see the connection between the forceful takeover of native lands in North America and the Israeli government’s decades-long campaign of dispossessing Palestinians of their lands, including the announcement earlier this year that Israel would construct 2,500 additional settler homes in occupied Palestine.

The truth is that, purely in thespian terms, the former beauty queen is a capable enough actress to play Wonder Woman, but her much-documented support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine makes it nearly impossible to divorce Diana Prince’s pro-peace idealism from Gal Gadot’s own support of Israel’s continued military occupation and violence against the Palestinian people.

Gadot could have played almost any other character in the world, and it wouldn’t have been nearly as jarring as it is to see her playing a daughter of Zeus who “cannot stand-by while innocent lives are lost.” Her casting is especially troubling considering how high the commercial stakes were for Wonder Woman, the first female-led superhero film since 2005’s abysmal Elektra (starring Jennifer Garner).

Luckily for the franchise, casting Gadot seems to have done little to hurt the film’s phenomenal box office returns or surprisingly positive critical reception. Indeed, these successes have led to renewed hopes Hollywood might finally embrace female superheroes, a genre that has largely been neglected by the industry, despite the recent boom of comic book franchises being made into movies.

What Gadot’s casting has done, however, is made it impossible for many of us to root for —and connect to— Wonder Woman as a character who stands up for what’s right. Whenever called upon by Wonder Woman to embrace the ideals of justice and humanity, I found myself reflecting on the injustices the actress playing her is supporting in the here and now: the separation wall, Operation Protective Edge and illegal settlements…

Every time Diana Prince expressed some level of shock or sadness at the horrors of injustice and war, I found myself thinking “Yes, but …”

Politics | ‘Beyond disgusting’: Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel accommodation with hours’ notice

Fri, 2017-06-23 16:37

Today residents of Grenfell Tower were given eviction notices from their temporary accommodation in Kensington, in a move described as ‘barbaric’ by Radical Housing Network.

Residents of Grenfell Tower who had been staying at the Holiday Inn, Kensington, were told today that they were to be separated and moved by 4pm to other temporary hotel accommodation across London, in places such as Heathrow, Lambeth, Southwark and north London. Following intervention by legal observers, most of the residents have been moved together to a hotel in Westminster.

It is beyond disgusting that after all these people have been through – losing their neighbours and watching their homes burn to the ground – authorities are prepared to tell them that they have hours to pick up their bags and move to some unknown destination, separated from their friends and neighbours. It makes you wonder whether anything has been learned from the Grenfell catastrophe.

Moving people around who have been through horror and trauma from one temporary accommodation to another is barbaric and unnecessary, and speaks of a degree of callousness by the authorities.

Only yesterday, Sajid Javid was promising that all those made homeless by the Grenfell fire would be rehoused in the borough within a matter of weeks. The government needs to move fast to make good on this commitment to rehouse all those made homeless by this catastrophe, according their wishes and needs.

We still need answers as to what will happen to private renters, subtenants and homeowners of Grenfell Tower. We strongly suggest that, given the scale of the disaster – and the trauma, mismanagement and negligence surrounding this case – all tenants of Grenfell, not just council tenants, are prioritised for permanent social housing in the local borough.

If no so such social housing is available, we suggest Kensington & Chelsea council dip into their £274 million cash reserves to buy up property and turn it into social housing.

Grenfell Tower is an indictment of a broken housing system – one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.

It’s about time we had housing for people not for profit – and public investment in secure, decent, genuinely affordable housing for everyone.

Radical Housing Network is a London-wide network of campaigns fighting housing injustice. For all press statements see radicalhousingnetwork.org and follow @radicalhousing

Grenfell Action Group is a member of the Radical Housing Network, you can visit their website here.

Comment | This is an immense victory for Palestine, for British democracy and for the rule of law

Fri, 2017-06-23 15:26

Israel and Palestine. The names conjure up an image of a place that is hot, dusty, far away. It is not really a concern for the British people. Mainstream media coverage sheds lots of heat and little light. Whilst there is plenty of talk of ‘two sides’ and broad brush descriptions of the ‘conflict’, there is little appreciation of the realities of the situation.

Israeli officialdom have successfully presented this ‘two equal sides’ picture that bears no relation to reality. The hard facts are that this is a story of occupier and occupied, oppressor and oppressed, coloniser and colonised. The story is that of the native Palestinian people living under a brutal, military enforced apartheid regime.

So what can you do about your situation if you are Palestinian? You can reach out to the world and hope that they hear your call for justice. Palestinian civil society called for a worldwide campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli state in 2005. This call will last as long as Israel refuses to honour its obligations under international law.

Here in the UK, our country has a special role to play in building a just and peaceful solution for all in Palestine. In many important ways, Israel/Palestine’s history is Britain’s history. In the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a hundred year ago this year, colonial Britain gave away historic Palestine to the nascent Zionist movement, without consulting the wishes of the 90% majority Palestinian population. Based on this fact alone, we in Britain have a unique responsibility to make it right for Palestine.

How do we heed the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in the UK? The movement here is strong, and full of immensely committed people. Many have previously campaigned against apartheid South Africa (such as our patron, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn) and understand that successes are incremental. They can be few and far between. But every single one builds up momentum that eventually becomes a wave that can longer be ignored.

Sometimes, it becomes necessary to fight for your space and right to boycott in the most unlikely corners. In September 2016, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched its latest anti-BDS measure. BDS is not accepted by the Conservative government – although 40% of Conservative voters think that it is reasonable. The minister for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, wanted to curtail divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law. In recent years, These companies have included include such corporate giants as HP, Veolia, and G4S.

In order to do so, Javid ordered for regulations be drawn-up prohibiting local government pension schemes from pursuing ‘divestment and sanctions against foreign nations and UK defence industries […] other than where formal legal sanctions, embargoes and restrictions have been put in place by the Government.’ In other words, government employees pension schemes were prohibited from divesting from Israel for ethical reasons. This occurred despite a public consultation indicating that 98% of respondents thought this was the wrong thing to do. Pension holders would have been forced into investing in companies that are complicit in human rights abuses contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

Divestment is a key tenet of the BDS movement. We believe not only that divestment from human rights-abusing companies is the moral thing to do, but that everyone should be free to make the choice to do this. We were deeply concerned that the government had moved to clamp down on freedom of expression and conscience to pursue the narrow political agenda of cosying-up to the Israeli government in the name of securing tidy trade deals in the post-Brexit era. We firmly believed that this was central government overreach into local democracy and into people’s pockets. Who is Sajid Javid to tell pension holders that they must both invest in and profit from human rights abuses?

We knew that this was only one measure the government had brought in against the BDS movement. If we didn’t stand up now, when would we see the end of this? We brought our concerns to Bindman’s LLP, a leading human rights law firm. They knew we had a case and presented it to the courts for judicial review. In March, we heard that our request for judicial review had been granted. Our day in court was to be 14 June, last week, the height of summer and the month of the fiftieth anniversary of the illegal occupation.

Yesterday, on June 22, we heard the best possible news. We had won! We defeated the government in court and proved they had acted illegally. Sajid Javid’s regulations have been struck down. They were unlawful and had acted outside the scope of his powers for an illegal purpose. It was an immense victory – for Palestine, for local democracy, for the rule of law, and for the right to peacefully protest against injustice.

The outcome is a reminder to the Government that it cannot improperly interfere in the exercise of freedom of conscience and protest in order to pursue its own agenda. To some, pensions might seem like small fry. They are not. This is about more than the right of citizens to put their money where they see fit in accordance with your ethics. This is about setting a line down in the sand – BDS is legal, BDS is reasonable, and BDS is here to stay until we see human rights and justice for the Palestinian people.

There is a long road to travel before we see justice – but with the law on our side, we will take forward our campaign for the Palestinian people with renewed vigour. If any of this chimes with you, get involved and become a member. PSC needs committed members to guide our course, contribute to the debate, and take part in direct action for Palestine. Join today and be a part of the movement!

Politics | ‘We mean nothing to them’: Grenfell, London’s Katrina

Mon, 2017-06-19 12:15

(Photo: Pierre Papet/Ceasefire)

Grenfell is being compared to Katrina, and for good reason. In the wake of the disaster, the relief effort was abandoned to local charities—as if London were a war zone undergoing state collapse instead of one of the world’s richest cities. Mosques and churches complained about ‘non-existent’ direction from authorities.

Survivors have reported, over and over again, not knowing where they will be sleeping, being stonewalled when they try to get information, receiving no information about missing family members and friends. One man had to ‘beg and cajole’ (his words) a nurse to find the children of his relative in a hospital. ‘Police are not identifying people,’ he said.

A woman reported having to sleep in a park with her eight-year-old child. ‘We’ve seen no one from the council. No one,’ she said. ‘We’ve lost everything,’ another survivor told a journalist. ‘How is it the mosques and churches are taking care of us and not the authorities?’

Mayor Sadiq Khan and the free London newspaper Evening Standard, edited by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer under whose direction public services were decimated, promoted a crowd-sourced charitable fund for the victims—as if the survivors of a fire in a state-owned building, in the fifth-largest economy on earth, should not expect state compensation.

There are several reports that the local council refused to assist in managing, distributing, or storing donations. ‘Where is the council?’ asked a volunteer at a local meeting on Saturday. ‘This is something that we cannot do without an enormous level of planning and coordination.’ Krishnan Guru-Murphy reported the same day ‘a shocking lack of presence, organisation and authority’ in North Kensington ‘from local and national’ government’.

Another resident told a BBC reporter the official response had been ‘absolute chaos.’ This was four days after the fire. ‘I actually can’t describe just how invisible the state has been,’ wrote local resident and rapper Akala, who has been active in local assistance efforts, yesterday. ‘It’s actually been breathtaking how absent they are. It’s like there is literally no state,’ he added. By contrast, he pointed out, the level of community self-organisation has been impressive.

The same official disregard for working class, poor, black, brown, and Muslim lives that was responsible for the Grenfell fire continues to pervade the experiences of its survivors. The British state is one of the most powerful in the world when it comes to surveilling citizens and gathering intelligence on political dissent. Yet the same state disappears when it comes to assisting the victims of its own negligence. The Prevent programme monitors Muslim children at school, but has nothing to offer when they are burned to death in state-owned housing.

Virtually the only decisive action taken in the several days following the fire has been to jail a man for three months for posting a photograph of a the dead body of a fire victim on Facebook (he had been helping firefighters when he came across the body, and said he was concerned that it had been left unattended). This means the only person who has faced a criminal charge in relation to the fire is a black bystander.

Katrina was among the worst natural disasters of the twenty-first century, displacing over a million people. Grenfell does not approach it in scale. But the nature of the state response to Katrina—overbearing policing, paltry assistance—does bear commonalities with Grenfell’s aftermath. So does the role of race and class, and the ways in which gentrification looms over each disaster.

Just as black populations in New Orleans were more likely to live on low-lying land, the majority of children living above the fourth floor of tower blocks in England are black or brown (in a country which remains 82% white). Those children are also far more likely to live in overcrowded housing than whites.

It’s not a coincidence that so many survivors and local residents see the fire as, in some sense, deliberate: not a standalone event, but part of an ongoing process of violence and displacement—and not disconnected from the politics of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean. At a demonstration on Friday called by residents of the area, many speakers connected the Grenfell fire to the process of gentrification that has long been pushing working-class people and people of colour out of the city.

One speaker, a relative of a victim of the fire, connected the refugee status of many of in the building to their fate: ‘They burned us in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Africa—now they burn us here, too,’ he said. (The first named victim of Grenfell, Mohammed al-Haj Ali, was a Syrian refugee. ‘We came from Syria to be safe here and now we are dying here,’ said his brother.) Another speaker promised to ‘speak for the dead’. ‘You call it a government? I call them a Mafia,’ he said. ‘We mean nothing to them.’

Ideas | From London Bridge to Finsbury Park, these are symptoms of a broken politics

Mon, 2017-06-19 07:00

The attack on Finsbury Park mosque comes amidst a string of other recent attacks and tragedies that have struck Britain in recent weeks. There is an understandable sense of shock, anger and despair as the nation tries to recover from events many feel they have no control over. It seems to me that we are living an unrelenting Groundhog Day scenario: attacks immediately followed by crass media commentary, followed by empty government promises, followed by a slow slide back into normalcy…until the next one.

This cycle doesn’t appear to show any signs of abating. This is primarily because, time and time again, the core issues fail to be appropriately addressed. The events that have taken place over the past year are not coincidental; from the murder of Jo Cox, to Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and Finsbury Park mosque, there is a clear pattern that seems to be emerging. That is, these events are marked by the primacy of violence, and serve as concrete evidence to suggest that the current British political structure is simply no longer working. It is weak, and it is ineffective. People of all groups are understandably angry, alienated and disenfranchised.

Under years of neconservative, neoliberal governments, the cracks are opening-up widely to reveal the shambles of a dangerous political system that has consistently failed its people. In this light, New Labour’s re-embedding of its Tory predecessors’ neoliberal dogmas can be seen as a key driver for sowing the seeds of instability, doubt and social destruction, at home and abroad.

What has followed has been a recipe for disaster, which the current government can no longer cover up, as the effects are so far-reaching and palpable for all. The unstable climate of war and terror, alongside austerity and cynicism, have all combined to develop a toxic breeding ground for racism, xenophobia and division to thrive. The various terror acts coordinated by Muslim men are not simply the result of a perverse ideology, but more directly the outcome of a failed and broken foreign policy that has helped create and strengthen the threat. In a similar vein, the terror attacks coordinated by white men are not simply the result of mental illness, but rather the outcome of sustained policies, legislation and right wing rhetoric that has enabled white supremacy, Islamophobia, and anti-migrant discourse to flourish.

In a 2016 article entitled, “Beyond the Terror of Tyrants and Thugs”, the writer S. Sayyid writes:

“Faced with the challenge of an armed insurgency a government has to have the courage to refuse the simplicity of the war on terror and pursue a strategy of persuasion. This is not simply another iteration of hearts versus minds as a tactical response, but a strategic response. This strategic persuasion requires the articulation of a credible, attractive vision of an alternative future that even many of those who currently swell the ranks of DAESH and Boko Haram and other similar groups and gangs can buy into.”

Sayyid was writing about the Middle East, but his diagnosis holds true here in the West, too. Against the backdrop of the war on terror, Brexit, and ruthless cuts, the UK government has for years ignored the heart of these social problems, because – simply put – it is not in their interest to pay attention. This is a government driven by greed, not compassion. It is more concerned with maintaining special relations with the US and keeping rich ruling tyrants of the Middle East happy. It is more concerned with preserving the remnants of Empire, rather than embracing the diversity of its population. And it is more concerned with making the rich, richer, and the poor, poorer, rather than creating an equal and just system that offers everyone decent prospects.

Is it really any wonder then that the youth took to the streets of London in 2011? Is it any wonder that food banks have become a central feature of British society? Is it any wonder that while the government is contracting mega-prison projects, suicide rates amongst prisoners are at an all time high? Is it any wonder that tower blocks, filled with bodies from poorer communities, blaze in London’s night sky? And is it any wonder that people are ploughing through the streets of Britain in hateful, merciless killing sprees?

Self-interest over public interest is the hallmark of a weak and broken government, and the effects of this, although certainly tragic, are hardly surprising. When people have so little to hope for, and not much to lose, it is the primacy of violence, rather than that of the political and civic life, that will assert itself.

These constant, and somewhat normalized bouts of violence indicate strongly that this form of governance is severely limited, and no longer has the capacity to function successfully. In order to productively challenge the current chaos, we now find ourselves needing to re-establish this essential primacy of the political.

This means strong, selfless and courageous leadership, which is committed to embedding unity, inclusivity and hope. Only then might we be able to break this Groundhog Day cycle and collectively move towards ensuring a better, more stable future for all.

Photo Essay | After Grenfell Tower: On the decades-long war on social housing

Fri, 2017-06-16 16:26

For a few years now, I have been interested in examining the political and cultural tensions surrounding social housing in London. What I have found is that social housing has been under assault for decades, mainly from the private sector encouraged by governmental complicity and laxity. In essence, London is being cleansed of its poor.

In March 2016, whilst at Central Saint Martins, I began a project named ‘Going, Going, Gone’, aimed at raising awareness of the social housing crisis in London. I worked with the charity Defend Council Housing (DCH) who were in the middle of a big campaign, including a national march, against the Housing & Planning Bill which was going through Parliament at the time.

High rents, insecurity and rising evictions, overcrowding, waiting lists and homelessness are all some of the issues I have encountered when looking at social housing as a result of austerity measures that have been placed on people and places all around London.

According to DCH, there was a 60 per cent cut in housing investment in 2010, with ministers in 2016 announcing only a one per cent rent cut. After this week’s tragic events at Grenfell Tower, I wanted to bring attention to similar buildings in the Kensington Borough and highlight the fact this tragedy must be viewed within a much larger political and cultural context.

Trellick Tower (Pierre Papet)

Following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, I visited the area yesterday to examine the risks affecting similar buildings in the borough. I spent the day photographing social housing within the Kensington area, notably Adair Tower, Trellick Tower and Hazlewood Tower.

My hope is to bring awareness of the many other buildings within the Kensington Borough that are under threat, and which are also in danger of not meeting fire standards and regulations. Inspired by artists such as John Hilliard, the photographs aim to visibly represent the impending disappearance of these buildings as well as the integrity and rights of the lives of their inhabitants.

Adair Tower (Pierre Papet)

The tenant management company responsible for these tower blocks, KCTMO, previously suffered a fire back in October 2016, which affected Adair Tower (shown above), in north Kensington.

The fire regulation authorities delivered an enforcement notice requiring KCTMO to upgrade its fire safety standards, including the instruction to install “self-closing devices” on the front doors of flats in Adair Tower and the nearby Hazlewood Tower, built to the same design.

The external cladding, a feature of many nearby buildings such as the ones featured in this photo series, are currently being investigated as a potential factor in the fire’s rapid spread.

In 2016, Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) was paid £11m by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea to manage social housing. 

Hazlewood Tower (Pierre Papet)

Questions will need to be answered, many of which as a matter of great urgency: Were corners cut in the refurbishment works, as suggested by some residents? Why were residents threatened with legal action merely for speaking out? Why was so much money – millions of pounds – devoted to “prettifying” the tower for the view of outsiders, whilst none was spent on essential safety measures, such as sprinklers, lights and alarms?

Although a public inquiry into the events was announced by the government yesterday, buildings in the nearby area will have to be extensively assessed as a matter of immediate concern. The very least we owe the Grenfell Tower fallen is to do everything to ensure a similar tragedy never occurs again.

My photographs are inspired by British conceptual photography as well as the activist works of the 1970s feminist avant garde. I took inspiration from artist John Hilliard in visibly representing the impending disappearance of these buildings as well as the integrity and rights of the lives of their inhabitants. I took identical photos of the houses whilst altering the exposure and shutter speed to slowly fade the houses out of existence. I wanted to represent the inhabitants and organisations such as the Grenfell Action Group whose voices were not heard despite their repeated warnings of the dangerous and sub-standard living conditions, including fire hazards, in the tower.

This photo-essay is the first of a two part series. In part two, I will look at Social Housing buildings that are under threat of demolition across the capital, as they come under greater pressure from the private real estate market.

Ideas | The Welfare State is our living memorial: The Tory assault on it is a national betrayal

Thu, 2017-06-08 13:12

This is my Grandfather, Henry Curtis. He died on 24th November 1941, when the HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean after being hit by three torpedoes from German submarine U-331. Eight hundred and sixty-three men died on that ship. He was also one of half a million British people (and millions from other countries across the British Empire whose families later made the UK their home) that died during World War II. Countless others where injured, traumatised, widowed and orphaned.

As a result of this huge “sacrifice”, and responding to the Beveridge Report of 1942, a country crippled by war debt decided to build a better society for its citizens by establishing the welfare system via the Family Allowance Act and National Insurance Act of 1945; the Industrial Injuries Act of 1956; and the National Assistance Act of 1948. The crown jewel of this policy was, of course, and the establishment of the National Health Service in that same year.

Somehow, a country that had been at war for the best part of thirty years found a way to invest this money because that is what a state can do. It can decide how to collect money and how to distribute it. After the war, it was decided a more equitable, fair, supportive and social economy was required, and the government of the day set out to build one. While numerous inanimate statues, cold monuments and empty mausoleums were erected to commemorate the terrible human cost of the war, it was the welfare state and the National Health Service that became living memorials to everyone who had given up so much to secure peace and future prosperity. At the heart of them is the recognition that we are stronger when we work together, and that we have a responsibility to support each other in times of adversity. Any time someone receives assistance or care within that system the UK is remembering and enacting that philosophy.

Since 1979, that memorial has been systematically attacked by governments who felt the money needed collecting and distributing in a radically different way, and we began a process to overturn these post-war social protections and return to an aristocratic economy in which the common wealth works solely in the service of the rich by accumulating more and more money at the top. This has been done through the dogma of the “free market” and the “rolling back of the state”, which really only means placing state functions in private hands in order to produce shareholder value. This in turn has been established as the only kind of value currently permitted to govern our relations with each other.

This process has now reached its zenith or its nadir, depending on your political affiliation. The UK is currently at a crossroads, and the likelihood is that this year will be the one in which this living memorial is finally killed off. The welfare state and National Health Service will be fully dismantled by a Conservative government opposed to any sense of solidarity or collectivity, and who have repeatedly declared society—the very association of mutuality and dependency that contributed to allied victory in 1945—to be dead.

The rationale for this, we are told, is that the country can no longer afford it. The cry of “there is no magic money tree” has become the new soundbite of the 2017 general election. This makes no sense, of course, in an age of quantitative easing, which is nothing but the magical creation of money that doesn’t exist. It also makes no sense in an age of bank bailouts and decisions to spend £205 billion on a nuclear bomb to defend ourselves against fanatics blowing themselves up at pop concerts. The magic money tree is real. Its existence can also be seen in wave after wave of privatisation and the bargain basement sale of our collective assets. It can be seen in corporation tax cuts, tax avoidance schemes, and tax havens. Since 1979 successive governments have given the magic money tree to the rich who harvest its fruits by extracting more and more from everybody else as they they put less and less in to maintaining it.

Strangely, this is all being done by polical parties who continually fly the flag and make constant claims to patriotism. They even call on the iconography of World War II in their odes to the chauvinism of Brexit. Here, however, the idea of the nation is used to distract attention away from the real causes of our economic and social ills. We are told to hate the foreigner, be spiteful to the immigrant, and condemn the refugee, all of whom are portrayed as a burden and the true source of our new found precarity. Today, the only collectivity tolerated is the mobilization of tribal passions for the persecution of the powerless (unemployed, poor, homeless, disabled).

However, there is nothing patriotic in the social vandalism that has got us to this point. Quite the opposite, in fact. The presistent degridation of the idea of mutual aid, and the inexorable drift towards social crisis in the pursuit of personal wealth for the few spits in the face of everyone who contributed to the collective project to defeat fascism. Worse than that, it breathes life back into that heinous ideology. As  social protections are withdrawn and the common wealth is depleted, and as the country slips further into a politics of deepening inequality and social indifference, the only way the coming crisis will be managed is through a sharp increase in authoritarianism and an escalation in the the politics of scapegoating through which the anxiety, anger and hostility will be channeled. If the British people reject solidarity on June 8th they will sow division, and history tells us that never ends well.

 

Special Report | “We are doing the right thing for the right reasons”: A view from inside Europe’s biggest arms company

Thu, 2017-05-18 09:14

Activists march in London against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, carrying replicas of missiles currently used by Saudi Arabia’s UK supplied Eurofighter Typhoon war planes. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“If I did not sincerely believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons then I would not be the Chairman of this company.”

The tone was righteous and heartfelt, but the cause was not. These were the words of Sir Roger Carr, the Chair of BAE Systems, when challenged by shareholders on why his company saw fit to export fighter jets to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

It is not a bombing campaign we read a lot about, despite it having lasted for over two years and having killed more than 10,000 people. Schools, hospital, homes and even funerals have become the sights of massacres as Yemeni people have been dragged into a humanitarian crisis. It’s no wonder that many refer to it as the ‘forgotten war’, although for the people on the ground the horror is all too real.

BAE has profited every step of the way from the conflict, with its Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets used right from the start. As I write this, they are in negotiations to sell even more aircraft. Where aid organisations and NGOs have responded to a terrible catastrophe, arms companies like BAE have seen a business opportunity. We saw this in Theresa May’s trip to the Kingdom last month, where helping flogging BAE weaponry was a significant theme.

Regret was not the order of the day though. Contrary to the vast majority of the evidence, a picture was painted of Saudi Arabia as a modernising and liberalising state in transition. We were patronisingly told that it is “liberalising at a pace that it can manage in the culture from which it comes from”, and reassured us that it was a ‘defender’ and not an ‘aggressor’ on the world stage.

Little was said about the terrible daily repression Saudi people face at home, where women have minimal rights and citizens can be sentenced to death for such ‘crimes’ as atheism and ‘witchcraft’, or the destruction that has been unleashed on Yemen. But why would it be? Turning a blind-eye to atrocities is what keeps the money rolling in.

The event itself was a dispiriting exercise in bluff, bluster and evasion. Taking place in a cold and sterile airbase in Farnborough, the AGM is the one time of the year that BAE is legally obliged to open itself up to the scrutiny and questioning of the public – or at least those of us who are prepared to buy shares in order to ask them questions.

There was an almost Orwellian touch to proceedings, with board members of Europe’s biggest arms company constantly telling us that ‘nobody benefits from war’; a claim which ignores the somewhat inconvenient fact that BAE is a company whose entire business model is based on maintaining the perpetual threat of war and conflict.

One point Carr was right about is that arms companies can only get away with the things they do because the government pulls out all the stops to help them do it. Time and again, Carr stressed that BAE does not make political judgements and that its allies are whoever the UK government says they are. In other words, dictatorships can be your friends as long as government ministers and civil servants approve.

The superficial and evasive claims of political neutrality ignore the millions of pounds that BAE spends on lobbying and trying to influence governments and politicians at home and abroad. Yes, the government is absolutely complicit in their actions, but no company can simply outsource its moral compass to Whitehall.

To Carr and his colleagues, human rights abuses and conflict are an inevitable side-effect of international relations. The repression and death that weapons cause is merely collateral damage in the maintenance of peace and stability, a peace and stability that can only come to be through even greater militarism and the sale of even more weapons. Everybody has weapons, the logic goes, so the bigger the weapons the safer you are.

Upon making my way back to Farnborough train station (with a BAE-provided vegetarian packed-lunch in hand), I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping out of a dystopian, surreal and extremely cynical world.

Theirs is a world-view in which arming tyrants can bring peace and equality, and where the human consequences of war have nothing whatsoever to do with the weapons that are used or those who provide them.

They want the rest of us to ignore what they do and go back to our daily lives. All the while they will continue to tell themselves that they are striving for peace and making the world a little bit safer, one arms sale at a time.

See Also:

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?
Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good

Special Report | “We are doing the right thing for the right reasons”: A view from inside Europe’s biggest arms company

Thu, 2017-05-18 09:14

Activists march in London against UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, carrying replicas of missiles currently used by Saudi Arabia’s UK supplied Eurofighter Typhoon war planes. (Photo: Chris Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“If I did not sincerely believe that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons then I would not be the Chairman of this company.”

The tone was righteous and heartfelt, but the cause was not. These were the words of Sir Roger Carr, the Chair of BAE Systems, when challenged by shareholders on why his company saw fit to export fighter jets to Saudi Arabia for use in the ongoing bombardment of Yemen.

It is not a bombing campaign we read a lot about, despite it having lasted for over two years and having killed more than 10,000 people. Schools, hospital, homes and even funerals have become the sights of massacres as Yemeni people have been dragged into a humanitarian crisis. It’s no wonder that many refer to it as the ‘forgotten war’, although for the people on the ground the horror is all too real.

BAE has profited every step of the way from the conflict, with its Tornado and Typhoon fighter jets used right from the start. As I write this, they are in negotiations to sell even more aircraft. Where aid organisations and NGOs have responded to a terrible catastrophe, arms companies like BAE have seen a business opportunity. We saw this in Theresa May’s trip to the Kingdom last month, where helping flogging BAE weaponry was a significant theme.

Regret was not the order of the day though. Contrary to the vast majority of the evidence, a picture was painted of Saudi Arabia as a modernising and liberalising state in transition. We were patronisingly told that it is “liberalising at a pace that it can manage in the culture from which it comes from”, and reassured us that it was a ‘defender’ and not an ‘aggressor’ on the world stage.

Little was said about the terrible daily repression Saudi people face at home, where women have minimal rights and citizens can be sentenced to death for such ‘crimes’ as atheism and ‘witchcraft’, or the destruction that has been unleashed on Yemen. But why would it be? Turning a blind-eye to atrocities is what keeps the money rolling in.

The event itself was a dispiriting exercise in bluff, bluster and evasion. Taking place in a cold and sterile airbase in Farnborough, the AGM is the one time of the year that BAE is legally obliged to open itself up to the scrutiny and questioning of the public – or at least those of us who are prepared to buy shares in order to ask them questions.

There was an almost Orwellian touch to proceedings, with board members of Europe’s biggest arms company constantly telling us that ‘nobody benefits from war’; a claim which ignores the somewhat inconvenient fact that BAE is a company whose entire business model is based on maintaining the perpetual threat of war and conflict.

One point Carr was right about is that arms companies can only get away with the things they do because the government pulls out all the stops to help them do it. Time and again, Carr stressed that BAE does not make political judgements and that its allies are whoever the UK government says they are. In other words, dictatorships can be your friends as long as government ministers and civil servants approve.

The superficial and evasive claims of political neutrality ignore the millions of pounds that BAE spends on lobbying and trying to influence governments and politicians at home and abroad. Yes, the government is absolutely complicit in their actions, but no company can simply outsource its moral compass to Whitehall.

To Carr and his colleagues, human rights abuses and conflict are an inevitable side-effect of international relations. The repression and death that weapons cause is merely collateral damage in the maintenance of peace and stability, a peace and stability that can only come to be through even greater militarism and the sale of even more weapons. Everybody has weapons, the logic goes, so the bigger the weapons the safer you are.

Upon making my way back to Farnborough train station (with a BAE-provided vegetarian packed-lunch in hand), I couldn’t help but feel like I was stepping out of a dystopian, surreal and extremely cynical world.

Theirs is a world-view in which arming tyrants can bring peace and equality, and where the human consequences of war have nothing whatsoever to do with the weapons that are used or those who provide them.

They want the rest of us to ignore what they do and go back to our daily lives. All the while they will continue to tell themselves that they are striving for peace and making the world a little bit safer, one arms sale at a time.

See Also:

Special Report | What was Theresa May actually doing in Saudi Arabia? And who was she doing it for?
Politics | The UK Government must end its shameful complicity in the destruction of Yemen
Comment | This victory shows we can, and must, shut down the DSEI arms fair for good

Ideas | Fathers and Fascism: The Oedipal Landscape of the Le Pens

Sat, 2017-05-06 16:44

Overcoming castration: what happens when we get what we most desire? Depending on the relation to our structures of mind, it can be catastrophic.

Much has been written about fathers and fascism, ever since Theodore Adorno conceptualised the germination of fascism as psychologically relying on the submission to – and the continued unconscious presence of – an authoritarian father. Adorno wrote how the father is inaugurated in the mind not just as a terrorising object but, if remote, disciplinarian or unforgiving, give shape to a self-assailing super-ego.

Such a vicious super-ego results in the need to project these assaults outward onto, say, minorities or other groups castigated as weak. French colonialism was a good thing, according to the recent leader of France’s Front National. Tough medicine. Tough love. Character building.

What specifically does this have to do with fathers? The super-ego is decisively not the paternal function, its role more directly related to madness (psychosis) and that’s how it bears uniquely on Front National Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

For Freudians, the paternal function does not actually have to be a literal father, but rather a ‘third’ some sort. The paternal function, a pivotal psychic development, forms through any kind of consistent prohibition, negation or ‘no’. Sometimes it is the mother left to be the disciplinarian or arbiter of reality within families: to let children know what is possible, but critically also what is not possible.

On France’s political stage fifteen years ago Jean Marie, the senior Le Pen, made it to the second round in the French general election of 2002, but lost the final vote. Impossible for him, perhaps not for her. But can our own psychic landscape accommodate that? There’s the idea of a dead father and then there’s murdering him yourself.

There are relatively finite terms of reality we all navigate: no one can be age seven forever. None of us can get everything we want. Not all decisions are reversible. Consequences exist. How we understand these amounts to our ‘grip on reality’, or more psychoanalytically worded, our sense of Self in relation to the world. An election candidacy that your father failed in previously very clearly puts at stake the existing psychic order of things. Fail and you are him, unusual enough, but win and you are successful replacement, exceeding him in the eyes of the world.

Freud’s Totem and Tabboo explained this paradoxical possibility: the advent of a tribe murdering their tribal leader, their father, and the guilt and horror afterwards. You might wish to overcome your place in the structure, but once you do, all previously established meaning is abolished. Psychoanalyst Rosine Perelberg’s book Murdered Father, Dead Father uses Auschwitz as a model of the world of the murdered father: a psychotic universe.

Marine Le Pen’s potential exists to not only become President of France, but in doing so, exceed her father on precise personal and political terms of their own family drama: fascism rising in France and the Le Pen’s Oedipal scene coincide. But are they similar figures? How closely following in the father’s shadow are the daughter’s footsteps? Le Pen Sr. has been estranged from Le Pen Jr. since 2015 when she played a pivotal role in expelling him from the Front National for making anti-Semitic comments. She has called their feud, “the hardest time of my life except childbirth”.

Marine Le Pen’s childhood was marked by her father’s politics; as an 8-year-old girl her home was hit by a bomb meant for him. In the last televised Presidential debate Le Pen stated, “Why would you [Macron] go to Algeria and accuse France of crimes against humanity?” a war her father committed torture during. Though the father called the holocaust’s gas chambers, “a detail of history’, the daughter had her own minor version of holocaust revisionism in denying French responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up of July 1942, wherein 13,152 Jewish Paris residents were rounded up in the Winter Velodrome, approximately 4000 of them children, with almost all sent to extermination camps and killed.

Is it possible for Le Pen’s political trajectory to have this relation to her father? Freud postulated little boys have an unconscious wish to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (and little girls to murder their mothers and possess their fathers), named after Oedipus, the King in Greek mythology. This was later extended, developing away from the early normative model towards an open Oedipus complex by 1911’s essay Leonardo Da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood. Da Vinici was raised by a single mother and was speculated to have been gay. In this respect Freud theorised Da Vinci remained both heterosexually loyal to his mother as the only woman he would ever love, but also, Freud suggested, identified with her in his romances with men. Oedipus requires no particular formula, therefore it is perfectly credible that Le Pen wishes to supplant her father despite her status as a woman.

Le Pen is in fact, as we all feel it, retrospectively addressing a universal castration fantasy. Castration means the inability to satisfy or realisation of limits to our powers or capacities. If Le Pen succeeds on Sunday night she will have overcome all measure of foreseen possibility, outstripping her father and family expectation: unseating him at the family dinner table once and for all. This is one reason her campaign, like Trump’s and popularism generally, is so exciting. Defying what we are told is possible, pushing against the limits of reality. There is no frightening outright chaos, but we feel the terms of what is allowed being reassembled.

Le Pen Jr. has stated she expects her father to telephone if she wins the Presidency, almost as if she knows such success will render him eclipsed. Telephoning in an attempt to maintain relevance or remind her he is still alive: she has not fully killed him off yet. The crux of the problem emerges: once your object of desire is obtained, what is left? Where does desire have left to go? Of course, the simple answer is it transforms towards a new object: a second term in office, a different lover, a greater literary legacy, a better house and so on. What might cause real trouble for Le Pen Jr. is that her desire is so tightly bound up with her father. Once he is no longer the linchpin of political destiny, once she replaces him and annihilates his structuring force in her mind, it could send meaning into freefall.

The obliteration of or lack of a paternal function is classically what facilitates a ‘psychic break’ resulting in psychosis. Freud’s Schreber Case is one such example. In winning, Le Pen will transcend her father and in doing so recast primal castration by negotiating a different psychological order, or descend into crippling madness (the latter firmly being better for France’s ethnic minorities.)

What does it matter anyway? Well, as the speculation over Donald Trump’s states of mind indicates, the psyche of political leaders affects their decisions; decisions the mass populace has to suffer. In an election wrought with Freudianism – let’s not forget Macron is married to his own symbolic mother figure, his former school teacher, a decade and a half older than him – the relation of fascism to authoritarian fathers should make us take up the questions of why it is that fervently patriarchal family units reproduce themselves in such politically violent ways.

Ideas | Fathers and Fascism: The Oedipal Landscape of the Le Pens

Sat, 2017-05-06 16:44

Overcoming castration: what happens when we get what we most desire? Depending on the relation to our structures of mind, it can be catastrophic.

Much has been written about fathers and fascism, ever since Theodore Adorno conceptualised the germination of fascism as psychologically relying on the submission to – and the continued unconscious presence of – an authoritarian father. Adorno wrote how the father is inaugurated in the mind not just as a terrorising object but, if remote, disciplinarian or unforgiving, give shape to a self-assailing super-ego.

Such a vicious super-ego results in the need to project these assaults outward onto, say, minorities or other groups castigated as weak. French colonialism was a good thing, according to the recent leader of France’s Front National. Tough medicine. Tough love. Character building.

What specifically does this have to do with fathers? The super-ego is decisively not the paternal function, its role more directly related to madness (psychosis) and that’s how it bears uniquely on Front National Presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

For Freudians, the paternal function does not actually have to be a literal father, but rather a ‘third’ some sort. The paternal function, a pivotal psychic development, forms through any kind of consistent prohibition, negation or ‘no’. Sometimes it is the mother left to be the disciplinarian or arbiter of reality within families: to let children know what is possible, but critically also what is not possible.

On France’s political stage fifteen years ago Jean Marie, the senior Le Pen, made it to the second round in the French general election of 2002, but lost the final vote. Impossible for him, perhaps not for her. But can our own psychic landscape accommodate that? There’s the idea of a dead father and then there’s murdering him yourself.

There are relatively finite terms of reality we all navigate: no one can be age seven forever. None of us can get everything we want. Not all decisions are reversible. Consequences exist. How we understand these amounts to our ‘grip on reality’, or more psychoanalytically worded, our sense of Self in relation to the world. An election candidacy that your father failed in previously very clearly puts at stake the existing psychic order of things. Fail and you are him, unusual enough, but win and you are successful replacement, exceeding him in the eyes of the world.

Freud’s Totem and Tabboo explained this paradoxical possibility: the advent of a tribe murdering their tribal leader, their father, and the guilt and horror afterwards. You might wish to overcome your place in the structure, but once you do, all previously established meaning is abolished. Psychoanalyst Rosine Perelberg’s book Murdered Father, Dead Father uses Auschwitz as a model of the world of the murdered father: a psychotic universe.

Marine Le Pen’s potential exists to not only become President of France, but in doing so, exceed her father on precise personal and political terms of their own family drama: fascism rising in France and the Le Pen’s Oedipal scene coincide. But are they similar figures? How closely following in the father’s shadow are the daughter’s footsteps? Le Pen Sr. has been estranged from Le Pen Jr. since 2015 when she played a pivotal role in expelling him from the Front National for making anti-Semitic comments. She has called their feud, “the hardest time of my life except childbirth”.

Marine Le Pen’s childhood was marked by her father’s politics; as an 8-year-old girl her home was hit by a bomb meant for him. In the last televised Presidential debate Le Pen stated, “Why would you [Macron] go to Algeria and accuse France of crimes against humanity?” a war her father committed torture during. Though the father called the holocaust’s gas chambers, “a detail of history’, the daughter had her own minor version of holocaust revisionism in denying French responsibility for the Vel’ d’Hiv Round-up of July 1942, wherein 13,152 Jewish Paris residents were rounded up in the Winter Velodrome, approximately 4000 of them children, with almost all sent to extermination camps and killed.

Is it possible for Le Pen’s political trajectory to have this relation to her father? Freud postulated little boys have an unconscious wish to kill their fathers and marry their mothers (and little girls to murder their mothers and possess their fathers), named after Oedipus, the King in Greek mythology. This was later extended, developing away from the early normative model towards an open Oedipus complex by 1911’s essay Leonardo Da Vinci, A Memory of His Childhood. Da Vinici was raised by a single mother and was speculated to have been gay. In this respect Freud theorised Da Vinci remained both heterosexually loyal to his mother as the only woman he would ever love, but also, Freud suggested, identified with her in his romances with men. Oedipus requires no particular formula, therefore it is perfectly credible that Le Pen wishes to supplant her father despite her status as a woman.

Le Pen is in fact, as we all feel it, retrospectively addressing a universal castration fantasy. Castration means the inability to satisfy or realisation of limits to our powers or capacities. If Le Pen succeeds on Sunday night she will have overcome all measure of foreseen possibility, outstripping her father and family expectation: unseating him at the family dinner table once and for all. This is one reason her campaign, like Trump’s and popularism generally, is so exciting. Defying what we are told is possible, pushing against the limits of reality. There is no frightening outright chaos, but we feel the terms of what is allowed being reassembled.

Le Pen Jr. has stated she expects her father to telephone if she wins the Presidency, almost as if she knows such success will render him eclipsed. Telephoning in an attempt to maintain relevance or remind her he is still alive: she has not fully killed him off yet. The crux of the problem emerges: once your object of desire is obtained, what is left? Where does desire have left to go? Of course, the simple answer is it transforms towards a new object: a second term in office, a different lover, a greater literary legacy, a better house and so on. What might cause real trouble for Le Pen Jr. is that her desire is so tightly bound up with her father. Once he is no longer the linchpin of political destiny, once she replaces him and annihilates his structuring force in her mind, it could send meaning into freefall.

The obliteration of or lack of a paternal function is classically what facilitates a ‘psychic break’ resulting in psychosis. Freud’s Schreber Case is one such example. In winning, Le Pen will transcend her father and in doing so recast primal castration by negotiating a different psychological order, or descend into crippling madness (the latter firmly being better for France’s ethnic minorities.)

What does it matter anyway? Well, as the speculation over Donald Trump’s states of mind indicates, the psyche of political leaders affects their decisions; decisions the mass populace has to suffer. In an election wrought with Freudianism – let’s not forget Macron is married to his own symbolic mother figure, his former school teacher, a decade and a half older than him – the relation of fascism to authoritarian fathers should make us take up the questions of why it is that fervently patriarchal family units reproduce themselves in such politically violent ways.