Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Can the Death of the Colonel Reignite the Arab Revolution?

October 21, 2011

From the moment the first of NATOs bombs fell and his murderous advance on Benghazi was ground into the sand it was always going to end this way for Gadaffi. The grainy mobile phone images showed us an old man being dragged through the streets, before being beaten and murdered. The same treatment many Libyans no doubt received from the Colonel’s own police over the past 42 years. There is no need to mourn a tyrant; he stood against everything that we purport to stand for. The only question is what’s next?

Far away from the bloodshed of the Maghreb the British left have been as fragmented and contradictory as ever as the Arab Spring turned to Libyan Civil War and NATO bombardment. While the Socialist Party maintained the anti-imperialist and anti-Gaddaffi positions consistent with a demand for socialism in Libya, some elements of the Stop the War movement veered dangerously close to supporting Gaddafi, viewing events as they do through the prism of ‘Anyone but America.’  Others went in the other direction, offering NATO support that it neither noticed nor needed.

As an aside the harsh reality of the Libyan conflict for the British left is that until we are in a position to directly influence events, either by stopping the British contribution to the war through industrial militancy or intervening in Libya through International Brigades, the positions we take matter very little to the people actually doing the fighting. Where they do matter however is with the people we actually meet. The very minimum a socialist must do to qualify as such is to actually advocate socialism, so our task is to explain the Arab revolutions, within the context of the global financial crisis, and to use Libya as an example of the need for a socialist alternative, in this case to NATO and the National Transitional Council. Anything else is either pointless, removed from reality or a dereliction of duty.

Counter-historical questions about the potential massacre in Benghazi no longer matter. It is impossible to say what would have happened if NATO had not intervened. Civilians may have been massacred, or else the rebels may have defeated an overstretched army whose loyalty to Gadaffi was limited at best. Instead of focusing on what may have been we can only analyse what is: Gadaffi is dead, the NTC will declare national liberation within hours, NATO aircraft carriers will withdraw and the oilmen will move in. Further afield Tunisia remains rocked by protests, Egypt is under military dictatorship and Assad is committing war on the people of Syria. These are dark days for the Arab revolutions.

The question, which only someone on the ground can answer, is how far are the Libyan people willing to take their revolution? They are armed and they are on the battlefield, yet now that Gadaffi is dead and the civil war is effectively over the leaders of the NTC wish nothing more than for the fighters to return home, hand in their weapons and get back to living under the same material conditions as before. If they do so the Gadaffi posters will be torn down and they may even get the first vote in a generation, but the oil money will remain in the hands of the elite as Gadaffi’s Libya is rebranded Libya PLC.

An alternative may be the rise of Islamism. Perhaps after a short time disillusion with the NTC will set in and the fighters who came from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Somalia will help turn Libya into another Gaza strip, a mini-Tehran or a Mediterranean Somalia. Perhaps those western aircraft carriers shouldn’t leave too quickly.

Of course we know that there is another alternative, that if the people of Libya have learnt the lessons of history they can play a fundamental role in its latest chapter.  By continuing the revolution, by taking it out of the hands of NATO and the NTC leadership, the working class can not only take power in Libya, they could give new direction to the revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and even the protest movements of Israel and Palestine.

What is lacking in Libya after 42 years of dictatorship is an active revolutionary party to promote the ideas of Socialism and give genuine leadership to the movement. Also, the fact that Gadaffi at times referred to his own regime as ‘socialist’ serves only to confuse, yet both of these challenges can be overcome. While a revolutionary party is vital to achieving socialism it is possible that the road towards socialism can be taken by those who do not yet realise their destination.  Just as you do not need to be physicist to live under the rules of Newton, nether must you be a Marxist to be subject to the societal rules that Marx first understood.

First, time must be given to re-build, or even build from scratch, a genuine labour movement. Socialists would support calls for independent free and fair elections, with the creation of left wing parties, while using the time to build independent trade unions and worker’s organisations. 

Going into, during and after these elections revoluionaries must call for a programme to outline a social revolution to transform Libya, including taking the oil fields into public ownership, ensuring that the benefits are handed over to the people. The idea must once again be raised and popularised that it is class which must become the driving force of the Arab spring, not tribal loyalty, religious fervour or national identity. 

The prospects for the emergance of a form of socialism out of the rubble of sirte and tripoli may be extremely mixed, while the chances of a text book revolution and a straight line to socialism are as remote as they ever can or will be, but it remains possible. It was the fruit sellers of Tunisa, the textile workers of Eqypt and the oil workers of  Libya which began this revolution,  and the task can only fall to them to finish it.


The Promise: Review

February 25, 2011

To make a TV series about the origins of the state of Israel is to walk into the lion’s den, so inevitable are the criticisms made by supporters, armchair and actual, of each ‘side’. It is then no small achievement that Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise (Channel 4) largely succeeds in drawing out the key themes of the conflict through a compelling drama which gives the conflict a human face.

 The four part series is split between two moments in history, the twilight years of the British mandate of Palestine in 1946 and the second Intifada of 2005. To tie the two the narrative is divided between Sergeant Len Matthews, part of the British occupying force, and his granddaughter Erin.

The opening shots reveal that Len, a paratrooper, took part in the Liberation of Bergan Belsen concentration camp, unflinchingly showing footage of the camps to highlight the huge role that the industrial slaughter of the Holocaust played on the collective memory of the Jewish people post-1945.

From Belsen Len is moved to Mandate Palestine, where he is forced to guard camps of Jewish refugees that are teeming off ships such as the Exodus, carrying refugees from Europe to their promised land. To say Len is pro-Jewish or pro-Zionist at this point would be too clear cut, but it is clear that after witnessing the horrors of Nazism he believes the survivors deserve something better.

From here Len is thrust into the developing Jewish insurgency, led by the underground Irgun. As the series develops he survives the bombing of the British HQ at the King David Hotel, an ambush by guerillas, and a betrayal by his Zionist girlfriend before he is finally held hostage while his friends are executed.

For Len the story arc is clear, his sympathies great as they were for the Zionist cause turn to hatred of the Irgun and leads to his own tragedy, which isn’t revealed until the final part.

As an example of storytelling The Promise falls to some of the predicable plot devices which beset many historical dramas. Characters inevitably fall in love, discover unknown historical connections and consistently find themselves at the centre of unfolding events.

From a historical perspective it also sidesteps some hugely significant aspects of the conflict. The central story arc throughout the Mandate section of the drama frames the conflict between the Zionist guerilla group, the Irgun and the British occupies. This ignores the fact the British army initially armed and trained the official Jewish defense force, the Hagganah and that the Jewish Agency of David Ben-Gurion operated as a semi-open shadow government, while it was the more extreme groups such as Irgun and the Stern Gang which carried out terror attacks, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946.

The most important aspect of the conflict from this period which is missing is of course the Palestinian Arab population, portrayed by a single family. This not only ignores the fact that the Arab population formed the overwhelming majority of Palestine at this time, but similarly overlooks the role Arabic groups played in the struggle against both British occupiers and the Zionist movement. Indeed the British decision to limit Jewish immigration in 1946 was not, as the film implies, a decision taken in London alone, but was a concession to Arab rioting. The story also ignores the Arabic guerilla movement which carried out attacks on both British forces and the Jewish Agency, revealing that like their Jewish adversaries, the Arabs played the roles of victim and fighter both.

In the modern scenes the major flaw, beyond the contrived relationships and coincidences used to drive the plot, is the character of Erin, who seems at best indifferent to her environment and at worst willfully ignorant to its complexities as she shops in Tel Aviv and stomps around the West Bank.

Erin’s story begins with the discovery of her now ailing grandfather’s diary, days before she is to take a tenuous journey to Israel to spend her gap year living with the parents of her best friends, who has been called up for national service with the IDF.

From start to end Erin is intent to strop her way through cultural and political sensitivities; inviting a former Palestinian prisoner to dine with her host, who is a retired general; forcing an elderly Palestinian man to visit the home he left 60-years before and of course becoming romantically connected to both the former militant and an Ex-soldier.

She, perhaps inevitably, is also witness to the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv cafe, making the not at all subtle, but important, demand for the viewer to consider the parallels between the Irgun terror campaign, and that of Hamas. Thankfully Kosminsky doesn’t use the parallel to justify the latter, but to condemn both.

The set up of Erin’s story, based around her discovery of Len’s diary, is quite a jarring cliché, already done in numerous novels and more successfully in Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom. In Land and Freedom the entire story of the International Brigader is told through the diary, which is being read by a granddaughter after he has died.

In Erin’s case however the diary is used more like a treasure map, making her travel throughout the West Bank to piece the story together, allowing the viewer to see the modern repercussions of the mandate era. The obvious flaw here is that you’d be forgiven for thinking Eric could simply read the entire diary or just call up and talk to Len, who we’re told has been making a fine recovery in her absence. Of course this wouldn’t allow for the slowly developing narrative.

These flaws however are forgivable, used as they are to help signpost key points or explain context. Indeed it would take a writer/director of some genius to explain the Arab-Israeli conflict to a new audience without them. Only the harshest critic would condemn the director for making a film which doesn’t pander to the purest political analysis, but is able to frame the conflict progressively, and more importantly, with a human face.

Throughout four episodes Kosminsky succeeds in drawing out the key themes of this unending modern tragedy; the post-war decline of Empire, the gradual transformation of a brutalised people from the role of victims to oppressor, and the fact that no matter the side or allegiance the people of each side play the roles of victim and fighter both.

9/11 Conspiracies: A Cultural Phenomenon

September 14, 2010

It’s a slippery thing truth. Even at the best of times journalists and historians both grapple and struggle with the term by wading through political interpretations and spin. How will historians of the future be able to judge the invasion and occupation of Iraq? Will they even refer to it as “invasion” and “occupation” or will they fall to the more official lexicon of “liberation”, “regime change” and the moniker “Operation Iraqi Freedom”? Will they look back and see the toppling of a tyrannical dictator? Will they draw parallels between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, or will they see the most powerful armed force on earth humbled by an insurgence of ex-soldiers, civilians and foreign militants thus drawing comparisons with Vietnam?

It is, of course, entirely likely that they shall record both and both shall contain small elements of truth. However historians choose to portray the events post-march 2003 they shall have an easier task of finding the absolute truth then they shall when analysing another history defining event of this era, an event with a plethora of interpretations from the logical to the obscene, the terrorist attacks on New York city on September the 11th 2001.

It is not my intention to join the choir of voices who cry out conspiracy, yet I believe that these people and their theories represent a cultural phenomenon, even if they contain not a modicum of truth. First off let us look at what we do know to have happened. On the 11th of September 2001, two American Airline planes crashed into the World Trade Centre towers. This constituted the most destructive attack on American soil since Japan attacked Pearl Harbour in 1941. Over 3000 people were murdered by the twelve hi-jackers and as the towers crashed to the ground footage was instantly beamed to a shocked and appalled audience across the globe. Effectively this is where consensus on the event ends. In fact there are many who do not believe the hi-jackers were the cause of the carnage, but played mere bit part roles in a far wider conspiracy. As I’ve said, I do not aim to analyse the events that took place that day, instead I wish to look at the fact that so many conspiracies exist, and why.

Conspiracy theories are of course not a new development and are not unique to 9/11. Perhaps the most famous set of conspiracy theories spawned from the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dallas Texas, a conspiracy given impetus by the subsequent murder of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, whose own murderer was also killed by unnamed gunmen. The integral difference between the two events is the rapid development in methods of mass, global communication, such as the internet, a modern phenomenon which has been given a huge boost to conspiracy theorist across the world. These developments have served to decentralise political analysis meaning that anyone with access to an internet connection can formulate their personal theories and form part of an ever growing digital sub-culture.

There are, at the very least, around fifty mainstream conspiracy theories, born from groups such as “the 9/11 truth movement”, or “Architects and Engineers for 9/11 truth”. These theories are as broad and diverse as the groups themselves, yet each share a few common characteristics. Some are based simply on smaller details, yet agree with the mainstream narrative. For example the theory that the plane which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, allegedly en route to the White House, was in fact shot down by the Air Force. Evidence for this is based on an understanding of conventional military practise and a faux pas made by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a press conference.

 Other theories, which are more complex, look at the bigger picture and claim that the collapse of the towers was the result of series of controlled explosions. Such theories often look at the “other” building, World Trade Centre Seven, which also collapsed that day but was over shadowed by the carnage wrecked by its larger brethren. The theorists observe that no skyscraper has ever collapsed due to fire, yet WTC7 seemed to suddenly crumple after being ablaze for a mere eight hours. These theorists receive a sheen of legitimacy when supported by numerous engineers and architects who debate such things as the strength of heated steel.

 Other, multifaceted theories suggest that security systems were deliberately closed down, that fighter jets were intentionally scrambled in the wrong direction, that fire alarm systems within the towers were switched off, that a circling military plane was remotely controlling the doomed airliners, that fire crews were already loitering in the area prior to the attack, that CIA men in suits were swiftly combing through the rubble to find secret documents and that pieces of aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon were in fact planted, as the attack was not carried out by an airliners but a much smaller drone or a missile.

Whilst these are some of the hotly contested conspiracy details, theorists also point to the owner of the towers, Larry Silverstein, a long term friend and political ally of the Bush family. Mr Silverstein had, they allege, recently taken out an insurance policy which covered the centre from disasters and terrorist attacks to the tune of up to three billion dollars. Indeed Mr Silverstein has become a central figure in most of the theories, some of which betray sinister anti-Semitic undertones, as theorists point to his political connections and the fact that the World Trade Centre was an economic liability, swiftly losing Silverstein and his associates money. In a Television interview Silverstein comments that he made the decision to “pull it”, when asked about the WTC7 skyscraper, a comment widely seen as an acknowledgement of controlled explosions, but could of course just as likely mean suspending the fire fighting operation, which is exactly what did happen and is exactly what Silverstein later sought to clarify.

Each of these theories form a “J’accuse” towards the administration of George. W. Bush, and claim that his government either displayed negligence bordering on criminal, or carried out the operation covertly as a “false flag”, to rally patriotic support, to pass restrictive legislation such as the Patriot Act, and to instil enough fear in the American people so as to support an expansionist, Imperialist foreign policy. These theories will have you believe that the Neo-Conservative administration had spent their years prior to electoral victory concocting one of the most audacious conspiracies in history with the explicit aim of destroying America’s cultural symbols of economic dominance and murdering thousands of Americans.

The more outlandish theories, which abound not only around the internet but in published books as well as in political and religious sermons, contest that the terrorist attacks were not only an inside job by the American government but are in fact a precursor to the rise of “a new world order”, a united global government which aims to take over the world for the benefit of a elite cabal of related families. Even further along the spectrum are theories which truly test the ability to keep a straight face, such as the short lived account, which was popular among American Christian Evangelists, that images of demons, devils, and even Satan himself could be seem rising from the smoke of the collapsing towers. Along with these apocalyptic visions we have also witnessed a resurgence of 19th century Anti-Semitism as claims rose that Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence service, coordinated the attack to drag America into the Middle East. This ridiculous and blatantly racist theory, which also claims that the 4000 Jewish employees at the towers were told not to go to work that day, was briefly touted by Hezbollah as a black propaganda campaign against Israel and is a common theme of far-Right groups both in the States and across Europe as they huddle around their crumbing ideology clutching their copies of “The protocol of the Elders of Zion.”

Before coming to my conclusions surrounding these theories we must consider the facts surrounded events before, during and after the attack so as to understand the rationale and reason for the theories. Firstly, 9/11 was the largest attack on American soil since the Oklahoma bombing and the first attack from abroad since Pearl Harbour. Secondly, following the attack the Bush administration did indeed utilise it for political gain, by pushing thorough legislation which greatly inhibits civil liberties whilst denouncing any dissent as unpatriotic. At the same time the American administration, and her foreign allies did launch an aggressive foreign policy in Afghanistan, and Iraq whilst also helping wage proxy wars in Lebanon, Somalia and Latin America. Indeed Karl Rove, President Bush’s equivalent to Alistair Campbell, privately declared that “we are an empire now.”

It is perhaps a  cliché to describe such a political culture as Orwellian. I believe it is safe to say that if Mr Orwell were with us today he would, between long drags of a cigarette, bemoan the fact that he told us this was coming. My analysis of these theories has reached the following conclusions. Firstly as far ranging, as controversial, as convincing, as tenuous or as obscene as these theories appear they all share a few common traits. Primarily it must be recognised that production of these theories means that the American and international public refuse to believe a word from which originates from the American establishment. They reject the official findings of the “9/11 Commission”, they reject the explanations, the reasoning and at times the overwhelming evidence that figures both within and without the government have presented. Indeed anyone who has put forward evidence with deviates from the theories or collaborates with the official narrative is swiftly denounced as a member of the conspiracy, even if they are as far removed from the inner cabal of power hungry oligarchs as can be imagined. Indeed it is quite obvious that, as Richard Clarke quite rightly states, the problem with Government is that it is almost impossible to keep anything secret, there are always leaks. This is especially true if, as the theorists claim, literally thousands of people have been involved in orchestrating the attack. Put simply, someone would have talked. It is of course quite understandable that in this age of multi-media propaganda, spin, information manipulation and political word play that the public should not accept the word of the politicians or the establishment at face value. We in Britain clearly learnt this lesson from the infamously “sexed-up”, “dodgy dossier” which made the case for War prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, claiming that Iraqi weapons could hit British interests in Cyprus in under 45 minutes. The American public should also have learnt this when Colin Powel made his case to the United Nations to “prove” that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which were transported across the desert in large, bespoke trucks. All this of course was purely fantasy, pure spin, pure Hollywood. We live in an age when civilian death is given the clinical name of “collateral damage”. This has of course led to an increased disillusionment from the politicians and governments and, in the case of the conspirators, has formed into a culture of political nihilism, and a belief that something more sinister must be going on, that there must be a hidden agenda, a secret angle.

The second and most overwhelming similarity is the point blank refusal to believe that Al Queda were responsible for the attacks, or at the very least acted without the aid of sinister forces within the United States. This is  curious as Al-queda claimed responsibility for the attack almost immediately, and have constantly repeated this claim throughout the past nine years. Again, what do we know which is factual? Well we know that by 2001 the organisation was the most obvious threat to American and European interests. Al-queda operatives, or sympathises, bombed the USS Cole, blew up the American embassy in Kenya, and had attempted to destroy the World Trade Centre with a car bomb in 1993. Indeed President Clinton had attacked Al-queda bases in Sudan, thus forcing the group to flee to the Taliban protected mountains of Afghanistan. This much, we can safely suggest, is historical fact. Al queda, which translates as “the base”, was simply the name of Osama Bin Laden’s ranch in Kandahar, a financial base of operations where Bin Laden could coordinate his Afghan based mujahedeen whilst bank rolling any potential projects, thereby ensuring that any independent group which achieved its goals could be claimed to be doing so under the banner of Al Queda merely because Bin Laden and his cohorts funded them. In turn this achieved a wide, yet informal network of terror which has subsequently been reasonable for bombings in Bali, Madrid, London and Istanbul.  History will also tell you that Bin Laden and his fighters were funded and equipped by the CIA and MI6 in the 1980’s to fight the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, to create a “Russian Vietnam”, a venture which  they hoped would end the Cold War, and bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union that much faster. As ever, truth is far stranger, and far more dangerous than fiction.

I am satisfied that these are the facts that we know to be true, yet the most prolific line throughout all of the conspiracy theories is that, as one member of the 9/11 truth movement stated: “those twelve men were armed only with Stanley knives and a basic knowledge of flying. Their efforts were coordinated by a man in a cave in Afghanistan. That is simply impossible. That is the most farfetched lie of 9/11, they could not have pulled this off.”

This is the core line that almost all of the conspiracy theorists chant in chorus, the idea that such a relatively simply, if audacious, act could have been carried out against the most hi-tech, security conscious super power on earth. Americans are taught, though education and though agents of socialisation, such as the mass media, that the United States is an impregnable fortress, that the country exists in glorious isolation, that from its safe position the United States is free and able to pontificate and police the world and crucially, they are made to understand that this is only one-way-traffic. Policies and principles are exported abroad, sometimes via the tank and the bayonet, but they are never imported, and they shall never be imported through violence. America exists in a culture which is based entirely around the principle of global hegemony. The idea that twelve men could have carried out an attack of this magnitude, and with such hideous success, seriously erodes this myth.

Clearly the people of the United States of America live in just as much danger of being attacked as anyone who lives in London, Madrid, Istanbul, Bali or for that matter anywhere else in the world. However, seldom or unlikely such attacks may be their nationality gives them no automatic exemption. Yet their view of America and their ideas of cultural hegemony cannot stomach this truth. Therefore one response is to come up with something far grander, they must place the blame at sinister forces within the country, as only forces that are American could possibly have the power, the intelligence and the technology to attack America. It is I suppose a sort of reverse nationalism, a belief that no foreigner could attack the super power, especially not twelve men from the fabled “third world” of the Middle East.

This, is the overarching theme of the 9/11 conspiracy theories, a refusal to believe that the super power could be attacked with such ferocity and murderous intent. It is a cultural problem, not quite the “protective stupidity” which Orwell concocted for the populous of 1984, but instead it represents the product of decades of national hubris, of watching war ships sail to attack distant oceans, tanks and troops fighting upon distant shores and bombers flying Over distant cites without once considering that such terror could possibly come the other way.