War in Syria

David Cameron’s War

So there seems to be so many things to write about this week. We have of course the news of the Climate change marched across the world, the huge up-swell in Britain’s anti-war movement, the internal divisions within the Labour and Conservative parties over the bombing Syria, the position of Jeremy Corbyn as an effective opposition and of course the atrocious bias of so much of the media in reporting all of this. In fact if I see one more headline blaming Corbyn for leading us into a war then I may well just be sick.

Yes he could whip his MPs but:

a) He would have been lambasted as a dictator for whipping them

b) Many would have rebelled anyway as he often did

c) The inherent nature of Corbyn is that he believes in everyone’s ability to make the right and moral decision.

Indeed, his fatal flaw may just be that he is too committed to his belief in people.

The sad fact is that the media, who are meant to present our county with the news and issues of the day, admittedly with an opinion of their own is blatantly ignoring the fact that this is David Cameron’s war. He is conducting himself in such a way as to discredit this nation amongst the other nations of the world. I would say that he is disappointing the people of Britain but alas, many who read the almost-lies of the Sun, the Mail and the Express (lest I go on) have not been informed properly of the folly of this grave mistake we are about to make.

The honest truth is there are not actual benefits for Britain joining this war in Syria, unlike there actually may have been in stopping Assad right at the beginning of this civil war (or before).

We can’t afford to enter this war, it will cost us dear financially in a time when we cannot even protect out basic pubic services.

We don’t know who our allies or enemies are, we have no plan in place for long term solutions.

Yes Britain is a target but bombing will only amplify that, if we have to spend money on armed forces do it to protect out county not attack others.

The stream of refugees is growing daily and Europe will see even more displaced peoples as other powers (let alone us) bomb their homes and add to the existing violence. Will Britain accept them? Unfortunately for too long now the everyday British person has been supportive of destructive wars in the Middle East with a reluctance to help the people caught in our neo-colonial crossfire.

In fact, the main achievement of this war before it has even begun is to distract the media and the people from the problems of the government. It wouldn’t be the first time in history:

  1. The actual support of Jeremy Corbyn among the Labour Party members and positive responses to him by the general public (on tax evasion, tax credits, education from cradle-to-grave, support of the NHS and green initiatives…) He is a threat to the establishment that a war, it is hoped, will discredit.
  2. The pressing need for a settlement in Scotland that had so far been ignored since the Referendum. The so-called ‘rise of the SNP’ and further talk of independence.
  3. Issues over Trident and cuts to our security forces (with opposition from both sides of the spectrum).
  4. The deep unpopularity of Jeremy Hunt, George Osborne, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith and their ultra-conservative policies
  5. His own unpopularity… ‘Piggate’.
  6. The fact that he will be remembered as one of the most pointless, if not damaging Prime Ministers of modern times.

Let us cut off supplies and funding to IS and Assad, use diplomacy not bombs. Let us accept that we have made mistakes in the Middle-East, learn form them and not repeat them. We owe the people of Syria a debt for having encouraged terrorism, abandoning them in their fight against Assad and refusing them entry into our country for refugee. Bombs will not repay that debt.

Britain has no reason to go to war. David Cameron has every reason to

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Two Nations of refugees: Statelessness and the birth of Israel

Now I am far from an expert on the issues facing Israel and Palestine, as too many people claim to be. Neither do I claim to have any solutions. History however teaches us that to best understand the present we must understand the past, and with a topic as divisive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often the facts and figures are distorted, manipulated or even forgotten. Following then, from the day of Palestinian Solidarity it seems right to look for a brief moment at the creation of the state of Israel in 1947. Rather than an attempt to weigh in on an already crowded discussion of policy and military engagements I feel it is important to look at how ordinary people fared in these seismic times.  It is to this end that I will use quotes and statistics taken from Peter Gatrell’s excellent book The Making of the Modern Refugee (for any who would like to read further, or verify my sources) from which all sources are taken.

Palestine Solidarity day

The modern history of the land of Palestine has been one of refugeedom, of the huge disparity between states and statelessness and of the distinction between those who belong, and those who do not. Within the discourses of both ends of the political debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the actual people are often overlooked, and the huge part which refugees have had and continue to have is forgotten. The state of Israel and certain Palestinian organisations for example have denied the right to return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab refugees and their descendants. Similarly the state of Israel and certain Palestinian organisations seem often to ignore the fact that Israel is a nation of refugees and their inheritors, who fled from violence themselves in the hope of escaping it. This raises some interesting questions, summed up in the 1950s by aid worker Samuel Morrison, who said that:

It would be a curious irony of history if the gathering of the Jews from their dispersion among the nations were only to be achieved at the price of the dispersion of the Arabs of Palestine over the face of the globe

Sadly, to a certain extent this has proved true. In their choice of Palestine as a home for the Jewish people Zionists set up inevitable conflict with the resident population, the majority of whom were Arabic. This is contrary to the popular Zionist slogan of ‘a land without people for a people without land’ which was carried by the survivors of the Holocaust who remained refugees in Europe after the war had ended. It is one of the world’s great ironies that the persecution of European Jews, leading to the horrors of the Holocaust would lead to the displacement of so many Palestinians. It is ironic because there is one clear link between Palestinian Arab and Jewish history, a link which should in theory bind these two peoples together. That link is statelessness; the shared sense of being victimized and and the desire to ‘return’ to a homeland. Indeed both peoples underwent traumatic experiences which helped crystallise their respective nationalisms. The Nakba helped form a fledgling Palestinian nationalism while also legitimising Palestinian militancy while the Shoah or Holocaust is what underpins Israel’s claims to national legitimacy.

Handala.jpg

Handala by Naji Al-Ali

It is the legacy of these two events that continues to define each respective nation. The sad truth however being that it was the actions of the state of Israel in 1947 that effected the Nakba, when the trauma of the Jewish people was still so fresh. The attitudes of the Zionists had been hardened by the Holocaust and the widespread displacement of European Jews. Unfortunately these developed into such a strong sense of belonging to a Palestinian homeland that the Arabic people living there were either overlooked entirely, as noted above or attacked as being stupid or uncivilised. The prospect of peace and co-operation was not helped by statements such as this by Zionist Israel Zangwill who speaking some 20 years earlier had said that:

We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction. And therefore we must generally persuade them to ‘trek’. After all, they have all Arabia with its million square miles. There is no particular reason for the Arabs to cling to these few kilometres. ‘To fold their tents and silently steal away’ is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.

It was these kinds of sentiments that were still a part of Zionist discourse when in November 1947 the United Nations voted to create a Jewish state with a population of 538,000 Jews and 397,000 Palestinian Arabs, while the corresponding Palestinian state would contain some 804,000 Arabs and just 10,000 Jews. During the fighting of 1948 however at least 750,000 Palestinians were displaced; or around half the estimated Arab population of Palestine. It was the occupation of Arab land and houses by Jewish settlers, many of whom were refugees themselves, that helped to prevent refugees from returning home. It is estimated that over 100,000 of these refugees would be living in Gaza and the West Bank 20 years later when they were once again driven from their homes following the Six-Day War; in essence becoming a refugee movement within a refugee movement.

Indeed, are not all Palestinians and Israelis today enveloped in half a century of history marked by statelessness? As Peter Gatrell says:

Displacement has marked the history of both Jews and Palestinians alike. The worldwide population of Jews stands at approximately 14 million, of whom six million live in Israel and a substantial number in North America. There are more than 9.5 million Palestinians worldwide. Nearly four million live in desperate straits in Gaza and in the West Bank, and close on five million in neighbouring Arab states as well as in other parts of the globe

In fact it can be said that ‘Nowhere in the Middle East can it be said that Jews and Palestinians lead a secure existence.’ Which is yet another ironic similarity these two nations of refugees share.

 

 

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A blog-post for doomed youth

There will be two types of people reading his post. Firstly there will be those who remember a time before British intervention in the Middle East; in Iraq or Afghanistan etc. then there will be the rest of us. How does one begin to explain the deep, traumatic effect which terrorism and anti-terrorism has had upon me and my peers, both Muslim and non alike. As a white, atheist, Briton I feel almost un-entitled to comment upon such massively destructive events when I have remained safely out of harms way. There is however now a whole generation of people across the  Western world, my generation, who are beginning to add their own voices, in public life, the media, politics etc. to the ‘War on Terror.’ Those of us to whom the 9/11 attacks are a dimly-lit childhood memory, so faint that we are not even sure we remember it. Those of us who had family in London during the 7/7 attacks. Those of us with friends in Paris on Friday 13th.

These last few weeks there has been increasing talk of our nation going to war, of predictions of how and when David Cameron may make the announcement on the steps of 10 Downing Street. To people my age however this seems a futile conversation to have, for have we not been at war these past 14 years? Indeed, it feels like Britain has forever been fighting an invisible enemy, one which can metamorphose and disappear at will. This enemy in namely Islamic terrorism but has become much more this. Just as the so-called ‘Islamic State’ has been argued to be neither Islamic nor a State, neither has this conflict against Islamic terrorism been against just Islam or terrorists. All manner of nations, peoples, religions and human lifeforms have been involved. This has become the defining moment of our age, perhaps in a way a new Cold-War.

There is of course a chance that I am being melodramatic, and indeed I am far from an expert on these matters; as has been admitted. However I am acutely aware of the impact that foreign intervention has had on the lives of the young people of Great Britain. Indeed throughout my childhood, myself, and many like me were raised upon an all-to-familiar ritual of violent images of warfare, of tanks and bullets set upon a background of sand. I hesitate to say it but I feel that seeing such images almost every day throughout my teenage years has left me somewhat numb to the concept of our country fighting yet another Middle-Eastern war. This is because it became a part of daily life for Britons in that first decade of the new millennium. I must not have been the only one to have begun to look at the photographs of dead servicemen and women and their funerary cortèges as the conflict in Afghanistan drew on, with growing sadness at the fact that they had been condemned to die in what many had begun to call a pointless and un-winnable war?  ‘Dulce et decorum est’ indeed. It is hard to justify, both then and now.

Soldiers in Briefing at RSOI in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan

Newly arrived soldiers listen to a briefing at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan before onward deployment. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_Bastion

While I feel sadness and not a little anger however, these wars that have been fought in my lifetime have had a more profound impact on others (the radicalisation of young people both here and abroad  is well-documented I will not dwell on that here). The sad truth is that in conversations with my non-Muslim peers there is a lot of fear and anger; fear and anger directed by many people at Muslims, blaming Islam for the faults of the few. In parts of Britain just like mine, with low immigrant populations; both Muslim or otherwise, Islam manifests itself as an un-knowable threat. I have no doubt that many young minds were shaped by the attitudes of the Sun, Mail and Express, channelled through a parent who had no more spoken to a Muslim than been threatened by one.

This, I do believe, will be one of the most damaging effects of the ‘War on Terror’ to our society. The media is quick to highlight the racism and bigotry of the old and assume that the young will be less so. It is also quick to highlight how intervention has played a part in radicalising many young Muslims. What we overlook however is that there in now a generation of British people raised on fear, media hype and Islamaphobia. It is a quiet, ignorant kind of racism. Indeed there is now a generation of people who have grown numb in the shadow of war in the Middle-East, some of whom are hardened by hate and fear of a religion they do not know, but know they should not like. It is this generation who will support any action by the government that makes them feel safe; be that increased surveillance, renewing Trident or to fight and die in any new conflict this country enters. This is my generation, and it makes me sad.

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Europe, Uncategorized

The Frenchman’s Burden; France and her refugees in the 1930s

It has been said often and it has been said loudly but history is forever doomed to repeat itself unless we learn from its mistakes. In a week where the Syrian refugee crisis has finally begun to be seen in the West for the human catastrophe it is, we are seeing it for all the wrong reasons. This is something which any student of refugees will quickly learn; that it is incredibly easy to submit to the fear of refugees, or their wants, their needs, their beliefs and their sympathies. These fears manifest in a variety of ways and refugees have often been labelled as subversive, dangerous or damaging, this is far from the first time that they have been labelled as a ‘fifth column’. Neither is this the first time that refugees have been blamed for their circumstances. However without an understanding of the past we will be forced to relive the same mistakes, even the clear comparisons between the Daily Mail’s cartoon this week and Nazi propaganda will not do enough to highlight the risk we have of falling into the same traps as did previous generations. Thus, in a week where France is left once again doubting her position as a place of refugee it would be wise to educate ourselves of our pasts.

France, the nation that invented the word ‘refugee’ is left this week in a state of moral dilemma over its acceptance of the world’s unwanted, or as Hannah Arendt put it ‘the scum of the earth.’ To a large extent this is without cause, we have seen a summer of refugee crises in Europe and in Asia with the Syrians and Rohingyians causing both a massive outpouring of sympathy and widespread desire to exclude them. The walls of Europe, quite literally, went up. The atrocious terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday the 13th have further ignited the spark of debate over the degree to which Europe should accept these desperate people.

Daily mail cartoon

The Daily Mail’s refugee cartoon

 

The problem is that refugees are the victims of terrorism also, in more ways than one. There is good reason for the comparisons made between the reluctance to allow Syrians into Europe and the refusals of many nations in the 1930s to grant asylum to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Perhaps the world has forgotten, or simply chooses to ignore that these are problems we have faced, and arguably failed at solving before. Indeed, as France stands amidst its most recent refugee crisis perhaps a brief look into her past may cast new light upon the present.

 Every successive wave of emigres has washed up here… Paris is everyone’s last hope and last chance’- Erich Maria Remarque

 

 

 

 

 

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Burmese days

I woke today to the sound of heavy rain against my window, a sign that autumn is beginning to turn slowly but surely in winter. Reading the news over breakfast I found that it had also been raining in Myanmar, which of course is currently undergoing its first elections since 1990, before I was born. This of course has raised many questions amongst the press and the international community at large, the foremost of these being the extent to which those elected will have to share power with the ruling military junta. This of course is perhaps the most valid question to be asking, but one which requires a considerable amount of knowledge about the state of thing inside the country at this time, and even then much of what has been written is held up by guesswork scaffolding. In that respect I turn my attention to the story that is increasingly appearing to overshadow the election itself and that which has largely put Myanmar on the map of western consciousness; Aung San Suu Kyi.

Now some years ago when I first became aware of Aung San Suu Kyi, around the time of one of her releases from house arrest I decided to buy one of her books, Freedom from Fear. Needless to say it was fascinating and enlightening and I was left believing this was one of the bravest and most moral people of the 21st century. I still do. The determination of this woman must not be underestimated as a factor in these elections currently taking place, and she and the National League for Democracy must be applauded for their efforts, regardless of the result.

Unfortunately there are very few people without flaw in this world, and in recent weeks it has emerged that Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate is indeed flawed, she is human. The reasons for her silence over Rohingya can be understood from a political perspective; the growing racial tensions and pressure from nationalist groups to exclude Muslims from the state. In a country that is 90% Buddhist the Rohingyians are for many an unwanted social group. To many in the outside world however the outrages that have been committed over the summer have more than justified a proper response, rather than shadowy claims of sympathy. If Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD can indeed take power over the next few days, then the world will wait with baited breath to see if she can use that power for the right reasons. We all know she has more than earned her place leading the new Myanmar but now she must prove that she deserves it.

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No Second Preferences.

With the euphoric upsurge of support for the campaign of Jeremy Corbyn in the previous weeks it has become a very real possibility that he will be the next leader of the Labour Party. With this has come two big issues; firstly that there should be some sort of coup against his leadership, either because he does not represent the views of the majority of MPs or because he should not be on the ballot at all because was lent votes in the PLP nominations process. This however, is nonsense; the argument that the Corbyn campaign is merely an opening of the debate has long lost its validity, the groundswell of support has seen to that, if anything Liz Kendal has been the charity candidate; with little membership support. All that needs to be said is that above all things the Labour Party is democratic and as such the members and supports of the party must decide on the leader. Left or right if you’re not willing to accept that Labour is, in the words of Mr. Corbyn, a ‘broad church, then those people should leave, not the other way around.

With this first and rather non-issue aside there has also been increasing calls amongst Corbyn advocates that in order to prevent the risk of second-preferences swaying the result they should not be utilised. This suggestion, I must admit, shocked me. I know that Ed Miliband was crippled by a lack of validity due to the preference system of voting, and by the media making it clear that in a simpler system David would have won. Nonetheless I find myself uncomfortable with the idea of playing the system, of denying the democratic nature of it, not voting for a second preference feels somewhat like not being fully democratic. The fact of the matter is that the good sportsman in me is aware that without second preferences Jeremy Corbyn will likely be the clear winner, making it too much a one-horse-race to feel properly democratic.

The more I think about it however, the more I find it hard to decide who my second preference would be. Yvette Cooper for me is an instant no, growing up with her ineffectiveness in government, her closeness of policy to Andy Burnham and the fact that she is uninspiring at best in this campaign leaves me in doubt as to why she is running in the first place. Mr. Burnham is to the same extent rather uninspiring and even though he was lauded as the ‘left’ candidate I find it hard to see him leading the Party to anything more of the same, feeble, opposition. This leaves of course Ms. Kendal, who though much maligned by the leftist media (social and otherwise) I have only gained respect for during the campaign, and though I do not agree with some of her ideas I believe that with her strong principles and character she has much value to add to the Labour Party, as leader or otherwise.

Ultimately I have decided that my initial dislike of calls to leave out a second-preference were rather unfounded, not because I want Jeremy Corbyn to win so badly that I would subvert the democratic principles of the party, rather the opposite. I have found that in the absence of anyone else that I would want to vote for I would be defeating the point of democracy in putting my name next to any other candidate. I think that my shock was not at the subversive call to manipulate the voting system (which it is) but rather at the fact that I myself see no other option but to do just that. Essentially I will be completely democratic; using my first preference to vote for who I want to be leader of the Party and using my second preference to vote for my second choice, which is nobody. It saddens me however that this is such a one-sided contest, even if it is in favour of Mr. Corbyn.

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