Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

Alan Mendoza’s Henry Jackson Society and William Shawcross’s Charity Commission

Before the last British general election, I expressed the hope that under David Cameron’s leadership, the Conservatives might become a centrist counterpart to New Labour. In retrospect, this was very naive, and the left-wing Cassandras were right: whereas Cameron’s coalition government has followed a generally progressive, Blairite foreign policy, its domestic policy has been aggressively Thatcherite; arguably more so than was Thatcher’s own. The dynamic at work within the Conservative Party appears to be the opposite to that within the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock, John Smith and Tony Blair in the 1980s and 1990s: instead of a moderate leader reining in the radicals, the radicals are pushing the leader away from the centre ground. In the words of the Daily Telegraph‘s Peter Oborne, the Conservative Party is ‘out of control’. Cameron appears to have wanted to temper his government’s economic Thatcherism with some socially and constitutionally liberal policies such as legalising gay marriage and House of Lords reform, but this is not being permitted him by his party; a party that did not even win the last election, but behaves as if it has a mandate to reshape the country according to its own image.

Indeed, what is striking about this contemporary Conservative Party is not merely its actual politics, but the arrogance and sense of entitlement that its politicians and supporters exhibit. My own experience in working with a Tory-dominated organisation, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), which I left at the start of this year, has confirmed me in this view. The HJS is a registered charity that describes itself as a ‘think-tank’, and is perhaps the loudest voice in Britain in favour of war with Iran, if necessary to prevent the country acquiring nuclear weapons. But over and above this, it acts as a network for members of the British elite, particularly Tories, in which – to put it tactfully – boundaries become somewhat blurred.

Aspiring Conservative Party politician Alan Mendoza is a director of at least six registered companies, including the Henry Jackson Society. He received £75,000 in remuneration in 2011 for his work as Executive Director of the HJS; it was an increase of 63.64% on the £45,833 he received for the job in 2010. Mendoza is not only the HJS’s Executive Director, but also one of its trustees, therefore a member of the body that determines his own remuneration. Meetings of the HJS’s board of trustees are quorate with only three of the eight members present, and Mendoza is the only trustee whose signature appears on the trustees’ report and accounts for 2011. The HJS is currently advertising for a personal assistant for Mendoza, with a salary of up to £30,000.

Mendoza is not the only HJS trustee to enjoy also a staff position in the organisation. Lady Caroline Dalmeny was appointed to the board of trustees in July 2010. She was formerly of Saatchi and Saatchi and the Conservative Central Office, and was political assistant for Michael Portillo when he was Secretary of State for Defence and for Lord Strathclyde, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Lords. According to Tatler, ‘Auctioneer Lord Dalmeny’s wife hosts fabulous shooting weekends at their Scottish estate, Dalmeny House. She also once played a cameo part in a film, Scooterman, alongside Ed Stoppard, and has written about the joys of having a “manny” – she’s a mother of five children under 10, including triplets. Makes cracking roast beef.’

During 2011, Dalmeny’s husband, Lord Harry Dalmeny, UK deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, donated interest-free loans totalling £250,000 to the Henry Jackson Society. In 2012, Lady Dalmeny was appointed Associate Director of the HJS, therefore Mendoza’s immediate office subordinate. She has a BA (Hons) from UCL, and is in the process of completing a postgraduate degree at King’s College London. The HJS website describes her as ‘an expert in defence, military history and international relations, an activist for the rights of women in failed states [who] is currently focusing on Afghanistan, Pakistan, East Africa and US-UK relations.’ Her work has not yet appeared on the HJS website.

The HJS is a registered charity, and according to the Charity Commission’s guidelines, ‘a charity cannot exist for a political purpose, which is any purpose directed at furthering the interests of any political party, or securing or opposing a change in the law, policy or decisions either in this country or abroad.’ Nevertheless, when Mendoza was asked in July 2008 by the organisation ConservativeHome ‘to offer 100 word thoughts on how the Conservatives might make some ground on foreign policy’, he responded in his capacity as Executive Director of the HJS, asserting that with ‘Labour heading down the route of international irrelevance, Conservatives should have the courage to explore where to stand on’ various issues.

It is a moot point whether the Charity Commission will ensure that the HJS will abide by its guidelines. The Charity Commission’s new chair, William Shawcross, told the Civilsociety.co.uk website this month: ‘Most of the 160,000 registered charities don’t require regulation – they’re small and they get on with their work properly and independently and it’s only a few that do require to be looked at.’ Shawcross is politically somewhat to the right of Lord Voldemort, and on 19 October 2011 was appointed a member of the board of directors of none other than the Henry Jackson Society.

Shawcross agitated for a Conservative victory in the last general election, on the grounds that ‘New Labour has forced Britain to become a mere piece of the bland but increasingly oppressive Bambiland of the E.U., promoting such PC global issues as gay rights (except in Muslim lands) and man-made climate change’, and ‘Those who hate the rise of the British National Party should blame Labour, not the poor white voters whom Labour abandoned and whose lives have been changed forever by uncontrolled immigration. Last week, two London taxi drivers told me that they were going to vote BNP because it’s the only party that cares at all about them.’ Shawcross has described Guantanamo Bay as representing ‘model justice’ and as being ‘probably the best-run detention centre in the world and with more habeas corpus rights for detainees than anywhere else’, and has claimed that ‘Rupert Murdoch has been the bravest and most radical media owner in Britain in the last 40 years’, whose ‘real crime is to have challenged liberal conventions in the US and here.’

William Shawcross

It was announced on 29 August 2012 that Shawcross was the government’s preferred candidate to head the Charity Commission, and he was elected to the role at a meeting of the Public Administration Select Committee of the House of Commons on 5 September. At the meeting, his membership of the HJS featured prominently in the discussion. One of the participants, Labour MP Paul Flynn, had this to say: ‘A pre-appointment hearing to decide whether William Shawcross is sufficiently politically independent to do the job as head of the Charity Commission. Three of us thought he was not. Four Tories thought he was.’ The chair of the Public Administration Select Committee was Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, himself a member of the Political Council of the Henry Jackson Society, for which he has contributed analysis. Another Conservative member of the committee that elected Shawcross was Robert Halfon MP, who declared ‘that I was a founding patron of the Henry Jackson Society when it was first set up and I am fairly involved with the organisation.’ Halfon is also a member of the HJS’s Political Council. In the view of Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, Shawcross’s appointment was a ‘declaration of intent’ on the part of the government to deal with ‘Labour’s new fifth columnists’ in the ranks of the charities.

Flynn said during the meeting that ‘The Henry Jackson Society is a promoter of a particular view in this House, which is representing rightwing American opinion.’ Shawcross promised that, were he elected chair of the Charity Commission, ‘Obviously I would wish to resign all my memberships of the Henry Jackson Society and other charities with which I am involved.’ Since his election, the old HJS charity has been formally dissolved and a new HJS charity has been registered, of which Shawcross is no longer listed as a trustee. However, he was until recently still listed on various corporate databases as a member of the board of directors of the Henry Jackson Society registered company, whose membership is otherwise identical to the board of trustees of the registered charity.

Shawcross’s biography on the Charity Commission’s website makes no mention of his past involvement with the HJS. However, the website still lists him as the sole trustee of the charity ‘Response’, as does his personal website. Shawcross has a somewhat uneven record as regards respecting Charity Commission guidelines; he chaired Response for 23 years, but as the website Civilsociety.co.uk revealed this month, he ‘did not bother to file its annual update within the recommended good-practice deadline for four out of the last five years… the charity, Response, only filed its updates for 2011 and 2012 five days before Shawcross was announced as preferred candidate for the job [of Charity Commission chair], and the updates for 2010 and 2009 were submitted in June and May of this year.’

Still, no doubt all the rules are being obeyed to the letter.

Update: Since this article was published, Shawcross’s resignation from the board of directors of the HJS has been published as having occurred on 30 September 2012. This article has been modified accordingly.

Below: Alan Mendoza turns on the charm in a debate over Iran at the Cambridge Union Society.

Advertisements

Tuesday, 13 November 2012 Posted by | Britain, Iran, Marko Attila Hoare, Neoconservatism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Croatian immigrants set to swamp the UK, British Labour leader warns

As part of his recently announced policy shift on immigration, whereby he hopes to win a larger share of the votes of the readership of the Sun and the Daily Mail, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has suggested that one of the first steps in Labour’s immigration policy would be to ‘impose maximum transitional controls for 7 years on the future EU accession countries such as Croatia’, The Guardian reported on Thursday. ‘Croatia has a population larger than China’s but poorer than Somalia’s, and unless something is done, millions of Croats are set to flood across Britain’s borders after Croatia joins the EU next year’, Mr Miliband said. ‘It’s all very well to speak about the net economic benefits of immigration, but try telling that to someone who’s just had a Croat family move in next door, and his whole street is smelling of cevapcici.’

Representatives of British football hooliganism expressed their support for Mr Miliband’s stance, citing their fears of being squeezed out of the labour-market by more highly-skilled Croatian competitors working at or below the minimum wage. ‘Croatian soccer fans have a global reputation for assaulting gay marchers and racially abusing black players, yet they’re paid almost nothing. So we’re really concerned about the future of our jobs after Croatia joins the EU’, one said. ‘My ambition is to throw a banana at Mario Balotelli, but the way things are going, I’m worried I may never get the chance. It’s high time that British politicians started listening to the concerns of ordinary people.’

Greater Surbiton News Service

Monday, 25 June 2012 Posted by | Britain, Croatia, Immigration | , | Leave a comment

Scotland has the right to self-determination

As Vladimir Ilyich Lenin said, ‘The more closely the democratic system of state approximates to complete freedom of secession, the rarer and weaker will the striving for secession be in practice’. If you want to keep a multinational union together, the best way to do it is to grant maximum freedom to its constituent nations, which will then have no reason to secede. The benefits of full sovereignty for individual nations can be enjoyed alongside the benefits of a larger union; we can have our cake and eat it too. The Yugoslav union could have been saved if only Serbia’s political classes had been ready to accept its evolution into an eight-member confederation, with its constituent republics and autonomous provinces enjoying complete self-rule. Unfortunately, Serbia’s politicians and intellectuals preferred no union at all to a confederal union. The European Union, for its part, though still a confederation, has already integrated too far, to the point where the sovereignty and democratic rights of its constituent nations are being violated; the British government is rightly resisting further unwanted integration. For multinational unions, less is usually more:

And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

These are factors worth pondering as we witness the British coalition government’s clumsy attempt to dictate to the Scottish people how their referendum on independence should be framed and organised. The government has rejected the idea of a three-question referendum, as favoured by Alex Salmond (Scottish National Party leader and First Minister of Scotland), in which the Scots would be permitted to vote not only in favour of independence or of the status quo, but also of a third option – ‘devolution-max’, or full sovereignty over domestic affairs but with continued membership of the United Kingdom, and a continued common foreign policy and defence. The government is instead insisting on an ‘all or nothing’ referendum, in which Scots would be forced to choose between full independence or the status quo, and on a deadline by which the referendum would be held.

At this rate, the British government might as well simply declare the United Kingdom dissolved. There is no surer way of persuading a constituent nation to secede from a union than by trying to bully its elected representatives in this manner, and restrict its citizens’ right to vote as freely as possible. David Cameron and his ministers will have only themselves to blame if Scotland’s voters, angry at being denied the right to vote freely without interference from London, react by turning in favour of independence. If they want to save the union, Westminster’s politicians should recognise the right of Scotland’s elected representatives to choose when to hold their referendum and on what basis it should be held. With the majority of Scots opposed to independence, there is every reason to believe that granting them the right to devo-max would be the best way to save the union.

I support devo-max for Scotland. I support the right of the Scottish people to have all the sovereign rights that other nations in Europe enjoy. If they want to be fully independent, I respect their right to be. However, I hope they will opt instead for having their cake and eating it. There is no reason why left-wing Scotland should be forced to endure government by right-wing Westminster; a sovereign Scotland will in all likelihood have more enlightened domestic government than the one the UK has at present.

On the other hand, the UK has, since 1997, been a major positive force in world affairs; first under Tony Blair, then under Gordon Brown and now under David Cameron. However regrettable his domestic policies, Cameron’s foreign policy has been almost impeccable; where Blair was a pioneer of progressive foreign policy, Cameron adopted his model and, if anything, improved upon it. It would be a loss for the world if the UK were to be diminished by Scotland’s secession. By contrast, Salmond’s peacenik, anti-nuclear record suggests that an independent Scotland led by him would be likely to obstruct rather than support progressive moves on the global stage by Britain and the West.

Over and above such cold calculations remains the fact that the majority of Scots, like the majority of English and Welsh, continue to identify, at least at some level, with Britain as a whole. Devo-max would best reconcile the self-identification of Scots as Scots with their self-identification  – and the self-identification of the English and Welsh – as Brits.

Some fear that Scottish sovereignty would leave the Conservatives too overwhelmingly dominant in the rump UK. This might not be so straightforward. Comfortable dominance over Labour in a rump UK, and in an English parliament, might lead the English Conservatives to splinter, and see the re-emergence of a gentler, one-nation current of Conservatism in opposition to the currently dominant Thatcherites. At the very least, the establishment of an English parliament would help the English to understand and articulate their own national identity better, as the Scots already do. The Welsh may opt to retain a closer union with England than the other parts of the UK will, but that again is up to them.

PS I have purposely omitted discussing Northern Ireland in this article, as that is a whole different kettle of fish…

Wednesday, 18 January 2012 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare, Scotland, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2011: The year the worms turned

I cannot remember any year of my life being so exciting, in terms of global political developments, as 2011. In a positive way, too: although many of the great events of last year have been far from unambiguous triumphs for human progress and emancipation, they have nevertheless demonstrated that many of the chains that bind humanity are not as immovable as they previously seemed. Though many of the battles remain to be fought and some will be lost, that they are being fought at all is reason for optimism. I haven’t remotely been able to provide adequate comment at this blog, but here is my personal list of the most inspiring events of 2011 – not necessarily in order of importance.

1. The Arab (and Russian !) Spring.

Cynics regret the fall of the Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes, and the likely fall of the Saleh regime, in the belief that these acted as Hobbesian leviathans keeping lids on political Islam. They fail to appreciate that these dictatorships, through preventing the emergence of healthy political pluralism and through opportunistic collaboration with Islamism, acted as the incubators of the very Islamist movements they claimed to keep in check. It is pluralism – more so than democracy – that is ultimately the cure for the evil represented by Islamism. The Arab Spring may end badly in some or all of the countries in question, but hats off to the brave Syrians, Yemenis, Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Bahrainis and others who have redeemed the honour of the Arab world through their heroic struggle against tyranny, showing that change is possible. The Arab fighters against tyranny may not win, or they may succumb to a new tyranny, but they are fighting a struggle that needs to be fought. And hats off too to the brave Russians who are raising the banner of freedom in the heart of Europe’s worst police state.

2. International intervention in Libya and Ivory Coast and the fall of Muammar Gaddafi and Laurent Gbagbo.

For all that I supported the US-led intervention to overthrow the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, events have proven it was an intervention too far: carried out without any form of mandate from world opinion or support in the country in question and attempting a too-radical overthrow of the existing order, it brought democratic change and emancipated the Shia majority and Kurdish minority, but only at great human cost and immense damage to the West’s reputation and to the political standing of the Western governments that participated. By contrast, the intervention in Libya was everything the intervention in Iraq was not: carried out in support of a genuine popular uprising and at the request of Libyans themselves, with a genuine international mandate, it brought down a dictatorship without any foreign troops setting foot in the country or losing their lives. There has been some whining among wishy-washy moderates that regime-change was carried out under cover of a UN mandate to prevent massacre, and that consequently Western leaders have made it more difficult to obtain international support for humanitarian intervention in future. Nonsense: even the propaganda catastrophe of Iraq did not prevent the intervention in Libya, so the successful intervention in Libya will be far from discouraging future interventions. In fact, like the Kosova intervention before it, Libya shows how humanitarian intervention can work, as did the international intervention that helped bring about the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, followed by his arrest and deportation to the International Criminal Court where, we hope, more of his fellow tyrants will end up.

3. The rise in the West of protests at the abuses of capitalism.

For much of the past fifteen years or so of my life, I felt I was gradually becoming more right-wing (from an admittedly extreme-left-wing starting-point), to the point where, at the last British general election, I adopted a bi-partisan standpoint vis-a-vis Labour and the Conservatives. I have seen, and continue to see myself, as a centrist rather than a leftist. Well, the events in the UK, the rest of Europe and the US have certainly served as a wake-up call to me, as the mainstream political right and the super-rich – not to put too fine a point on it – are simply taking the piss. Here in the UK, public services are being massacred while those in the corporate and financial sectors pay themselves vast and unearned bonuses, and the authorities turn a blind eye to their blatant tax-evasion. We’re supposed to believe that cutting the incomes of ordinary working- and middle-class people is necessary in the name of deficit-reduction, while cutting taxes for the rich and for corporations is necessary in the name of economic stimulus ! Well, you can’t have it both ways. In the US, the Republicans have gone so far to the right in their support of selfish and irresponsible tax-cuts for the rich that they’ve gone completely off the rails, seriously jeopardising their government’s ability to navigate the economic crisis. With mainstream centre-left leaders like Barack Obama and Ed Miliband failing to show any backbone over this, it is left to grass-roots activist movements to do so. So three cheers for Los Indignados, Occupy Wall Street, 38 Degrees, UK Uncut and all such movements, for doing what our elected representatives are failing to do. I never thought I’d say that, but there it is.

4. The fall of Silvio Berlusconi and popular protests in Greece.

The fall of the corrupt sleazeball is a bittersweet triumph, given that it occurred in the context of the EU’s imposition of brutal austerity programmes across the Eurozone, accompanied by creeping integration that violates both the national sovereignty and democratic will of member states. The cause of deeper EU integration has revealed itself to be a deeply undemocratic, anti-people cause. I have been very critical of the Greek political classes for their criminal regional policies, vis-a-vis Milosevic, Macedonia, etc.; the Greek people, by contrast, in the ferocious fight they are putting up against the EU-imposed austerity measures, have set an example to us all. Let the costs of the economic crisis be born by the bankers and politicians who caused it, not by ordinary people and future generations.

5. The phone-hacking scandal in the UK.

All my life in the UK, I have lived in the belief that the tabloid newspapers and particularly the Murdoch media empire are a great incubus on British politics and society, encouraging everything that is worst in our country: xenophobia, small-mindedness, vulgarity, philistinism, voyeurism and sleaze. So how refreshing and liberating it is, to see them being taken down a peg or two. There is no reason why people’s private lives and feelings should be constantly violated, and intimate personal details splashed all over newspapers, by hack reporters pandering to the worst public instincts; it is time that the UK passed some serious privacy laws, to put an end to the permanent national scandal and embarrassment of our tabloid press. However uninspiring Ed Miliband may be as Labour Party leader, he deserves credit for bravely taking on the Murdoch empire. Let’s hope the Daily Mail goes the way of the News of the World – that would go a long way toward solving our supposed ‘immigration crisis’ !

6. Independence for South Sudan.

What a sad day it is for democracy, when a genocidal dictatorship accomplishes what various flawed democracies seem unable to do, and negotiates the independence from it of an oppressed region. In July, South Sudan formally became an independent state and joined the UN. Congratulations to its people, who have shown that even the most brutal struggle for freedom can have a happy ending ! Meanwhile, Turkey is escalating its terror and repression of its Kurdish population; Serbia continues to block and disrupt Kosova’s independence, with Serb extremists creating chaos in northern Kosova and undermining Serbia’s EU aspirations; and Israel continues to obstruct peace with the Palestinians through its settlement-building programme and Apartheid-style occupation regime in the West Bank – to which its apologists turn a blind eye, while they try to blame the Palestinians for wanting to join the UN and UNESCO ! Shame on the democratic world.

7. Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the International Court of Justice and Palestinian membership of UNESCO. 

Were the democratic world to apply liberal and democratic principles fairly and consistently, it would be extremely easy to bring about solutions to the Macedonian-Greek and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, that would respect and safeguard the rights of all four nations in question. Unfortunately, the EU over Greece and Macedonia and the US over Israel and Palestine, far from acting as honest brokers in negotiations to end these conflicts, are simply supporting the hardline nationalist agendas of the stronger sides. They hypocritically talk of ‘negotiated settlements’ while ensuring that pressure is only put on the weaker sides, never on the stronger. When they say they want both sides to negotiate, what they really mean is that they want one side to surrender. The Macedonians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice over what’s in their national interest from EU apparatchiks, just as the Palestinians would have to be stark, raving mad if they followed advice from craven US officials. Do they really want their countries to end up like Bosnia, whose leaders in the 1990s were unwise enough to follow ‘advice’ of this kind ?? So what an inspiring example these nations are setting when they refuse to follow the advice of hypocrites, and pursue justice in a dignified, civilised manner through international institutions. Palestine’s admission to UNESCO in October followed by Macedonia’s victory over Greece at the ICJ in December are two blows struck for democracy and human rights that Western leaders seem unable to uphold.

8. The fall of Dominique Strauss-Khan and the acquittal of Amanda Knox.

At one level, the collapse of the sexual assault case in New York against Dominique Strauss-Khan suggests that even in the US, it may be legal for a rich sexually to assault a hotel maid, provided the maid in question has a personal history that’s marginally less unblemished by sin than that of the Virgin Mary, and has done something satanically evil like telling a lie during her asylum application. As has long been said, in rape cases it’s often the victim rather than the rapist who is on trial. For all that, Nafissatou Diallo’s accusation against Strauss-Khan did succeed in ending the political career of a violent misogynist with a history of attacking women, forcing his resignation as IMF chief and wrecking his French presidential bid. And in encouraging other female victims of sexual assault, at the hands of him and of others, to come forward. Another spectacular victory over misogyny was won in October, when Amanda Knox was acquitted by an Italian court on appeal of murdering her flatmate, having been originally convicted in something resembling a medieval witch-trial. Again, she was convicted not on the basis of the evidence against her, since there wasn’t any, but because she was good looking and sexually active, pursued what was in conservative Italian eyes an unorthodox lifestyle, and did not behave like a tearful female stereotype after her flatmate’s murder. Soon after, an apparently respectable boy-next-door, Vincent Tabak, was convicted of murdering his neighbour, Joanna Yeates. Initially overlooked by police until he incriminated himself, he turned out to have a secret fixation with strangling women. So there you have it.

9. The killing of Osama bin Laden and the arrest of Ratko Mladic.

Justice finally caught up in 2011 with two mass-murderers whose long evasion of justice made them symbols of ‘resistance’ for the worst kind of extremists. Mladic turned out not to be as brave as he had been when he was directing the genocidal massacre of defenceless Bosniak civilians at Srebrenica, and surrendered quietly to the Serbian police. Bin Laden was, by contrast, whacked in Pakistan by US special forces, as was his follower Anwar al-Awlaki by a US drone attack in Yemen later in the year, in both cases prompting much hand-wringing by wishy-washy liberal types of the Yasmin Alibhai-Brown variety, who seem to be under the impression that it’s possible for the US peacefully to arrest terrorists based in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict with those terrorists, as if the latter were pickpockets in New York. They would do well to remember the Allied assassination of Holocaust-architect Reinhard Heydrich in 1942, and of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the architect of Pearl Harbour, the following year – we certainly didn’t try to arrest them ! And of course, based on what happened to former Republika Srpska vice-president Biljana Plavsic, an international court might have just sentenced bin Laden to a few years in prison, then let him out early.

10. The referendum defeat for the ‘Alternative Vote’ in the UK.

Not as significant as the above events, but it made me happy anyway.

Happy New Year !

Sunday, 1 January 2012 Posted by | Arabs, Britain, Egypt, Greece, Islam, Israel, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East, Misogyny, NATO, Russia, Sudan | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The blogosphere as a whole is guilty for the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’ hoax

A blogger creates a false identity and feels free to tell a whole multitude of lies, without any concern for those he is deceiving or for the dangerous consequences for some of them. The Pope is Catholic. Bears crap in the woods. The Tom MacMaster scandal is merely the tip of a very ugly iceberg: the blogosphere.

In some other places and at some other times, people were prepared to suffer persecution as the price of speaking out. Dissidents were ready to spend decades in prison and endure torture and ruin, or risk assault or assassination, because they spoke in their own name. There were gods other than comfort and self-gratification. Unfortunately, things are different today in the Western democratic world, where people have become so pampered by freedom, and so averse to anything that smacks of risk, that they indulge in the pleasure of speaking their mind without accepting the responsibility that comes with putting their name to what they say.

That a society which upholds freedom of speech, and which provides its citizens with unprecedented opportunities to exercise it, should also be one in which the vast majority that comments on the internet does so anonymously, is a symptom of the cowardice and the corruption of spirit that are corroding Western public ethics. Not for us, the path of a Martin Luther King, an Andrei Sakharov, a Vaclav Havel or an Aung San Suu Kyi. No, your Western blogger or commenter is unwilling to write under their real name, because they fear ‘problems in the workplace’. Or else the poor little darlings are worried that they may say something embarrassing and not be able to delete it afterwards. It’s a jolly good thing that earlier generations did all the hard work of fighting for democracy and human rights, because our present generation clearly would not be up to the task; would not be willing to risk so much as a scratched finger in the cause of struggling for freedoms that we take for granted.

From there, it is a short step to feeling possessed of the right to create false personas, then multiple false personas, so that every other blogger becomes an aspiring little Talented Mr Ripley. Inevitably, some, like MacMaster, will become so carried away by their adventures of deceit that they will end up seriously hurting or endangering others. Scams like his are structurally inherent in the nature of the blogosphere.

This is part of a more general malaise of selfishness that is eating away at the Western world. People fetishise rights and freedoms but despise duty and responsibility. They don’t want to pay taxes so that other people can have free university education, or even free healthcare. Some, probably most extremely rich people think it is entirely appropriate to make vast sums of money through the existing order, yet to evade as much as possible giving any of it back in taxes. Others see nothing wrong with spending their whole life living off state benefits, without any attempt at getting a job. Men and women have extraordinarily high expectations of romantic relationships, yet are frequently unwilling to give even a fraction emotionally of what it takes to make a relationship work.

Having said this, I do not blame any individual for choosing to blog or comment anonymously; some, if not most, of my favourite bloggers do so. It is the collectivity that is to blame; it has created an atmosphere in which it is more and more psychologically difficult for people to write under their real names – like being the only nudists on a crowded beach. Fear of writing under one’s own name may be justified, in some cases at least, given the toleration accorded by lazy comments moderators to abuse and even violent threats; their creation of an atmosphere that encourages intimidation. The selfish, spoilt, decadent, phoney morality of the blogosphere privileges liars, frauds, trolls, bullies, libellers, rumour-mongers, hate-mailers, stalkers and vulgarians over honest, decent commenters – all in the name of a ‘freedom of speech’ that it clearly does not understand.

Let me spell out a few truths that should be obvious but apparently are not. If a woman office-worker turns up at her office and finds the notice board covered with anonymous messages calling her a ‘bitch’ and a ‘slut’, and accusing her of sleeping around to gain promotion, and she complains to the manager, and if the manager then refuses to allow the messages to be removed, then he is not standing up for ‘freedom of speech’; he is colluding with sexual harassment. If an ugly, overweight or mentally retarded teenage girl is mercilessly teased by her classmates at school until she is finally driven to hang herself, the teachers that failed to stop the bullying were not ‘respecting freedom of speech’; they were criminally negligent. Yet blog (non-)moderators apparently don’t understand the difference between harassment and ‘freedom of speech’.

The anonymity and the laxness of the blogosphere corrupt our public discourse, as extraordinary expressions of vulgarity, hatred and venom, or of dishonesty, or of inaccuracy and laziness in the written word, are first treated as acceptable by bloggers, after which the rot spreads to other media. Yet the brave soul who tries to take a stand against this tide calls down upon themselves all the blogosphere’s hypocritical, righteous indignation.

When an elected Conservative councillor called publicly via Twitter for the columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown – of whom I’m myself no fan – to be ‘stoned to death’, and she announced her intention of reporting him to the police, there were those who somehow believed he was the victim. Apparently, our elected representatives aren’t actually expected to set any kind of example of correct behaviour. When a frustrated traveller stuck at an airport threatened via Twitter to ‘blow the airport sky high’ and was consequently arrested under the Terrorism Act, this ‘martyr’ and his subsequent supporters apparently considered the tough job the police have to do fighting terrorism to be simply less important than the right to throw a wholly irresponsible public tantrum for suffering an inconvenience that millions of people experience every year. Hello ? Are you not aware that we’re fighting a mortal struggle against terrorists trying to destroy the freedom to tweet, and that our police have a difficult enough job to do without you adding these complications ?

Blogging is a responsibility as well as a pleasure. If you blog, you should take responsibility for what you say. If you really must remain anonymous, don’t say things that you would consider embarrassing or inappropriate under your real name. Either moderate the comments ethically, or keep the comments closed; don’t pretend you’re some sort of champion of the little blogger who can’t afford paid moderators, just because you can’t be bothered to moderate.

If you write something on your blog and it turns out to be grossly untrue, it should rightly affect your reputation. The knowledge that what you say might turn out to be false should act as an incentive to be very careful with what you say. If other people suffer as a result of your words, you should rightly be held to account – not in the sense of the secret police turning up to throw you in prison, but in a manner appropriate for a democracy; you should suffer the public opprobrium. If you are dishonest, sloppy, unreliable, vulgar or abusive, you should be known as such. Your face should not remain youthful and unblemished, like Dorian Gray’s, while the portrait in the attic is distorted beyond recognition by the ugliness of your sins.

There should be no freedom of speech without responsibility of speech; no freedom without responsibility. If you aren’t prepared to pay your fair share of taxes to support the healthcare, education, welfare and security of your fellow citizens – upon whom you and your prosperity ultimately depend – you have no business making money. Progressives know this, so they should stop upholding selfishness in one field while they criticise it in others. Because quite frankly, if the ugly mess we have today is ‘freedom of speech’, then it’s time to question the concept.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011 Posted by | Britain | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Guardian’s disgraceful treatment of Jelena Lecic

As one of the many people who unthinkingly linked on my Facebook page to the campaign for the release of ‘Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari’, a supposed lesbian Syrian dissident blogger who wrote under the title ‘A Gay Girl in Damascus’ and who was supposedly arrested by the Syrian authorities, I have been following the exposure of this hoax with a mixture of outrage and fascination tinged with embarrassment. The perpetrator, a 40-year old American Master’s student at Edinburgh University called Tom MacMaster, described as a ‘Middle East activist’ by The Guardian, has humiliated and discredited those who honourably campaigned on behalf of this apparently worthy cause; put real Syrian dissidents and LGBT activists who stuck their necks out to help ‘Amina Abdallah’ at real risk; diverted attention away from real victims of the Syrian regime; and has made it much more difficult for such victims to be heard in future. It reflects an immorality of sociopathic dimensions.

Not least of MacMaster’s victims is Jelena Lecic, a Croatian woman living in London and an administrator at the Royal College of Physicians. He stole photos of her from her Facebook account and passed them off as photos of the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’. As ‘Amina Abdallah’ became a cause celebre, Lecic’s face was splashed all over websites and newspapers. This case of identity theft therefore had thousands of unwitting accomplices. One of these was The Guardian, which published two different photos of Lecic along with articles about ‘Amina Abdallah’ on 7 May and 7 June. In response to the second of these photos, Lecic phoned the Guardian at 4pm on Tuesday, 7 June to inform them that the picture was not of ‘Amina Abdallah’, but in fact of her, and demanded that the photo be taken down. The Guardian ignored this call, a subsequent call from her an hour later, and a call from her friend, demanding that the photo be removed. Lecic consequently appealed to the Press Complaints Commission, which promptly forced the Guardian to remove the photo by 6.45pm. However, the Guardian substituted it with the photo of Lecic from its earlier article.

All these details come from the Guardian‘s own lengthy attempt at self-justification, written by the newspaper’s readers’ editor, Chris Elliot. In his words, ‘The Guardian did not remove all the pictures until 6pm on Wednesday 8 June, 27 hours after Jelena Lecic first called the Guardian. It took too long for this to happen, for which we should apologise (see today’s Corrections and clarifications). The mitigating factors are… [etc.]’ Elliot does not actually link to the ‘apology’ in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, and one has to hunt around to find it, but here it is:

‘Guardian articles about Amina Abdallah Araf al Omari, a blogger on the subject of Middle East unrest, carried photographs purporting to show the blog’s author. In fact, the person pictured was Jelena Lecic, who lives in the UK. We apologise to her. An account of how these pictures came to be used appears in today’s Open door column on page 27 (Syrian revolt finds an unlikely heroine – an outspoken, half-American lesbian blogger, 7 May, page 24; Armed gang abducts gay blogger, 7 June, page 14; Fears for outspoken Syrian blogger after Damascus arrest, 8 June, page 16 [all with links]).’

So ‘We apologise to her.’ is the sum total of the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic for colluding in her identity theft, in a paragraph otherwise devoted helpfully to directing readers to Elliot’s effort at self-justification. Note that this constitutes a – highly curt – apology for misusing her photos, but there is no apology for ignoring her calls and disbelieving her; for forcing her to turn to the Press Complaints Commission; or for then republishing a second photo of her after the latter had forced it to remove the first.

As Lecic told the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman [see video above], ‘most of all, I was very upset with The Guardian, because I’ve complained, twice yesterday, and nobody got in touch with me… For me, it’s been very upsetting, and obviously it got involved my family; my friends; I’ve been disturbed at work. It’s just astonishing that just anybody can use your picture and put a story together, and before you know it, it’s everywhere.’ Readers should watch the whole video, and then see if they think the Guardian‘s apology was adequate.

Also notable is Elliot’s repeated reference to Lecic, whom he describes as a ‘distraught young woman’, throughout his article by her first name. No doubt, the UK’s flagship liberal daily newspaper thinks that this familiar form of address is appropriate when referring to someone it has wronged, when that person a) works in admin; b) is a woman; and c) comes from a Balkan country.

We can compare the Guardian‘s treatment of Lecic to the rather more fulsome and generous, indeed grovelling apology it made to the celebrity radical left-wing genocide denier, Noam Chomsky, five and a half years ago, also in the ‘Corrections and clarifications’ section of the newspaper, after its journalist, Emma Brockes, had been guilty of an error of detail in describing Chomsky’s views on the Srebrenica massacre. There was certainly no reference then to the complainant by his first name, or reference to him as a ‘distraught elderly man’; it was ‘Prof Chomsky’ this and ‘Prof Chomsky’ that. One use of ‘Professor Chomsky’ and thirteen of ‘Prof Chomsky’ in the space of a single apology ! By contrast, the Guardian‘s apology to Lecic used her name only once, in full, then directed its readers to a text which refers to the ‘distraught young woman’ six times by her first name.

That, dear readers, is how women are treated by The Guardian – the flagship liberal newspaper in the land of the Suffragettes and Sylvia Pankhurst. Maybe if Lecic had published an article or two on ZNet denying the Srebrenica massacre, like Chomsky’s friends often do, the Guardian might have addressed her as ‘Ms Lecic’ ?

Hat tip: Joseph W., Harry’s Place

Monday, 13 June 2011 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Does AV give extremists more votes than moderates ?

In my recent post criticising the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) system, I explained why the system is unfair, and why it effectively privileges voters for fringe parties over those voting for mainstream parties. I argued also that AV effectively gives them more votes. Defenders of AV such as Norm Geras and Alex Massie deny that this is true. However, the pro-AV camp appears to be making two, contradictory arguments in defence of the system: 1) that it does not give those voting for extremist parties more votes than moderates; and 2) that it does, but that this is a good thing.

Hence, The Independent newspaper defends AV on the grounds that

‘the curse of the first-past-the-post system – the argument that a vote for a smaller party is “wasted” – would be eliminated at a stroke, because the second preference votes of lower-placed candidates would be reallocated if the first count failed to produce a clear winner. The public will be able to vote for the person they want to represent them (as their first preference) without having to agonise about whether they are effectively disenfranchising themselves if they choose a candidate representing a smaller party.’

Under the present First-Past-The-Post system, each voter has one vote and a choice over how to cast it: either they can express their unhappiness with mainstream politics by voting for a fringe party, in the knowledge that the fringe candidate has no chance of winning, or they can vote for a mainstream candidate whom they may or may not actually like but who does have a chance of winning. Because they only have one vote, they cannot do both. Under AV, however, they can have their cake and eat it.

Thus, a BNP supporter wishing to express his disgust at what he feels is the failure of mainstream politicians to keep the hordes of job-stealing, council-house-queue-jumping foreigners out and the pesky, halal-munching, integration-avoiding Muslims downs, but who when push comes to shove would generally vote for the Tories since they’re at least a bit tougher on immigration than Labour, could now do both: he could cast his vote for the BNP candidate and thereby boost the BNP’s share of the vote nationally, in order to send out a clear message to the decadent, unpatriotic liberal elite running the country that the silent majority is angry with the way things are, AND could then have his vote transferred to the Tory candidate; a vote that will then count just as much as a first-preference Tory vote from an actual Tory supporter.

I call that having two votes instead of one. Someone voting with their first-preference vote for Labour or another mainstream party, by contrast, has done just one of those things. The Labour voter has voted for a party with a chance of winning; the BNP voter has voted for a party with a chance of winning AND boosted the votes of another, fringe party that has no chance of winning, but that will undoubtedly claim greater legitimacy and make political capital the more votes it gets. So AV would provide a definite incentive to vote for a fringe party while putting a mainstream party as your second choice, so as to make the most of your vote.

Responding to my last post, which used an example to show how supporters of the fringe party would receive an unfair advantage over the supporters of the mainstream party because the system redistributes their votes first, Norm has given a counter-example of what he suggests is an equally unfair result under the existing system:

‘In Lower Zogby by the Fen 35 people vote Tory first, 33 vote Labour first, and 32 vote LibDem first. But the Labour voters would prefer the LibDem to the Tory, and the LibDem voters would prefer the Labour candidate to the Tory. As is, with first-past-the-post, the preferences of 67 out of 100 people to have a candidate elected other than the Tory are nullified, where with AV Labour would win.’

Certainly, there are unfair aspects of the existing system, and unfair results possible under it. I’m not convinced that the example Norm cites is particularly unfair, since it involves, after all, the candidate who won the most votes winning. But if one concedes that it is unfair, then it is unfair in practice; in that particular instance, the LibDem and Labour candidates have split the left/liberal vote and allowed the Tory to win. In another instance, it might be an anti-Labour majority that is split between the Tories and the LibDems. The AV system, however, privileges the voters for fringe parties in principle, since if you are a fringe-party supporter, the system will always work in your favour – or at the very worst, will never work against you. The First-Past-The-Post system is fair in principle but unfair in practice; the AV system is unfair in principle.

Having said that, Norm’s example points to a genuine pragmatic argument for voting for AV, one that has been made by Timothy Garton Ash, Polly Toynbee and others: the fact that under the existing system, the liberal portion of the British electorate is split between the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, bestowing a structural advantage on the Conservatives, and that the way to end disproportionate Conservative success at the polls is to abolish First Past the Post. This argument appears much weaker after last year’s general election: the Conservatives failed to win under First Past the Post, but were rescued by the Liberal Democrats; instead of joining with Labour to form a centre-left government representing Britain’s ‘natural liberal majority’, the LibDems gave the non-victorious Conservatives a parliamentary majority to implement a radical Thatcherite programme for which they had no popular mandate. AV would make more such Con-Dem coalitions likely.

My solution for the electoral split in the centre-left, is for the LibDems to experience electoral meltdown at the next general election and effectively to disappear as a significant party. Instead of which, AV would breathe life into the discredited and moribund LibDems, empowering future Nick Cleggs to play kingmaker between Labour and the Conservatives after future elections. AV would exacerbate the split in the centre-left, not make it go away.

Visit the ‘No to AV‘ campaign site.

Saturday, 2 April 2011 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Alternative Vote system – a ‘Cunning Plan’

On 5 May, British voters will vote in a referendum on whether to replace our existing ‘First Past the Post’ voting system for parliamentary elections with the ‘Alternative Vote’ (AV) system. I had not previously examined the implications of AV and had no prior ideological bias for or against it. But having now had a chance to look at how AV would work, I am literally dumbfounded that our great democracy is under threat of being lumbered with this cruel joke of a voting system.

Under AV, voters would not just give one vote to one candidate, but would list candidates in order of preference – putting ‘1’ for their first-choice candidate, ‘2’ for their second choice, etc. In the likely event that no candidate received an absolute majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest such votes would be eliminated from the contest, and their voters’ second-choice votes would then be added to the total votes of the other candidates. If there were still no candidate with an absolute majority, the candidate who now had fewest votes would then be eliminated and their votes redistributed, and so on until one candidate had achieved over 50% of the votes.

This system would increase the voting power of voters who vote for fringe parties such as the BNP or Respect, and disadvantage those voting for moderate, mainstream parties. Those voting for the fringe extremists would be likely to have their votes redistributed to their second, third or further choice; those voting for the mainstream parties would be much less likely to. Effectively, supporters of unpopular extremist parties would be given more votes than supporters of popular moderate parties.

To illustrate this, imagine a hypothetical constituency with 100 voters, being contested by four candidates from the following parties: Labour, the Conservatives (Tories), the Liberal Democrats (LibDems) and the British National Party (BNP). To win, a candidate would ultimately have to achieve 51 votes [NB I am aware, of course, that real constituencies have more than 100 voters, and that the distribution of votes is likely to be more complicated than what follows; this is a simplified but representative model of how AV would work].

In the first round of voting, the outcome is as follows:

Labour: 40 votes – second-choice votes to LibDems

Tory: 29 votes – second-choice votes to LibDems

LibDem: 16 votes – second-choice votes to Tories

BNP: 15 votes – second-choice votes to Tories

The BNP candidate, as the lowest-ranking, is therefore eliminated and their votes transferred to their voters’ second choice – in this case, the Tory candidate, whose votes would therefore increase to 29 + 15 = 44 votes. Since still no candidate has a majority, the next lowest candidate – the LibDem – is eliminated and their votes transferred to their voters’ second choice – again the Tory. The Tory candidate thus has 44 + 16 = 60 votes, therefore an absolute majority, and wins the election.

The system is grossly unfair at every level:

1) It is the lowest-ranking candidate alone whose votes are redistributed. It privileges those voting for the lowest-ranking candidates, and penalises those voting for the more popular candidates.

Why shouldn’t it be the highest-ranking candidate whose votes are redistributed ? In the example above, this would mean the Labour candidate is eliminated, and their 40 votes transferred to the LibDem, who would then have 16 + 40 = 56 and would win the election. The Labour voters, who actually voted for the candidate with the most first-preference votes, would therefore at least have their second-choice candidate win. Yet under AV, the BNP voters – not the Labour voters – would have their second choice win.

Why should this be so ? I have not yet heard any attempt at justification from the pro-AV camp.

2) AV pretends that a candidate who might not even have a plurality under the First-Past-The-Post system, actually has an absolute majority. It’s a con-trick.

In the example above, the Tory candidate who won only 29 out of 100 votes, therefore 11 fewer than the Labour candidate and 22 short of an absolute majority, is given a ‘majority’ through the second-preference votes of the BNP and LibDem voters. This ‘majority’ is gained because only the second-choice votes of the BNP and LibDem voters count. If everyone’s second-choice votes counted, the result would be as follows:

Labour: 40 first-preference votes and 0 second-preference votes = 40

Tory: 29 first-preference votes and 31 second-preference votes = 60

LibDem: 16 first-preference votes and 69 second-preference votes = 85

BNP: 15 first-preference votes and 0 second-preference votes = 15

Under AV, the Tory candidate wins because they receive the second-preference votes of the BNP and LibDem voters, but the LibDem candidate doesn’t receive any second-preference votes, even though they received many more of them than the Tory. Were all second-preference votes to be treated as equal, the LibDem would win. Of course, the LibDem candidate only has 85 out of 200 total first- and second-preference votes – not an absolute majority. But this is more than the Tory candidate, who has 60 out of 200. The latter is a smaller percentage than the Labour candidate received of the first-preference votes. Yet the pro-AV camp would have us believe that the Tory candidate actually has an absolute majority of 60 out of 100 !

There is simple justice to the existing system: the candidate with the most votes wins. Under AV, a candidate who comes second or third might win, just because the votes are redistributed in an arbitrary and unequal way. In the example above, the Tory would win, even though 71 out of 100 voters preferred another candidate.

If, under the existing voting system, the British people don’t already feel politically disillusioned and disempowered, replacing it with AV would make sure that they do.

And all this is leaving aside the still more important reason for voting against AV – the overriding need to kick Nick Clegg. I’m not joking. We’re only voting on AV because of the back-room deal that Clegg struck with the Tories to enter government, at the price of ditching his pre-election promises and betraying his voters. And Clegg only wants AV because it would boost his party’s share of the parliamentary seats. It beggars belief that we are actually in danger of having our voting system ruined, just so an unprincipled politician can receive his pay-off. And this despite the fact that even Clegg described AV as a ‘miserable little compromise’ !

Visit the ‘No to AV’ campaign site.

Thursday, 31 March 2011 Posted by | Britain, Marko Attila Hoare | , , , | Leave a comment

Libya – What next ?

Contre nous de la tyrannie, L’étendard sanglant est levé
– La Marseillaise

The sight of the democratic world standing back and watching while a particularly murderous but not especially militarily formidable dictator drowned a popular uprising in blood, after its representatives begged for our help, while his own neighbours demanded military action against him, on the doorstep of Europe, was too heartbreaking to bear. However little it would have taken to stop him, the West appeared to have insufficent will. The whining of the Cassandras was incessant – from ‘Arabs are not fit for democracy’ t0 ‘we’ll be sucked into the quagmire’ to ‘we don’t have the money for another war’. Yet in the end, it proved too much for Western leaders as well.

The credit goes above all to David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy, Alain Juppe, Susan Rice, the wonderful Samantha Power and, perhaps, Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has proven himself a vacillator in the mould of Bill Clinton, but this time the US president’s European allies pushed him forward instead of holding him back. Clinton came to office at the start of 1993 correctly inclined to intervene to stop the slaughter in Bosnia, but was rapidly deflected by the British and French and sent down the dishonourable path of appeasement; conversely, Obama was initially opposed to intervention in Libya, but was led down the right path by the current leaders of the very same nations. Britain is not an irrelevant poodle of the Americans; its voice does count. Though I disagree with almost all Cameron’s domestic policies, he has already made a tremendous positive difference on the world stage . And though I have been repeatedly horrified by Sarkozy’s policies in the past – toward Turkey, Macedonia, Georgia, gypsies – he has redeemed himself on this occasion. Some have suggested that he has been motivated by the desire to boost his flagging ratings before forthcoming elections, but it is actions, not purity of motives, that matter.

It is twenty years since Western and Arab states came together with UN backing to resist Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. That was a legitimate and justified intervention to defend a small nation from aggression, but it was waged in the most reactionary manner possible. The Emir of Kuwait’s undemocratic regime was restored to power without any requirement to democratise, and the Iraqi people, whom President Bush had called upon to rise up against Saddam, were betrayed when they followed his advice. Bush actually preferred the survival of Saddam’s dictatorship to his overthrow by Kurds, Shias and other Iraqis. But the West has come along way since then. Even today, plenty of voices have been heard of people who apparently dislike Arabs and Muslims so much that they would prefer even a murderous, racist, genocide-promoting and terrorism-sponsoring tyrant like Gaddafi to stay in power to keep them down. Yet unlike in the days of Bush Sr, it is no longer possible for the West openly to side with a Gaddafi or a Saddam against a popular uprising.

The success of the international intervention against Gaddafi is crucial to encourage the pro-democracy movements in the Arab world, to reassure their followers that the West is with them, and to strengthen those Western currents that are on their side, against those who prefer the dictators. But inevitably, there has been plenty of whataboutery from the usual suspects. Cameron effectively dealt with one such in the House of Commons on Friday:

Jeremy Corbyn: ‘Is the Prime Minister now suggesting we should develop a foreign policy that would be prepared to countenance intervention elsewhere where there are attacks on civilians, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman or Bahrain ? I hope he has thought this whole thing through.’

David Cameron: ‘Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere.’

End of.

Corbyn’s argument was disingenuous; if Cameron had simultaneously argued for intervening in all those places and Libya at once, he would have been accused by various Corbyns of being a crazy warmonger who wanted to fight the whole world, but if he concentrates on Libya he’s accused of being inconsistent. That is the way these people operate; they banged on about how the Iraq war was ‘illegal’ because it wasn’t supported by a UN Security Council resolution, but now that this intervention is supported by such a resolution, they’re still opposed. There is a certain type of leftist whose sole raison d’etre is to rubbish and sabotage every positive initiative that Western leaders try to take on the world stage, purely as an end in itself. Leftists of this kind are, quite simply, a scourge.

In fact, the West’s intervention in defence of the Libyan rebels will put us in a much stronger position to exercise leverage over the despots of the Gulf, and prod them away from repression. The repression in Bahrain and the Saudi intervention should be seen as a direct consequence of the Obama Administration’s prior demonstrable lack of enthusiasm for the pro-democracy agitation in the Arab world; Obama dithered over Libya, and the Gulf despots took the hint. But credit where it’s due; Obama came down on the right side in the end (though the thought that the West would have left the Libyan rebels to their fate if Russia or China had vetoed the UN Security Council resolution is a worrying one). Our next step should be to follow through with the Libyan intervention by applying heavy pressure on Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to lift their repression, and vocally to support the pro-democracy movement in Bahrain. Libya is just a stage in a long struggle for freedom in the Arab world that isn’t going to be concluded tomorrow.

The biggest danger is that Libya will remain messy. Western leaders have correctly rejected the possibility of deploying ground troops, so this is not a danger of an Afghanistan-style military quagmire. Rather, the danger is that a combination of resiliance among the Gaddafi camp and fragmentation, division and Islamist currents among the rebels will combine to render Libya a failed state suffering perpetual instability – in that respect, like Afghanistan, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. The longer the civil war in Libya goes on, the more difficult it will be for the country to recover – something that will demoralise both the region and the West.

Western leaders cannot engage in statebuilding in Libya, but they can engage in a concerted diplomatic effort aimed at resolving the Libyan civil war. The emphasis should be on pressurising Gaddafi and his family to leave Libya, while arming and supplying the Benghazi-based rebels. But the aim should be simultaneously to prepare the ground for a negotiated end to the conflict between Gaddafi’s former supporters and the rebels, which could take effect once the tyrant has gone. Such a strategy would, hopefully, encourage further defections from the Gaddafi camp, possibly even a palace coup against him.

The immediate aim of the intervention was to save Benghazi, Misurata and other rebel-held towns. But now that the basic military task appears to have been achieved, there will be a lot of hard work ahead.

Monday, 21 March 2011 Posted by | Arabs, Britain, France, Islam, Libya, Marko Attila Hoare, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sanela Diana Jenkins, misogyny and anti-Balkan racism

Sanela Diana Jenkins is a highly successful businesswoman and philanthropist, and the founder of the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her interviewer for The Observer, Carole Cadwalladr, has this to say about her: ‘She was born Sanela Catic to a humble Bosnian family, but there’s no doubt that Diana Jenkins is a classic romantic heroine: beautiful and bright, resourceful and determined, who rises above her background through sheer grit and force of will, and whose final apotheosis is achieved by a good marriage.’

Diana’s husband Roger Jenkins, one of the richest bankers in Britain, says ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today without her. I can do anything now. I surrender to her better judgment on people and business.’ He maintained this opinion of her even after their separation was announced, saying that if they divorced, ‘Will she take half my money? Of course. And quite rightly so. I will happily give it to her.’ In Cadwalladr’s words, ‘although he was well off by most people’s standards, when she met him he wasn’t the insanely rich mega-banker that he’s become.’ According to The Daily Mail, ‘he credited his wife with charming the Qatari royal family into parting with £7.3billion last December. The Middle East investment deal rescued his employer Barclays at the height of the credit crunch.’ Residing in California, she mixes with the highest rank of the global elite, including celebrity friends such as George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and Elton John.

Jenkins is, in short, a self-made woman and success story by anyone’s standards. However, in the eyes of the London circles to which her husband belonged, there were three things wrong with her: 1) she was good-looking; 2) she was blonde; and 3) she was from Bosnia. The Daily Telegraph paraphrased her has saying that ‘society snobs drove me out of London’. In her own words: ‘They treated me like I was an Eastern European mail-order bride. I realised that, unfortunately, with social girls, if you have a big diamond ring they will talk to you, so I wore a diamond ring. Well, actually, when we could afford it, my lovely husband bought me a diamond ring. It hurt him to see how snobbily I was treated.’

A woman who is both young and beautiful and highly successful is likely to provoke a misogynistic reaction in many quarters, including among women (you only need to read the comments of Daily Mail readers or watch the Jeremy Kyle Show to see that men have no monopoly on misogyny). But for a certain type of English person the resentment will be much greater if the woman in question comes from a ‘lowly’ background, and being Bosnian will place her some way below the working classes and below most other white foreigners, without even the guilt over racism than might at least make the resentful ones a little embarrassed if she were black or brown.

I can confirm from personal experience that anti-Balkan racism is, indeed, a relatively acceptable form of prejudice in Britain. I recall one colleague at an institution where I once worked asking me to suggest a guest speaker for a seminar programme, and sneering when I suggested a Croatian name. One young man’s first comment, when I told him at a party that I was working on the history of the Balkans, was that I must clearly have a high tolerance for blood. A Serbian friend of mine recalled to me that when she worked as a waitress, a customer asked her where she came from, and when she said ‘Serbia’, he replied ‘I’ll get my gun out, then.’ A Bosnian friend of mine used to tell people at parties she was from Belgium, to avoid the dampening of the conversation that would frequently result from telling the truth.

It is testimony to the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan racism, in the UK and the wider English-speaking world, that when the American left-wing celebrity Michael Moore gave vent to this prejudice in his international bestseller Stupid White Men, it passed virtually without comment. Moore wrote:

‘This godforsaken corner of the world has been the source of much of our collective misery for the last century. Its residents’ inability to get along – with Serbs fighting Croats fighting Muslims fighting Albanians fighting Kosovars fighting Serbs – can be traced to the following single event: in 1914 a Serb anarchist by the name of Gavrilo Princip assassinated the Archduke Ferdinand. This incident kicked off World War I. Which led to World War II. Over fifty million people died from both wars. I don’t know what it is about these people. I mean, I don’t go around killing Texans. I don’t go burning down whole villages in Florida. I’ve learned to live with it. Why can’t they?’

‘Then Tito died, and all hell broke loose. Croats started killing Serbs. Serbs killed Muslims in Bosnia. Serbs killed Albanians in Kosovo. Then the United States bombed Kosovo, to show them that killing was wrong. In the past few years there has been peace, then war, then peace again, and now war again. It never stops. These people are addicts.’

Moore’s advice to the former Yugoslavia was to ‘Admit that you are powerless over your addiction to violence, and that your lives have become unmanageable.’ Had he described African Americans as having an ‘addiction to violence’, it is difficult to imagine him getting away with it, but for the Balkan peoples, such language is apparently acceptable.

Nor is Moore unique in his prejudice. The New York Times concluded an editorial in 2005 with the opinion that ‘In the Balkans, the default mode is violence.’ Julie Burchill wrote in The Guardian – yes, The Guardian ! – back in 1999, ‘Croatia’s not a country; it’s a bloody division of the German armed forces – scratch a Croat, find a Kraut.’ Nebojsa Malic of Antiwar.com described the Kosovo Albanians as ‘medieval barbarians’ – of course, Malic is from the Balkans himself, but he was published by an American website.

Many serious scholars have commented intelligently on the pervasiveness of anti-Balkan prejudice, including Maria Todorova and Tom Gallagher. Here, I would just like to add my own brief personal observations.

Anti-Balkan prejudice now means something specific for the former Yugoslav lands. Bulgarians and Romanians may be subject to anti-East-European prejudice in the UK similar to that experienced by Slovaks or Poles. Turks may be subject to anti-Muslim prejudice. I have no personal experience of how these groups fare in the US. But the prejudice directed against former-Yugoslavs is of a kind that transcends the borders of Western nations. It is related to the wars of the 1990s and to the stereotype of violence, primitivism and tribalism that that conflict rejuvenated; former Yugoslavs would not have experienced the same degree of prejudice before the 1990s. It is a prejudice for which journalists bear their share of the blame for repeating and publicising cliches, as do Balkan nationalists themselves for manufacturing negative myths about each other’s peoples – hence, the stereotypes of the Serbs as violent and nationalistic, of the Croats as pro-Nazi and of the Albanians as criminals.

However, the Bosnians in some ways come off the worst, and this is related to the perception of them as weak and pathetic; as being a people without a proper country or functioning state. Their suffering during the war of the 1990s, followed by their defeat in the war (albeit one snatched from the jaws of victory by US diplomacy), followed by the long, continuing and humiliating international supervision of their country, has cemented the stereotype of them as perpetual victims unworthy of respect; in some sense, equivalent to actual homeless people. I suspect that if Jenkins had come from Russia or Ukraine, she might still have been sneered at as a ‘mail-order bride’, but she would not have been despised as a refugee from a virtual country as well.

To end on a positive note: these stereotypes are widespread but they are not universally held. There are plenty of circles in multiethnic London that would not be snobbish about someone on account of their nationality; where someone with a background like Jenkins’s would be the norm rather than the exception. The snobs who drove Jenkins out of London may be representative of part of the London financial elite, but in cultural terms they represent a primitive, ethnically homogenous anachronism in our cosmopolitan city. They are worthy of the same sort of contempt as the average participants on the Jeremy Kyle Show. Primitivism and vulgarity span the class divide.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Britain, London, Marko Attila Hoare, Misogyny, Racism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments