Monthly Archives: April 2015

Book review of Slut by Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney and Feminism and Men by Nikki Van Der Gaag

Book review. Slut: A play and guidebook for combatting sexism and sexual violence by Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, and Feminism and Men by Nikki Van Der Gaag
by Ian Sinclair
Peace News
April-May 2015

That feminism is as relevant today as it’s ever been was confirmed by recent research conducted by the NSPCC and the universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire. The study found more than four in 10 girls between the ages of 13 and 17 in England said they have been coerced into sex acts, while one in five said they had suffered physical violence or intimidation from boyfriends. The survey also noted a high proportion of teenage boys regularly viewed pornography, with one in five holding extremely negative attitudes towards women.

In the face of these depressing results, Katie Cappiello’s astonishing Slut gives me hope. Set in New York City and focussing on the rape of the main protagonist, it’s a fictional play aimed at young people. But this isn’t the type of creaking, deeply earnest educational theatre that you may remember from school but a cutting edge, fast-paced and explicit exploration of the sexism and violence that comes from the word “slut” being a common put down and/or term of endearment in today’s culture.

What makes the book not merely brilliant but essential for feminist activists is the accompanying material. The commentary is incisive and varied, running from John Kelly’s thoughtful piece on male rape to an open letter from Black feminists to the organisers of the 2011 Slutwalk. Better still is the detailed step-by-step ‘How to’ guide for setting up your own local StopSlut group, with ideas for protests and great suggestions on how to intervene conversationally when someone uses the word “slut”.

Though the play has an all women cast, men’s behaviour is, of course, a central question, with specific mention given to the process of moving from being a mere bystander to an active bystander – “someone who observes an injustice and takes steps to make a difference.”

This concern dovetails neatly with Nikki Van Der Gaag’s Feminism and Men, which explores men’s relationship with feminism. With a background in development, she takes a refreshing global perspective on issues including education, health, fatherhood, consumerism and violence against women. I was particularly pleased to see the topic of housework covered, as it seems to be missing from much of the feminist activism making waves in the UK today.

Men’s Studies expert Michael Kaufman summarises the book’s key argument: “Men enjoy social power, many form of privilege, and a sense of entitlement by virtue of being male. But the way we have set up that world of power causes pain, isolation, and alienation not only for women, but also for men.” Therefore, as Van Der Gaag argues, “men have much to gain from joining the feminist struggle.” However, despite the book’s central theme, Van Der Gaag never loses site of the fact women are the primary victims of a patriarchal society, making the important link between “traditional forms of masculinity and the cultural and social norms that support and promote men’s violence.”

Accessible, clear in its argument and well-referenced, the book provides a good overview of contemporary feminist debates and activism. However, like many Zed books the prose is a little dry. And although an extensive, informal online survey forms the book’s backbone, there is a heavy reliance on secondary sources, meaning seasoned activists may already be familiar with much of the content.

Nobody, though, should fault Van Der Gaag’s focus on this important topic or her passion for positive change. “It is time for feminism to actively include men, and for men to embrace feminism”, she forcefully concludes. “The struggle for gender equality depends on it.”

Slut: A play and guidebook for combatting sexism and sexual violence is published by the Feminist Press. Feminism and Men is published by Zed Books.

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Tormented by Britain: Life at the Receiving End of UK Foreign Policy

Tormented by Britain: Life at the Receiving End of UK Foreign Policy
by Ian Sinclair
New Left Project
24 April 2015

In February 2011 large scale protests inspired by the Arab Spring erupted against the Bahraini government, an ally of the United States and United Kingdom. Rooted in the country’s majority Shi’a population and propelled by socio-economic inequality and perceived government corruption, the protestors initially pushed for political reform and escalated soon thereafter to demands for regime change. Headed by the ruling Al Khalifa family, the Bahraini government has forcefully cracked down on the demonstrations, killing and injuring hundreds of people and arresting thousands.

Ian Sinclair asked Dr. Ala’a Shehabi, founder of the research and advocacy organisation Bahrain Watch, about the ongoing struggle between the opposition and the government, the November 2014 national elections in Bahrain and the role of the UK.

In January 2015, UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond MP praised Bahrain’s human rights record. Bahrain, he said, ‘is a country which is travelling in the right direction’ and ‘making significant reform’. What is the current human rights situation in Bahrain? Is the Bahraini government’s crackdown on peaceful protest continuing?

To understand the current human rights predicament in Bahrain is to understand the public advice that a British think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), gave in a parliamentary select committee investigation: ‘Suppressing dissent is not something most countries have problems with; it is doing so in an acceptable manner that poses the challenge, and that is where the UK’s efforts in Bahrain can help’.

Shortly after foreign secretary Philip Hammond made the statement above, the Bahraini regime revoked the citizenship of 72 Bahrainis, the majority of whom were peaceful dissidents, rendering them stateless, and imprisoned one of the region’s most ardent human rights activists, Nabeel Rajab, for his critical tweets. Virtually every political leader of the major opposition groups in the country is behind bars. However, the population of political prisoners come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds including doctors, unionists, photographers, academics and clerics, as well as swathes of youths that comprise the 3000+ prison population today. A new report from Amnesty International, entitled ‘Behind the Rhetoric: Human rights abuses in Bahrain continue unabated’, details the most recent examples of egregious abuses in a country that Hammond praises ad nauseam.

The 200-year old relationship between the UK and Bahrain has withstood the test time of time, weathering cycles of popular uprisings over the past century and participating where necessary in their suppression. The two governments are inseparable, the relationship unquestionable, resilient and unconditional. Over the past financial year alone, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has directed more than £1.2 million towards its Bahraini allies. Effectively, British taxpayers’ money has been used to enable a police state to continuously upgrade its sophisticated and modern system of coercion and social control, a system that utilises the services of British and American security consultants like John Timoney and John Yates and highly sophisticated British-made surveillance technology like FinFisher. You can read about the wide spectrum of military, logistical and legal support that the Bahraini regime receives from the United Kingdom here.

In realpolitik terms, British interests are so intertwined with those of the Bahraini ruling family that the problem of human rights abuses has been cited by the British government as reason for policy continuity, in the form of yet more security consultants, mediators, legal support, and even military assistance and arms sales in the name of ‘reform’ and ‘the rule of law’ that always seem to entrench rather than alter the reality that Bahrainis have to live with. So far from the Bahraini regime’s repression causing any tension in relations with Britain, business between the two states is booming, and indeed new investment opportunities have been created.

Last month, Bahrain’s main central prison was tear-gassed by police forces trying to quash a prison riot and credible reports of injuries amongst prisoners due to torture continue to emerge. The UK’s HM Inspectorate of Prisons has been supposedly assisting ‘reforming’ the Bahraini prison system since at least 2013, yet during this period, reports of torture, abuse and miscarriages of justice have persisted unabated. Joe Stork of Human Rights Watch notes that ‘Bahrain’s problem is not a dysfunctional justice system, but rather a highly functional injustice system’. The unarmed opposition has been effectively throttled, unable to freely mobilise in ever more restricted spaces. Protests are outright banned in the majority of the country. The internet is monitored and censored. It is a stifling situation, in which a highly visible police state exerts heavy-handed and conspicuous control over a small territory and a small population.

But the state has failed to silence voices of dissent and stop the protests. The latest iteration of protests, now in their fifth year, has been the longest standing of the Arab uprisings and the most peaceful. With nearly 100 people killed directly by security forces, this is also the most bloody confrontation in modern Bahraini history. Back to RUSI’s advice: the ‘suppression of dissent’ has not been successful and, despite the UK’s help, it has not been done in a particularly ‘acceptable’ manner either.

In November 2014, Bahrain held parliamentary elections, which the main opposition groupings in Bahrain, including the largest, al-Wafeq, boycotted. The UK ambassador to Bahrain ‘welcomed’ the elections, noting that turnout was ‘encouraging’. What’s your take on the elections and the UK ambassador’s response?

The UK ambassador’s response is consistent with Britain’s policy of unshakeable support for the ruling family. The elections, essentially a liberal façade for an illiberal authoritarian state, were naturally celebrated and praised by the British, even when a majority boycotted them (the government claims 52 percent turnout, though no internationally independent monitors were allowed to oversee the vote) and they failed international standards of free and fair elections. Bahrain Watch documented the structural flaws in the electoral process and its consequent inability to produce any political change.

As punishment for this boycott, the ‘tolerated’ opposition—registered political groups that are negotiating and dialoguing with the regime, of whom President Obama said in 2011, ‘you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail’—have been effectively obliterated. The head of the main political society, al-Wefaq, was arrested and faces serious charges. All its rallies have been banned.

There is a massive PR drive by the regime to burnish its image, and the British ambassador frequently volunteers his services. Here he is sky-diving at the 2012 Bahrain Air Show. We at Bahrain Watch try to track and document a small sample of the PR contracts that have been made between the West and the Bahraini regime since 2011, amounting to more than £50 million.

Elections are only as important as the political change they are able to effect. In our case that is virtually zero, given the structural imbalance in the separation of powers (judicial, legislative, executive), a disempowered parliament, the gerrymandering of voting districts, and the lack of equal citizenship rights. The country is run by royal decree with the decorative features of a parliamentary democracy. The British ambassador applauds elections in which various forms of political coercion and harassment were used against those who boycotted, and thus is complicit in denying Bahrainis’ right to self-determination.

In December 2014 the UK announced it would be establishing a military base in Bahrain—‘the first permanent military base in the Middle East since it formally withdrew from the region in 1971’, according to the BBC. What effect do you think this news will have on Bahraini politics?

Bahrain has a special place in the heart of the British establishment. ‘We’re back’, read the headline in the Economist magazine when the new British base was announced last December. In fact, the British never really left Bahrain, even after ‘independence’. There is a revolving door of police officers, British private secretaries and former ambassadors that shift between positions in the Bahraini government. The island already hosts an American base and a GCC military base. Its political and economic sovereignty has effectively been forfeited in order to maintain the regime’s survival. In October 2012, while street protests and the police crackdown were raging, the Bahraini government agreed a UK-Bahrain Defence Cooperation Accord. A 2013 British parliamentary committee stated,

We are disappointed that the [British] Government has provided so little detail to Parliament and this Committee on its most recent defence accord with Bahrain. It was predictable that Bahrain would consider it a public signal of support and, if the Government did not mean it to send this message, it would have been more sensible to have immediately released information about the Accord and the UK’s reasons for agreeing it at this time.

We remain in the dark.

Since the 2012 Accord, Bahraini protests have taken a markedly anti-British tone. Activists have sought to highlight the paradox of having a partner like Bahrain in the anti-ISIS coalition, when it has itself nurtured a sectarian pretext for its suppression of dissidents, who it has portrayed as a Shi’ite fifth column loyal to Iran. When human rights activist Nabeel Rajab tweeted that Bahrain’s security forces have served as an ‘ideological incubator’ for extremists, many of whom have gone on to join ISIS and several of whom have been killed or carried out suicide attacks, he was jailed and put on trial. As evidence he has provided samples of the books printed and distributed by the Bahrain Defence Force.

The Bahraini regime, which has already purchased nearly £70 million in arms from the UK, will be paying for the construction of the new British base. Ironically, when the Sheikhs offered to pay the British to keep their bases in the Gulf after their withdrawal in the 1970s, ‘they were brutally and gratuitously shot down by [British Defence Secretary Denis] Healey, who in a television interview retorted “that he was not ‘sort of a white slaver for Arab shaiks’”. British soldiers should not become ‘mercenaries for people who like to have British troops around”’, Healey said.

What explains the UK’s on-going support for the Bahraini government?

Next year, we will endure year-long celebrations of the bicentenary of UK-British relations. For most of this time—1816 to 1971—Bahrain was officially a British protectorate. In this era, the British effectively crystallised the political order and the Al Khalifa tribe’s hold on power, thwarting invaders, replacing rulers and assisting in repression of periodic uprisings—in effect stalling what could have become one of the few early democratisers in the Middle East. If the formal protectorate has now ended, British concern for Bahraini rulers’ well-being persists. Thus, in December 2014 Foreign Secretary Hammond assured the Al Khalifa ruling family that, ‘Your security is our security; your prosperity is our prosperity; your stability is our stability’.

Of course, this praise is publicly reciprocated by the faithful ally. In 2013, the Bahraini King Hamad said,

On Britain’s withdrawal from the gulf—a unilateral decision—which my father said: ‘Why? No one asked you to go!’ In fact, for all practical and strategic purposes, the British presence has not changed and it remains such that we believe we shall never be without it.

His son, the Crown Prince, declared that he would be ‘personally eternally grateful’ for its role in Bahrain.

The principle factors are therefore historical continuity, privilege, and invitation, but to these we must add economic interests. Bahrain is now the pinnacle of a toxic combination of raging neoliberalism driven by Gulf, in particular Saudi, capital accumulation (in the form of massive real estate investment projects and financial aid package) and Western imperialism. We have three military bases, a British base, a GCC military base and of course, the US Fifth fleet. What could possibly shake a regime that has become so fortified with Western and Gulf support?

What should UK citizens concerned about the situation in Bahrain do?

Like many others, I have come to the slow realization of the sheer extent of British involvement in repression. I face things like British-manufactured spyware sent to my email by the Bahraini government. British ‘consultants in London and Manama [i.e. the capital of Bahrain] are paid millions to be the designated legal defence team of the regime, or to organize prestige events like Bahrain Air Show (based on the Farnborough Air Show) and international security conferences by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. In the UK, the Bahraini King still gets the red carpet rolled out and enjoys tea and horses at Windsor every year.

By the way, those Saudi tanks that you saw rolling into Bahrain on 14 March, 2011 were British. Even the police dogs we have are trained up by a British company called Top Dog.

Tony Blair, who never met a dodgy dictator he didn’t like, visited Manama earlier this year and again last week. I once had a meeting about the planned Grand Prix in Bahrain with Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone, who told me to stop hammering on about democracy, amongst many other outrageous comments that I have not gone on the record with. It isn’t so much business as usual as more business than usual.

Transnational solidarity is an important part of every struggle, and struggles are themselves stronger when they are part of a wider global movement. Citizens of Western countries whose governments have intervened destructively in foreign countries must interrogate this behaviour and challenge it. In the UK, this would mean initiating and supporting initiatives that question the FCO’s role in Bahrain and the British media’s failure to cover a conflict in which the government is siding with a rogue state against its people, using British taxpayers’ money.

There are endless things people can do. Previous actions range from stopping arms shipments and exposing the ‘dark arts’ of PR companies for the regime to exposing UK assets belonging to the Bahrain ruling family. Others have taken legal action to lift the immunity of torturers, and to try to force the FCO to release secret documents from the 1970s that may demonstrate British complicity in Bahrain’s human rights abuses.

The British elections are coming up. Much work needs to be done to pressure the new government to change course.

Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?

Just how anti-war is Ed Miliband?
by Ian Sinclair
Open Democracy
10 April 2015

Challenged by Jeremy Paxman on whether he was “tough enough” to be Prime Minister on the Sky News/Channel 4 programme ‘Cameron & Miliband Live’, Labour leader Ed Miliband replied:

“In the summer of 2013 this government proposed [military] action in Syria, the bombing of Syria, right? I was called into a room by David Cameron and Nick Clegg because President Obama had been on the phone, The Leader of the Free World, right? I listened to what they said and over those days I made up my mind and we said ‘No’, right?” 

Miliband has also repeatedly pointed out that he opposed the 2003 Iraq War. Desperate to shore up the Labour vote, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has been only too happy to confirm Miliband “rejected the Iraq war”.

However, before everyone starts labelling ‘Red Ed’ as anti-war, it’s worth taking some time to consider his positions on recent British foreign policy.

2014: The bombing of ISIS in Iraq

After he had unironically referred to Barack Obama as “The Leader of the Free World” on the Sky News/Channel Four programme, Miliband went on to explain he did not want to “repeat the mistakes of the 2003 Iraq War when Labour was in power, which was a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”

Given these – apparently sincerely held – concerns, one would presume Miliband would be opposed to, or at least very sceptical of, the on-going US-led airstrikes on Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. However, he fully supported the airstrikes in the House of Commons in September 2014 – and continues to do so as far as I am aware.

He supported the war for a number of reasons. “Iraq is a democratic state. It is a government that we would want to support”, he said. As I’ve argued elsewhere this statement conceals the deeply authoritarian and undemocratic nature of the present Iraqi government, and the West’s role in helping to create it.

Miliband also referred positively to the regional support the proposed airstrikes had from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Side-stepping the question of whether being in a coalition with the most fundamentalist nation on earth is a good thing, it is important to remember Saudi Arabia and Qatar have played an important role in the rise of ISIS.

In September 2014 the Director of the FBI told Congress the US-led airstrikes were increasing support for ISIS. Similarly, the former head of counterterrorism at MI6 has warned the airstrikes could “increase the risk” of terrorist attacks in the West. In terms of the military action itself, President Obama recently said the war against ISIS is likely to take up to three years, with the US Defence Secretarysuggesting this was probably an underestimate. And what of the democratic Iraqi Government Miliband was so keen to protect?

In February 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report arguing the widespread abuses perpetrated by the government-enabled Shia militias could well be war crimes, while an October 2014 HRW commentary noted the “relentless arson and pillaging” carried out by Shia militias in Iraq have displaced over 7,000 families in recent months.

After recently visiting Iraq, award-winning US journalist Matthieu Aikins explained that “Iraq has become a militia state”. With US arms sent to the Iraqi government ending up in the hands of Shia militias the “US risks helping to perpetrate the same violence and state corruption that led to ISIS’s stunning rise last year”, he noted.

2013: The proposed US-led bombing of Syria

Miliband told Paxman he had stood up to the Prime Minister and “The Leader of the Free World” over Syria in September 2013. The normally questioning Labour backbencher Michael Meacher MP declared Miliband’s actions on Syria will be “recognised as an act of courage and statesmanship that shows his mettle as a leader.”

The reality is a little less heroic than Miliband and Meacher would have us believe.

A read of the parliamentary debate about the proposed military action shows the Labour motion was very similar to the defeated Government motion, a fact not lost on some of the more experienced foreign affairs experts in the House of Commons. “I can find no difference of substance or principle anywhere in the two offerings”, said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Foreign Affairs spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. Likewise, former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind noted “virtually all” of Labour’s list of requirements for supporting military action “appear in the Government’s own motion.”

Moreover, in the parliamentary debate Miliband explained he would support military action against Syria without a United Nations Security Council Resolution – essentially agreeing with the Government again. As Jonathan Steele, the Guardian’s former Chief Correspondent, noted “Cameron and Miliband used dubious legal grounds to try to justify bypassing a veto in the UN Security Council by saying western military strikes were needed to protect Syrians.” Does Miliband’s self-serving position on the UN remind you of any other Labour leader?

2011: The NATO intervention in Libya

Along with the vast majority of British newspapers and 557 MPs, Miliband supported the NATO intervention in Libya, supposedly carried out to stop a massacre of civilians in Benghazi. Accepting the government’s – highly questionable – narrative of the crisis, Miliband cited his parents’ experience of the Holocaust in the House of Commons debate.

The NATO intervention arguably escalated the violence and elongated the conflict, plunging the country into a militia-dominated Hobbesian nightmare. Fast-forward four years and, as I have argued elsewhere, Libya is a chaotic mess:

“In November 2014 Amnesty International warned that ‘lawless militias and armed groups on all sides of the conflict in western Libya are carrying out rampant human rights abuses, including war crimes.’ The same month the UN refugee agency reported that nearly 400,000 Libyans had been displaced by the ongoing violence, while the Associated Press noted the Libyan city of Darna had become the first city outside of Syria and Iraq to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group.”

With this reality in mind, again it is worth reminding ourselves of Ed Miliband’s supposedly sincere concerns about Iraq in 2003: “a rush to war without knowing what your strategy is and without being clear about what the consequences would be.”

2003: The US-UK invasion of Iraq

In attempt to disassociate himself with New Labour’s 2003 illegal, aggressive attack on Iraq, Miliband has repeatedly boasted he was opposed to the invasion. Miliband was in the US in the run-up to the war, teaching at Harvard. However, he has said “I did tell people at the time that asked me that I was against the war.” Ed Miliband’s biographer Mehdi Hasan claims that Miliband Jr rang Gordon Brown from the United States to try and persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to resist the push to war.

Speaking at the Labour leader hustings in 2010 Ed Balls labelled Miliband’s claim to be anti-war as “ridiculous” noting that Miiband “did not tell people” he was against the war. Speaking at the same hustings, Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband made a rare honest statement: “Diane Abbott [who was also standing to be Labour leader] is the only candidate that can say she was against the war at the time, and if that is the sole criterion, she is in a different position to every other candidate. She did not just think she was against it, she said she was against it, and she marched against it.”

And this is the key point. There were numerous opportunities for Miliband to make a public stand against the impending war – which arguably would have had a far greater impact than his supposed behind the scenes advice – including speaking at the biggest protest in British history. That Miliband, at best, opposed the war in private strongly suggests to me that he was thinking more about his future political career than the welfare of Iraqis or the British soldiers being sent to fight in Iraq.

And we should not forget that Miliband voted against an official inquiry into the Iraq War being set up on four occasions.

2001-14: The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan

Though it’s difficult to find out Miliband’s position on Afghanistan prior to him becoming Labour leader in 2010, his record of support for the bloody and deeply unpopular British occupation since then has been clear. “I want you to know that our mission in Afghanistan is not a matter of party politics”, he told British troops when he visited Afghanistan in 2011. “It is about what is right for our country. A more stable Afghanistan will lead to a more safe Britain… above all I want you to know you have our support, our respect and our admiration for what you are doing for our country.”

Compare this pro-military guff to the brutal reality of the British occupation. “In practice, we ended up killing a lot of people, destroying lots of bazaars and mosques. We absolutely knew it was not what we were there to do, and would not be helpful”, explained  General David Richards, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, about what went wrong in Afghanistan. Mike Martin, a former British Army Officer, notes that in summer 2006 British forces dropped 18,000 pounds of explosives on the town of Now Zad alone, “flattening the bazaar” and killing civilians. This “injudicious use of firepower was reminiscent of Soviet military operations” and “made funding and recruitment non-issues” for the Afghan insurgency, Martin explains.

Unsurprisingly, these actions have not led to stability. Far from it. Former British military intelligence officer Frank Ledwidge: “Britain’s efforts have resulted in the ‘stabilization’ (i.e. the temporary pacification) of 3 of the 14 districts that make up the province of Helmand – just one of 34 provinces in a country with a population that is half that of the UK. In terms of overall political significance, this might be the equivalent of three large market towns in rural Lincolnshire. Before the British burst onto the scene, Helmand was ‘stable’, in the sense there was almost no Taliban presence and little prospect of any.”

As for the British occupation of Afghanistan making “a more safe Britain”, it is likely the opposite is true. In the words of Anatol Lieven, a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London: “What we can surely say is that UK policy has been an absolute disaster in the perception of the Muslim population and has produced a significantly increased terror threat.” The justification given for the murderous attack on British soldier Lee Rigby suggest Lieven’s analysis is correct.

Trident

Miliband supports the renewal of Trident, which is estimated to cost the UK over 80 billion over the next 100 years, with a lower-cost deterrent. “I’m not in favour of unilateral disarmament”, he explained in January 2015.

And the rest

In addition to the big set piece interventions set out above, it is important to note Miliband’s lack of criticism of other parts of British foreign policy that either has already had, or will likely have, serious, deleterious consequences: the UK training of Syrian rebels; the UK training of Ukrainian Government forces; the UK support for the Saudi Arabian attack on Yemen; the UK’s support for the Bahrain Government’s deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests; the on-going diplomatic and military support the UK gives to Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf monarchies; Obama’s drone wars.

Conclusion

What all these examples show is that far from being anti-war Miliband has repeatedly supported wars of choice, often with dubious legal and moral justifications (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014), most of which have turned out to be a disaster for the country he claimed to be protecting and the wider world (Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq 2014). Like the deeply unpopular Tony Blair, Miliband has publicly stated he would support military action without a UN Security Council resolution. When he did oppose military action this was either done in private, thus minimising the danger to his future political career (Iraq 2003), or has been presented as a clear, moral stand, when in actual fact his position was difficult to distinguish from the government’s own position – and based on ignoring the will of the United Nations (Syria).

If this is how Miliband acts in opposition, what can we expect from him as Prime Minister when he is likely to be under intense American and domestic pressure (from a combination of the armed forces, the intelligence services, the press, his own cabinet, his own party, the opposition party) and is keen to show he is “tough enough”?

It is clear the fight against the UK’s aggressive foreign policy will have to continue after the election, whether it is David Cameron or Ed Miliband sitting in 10 Downing Street.

Book review. Framespotting by Laurence Matthews and Alison Matthews

Book review. Framespotting: Changing How You Look At Things Changes How You See Them by Laurence Matthews and Alison Matthews
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
20 April 2015

Never judge a book by its cover. Trite but true.

Looking a lot like pro-capitalist parables like the bestselling Who Moved My Cheese? the 117-page Framespotting is actually a refreshing, radical work that explores the politics of framing.

Written in a simple, straightforward style and accompanied by quirky illustrations, it’s the kind of book anyone could pick up and quickly read and understand. And what they will read about is nothing less than thought control in a democratic society, followed by a short course in intellectual self-defence.

Laurence and Alison Matthews, former university lecturers and statisticians in the oil and transport industries, explain how political issues are framed is often deeply ideological. So the media will report that jobs are “lost”, rather than “destroyed”. One gets “tax relief”, the assumption being that tax is a burden to be avoided rather than something to be proud of paying as a contribution to a civilised society. The phrase “economic recovery” implies that lack of growth is an illness – something one needs to recover from. In reality endless economic growth on a planet of finite resources is a recipe for catastrophe. And no doubt if you were to argue against economic growth you’d be told you “need to live in the real world”. By “the real world” they mean the political reality at any given moment in time, rather than the scientific reality that means continuing economic growth will endanger large sections of humanity. Who are the real dreamers?

By highlighting some of the hidden assumptions behind the narratives the political and economic elites push on the general public, the authors make plain a process that is often consciously hidden. “Framing is a way of limiting the debate, fixing the agenda”, they note. They recommend “zooming out”, which can lead to lateral and long-term thinking, often revealing “new perspectives and powerful, deep stories.” For example, the dominant, narrow framing of obesity is one of individual responsibility and blame. However, if one zooms out and looks at the topic from a broader perspective one sees that obesity has deeper causes like advertising, urban planning and corporate power.

Ending with a rallying call for action to combat the looming threat of climate change, Framespotting is a wise and unusual book that you’ll want to pass on to your friends and family as soon as you’ve finished it. Inspirational.

Framespotting is published by Iff Books, priced £8.99

Is the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett right that the US and UK have acted as the “world’s policeman”?

Is the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett right that the US and UK have acted as the “world’s policeman”?
by Ian Sinclair
17 April 2015

Speaking about the British military in yesterday’s BBC election debate Green Party leader Natalie Bennett argued:

“There are important roles for our military – in self-defence and an important role in UN peacekeeping instead of being the world’s policeman with America that we have been over recent decades”. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05r87pr/bbc-election-debate-2015 50:55 minutes in)

This framing of the US and UK role in the world is a common one, including those criticise US and UK foreign policy.

In response, here is David Traynier responding to the same claim made on the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions on 30 August 2013:

“Theoretically the police enforces the law impartiality and with no reference to their own interests. By that definition neither the US or UK is a policeman. We interfere and we intervene but only when our own interests are at stake and only to serve our own interests. The idea we intervene in a humanitarian fashion isn’t borne out by any of the evidence.” (David Traynier on BBC Radio 4’s Any Answers, 31 August 2013)

Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined

Iraq Body Count: Real and Imagined
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
4 April 2015

“We don’t do body counts”, US General Tommy Franks, Commander of US forces in Afghanistan, infamously stated in 2002.

Depressingly, much of the mainstream media’s (lack of) coverage of the post 9/11 wars has broadly mirrored Western Government’s disinterest in those killed by their aggressive foreign policy.

This failure of journalism has had a predictable effect on US and UK public understanding of the Iraq War. A 2007 Ipsos poll of US public opinion included a question about how many Iraqis the interviewee thought had died in the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation. The median answer given was 9,890, with 72 percent of respondents believing under 50,000 Iraqis had died. Similarly, a 2013 ComRes survey found 74 per cent of Britons estimated that less than 50,000 Iraqi combatants and civilians had died as a consequence of the war, with 59 per cent estimating that less than 10,000 Iraqis had died. Only 6 per cent of the poll’s respondents estimated the death toll to be over 500,000 Iraqis.

It is this ginormous gap between public knowledge and reality that makes the new report from the Nobel Prize-winning Physicians For Social Responsibility (PSR) so important. Titled ‘Body Count’, the paper investigates the total number of deaths caused by the so-called War on Terror. PSR estimates the war “directly or indirectly, killed around 1 million people in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan, i.e. a total of around 1.3 million.” Though they believe this shocking figure to be a conservative estimate, PSR note it is “approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware of and propagated by the media and major NGOs.”

The report is particularly good on the relative merits of the different mortality surveys conducted in Iraq, comparing Iraq Body Count (IBC) with the 2006 Lancet survey. IBC, which recorded approximately 110,000 dead Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2011, is repeatedly cited by the media. In contrast, the Lancet study’s estimate of 655,000 Iraqi dead was quickly attacked and rejected by politicians and many journalists.

Of course, the differing responses can be explained by how the respective results fit with Western Governments’ self-serving narrative of the war. This conclusion is inescapable when one considers an earlier mortality study on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which used similar methods to the Lancet study, had been uncritically accepted by Western governments. In addition the Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Advisor noted the Lancet study’s design was “robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to ‘best practice’ in this area”. As one of the report’s chapter headings says: the Lancet’s methodology is “barely disputed among experts”.

In contrast, the report explains how the IBC’s passive counting of Iraqi civilian deaths using Western media outlets and registered deaths by hospitals and morgues severely underestimates the total number of dead. The gaping flaws in their methodology are numerous and serious: Western media reports were often based on US military or Iraqi government sources, both of whom had a vested interest in downplaying the number of civilian dead; the Baghdad-based Western media’s coverage of provincial Iraq was patchy at best; as the level of violence rises in a particular area there is a corresponding reduction in media coverage; Western occupation forces often blocked journalists from investigating instances of civilian deaths; Iraqi government statistics from morgues were deliberately downplayed for political purposes.

There is a lot of hard evidence for the IBC’s gross underestimation. For example, in 2007 Najaf governorate’s spokesperson said they had buried 40,000 non-identified corpses since the start of the war. The IBC database records only 1,354 victims in Najaf. IBC recorded no violent deaths in Anbar province in June 2006, despite it being a stronghold of violent resistance to the occupation at the time.

Since the report was released on 19 March 2015, there has been zero coverage in the supposedly free and questioning British media. In addition to being morally reprehensible, this omission has huge ramifications for democracy and foreign policy: How can the British general public make informed decisions about foreign policy if they are not aware of the consequences of military action carried out by the UK and its allies?  T

his mass ignorance is no coincidence. Rather it is advantageous to the US and UK Governments. “The figure of 655,000 deaths in the first three war years alone… clearly points to a crime against humanity approaching genocide”, notes the PSR report about the 2006 Lancet survey. “Had this been understood and recognized by the public at large, the Iraq policy of the US and its European allies would not have been tenable for long.”

*Please note my article reproduces a couple of small factual errors from the original PRS report. Please read the comments below for more details.