Friday, September 29, 2006
A month has passed since the Israeli war on Lebanon stopped. All we see and hear on the news are UN troops arriving to Lebanon from European countries and the further deployment of the Lebanese army in the southern villages.
Internally, it has been a complete chaos between the different forces in the country. Hassan Nassrallah and his allies have been verbally attacking the government via the media, accusing them of being an ally to Israel and demanding that it resigns allowing a new government to be formed where Hizaballah and its allies will have more seats in order to have more power over decision making. From its side the government is promising not to quit and is not commenting on Hizballah’s accusations.
To make things even worse the report of Serge Brammertz, the Belgium prosecutor investigating for the UN the assassination of our former prime minister Hariri in February 2005, will be out end of this month. A lot of rumors have already been circulating that the Syrian president Bashar al Assad along with the Lebanese current president Emile Lahoud will be directly blamed for the planning and assassination of Hariri.
In the middle of all this chaos, Lebanese citizens barely were able to digest this ugly war, that the struggles inside the political forces have made the citizens’ lives more stressful. Yet, they are trying to rebuild again and move on with their lives and try to put the terrible war behind them. It is only in last weeks or so that the country has started to be a little more lively. I see people in shopping malls now, and the coffee shops and restaurants are filled again with people. Work has progressed everywhere, though slowly. But better than no progress at all. The people who fled the country during the war have returned in order to prepare for their kids’ new year at school. However, in the middle of all this progress, Lebanese are still fearful. Hizballah still has its arms, though it lost some to the Lebanese army when they were inspecting the southern villages.
The refugees have now all left the schools and gardens and places they went to during the war. Some of them went back to check their homes and repair any damage. Others who found that their homes had completely vanished as if they never existed in the first place, are now living with relatives or friends until they are given money from the government in order to rent houses or rebuild again. Until now the government is still getting help from many countries around the world for this purpose.
That is Lebanon’s situation currently. No one is sure what will happen. Will we reach the safe grounds of a peace with Israel and Hizballah surrendering its arms? Or will we be once again the pitch upon which other countries play out their violent games? The country is standing on the edge of an unknown destiny.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I've have had a print-out of this picture on my office wall for some time - and whilst staring at the wall whilst avoiding doing any work I suddenly thought I should blog it. I think I once used the picture in a lecture although I can't remember on what. Scribbled on the print-out is the following:
"Left: a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. The United States has ten of these. Right: an Invicible -class carrier of the Royal Navy - the largest ship in the Royal Navy. The UK has three of these."
I'm sure you get the point.
For any ship-spotters out there, the US carrier is the USS John C. Stennis and the UK one, HMS Illustrious.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Sign the "One Seat" petition to stop the ridiculous monthly trucking of the entire European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg, you'll be with over a million other sensible fellow EU citizens. Having been at the European Parliament building in Strasbourg when it is not in session it drove home to me what a completely idiotic idea it is to have two buildings for one Parliament 480 kms apart. It was spookily empty - I'm sure it could be used as a convention centre or something so France doesn't need to whine too much.
Friday, September 15, 2006
There has been a huge amount of coverage and discussion in Finland this week about how the "Smash ASEM" demo was policed last weekend. Basically timed to coincide with the really boring Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) (held here in Helsinki because Finland currently holds the EU rotating presidency), was a demo organized by a bunch of anarchist. They didn't really seem to protesting about anything in particular - it seemed more a chance to wear your Che Guevarra t-shirt and Palestinian scarf and be really "radical" by shouting at the police. I don't think many who turned up to "Smash ASEM" had gone in solidarity to the Burmese refugee protests (who I cycled past the other day standing in dignified silence holding their signs) or the Falun Gong protests. The main activity seemed to be filming each other so you can later put your mates on YouTube.
Various websites had been promising general anarchy and disorder for weeks in advance and unsurprisingly the Finnish police took this as a bit of challenge (plus they probably wanted to see if their riot training actually works!). Anyway not much happened in comparison to a real riot but lots of people got arrested probably in the case of many unnecessarily as a number were journalists. Anyway there has now been an unprecedented number of complaints to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
I just have one question - if you get assaulted by a Finnish riot cop, how can you know who it was? I've seen loads of pictures of them in news magazines and the papers and from what I can see they have no distinguishing marks. As I understand it in the UK, since some police brutality during some violent labour disputes in the 1980s, riot police have had to have their badge numbers clearly visible so if they individually commit a crime, they can be held accountable. Is there anything similar for Finnish police - and if there isn't, should there be?
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Tony and the Taliban: Explaining British Commitment to the ‘War against Terror’.
Tuesday 2 October was a heady day for Britons of an internationalist nature. In front of the world’s media Tony Blair stood up to make the keynote speech at the Labour Party conference. The emotional sentiment resulting from the September 11 terrorist attacks was still heavy, yet at the same time
The speech that followed declared war not just on global terrorism, but on global poverty and injustice. Blair denounced the false separation of domestic and international politics, pointed to the connection between social justice and peace, between poverty and the anger that fuels terror and he repeatedly made the point that no country could stand alone. Isolation holds no answer – for a better future cooperation is the only way:
“So I believe this is a fight for freedom. And I want to make it a fight for justice too. Justice not only to punish the guilty. But justice to bring those same values of democracy and freedom to people round the world. And I mean: freedom, not only in the narrow sense of personal liberty but in the broader sense of each individual having the economic and social freedom to develop their potential to the full. That is what community means, founded on the equal worth of all.
The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of
In the days that followed debate raged over the speech, the Guardian (the leading left-liberal broadsheet, that although generally seen as a “Labour” paper has been at times highly critical of the Blair government. Post 9-11 a debate has raged in the paper between liberal-interventionist who have supported the ousting of the Taliban, and more post-modern critics who accuse the west of trying to impose its norms upon others.) points out it seemed to have “enthralled and infuriated in equal measure”. Old critics denounced it as ridiculous posturing, other saluted a leading politician willing to argue for the complexities of interdependence over quick-fix solutions. Nevertheless the actions that followed showed that this was far more than mere rhetoric on the part of the British Government.
Tony Blair has made six international tours since the 9-11 attacks and has been central to building the coalition against terrorism, particularly in the Arab states where support was anything but certain. He visited countries where the welcome was anything but warm, most notably
The British military contribution to the
So why is the Blair government willing to risk and pay so much to be involved in the ‘war on terrorism’? It is not just the lives of British soldiers in
Robin Harris writes: “The Victorians generally assumed that what was in
The hard left, including many in the
Direct economic or geo-military reasons cannot account for the
It has been suggested that the British government by aligning itself so closely to the
There is undoubtedly large amounts of goodwill to Blair in the
What then does
Firstly there is a consideration of what the
Secondly there is the issue of the maintenance of the NATO alliance. As stated above this is the golden rule of British foreign and defence policy. In the quote above Nick Cohen writes that the
The militaries of the European NATO members are hopelessly antiquated in comparison to the
New Labour, new policies?
The foreign and defence policy of the Labour government since it came to power in 1997 seems radically different to the Conservative governments that went before. In particular the vicious infighting that debilitated the last Major government (1992 – 1997) seemed to suggest that within the conservative party at least euroscepticism was in the ascendance. The Conservatives vigorously opposed moves towards European defence integration and that seems to fit the standard atmosphere within the Tories of hostility to all things European, but it is not as simple as that.
Within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of defence (MoD) policy has been since the end of WWII Atlanticist rather than anti-European. Maintaining US commitment to NATO was the central priority and policy is changed to fit this need. For example, in the 1980s, calls for more European defence cooperation were generally made in
The changes in policy under New Labour post-1997, in this light seem less radical. Without doubt they have been much more open to European cooperation, particularly outside of NATO, but at the same time the aim remains the same - to keep the
Two processes were stared within the government, the first was the Strategic Defence Review (SDR). The SDR looked at what would be needed from
The second process is the ‘Saint Malo Process’, and according to Howorth it “owes its origins to the intense frustrations felt by Tony Blair throughout 1998 as he struggled to formulate a policy on the Balkans.” The groundwork for St Malo was laid by Blair at the Pörtschach informal summit meeting of EU Heads of State 24-25 October 1998, where it was made clear that the
St Malo was greeted in Britain with the predictable cries of outrage in the eurosceptics press, that the Labour government were creating a ‘European Army’ and this would probably lead to the collapse of NATO. Of course the opposite was true – European security capability is necessary to maintain
At this point the question of ‘what is the connection between European defence and war against terrorism?’ must be addressed. The New Labour government and the
It should be mentioned briefly that of course the Labour government wants more out CESDP than to protect NATO. It is also acknowledge that defence and security is one area within the EU where the Tony Blair
Blair’s commitment to
As Blair, tie-less and with shirt sleeves rolled up, walked through the refugee camps of northern
What ever was his reasoning, Blair brought a revolution to British policy in the Balkans and risked a lot in doing so. Andrew Rawnsley, the chief political columnist for the Observer and known for having high up sources within the government, wrote that both aides and civil servants repeatedly warned him that his position on Kosovo could cost him his premiership, but when they “urged him not to screw his reputation to the pledge to expel the Serbs, Blair replied that he knew ‘this could be the end of me’, but it was ‘shit or bust’.”
The Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short who in the past was a vocal critic of Blair and his policies became a supporter after Kosovo stating simply “he did the right thing”. This has been echoed by other Labour politicians, past and present, none of whom have had trouble free relationships with him. Mo Mowlam the outspoken former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said: “He cares”, Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that he has “a deep commitment to society”, and Bryan Gould a former candidate for the leadership of the Labour Party who has fought with Blair in the past but has now left politics says “I don’t think he is a politician at all! He doesn’t have any politics. He has principles, courage…” Not even Blair’s enemies seem to suggest he seeks power for his own sake, or because he believes it is somehow owed to him, as has been argued of George W. Bush. Ian Duncan Smith, leader of the Conservatives has called him a “utopian internationalist”, Blair would refute the utopian claim, but would have no problem with being called an internationalist. In one interview talking about his commitment to the ‘War on Terrorism’ – and meaning it in the much wider sense than the US administration does - he said “I know some people think this is a utopian idea… but I actually find it pretty much realpolitik, from where I am sitting anyway.”
His belief is that the international and the domestic can not be separated. Blair first made his view clear on this in a speech in 1999 in
Yet ultimately, this claim to realpolitik is either disingenuous and aimed at domestic critics attacking him for not caring about the
The scandal was somewhat ironic in that
It is a sad truth that there are no votes to be gained in African development for a British politician, and beyond the rather vague interdependence thesis (although it is now more stark post 9 – 11) the government has not tried to justify this commitment beyond it being the right thing to do. In the cynical world of politics this candour is refreshing.
Some have detected what has been called a ‘missionary zeal’ in Blair’s policies and this calls into question his faith. He is clearly a committed and practicing Christian, but unlike in the
Politics is never neat; it is rarely possible to say in a sprawling democracy that one certain thing was the reason behind a certain policy. Ideology, vested interests, indifference, lack of time, compromise, mistakes and sheer chance may all play a role in how policy is produced. Nevertheless policies can change radically as a result of a change of government. This has been shown above in the cases of British policy on the Balkans, humanitarian intervention more generally, third world development and European defence. If one person within government can exert significant influence it is the Prime Minister, particularly in the case of Blair who has been centralizing power through his period in office, with the claimed intention of creating better coordination between the different sections of government.
Blair stands out amongst world leaders in that he not only has a vision of a better world beyond the borders of his own country, but he is willing to use the resources of the state he leads to try and achieve it. We are seeing this again in
Tony Blair, Speech to the Labour Party Conference 2 October 2001. Available at: http://www.labour.org.uk/lp/new/labour/docs/LONGSPEECHES/TBCONFSPEECH2001.TXT
 The Guardian 1February 2002 “‘Missionary’ Blair’s African Crusade” Available at: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/foreignaffairs/story/0,11538,642774,00.html
 for information on Operation Veritas, the
 Harris, Robin (2001) “Blair’s ‘Ethical’ Policy” The National Interest Spring 2001
 Interestingly the hard left in the
 Rashid, Ahmed (2001) Taliban: The Story of the Afghan Warlords Pan Books,
 Nick Cohen (2002) “Time to Bite Back?” The New Statesman 28 January 2002. Available online at: http://www.consider.net/forum_new.php3?newTemplate=OpenObject&newTop=200201280006&newDisplayURN=200201280006
 Howorth, Jolyon (2000) “
 ibid. (p.380-381)
 Mathiopoulos, M. and Gyarmati,
 for more information see the Strategic Defence Review webpage at: http://www.mod.uk/issues/sdr/index.htm
 Yost, David (2000) “The NATO Capabilities Gap and the European Union” Survival Vol.42 No.4 Winter 2000-01 (p.100)
 Howorth, Jolyon (2000) “
 Whitman, Richard (2000)
 the full declaration is available on the FCO website: http://www.fco.gov.uk/news/newstext.asp?1795
 Howorth, Jolyon (2000) ) “
 note the title of the Telegraph article on the summit “The old port where French pirates lurk” Daily Telegraph 4 December 1998
 Harris, Robin (2001) (p.25)
 “US launches attack on Euro army” Daily Telegraph 18 March 2001
 Pfaff, William “Tony Blair Tours the World, and the American Empire Expands” International Herald Tribune 14 January 2002 (p.6)
 Whitman, Richard (2000) (p.10)
 Woollacott, Martin “Wrong Wars” Guardian 3 November 2001 (p.10)
 Rawnsley, Andrew “Ready to go to the People” Observer 6 May 2001 (available on line at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,5673,486839,00.html)
 all quotes from Klein, Joe “Profile: Tony Blair – True Colours” Guardian 7 June 2001 (available on line at: http://politics.guardian.co.uk/election2001/comment/0,9407,502935,00.html)
 Daily Telegraph 31 January 2002
 Newsweek 3 December 2001 (p.44)
speech by the Prime Minister Blair, to the Economic Club of Chicago,
 see the BBC 2001 General Election website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/vote2001/results_constituencies/constituencies/084.stm
 the speech is on the UK High Commission in
 Roberts, Adam (1999) “NATO’s ‘Humanitarian’ War over Kosovo” Survival vol.43, no.3 Autumn 1999 (p.109)
 Hirsch, John (2001) “War in
 Tony Blair, Speech to the Labour Party Conference 2 October 2001 (see note 1)
 “ ‘Missionary’ Blair’s African crusade” Guardian 1 February 2002
 “Blair’s mission possible” Observer 3 February 2002
 Newsweek 3 December 2001 (p.50)
 Klein, Joe “Profile: Tony Blair – True Colours” (see note 26)
 Ahmed, Kamal “You can’t talk… you’ve got to go and beat them” Observer 14 October 2001
 see for example “The new centre” The Economist 19 January 2002 (p.36)
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
More on US and Canadian cricket here and here for the truly obsessive.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Friday, September 08, 2006
It was a pleasant autumnal morning as I road to work this morning, and I took a longer route to have time to listen to the whole podcast of Wednesday's "On Point" show from WBUR in Boston that focused on this term. Notably all their pundits from across the political spectrum agreed that Bush using the term was centrally political rhetoric for the US audience, even Steven Schwartz (an interesting character well worth listening to even if you don't agree with anything he says) who also claimed that he and other "Muslim intellectuals" coined the phrase to express originally a specific and analytical concept.
On the programme Walter Laqueur, the grand old man of the academic study of totalitarianism, made the interesting point that the term doesn't have much impact within the Muslim world as they do not have the same visceral reaction to the idea of fascism that the west does after the Nazis. Therefore it is really a phrase for domestic consumption - designed to remind people in the west of the totalitarianism and violence of the Jihadis. It should come as no surprise then that we have seen Senator Rick Santorum (a very rightwing Republican from Pennsylvania for those who don't follow US politics) pushing the phrase so hard over recent months, doing more to bring it to main stream attention and out of the still slightly rarefied world of the blogosphere and certain online and paper journals and magazines. Santorum looked until recently like he was going to hammered in the November mid-terms, but he has fought a smart and hard campaign running straight to his base, banging away to show his strong rightwing credentials. Santorum addressed the National Press Club in July and "Islamic fascism" was the central point of his high profile address.
It seems as things look "pretty dire" for the Republicans in November (and I quote Tony Blankley the conservative columnist from the Washington Times and not a man averse to using the Islamo-fascism term himself), the Whitehouse has also decided to appeal to its base by using these kind of terms which are flags being waved to a certain constituency. You can argue all night whether any aspects of the Salafi-Jihadi movement or Islamism more generally resembles classical European fascism (some do, some don't in my opinion) - a thousand rightwing blogs will tell you why they are the same if you interested - but that is all rather beside the point. The most poignant caller into the show was an American-Muslim who said that the label was effecting how people see his young daughter at school.
Plenty of rightwing commentators have laid into Bush and Blair for labeling Islam "the religion of peace" in the past. The critics are correct to a certain degree that this is disingenuous as there are plenty of Muslims who see their religion as justifying certain acts of violence just as can be seen in most (all? See the "fascist" Sinhalese-chauvinist monks in Sri Lanka before anyone trots out the "all Buddhists are lovely" line) of the world's religions, but I think most would understand that their hearts were in the right place when they said it. But now we have gone from the President of the United States talking about Islam being a religion of peace to talking about Islamic fascism in just a few years. I'm sure if pressed the President would say that the latter is just a minority and doesn't make the former concept false, but I'm sure this will be lost on many and that's exactly what the Whitehouse's strategy aims at.