Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

Israel: ‘Noone likes us – we don’t care’?

March 23, 2010

Israel’s diplomacy these days is intriguing.

No serious sanctions are being taken against Israel by the UK and US for its (almost certain) involvement in assassination and for the building of more Jewish settlements in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem, but the governments of key allies are clearly miffed by Israeli actions.

Miliband’s expulsion of the Israeli diplomat today led to right-wing nutters in the Israeli Knesset condemning him as antisemitic. Hopefully Mr Miliband, who lost Jewish family members in the Holocaust, doesn’t take these predictably obnoxious rantings too seriously.

I wondered what British pro-Israeli blogs made of the situation. My favourite, Harry’s Place, doesn’t have anything on it (yet). Melanie Phillips at the Spectator has a wonderfully mad post (as expected) that decries the UK and US for “grovelling to the enemies of civilisation” and “lynching Israel”. Cuckoo.

Also quite amusingly, the scarily-philosemitic Chas has declared that “We’re all Mossad now”. He hosts a guest post where the author recommends visiting Israel.

Well, I would like to at some point in the future, but I’m now quite concerned that the Israeli secret services will perpetrate ID fraud and I’ll wake up one day to find out that I’ve apparently been involved in a strangling a Hamas commander with dental floss (or something).

All critical friends of Israel (as best friends must be) are surely worried by the actions of the Israeli Government.


Our honourable friend in the north.

February 28, 2010

I’m annoyed with Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, at the mo.

Firstly, he had a letter in this week’s Islington Tribune about the future of the Whittington Hospital in which he pointedly failed to mention his colleague in the very marginal southern seat.

Fine, she’s not from the same wing of the party as Socialist Campaign Group member Corbyn, but surely it wouldn’t have hurt to have mentioned that both of Islington’s Labour MPs want the A&E unit at the Whittington to be retained. Not very comradely.

And secondly, I recently got round to reading the Harry’s Place post ‘Jeremy Corbyn: MP for rioters’.

I’m disappointed that Corbyn thinks it’s a good use of his time to campaign for people who throw bricks at police officers and police horses. I’m disgusted by him talking about “our friends in Hezbollah and Hamas”.

Tch, tch.


December 3, 2009

“Dubai’s enthusiastic embrace of capitalism, which some find disconcerting, is exactly what the Middle East needs.”

This article was perhaps not Sunny Hundal’s best prediction ever?

(Hat tip to Gene at HP)

La Burqa

June 23, 2009

This is a guest post by ‘Mrs. Election’.

In 2004, the government made school uniform truly “uniform” when it prohibited the wearing of any religious symbols (including headscarves, turbans and skullcaps) in all state schools. A large number of students who defied the ban and continued to wear such items were subsequently expelled and forced to pay for private tuition instead. The law excluded and isolated the very people that it intended to liberate. I think we are about to experience a severe case of deja vu.

Just what France needs: a commission to “study the extent of burkha-wearing”. President Sarkozy isn’t going to wait around for the results though, announcing yesterday that “burkhas are not welcome here.”

This move by Sarkozy is not entirely surprising, considering the decision of the Conseil d’Etat last year to deny French citizenship to a Moroccan woman on the grounds that she insisted on wearing a burkha. Whilst praising the decision, minister Fadela Amara described the burkha as a “prison.” Yesterday, Mr Sarkozy went further to describe such women as “prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity” — an insult to the fashionistas methinks, lots of women spend absolute fortunes on their “netting.”

When I first moved to the Middle East, I was shocked when I first saw women wearing a niqab with an eye veil so that the entire face is covered, even the eyes. It was difficult for me to imagine that there was a human being underneath the black chiffon. It was certainly very strange to be browsing through the clothes in TopShop alongside women in burkhas.

After 4 months living here, the burkha now seems very normal to me and I find it very beautiful. I met with one of our client’s key business representatives a few weeks ago — she is a woman and of course, she wears a burkha.

My message to Mr Sarkozy: you cannot change someone else’s culture for them and you certainly cannot change it overnight. By banning the burkha, you may well be taking away the one thing that actually liberates Muslim women in France. Without the burkha, some women may not leave their homes at all.

What happened to international solidarity?

June 20, 2009

Some of the responses of the moronic Trotskyite left to events in Iran are, unsurprisingly, less than impressive.

At the Socialist Unity blog, John Wight has written a post in which he has no words of criticism for the Iranian regime which is currently murdering its citizens in the streets. Instead he is angry at the Western imperialists:

“As for Britain meddling, isn’t this a case of twas ever thus? When will the arrogance of our government ever end when it comes to pointing the finger at and meddling in the internal affairs of nations of the developing world?…The British media, it has to be said, have once again been a disgrace with the bias of their coverage.”

This weird far-leftist worship of traditional notions of state sovereignty truly exposes their moral bankruptcy and tactical ineptitude. My criticism of the British government would be that they are not condemning the Iranian theocrats and their heavily-armed fundamentalist bootboys loudly enough. As for attacking our media perhaps Wight is more a fan of Press TV, an Iranian-sponsored broadcaster firmly positioned up Ahmadinejad’s backside.

Yoshie over at the appropriately-named Lenin’s Tomb blog (dead geezer, dead ideology) at least admits some unpleasant things have happened in revolutionary Iran (like the butchering of Iranian leftists) but yet still insists:

“The Iranian Revolution has done more good than bad for a majority of Iranians, making Iran the best country — the most democratic! — in the Middle East today.”

The most “democratic”? I think Yoshie is forgetting about that nearby country populated mostly by people of Jewish extraction which has had a system of competitive elections for six decades now. “Best” is obviously entirely subjective. I’m assuming Yoshie appreciates a country with strong leadership, i.e. unelected old clerics and Holocaust-deniers. Looking at his other post titles – ‘Ahmadinejad won’ and ‘Why the Islamic Republic has survived’ – I think we can guess which side Yoshie is rooting for.

And Harry’s Place reports that the SWP-controlled ‘Stop the War Coalition’ has released a statement in which the priorities for all those concerned with international peace and justice are made clear:

“The crisis unfolding in Iran must not become the pretext for renewed intervention by the USA or Britain in the region, nor for a whipping up of further tension around Iran’s nuclear programme.

The responsibility of the anti-war movement is first of all to oppose the role of the British government in the region, and to prevent its posturing being used as a pretence to justify a US or Israeli military attack against Iran…

The Stop the War Coalition believes that resolving the crisis is the right and responsibility of the Iranian people alone, and that external interference can play no positive role…It would be wrong for us to take any position on the disputed outcome of the Iranian presidential election…”

These sad excuses for ‘socialists’ have a single agenda: opposition to Western states. They are so obsessed and dogmatic in their outlook that they are obviously very confused about what is happening in Iran. They interpret Iran primarily as an “anti-Imperialist” force and therefore do not care what happens to Iranian gays, trade unionists, women, etc, as long as the Iranian government remains an enemy of the US and Israel. The sneery dismissals of the Iranian protesters as the ‘privileged middle-classes’ and suchlike reveal their true colours.

Can you imagine these wacky arguments being used by leftists in the past in opposition to foreign intervention in Republican Spain, or in South Africa under apartheid? These fools are making a mockery of one of the left’s finest traditions: international solidarity. They are a disgrace. 

Events in Iran…

June 15, 2009

…are getting heated. Let us hope things get resolved with minimal violence and that the end result is conducive to more democracy and freedom for the people of Iran. If you want an alternative to the mainstream media go have a look at Andrew Sullivan’s blog. He’s getting some amazing updates from people online in Iran.

Still alive!

April 11, 2009

An occasional column drawing attention to well-known figures who, against the odds, are still going. This is usually a cause for celebration, but not always.

First up is a man whose longevity is as impressive as the size of his back catalogue (although they are perhaps related): Pete Seeger. Born in 1919, the leftie folkster is alive and kicking. Here he is performing at Barack Obama’s inaugural celebrations with his grandson and The Boss:

Awe-inspiring. No wonder American right-wing shock jocks and other wingnuts have started banging on about the dangers of a socialist takeover in the U.S – not only was Seeger invited to play at the inauguration concert, he was also allowed to sing the  extra-dangerous verses not usually included:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;

Sign was painted, it said private property;

But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;

That side was made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me,

As I go walking that freedom highway;

Nobody living can ever make me turn back

This land was made for you and me.

In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;

By the relief office, I’d seen my people.

As they stood there hungry, I stood there whistling

This land was made for you and me.

Seeger has tuned some brilliant songs himself (amongst my favourites ‘Where have all the flowers gone?’ and ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’) and with his various groups, such as ‘Talking union’ and ‘Which side are you on?’ with the Almanac Singers. I especially enjoy listening to Seeger’s collection of traditional American industrial ballads. These working-class folk songs cover such merry subjects as living in poverty during economic depression, the difficulties of maintaining solidarity in the face of blackleg skullduggery, and lamenting the loss of labor movement figures made martyrs by the bosses’ hired guns. Great stuff.


May 2009 will see Seeger’s 90th birthday. There is going to be a concert to mark the occasion featuring, amongst many other artists, the Bard of Barking. Anyone who gets Billy Bragg to play at their birthday party is fully deserving of Paintbrush-endorsement.

Yes, ok, so it took Seeger quite a long time to apologise for the many years in which he was a slavish Stalinist, but I think he more than compensates for this unsavoury aspect of his past political beliefs through his activism for peace, equality, workers’ rights, the environment, and promoting the banjo. May he still be around for many years to come!

Foot a quarter of a century ago!

Foot a quarter of a century ago!

Second on our list is Michael Foot, who always seemed pretty old in photographs taken during his Labour leadership days and so now at the grand old age of 95 is indisputably ancient.

I’m not sure what the Paintbrush position on Foot is. His time as leader wasn’t exactly Labour’s happiest or most successful period in history, but there’s an argument to be made that things would have been even messier if a more left-wing or right-wing figure had been elected to take Labour through those tumultuous years. Also: if Galtieri hadn’t invaded the Falklands and given Thatcher the opportunity to prosecute a successful and popular war, perhaps Labour would have maintained its lead in the opinion polls during the early 80s. We would rememberFoot rather differently if he’d become Prime Minister.

Enough counterfactual historical speculation! Foot still appears in the public eye now and again. Sometimes he writes articles, sometimes he is campaigning against capitalism in Hampstead. I’ve always suspected that Foot made a better writer and figurehead of left-wing causes than Labour leader. I hope the longstanding republican is looking forward to receieving his centenary telegram from Elizabeth Windsor!

He is a big man.

He is a big man.

And finally someone who is quite different from the above Still Alive!-ers: Ariel Sharon. He’s relatively young at 81, he’s not known for any musical or literary creativity, and he’s definitely not associated with any peace campaigns (although he maybe gets half points for withdrawing from Gaza?!).

The former general and Prime Minister of Israel has been in a coma since 2006 and obviously hasn’t done much since then.

Thinking about it, his brownie half points for withdrawing from Gaza are probably then withdrawn from him since he is going to be principally remembered (by me at least!) for his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre and for helping to spark an intifada when he visited the Temple Mount in 2000.

If so inclined, we at the Paintbrush may periodically post updates on the status of the Still Alive!-ers. If you have any news or any suggestions for other figures to be included do not hesitate to get in touch.

Captain Jako

Israeli elections, supporting Israel, etc

February 9, 2009

Israelis will be going to the polls tomorrow in an election which looks likely to be a good one for the right-wing parties.

The journalist Chas Newkey-Burden is a staunch philosemite (i.e an enJewsiastic lover of semitic peoples, even though not one himself). Infact he takes his philosemitism so seriously that his entire blog is now based around it.

Now I’ve always thought that it does not make it any easier to solve conflicts such as Israel-Palestine when people choose to view the division in black and white terms; granting all their empathy and support exclusively to one side and completely neglecting to consider whether the other side might have any sort of point. Sunder Katwala of the Fabians talks about this sort of mindset here.

The usual way to deflate these people’s over-simplistic arguments is to ask them if they seriously consider the side on which their loyalties lie to be faultless. For example, when someone is banging on with bulging eyes about Israeli evils why not draw their attention to reports suggesting that those Islamo-fascist bastards Hamas also murder Palestinian civilians, so perhaps the situation is not as straightforward as Israelis = bad, Palestinians = good.


A Blogging Pick’n’Mix

February 4, 2009

I love the blog Harry’s Place. It is genuinely informative on issues around Islamic extremism in the UK and it delights in indulging in a spot of Trot-bashing now and again. However, the blog’s slant is firmly pro-Israeli, and although the regular contributors have nuanced and sensible views on the Middle East situation a lot of the comments are along the lines of ‘anyone who criticises Israel is Jew-hating anti-semitic Jew-hater’. This gets tiresome after a while.

A recent guest post by s.o.muffin at Harry’s Place was thus a breath of fresh air. The idea that Israel’s actions are not necessarily rational chimes with a lot of the foreign policy analysis work that I am reading at the moment. Here’s an explanation of the cognitive bias known as ‘Fundamental Attribution Error’: when one side explains the disliked behaviour of others as a result of their disposition, while explaining their own behaviour based on the situational constraints that they face, this is a fundamental attribution error. Sounds exactly like the mainstream Israeli view of Hamas (and, to be fair, the Palestinian view of Israel).

Once you’ve read that why don’t you pop over to comrade Don Paskini’s place where he criticises the media coverage of the dispute at Lindsey and the wildcat strikes. I of course agree with the sentiments expressed by VoteRedGoGreen here, but would only like to add my distaste at those middle-class newspaper columnists who dismiss the strikers as xenophobic idiots. These workers are not going to be simply reassured that, whilst they might be losing out, skilled British labour and those dynamic enough to travel abroad to find work do well out of the European market. Anyone who has studied the political economy of protectionism knows that societies tend to be more concerned about perceived losses than they are enthusiastic about relative gains! Hopefully some sort of settlement has been reached. One of the many lessons to be taken from this is that we all need to learn more about European Union law, how it works, and how we can improve it if we need to! Perhaps we will organise a test for our readers. I wonder what Frank Owen would have made of it all?

For some light relief why don’t you take a stroll over to Dave’s Part where David Osler lays into the Daily Mail for printing brainless reactionary codswallop (something it has been known to do on occasion). To be more specific, a Mail columnist used the recent report published by the Children’s Society to blame absolutely everything that had ever gone wrong on the silliness of the left. It is along the lines of ‘Won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children?!’ Osler gives a firm leftist rebuttal. Dave’s Part attracts a lot of Trots and they are oft to be found lurking in the comment section. I especially enjoyed the comment about the nuclear family being a creation of capitalism and that humanity needs to return to its tribal instincts. The commenter disagreed with the Daily Mail piece, for in his opinion the left is not anti-family enough! Again, I can only wonder what Frank Owen’s take on the whole thing would have been. He had a wife and son of course, but he was also an openminded sort of chap.

And so in that spirit of intellectual enquiry we at the Paintbrush will endeavour to continue bringing to your attention posts from around the blogosphere which tickle our fancy.

Captain Jako

Ken Livingstone comes to UCL to talk about London, Gaza, and Flushing the Toilet

January 25, 2009

Readers will be pleased to be informed that despite the minor set-back of electoral defeat Ken Livingstone is not mellowing in either his ambition or in his aptitude for making outlandish statements! As someone who doesn’t listen to much radio apart from the essentials on Radio 4 I have never tuned in to Ken’s show on LBC, and apart from the odd newspaper column penned by the great man I have not heard much from him recently. Thus when I saw that he was being hosted by UCL Labour last Thursday I was keen to go along to get an earful of Ken.

And what an earful I got! The clichéd saying is that Ken Livingstone is one of those characters you either love or you love to hate. I would like to adopt a slightly more subtle position: there is much in Ken to admire, many of his policy prescriptions to political issues are spot on, and he is one of the great characters of the Left; but at the same time he does have a habit of sometimes making himself sound quite, quite mad.

Let us start with the positive stuff. When it comes to the ‘bread and butter’ responsibilities of the mayoralty Ken always had – and from what I heard on Thursday he continues to have – a clear understanding of how to use the office effectively in order to help Londoners. And let’s not beat about the bush here: it is poor Londoners especially that Ken wants to help. Setting the 50% affordable housing target, pushing for cheap and efficient public transport, having the guts to introduce the congestion charge, planning to use London’s successful Olympic bid as a means of raising government investment in the East End, these were all policies aimed at making London a fairer city, as well as a more prosperous city and a nicer place to live. Ken still rejects as “complete bollocks” the notion that wealth inevitably trickles down from the superrich and is somehow benevolently dispersed amongst the rest of society. He remains a firm believer in government-led redistribution, is optimistic that a red-green agenda can mitigate climate change whilst promoting social equality, and basically still espouses many of the views that put the wind in the sails of Captain Jako’s ship.

But then there is the other Ken. Combining a dig at Boris Johnson’s scruffy appearance at the Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing with a prediction of the future balance of power in the world, Ken started telling us that the Chinese government enjoyed majority support amongst the population, that the regime in Beijing don’t like being lectured to about human rights, and that China cannot accurately be described as a police state. Oh dear. Even though I might not necessarily disagree with any of those specific statements, I become slightly nauseous when I hear someone start to fawn over a government like the Chinese one.

In fact it is the realm of international affairs where I take most issue with Ken’s positions. Unfortunately this came up quite often during his time as Mayor since he did work hard on promoting a foreign policy for London sometimes quite distinct from that of the national government! When a UCL student asked him about Gaza this predictably set him off on one, and soon enough he was talking about the assistance Israel gets from a worldwide “Zionist machine”. Now imagine him saying this along with the funny whining sound that he routinely emits – “meeeeeeeeeh!” – as if he has a newt stuck in his nose. He comes across as eccentric, to say the least.

To clarify my own position: I think that there is an onus is on Israel, as the more powerful side with the disproportionate control of land and resources, to make drastic concessions in order to facilitate the creation of a viable Palestinian state. But I despair at how opinions on the Middle East situation mostly conform to a binary split – you are either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian – and how the voices most often heard on the issue tend to be characterised by the fiercest partisanship. My nauseous feeling swiftly returned when Ken skipped over any disagreements he might have with Hamas and instead said he could see why young Palestinians turn to violence. Fair enough Ken, I can empathise why Palestinians have their grief. But at the same time I would always ensure I clarify my view by stating that I do not sympathise with terrorist tactics or with the lunatic Islamist ideology driving Hamas militants. Ken has been one of the great campaigners against war and against racism in modern Britain – why can’t he equally condemn the Palestinians who choose to pursue their struggle through violent means and who portray that struggle in rabidly anti-Semitic terms?

Onto the somewhat lighter subject of how to save the planet from environmental catastrophe: Ken spent an unnervingly long time telling the audience how important it is not to flush the toilet after “a wee”. However, he did concede that flushing after a No.2 is probably a good idea. I look forward to Ken authoring a pamphlet on Scatological Socialism (perhaps Compass would publish it?). Here at Frank Owen’s Paintbrush we will certainly be taking this idea seriously and we will inform our loyal readers of the results.

Unfortunately your correspondent was not able to ask Ken a question. If I had I think I would have been interested to hear him explain to us why he feels the need to be Mayor again in 2012. If I was being provocative I might even have asked whether he would run again as an Independent if he did not win Labour’s selection. The Paintbrush posse will of course campaign enthusiastically for whichever comrade is the Labour Party candidate, but I think I speak for all of us when I say Ken does not have our automatic support. He had eight years in the job in which he did a lot of good work, but he also managed to irritate many. I suspect that Ken has been spending too much time with his buddy Hugo Chavez (for wants to amend the Venezuelan constitution so that he can run for President ad infinitum). Sometimes it is best to admit that you have had your time in the spotlight and that someone else should be given a chance. It will be interesting to see who else from the party ranks expresses an interest in the job and what policy proposals the potential candidates put forward. For now at least, the much-coveted Frank Owen’s Paintbrush endorsement is still up for grabs!

Captain Jako