Saturday, April 30, 2005

The British election - Tony Blair, Oona King, & George Galloway
Posted Monday, April 25, 2005, at 2:14 PM PT

Long Live Labor
Why I'm for Tony Blair.

By Christopher Hitchens

I joined the British Labor Party as soon as I was old enough to be eligible, which was sometime in 1965. I was not long after that expelled from its ranks, along with the majority of the Labor students' organization, because of Prime Minister Harold Wilson's contemptible support for the war in Vietnam. (I should have resigned, but I waited to be expelled instead.) Since then I have re-enlisted a few times, canvassed in a desultory way, off-and-on paid my dues, and hosted the odd Labor figure in Washington. It wouldn't have been thinkable for me to vote for any other party at election time, though in the 1979 election the Callaghan regime had become so corrupt and incompetent and reactionary that I didn't vote at all.

On May 5, 40 years after I first took out a membership card, it will be possible, for the first time since the 1945 Labor victory that threw out the Churchill Tories, to vote Labor on a point of principle. Sixty years is a long time to wait, but the struggle for Iraq has decided the matter.

Arguing about the war in Britain is quite different, in point of tone and alignment, from debating it in the United States. True, there is in both countries a huge mass of media and showbiz and academic liberals who take the very name "George Bush" as permission to bid adieu to common sense. But in the press there is quite a determined posse of staunch left-wingers (John Lloyd, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch) who support regime change. The same is true on the benches of Parliament, where Ann Clwyd, a veteran Welsh radical, has for years been campaigning for the removal of Saddam Hussein. Several old friends of mine from the Sixties Left hold positions in Blair's government and never let an anti-war argument go unchallenged.

Meanwhile, most of the groaning and sniping about the missing WMDs comes from the hard right, which has a hold on the Tory party and more than a hold on the tabloid press. Anti-Americanism in Britain has long been a conservative rather than a radical trope, and dislike for George Bush is very common among the aristocratic remnant, as well as among those who are nostalgic for the British empire that America supplanted after the war. That especial form of British anti-Semitism ("You catch it on the edge of a remark," as Harold Abrahams puts it so well in Chariots of Fire) is beautifully ventriloquized in the way that certain BBC announcers pronounce the name "Wolfowitz."

The commonest liberal and Tory jeer against Tony Blair—that he is George Bush's "poodle"—is self-evidently false. Far from being a ditto to Washington, it was Blair who leaned on Clinton and Albright to intervene in the Balkans, putting an end to the long and disgusting Tory appeasement of Slobodan Milosevic. Without asking for any American approval, Blair also decided to stand by Britain's treaty with Sierra Leone and to send troops to put down the barbaric invasion of the hand-loppers and diamond-dealers, based in Charles Taylor's Liberia, who were among other things the regional allies of al-Qaida. In 1999, when Bush was still an isolationist governor of Texas, Blair made a speech in Chicago pointing out that Saddam Hussein's defiance of international law made a future confrontation with him inevitable. After Sept. 11, 2001, Blair told Bush that he would send ground troops to Afghanistan even if the United States would not.

Other considerations inflect the picture, altering the misleading liberal-vs.-conservative divide that our media have imposed on the argument. Blair's Britain is a sort of post-Keynesian full-employment and welfarist society. Its government makes at least the right noises about Kyoto, the U.N., Palestine, and the International Criminal Court. Thus there are fewer opportunities for anti-war voices to change the subject. And the anti-Bush/Blair "left" has, to its credit, been perfectly honest in identifying itself both with Saddam Hussein and with Islamic fundamentalism.

The most interesting local campaign of this election is being fought in East London, in the constituency of Bethnal Green, where the sitting Labor member is being challenged by the veteran Stalinist George Galloway. Oona King, the incumbent, is a woman of mixed African and Jewish descent who is attacked by the local Nazi party—itself anti-war—on both grounds. She has also been pelted with eggs and stones by Muslim thugs who stress the Jewish element of her heritage. Mr. Galloway's bloc is made up of the renegade pseudo-Bolsheviks of the Socialist Workers Party, its arms newly linked with the Muslim Association of Britain. He himself was a personal friend of Saddam Hussein's and a loud advocate of Ba'ath Party rule. He was expelled from the Labor Party when he called for jihad against British soldiers. Thus, the most reactionary forces in British society are fused in their admiration of the one-party state and the one-god movement. Or they nearly are: Last week a gang of supporters of the Hizb ut-Tahrir fundamentalist movement invaded the offices of the Muslim Association of Britain and ambushed George Galloway in the street, promising eternal hellfire to anyone so un-Islamic as to take part in an election at all. This of course is the doctrine preached by Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq. How satisfying that those who support the Iraqi "insurgency" from a safe distance have now received a taste of its real character.

There are things to dislike about Tony Blair. His rather sickly piety is one, and his liberal authoritarianism, on matters such as smoking and fox-hunting, is another. I can't forgive him for calling Diana Spencer "the People's Princess," or for seeking the approval of the Fleet Street rags, and he is one of those politicians who seems to think that staying "on message" is an achievement in itself. Nonetheless, he took a bold stand against the establishment and against a sullen public opinion and did so on a major issue of principle. It is absolutely necessary that his right-wing and clerical enemies be humiliated at the polls.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and a regular contributor to Slate. His most recent book is Love, Poverty and War. He is also the author of A Long Short War: The Postponed Liberation of Iraq and of Blood, Class and Empire.

The Independent (London)
April 21, 2005

Eastenders in turmoil, a fatwa on Galloway, and the most dangerous campaign in Britain.
The strange election in Bethnal Green and Bow

Johann Hari

When I saw George Galloway at the hustings in Mile End on Wednesday night, he seemed uncharacteristically pale and shaken. Throughout the election campaign in Bethnal Green and Bow - where he is standing as the Respect candidate against the Labour MP Oona King - he has been running a high-volume, high-rage contest. Most of his campaign has consisted of legitimate political comment, even if I disagree: attacking the war as "evil", savaging King as "a Blairite android", and so on.

But some has burst beyond those boundaries: he has been telling the most alienated Muslim men in Britain that Tony Blair is "waging a war on Muslims ... at home and abroad". He is nudging towards a kind of inverse Powellism that tells the Muslim community it is under siege from a brutal terrorist state that will stop at nothing. Rivers of blood, he implies, are only months away.

The mood was becoming so ugly that I began to fret there would be violence. King was being attacked with eggs hurled by young Muslim men everywhere she went. Her tyres were slashed. Was worse on the way? At the first set of hustings, I saw similar men threatening Labour Party members as they spoke against Galloway, slamming their fists into their palms.

Somewhere at the back of my mind, I kept thinking about Theo Van Gogh, beheaded by an Islamic fundamentalist in the streets of Amsterdam with a butcher's knife. His "crime" was to make a film exposing domestic violence in the Dutch-Muslim community - and attached to his corpse was a death threat against a young immigrant MP. She is still in hiding. If it happens in this country, I kept thinking, it will happen in the East End.

Just as I was beginning to think I was heading into melodrama overdrive, I heard that Galloway had been told he was going to be hanged for being a "false prophet" by an Islamic fundamentalist group who believe democracy is "evil".

Suddenly Galloway was talking about his "respect" for Oona King, and King reciprocated by saying that "although George and I disagree about many things, we do not want to be violent towards each other." Incredibly, much of the audience at the hustings booed this sentiment; I hope they just misheard.

So what is happening in the East End? I know a few members of the Hizb al-Tahrir group who have been accused of threatening Galloway, although the group fervently denies it. They often man a stall just outside my local McDonald's and sometimes, when I am very bored, I pick a row with them. (Perhaps I should stop doing that now). They are intelligent and furious young conservatives, driven by hatred of Western liberalism in all its forms, and absolutely convinced they are being viciously persecuted by the "infidel" state. It is very hard to engage them in a political dialogue that makes sense - you talk tax credits and they talk Caliphate, you talk a higher minimum wage and they talk about Mohammed's third wife.

But I am programmed as a leftie to try to find the root causes of their anger. I search for it in every conversation, but these aren't displaced Palestinians or Chechens; they are fairly wealthy, fairly well-educated young men (never women, of course) who have grown up in free countries. I cannot find a root cause for their beliefs; they seem to be simply intoxicated by a superstitious, reactionary ideology. You may as well ask about the root cause of the Cambridge spies' conversion to Soviet Communism.

This week, Galloway had the look of a man who has been romancing a beast, only to find the beast has raced beyond his control. For several years now, he has been performing political cunnilingus on the most hardline Muslim groups in Britain. Look at the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), whose chief spokesman, Dr Azam Tamimi, says that Arab women "ask for" wife-beating, and believes thieves should be punished by cutting off their hands.

After years of wooing them and adopting their ultra-conservative position on abortion, euthanasia and more, Galloway has coaxed the MAB to urge its supporters to give him "maximum support." He has even adopted the mullahs' line on drugs, attacking King for her "soft" views on cannabis and calling for a "much tougher" war, no matter how many Muslim lives it takes.

Galloway clearly believed this ideology could be used for his political ends. Perhaps now he will see it for what it is: an authentically totalitarian movement capable of extreme violence against democratic politicians.

But would even this realisation stop Galloway stoking and supporting it? The other extraordinary aspect to the fight in Bethnal Green and Bow is that Galloway seems to have given up pretending he was sincerely opposed to Saddam. After describing Saddam's programmes of genocide as "a civil war with massive violence on both sides", Galloway has now called for Saddam's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, to be released without charge. Not to an international court; just released. "An eminent diplomatic and intellectual person" held "without any justification," was how Galloway described the man he spent a very merry Christmas with in 1999.

Aziz could have defected at any time. Instead, he stayed as one of the leaders of a fascist state. The vast majority of people who opposed the war had no sympathy with Baathism, and I have never met a pro-Saddam Muslim; but for anybody with eyes to see, Galloway's beliefs are now plain. I can understand why many decent people cannot vote for King because she supported the war, even though I don't agree--indeed I am campaigning for her. But why vote for an alternative who seems to be an apologist for even more Iraqis deaths?

I asked Galloway how many Muslims had been murdered by his friend Aziz. The correct answer: even more than have been slaughtered by Ariel Sharon, or by Israel in 38 years of occupying Gaza and the West Bank. Galloway said, "Why don't you go and take some more drugs, you druggie?"

This is part of a pattern. Galloway consistently sides with unelected, unrepresentative Muslim leaders at the expense of the majority of Muslim people. When he talks about "siding with Muslims", I am always tempted to ask: which Muslims? Female Muslims, chafing under their veils and reeling from the fists of too many of their men? Democratic Muslims, braving suicide-bombers to vote all over Iraq? Gay Muslims, living in terror and locked in mock-heterosexual marriage? Muslim trade unionists in Iraq, dismissed by Galloway as "quislings"? Tariq Aziz, or his victims?

In a column on Wednesday, I talked about how excruciatingly boring this election campaign has been. After hours watching two candidates who might be facing death, I'm almost tempted to swallow the valium of Blair vs Howard. Anything - even comatose boredom - is better than a Theo van Gogh on the streets of the East End.

The Independent - 21/04/2005


The Observer (London)
April 17, 2005

Following Mosley's East End footsteps
Appeals to communalism are once again echoing across the streets of Bow

Nick Cohen
Sunday April 17, 2005
The Observer

In 1935, in London's East End, Sir Oswald Mosley, a former Labour MP and moustachioed loudmouth, addressed members of the British Union of Fascists, the cult he had founded to worship his personality. 'The yelling mob of socialists and communists are paid by the Jews,' he yelled at his mob. 'The big Jew finances and controls the old parties, both Conservative and socialists; the little Jew sweats you in the sweatshop.'

Writers on British fascism vary from the soft-hearted Lord Skidelsky to tough-minded researchers from the East End. On one point, they agree: Mosley's decision to play the race card was entirely cynical. He may have bent the knee to Hitler and Mussolini, but he wasn't more or less racist than any other member of the aristocracy. He embraced anti-semitism as it was the best way to appeal to the East End voters he thought would propel him back to power.

'Unlike the people around him, Mosley was never a convinced racist,' said Francis Beckett, the best of the tough-minded historians. 'Needless to add, that doesn't mean that he was better than them.'

Ranged against Mosley was what we used to call 'the left' back in the 20th century. The Labour movement and the communists declared that religion, race and skin colour didn't matter. What mattered was that immigrants and natives alike were members of the working class or brotherhood of man. Their common interests were more important than their superficial differences. It was a wildly romantic view. George Lansbury, the saintly leader of the Labour party, who was as adored by activists in the 1930s as Michael Foot was in the 1980s, couldn't bring himself to admit that there was racism in his beloved East End.

This was a fantasy, but a useful fantasy, and from the 1930s through to the 1970s, immigrants were helped by a left which announced that what they had in common was more important than what set them apart. They were as British as the next man; as much a part of the struggle against the boss class as any other worker.

In 2005, in London's East End, George Galloway, a former Labour MP and moustachioed loudmouth, is urging supporters of Respect to propel him back to power. Just as Mosley bent the knee to the fascist leaders of his day, so Galloway bent the knee to Saddam Hussein when he flew to Baghdad and burbled: 'Sir, I salute your courage, strength and indefatigability.'

There's no doubt that Saddam was from classic fascist tradition, but it's difficult to make the argument, not only because in his purges of his Baath party colleagues Saddam followed Stalin rather than Hitler, but because the common assumption is that fascism died in the 1940s. A fascist today is a father who tells you to take the stud out of your nose or George W Bush when you're losing the plot in a pub argument.

But fascism, that is, an extreme nationalism which wages genocidal campaigns against 'impure' ethnic minorities and restless wars of aggression against its neighbours, flourished in Iraq. The Baath party's ideologues were as inspired by Nazi Germany as Sir Oswald. Their language was all but identical. When Hitler planned the extermination of European Jews, he let out a contemptuous: 'Who remembers the Armenians?' (the victims of the Turks in the first, and first to be forgotten, genocide of the 20th century). When Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid - 'Chemical Ali', began the extermination of the Kurds, he let out a contemptuous: 'Who will say anything? The international community? Fuck them!'

Galloway's kissing of the ring of a tyrant with the blood of 1.5 million people on his hands was hardly a one-off. Iraqi left wingers I know loathe him because he denounced Iraqi trade unionists as 'quislings'. The fact that their comrades are still being tortured and murdered by a Baathist and Islamist 'resistance' which retains all of the far-right's hatred of unions hasn't helped cool their tempers.

Last week, he was continuing to act on behalf of the regime when he said Tariq Aziz, Saddam's foreign minister, was a 'political prisoner' who should be released. Aziz was Saddam's loyal henchman and up to his neck in his crimes.

Doubtless, at his trial, Aziz will say he was just obeying orders and it may work. But for Galloway to say that he shouldn't stand trial is to top Mosley. I can find no reference to Sir Oswald calling for the Nuremberg defendants to be released without charge.

To add to the foul atmosphere, there's a whiff of old hatreds in the air. Oona King, the Labour candidate, is getting fed up with Respect supporters bringing up her Jewish mother, although she says it makes a change from the British National Party bringing up her black father. Last week, King and a group of mainly Jewish pensioners gathered for a 60th anniversary memorial service for the 132 people who died in the last V2 rocket attack on London in 1945. Muslim youths spat and threw eggs at the mourners and shouted: 'You fucking Jews.'

In a letter to the Guardian, members of Respect said there was 'no evidence that this egg-throwing was anti-semitic'. Although it didn't condone them, 'such episodes do occur', and Galloway, John Major, Tony Blair and John Prescott had all had eggs thrown at them.

What can you say to that? Either it's slyly trying to avoid alienating potential supporters or Respect is so morally shrivelled it can't tell the difference between disrupting a political speech and attacking a service for the victims of fascism.

Oona King is a strong woman who can look after herself. The worst work Respect is doing is to its Bengali and Somali supporters, not its opponents. I was tempted to write that the party was as much a cult of the personality for Galloway as the British Union of Fascists was for Mosley, but that's not true. The media never tell you but Respect isn't a new organisation but is dominated by the old Socialist Workers Party, which ran the anti-war movement. After the great demonstrations against the war, it hoped for electoral gains. In the May 2003 council elections, it flopped. The only seat it won was in Preston, where local priests ordered Muslims to vote for their candidate.

The SWP has learned the lesson and made its own entirely cynical switch. It hopes to ride the religious tiger by persuading devout Muslims to follow the lead of godless communists. Boring old causes have been dropped to facilitate the marriage. 'I'm in favour of defending gay rights,' declared Lindsey German, the SWP leader. 'But I am not prepared to have it as a shibboleth, [created by] people who won't defend George Galloway and regard the state of Israel as somehow a viable presence.'

As the line changed, the party's paper tried to reconcile anti-capitalism and religious fundamentalism by calling on the comrades to protest against Spearmint Rhino lap-dancing clubs.

Galloway's propaganda follows the same pattern. It features a picture of Oona King with a cheesy smile and a low-cut dress. The headline doesn't say 'Decadent Western Bitch', but then it doesn't need to.

The sight of Trots in burkas would be hilarious if it wasn't a symbol of the shambles on the left. From the 1970s, the number of people who believed in working-class solidarity fell by the year, to the immense detriment of immigrants. Instead of being met by a left which emphasised what they had in common with the native population, they were met by relativists who emphasised the separateness of their race and religion. Notoriously, the process had the unintended consequence of keeping immigrants poor and isolated from the mainstream.

Respect is the dead end of this failed idea. It's as if the left of the 1930s had decided to fight Mosley by creating a party which emphasised Jewish separateness and then wondered why anti-semitism persisted.

Many of my colleagues think that Galloway could beat King. He's a ruthless operator and she voted for the war against Iraq and that's that. I'm not so sure. I went to speak at a King rally on the strange histories of the far left and far right. I expected it to be like most meetings I address: all but empty. Instead, it was packed and the audience was up for a fight.

The Labour movement, Iraqi refugees and people with no great history of political activism are uniting behind King. The East End left may just manage to win one last battle.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Another anti-Israel boycott (Normblog)

Guest-Posted on the Website of Norman Geras (Normblog)

Many people are not aware that the Geneva-based International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation has always refused to admit the Israeli branch, the Magen David Adom (i.e., Red Star of David) to full membership. Various pretexts, excuses, and complications have been invoked over the years, but essentially this is a matter of politically motivated exclusion - which, as far as I know, is unique to Israel. (Purely coincidence, no doubt.) The American Red Cross, to its credit, has taken the lead in pressing for an end to this indefensible situation. Dr Bernadine Healy, the former head of the American Red Cross, provided important moral leadership on this issue, despite considerable criticism and opposition.

It seems possible (though it's far from certain) that the international Federation may, at long last, do the right thing. If so, it's about time.

Opposition by Red Crescent branches from Islamic countries, including but not restricted to the Arab world, has always been the decisive factor preventing the inclusion of Israel. It is now more than a half-century since the creation of Israel, and it is time for these countries to come to terms with Israel's existence - not to endorse Israel's policies, or even necessarily to make peace with Israel (if that seems too radical), but just to accept its existence. If they can't bring themselves to do this, then at least the international Red Cross/Red Crescent organization should do so.

--Jeff Weintraub


Saturday, April 23, 2005

UN body fails to condemn Sudan (BBC News)

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has approved by consensus a resolution condemning human rights violations in Sudan.
The resolution, which was agreed after long negotiation, does not condemn the Sudanese government by name for atrocities committed in Darfur.
It does, however, call on all parties to immediately end all violence.
At least 180,000 people have died and two million fled their homes, in what some say is genocide against non-Arabs.

Our correspondent says it is a compromise that prevented a messy row, something all sides wanted to avoid at a time when many say the commission lacks credibility.

Why would anyone say that?

But the fact that it took so long to agree on a resolution which does not even go as far as the UN Security Council which has already referred Sudan to the International Criminal Court is, human rights groups say, simply another sign that the UN's top human rights body needs reform.

It's hard to argue with that last point.

--Jeff Weintraub


BBC News
April 22, 2005

UN body fails to condemn Sudan

The United Nations Human Rights Commission has approved by consensus a resolution condemning human rights violations in Sudan.

The resolution, which was agreed after long negotiation, does not condemn the Sudanese government by name for atrocities committed in Darfur.

It does, however, call on all parties to immediately end all violence.

At least 180,000 people have died and two million fled their homes, in what some say is genocide against non-Arabs.

The Sudan government denies accusations that it armed the Janjaweed militias blamed for the worst atrocities.


African countries say Sudan's government had to make painful concessions in this resolution.

But the BBC's Imogen Foulkes in the Swiss city of Geneva where the meeting was held, says that human rights groups are disappointed that it doesn't go further.

A vote on human rights in Sudan was originally scheduled for last week, but it was postponed and postponed again while intense negotiations took place between European and African members of the commission.

The Europeans wanted what is known as a naming and shaming resolution clearly condemning the government of Sudan for its responsibility for some of the atrocities taking place in Darfur.

The African group, among them Sudan itself, opposed this, so the final resolution is milder.

It condemns human rights abuses by all parties in Sudan without specifically naming the government, but it does contain a key demand of human rights activists - the approval of a special investigator on human rights to Sudan who will report to the UN General Assembly.

Our correspondent says it is a compromise that prevented a messy row, something all sides wanted to avoid at a time when many say the commission lacks credibility.

But the fact that it took so long to agree on a resolution which does not even go as far as the UN Security Council which has already referred Sudan to the International Criminal Court is, human rights groups say, simply another sign that the UN's top human rights body needs reform.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Remember Darfur ?

After several years of empty talk and minimal action, the campaign of mass murder, mass rape, and ethnic cleansing in western Sudan continues largely unchecked ("Rwanda in slow motion," in Eric Reeves's formulation), and no one is doing anything serious to stop it.

As the Washington Post correctly argued in a recent editorial:

In a better world, the United States would not have to lead on Darfur. Russia and China would support sanctions without being pressured; the African Union would be less prickly. American allies would show more interest in preventing genocide than in haggling over which court should try its perpetrators, as European supporters of the International Criminal Court have done recently. France, in particular, would use its military clout in the region to support the AU peacekeepers. Instead, when NATO's secretary general suggested using his organization's assets to support the AU mission, France resisted, apparently out of a desire to preserve its own status as chief military intervener in Africa.

You face genocide in Sudan with the international partners you have, not the ones you might wish to have. If the United States does not lead on Darfur, nobody else is going to. Leadership means getting a much larger peacekeeping force into Darfur, so that attacks on civilians cease and humanitarian workers can reach all parts of the territory. To achieve that objective, Mr. Zoellick needs to break the collective paralysis by changing the way the Chinese, Russians, Europeans and Africans think; his most important mission is not this week's visit to Khartoum but future trips to Beijing, Moscow and so on. Mr. Zoellick must argue that nations calling themselves civilized cannot stand by while hundreds of thousands are massacred. He must ask America's partners to judge themselves not by whether they have made sympathetic gestures, nor even whether they have done "their share," but rather by the one standard that matters: Is the genocide continuing?

This is right. At the same time, pressing for stronger initiatives by the US government, however necessary, can't possibly be enough. I also want to re-emphasize some things that I said almost a year ago (July 2, 2004) ... including the bolded passage in the third paragraph below:

The appalling fact is that practically no one with any clout in the so-called "international community" is doing anything serious to stop this. To their credit, UN officials from Kofi Annan on down have sounded the alarm (and Annan has even publicly raised the possibility of outside intervention). But in practice, the UN is powerless to act except on the initiative of member states, particularly the most powerful member states, which has not been forthcoming. In fact, this unpleasantness in Darfur did not prevent Sudan from being re-appointed to its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission (on the nomination, believe it or not, of the African regional bloc, apparently untroubled by the Sudanese government's mass murders of black Africans over the years in the southern and now western Sudan). (This is also, by far, the largest mass atrocity being committed against Muslims anywhere in the world--though by other Muslims--but I am not aware of any serious responses from the wider Islamic world, governmental or otherwise. The lack of even verbal condemnation by the Arab League is, of course, not surprising.)

Again, to give credit where credit is due: The US government (for complex reasons of US domestic politics and long-term diplomatic involvement in Sudan) has begun to play a significant constructive role. The mobilization of an unusual coalition linking African-American groups, Christian groups from right and left, and Jewish groups opposed to the genocidal mass murder of ethnic minorities, has had a significant impact in this respect. The US government has openly condemned the campaign of ethnic cleansing and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, explicitly recognizing that it is not only a humanitarian crisis requiring massive relief aid, but also--and fundamentally--a deliberate crime requiring a political solution. The US delegation at the UN strongly protested Sudan's reappointment to the UN Human Rights Commission . The US sent the Secretary of State to Darfur, a significant gesture, and while Powell was in Sudan he said forthrightly to the Sudanese government that the Janjaweed (the government-backed Arab militias who play the main role in this atrocity) "must be broken." And the US is attempting to coordinate more international pressure on the Sudanese government (so far without many visible results).

The US government should be pressed to do more [....] But the larger situation is that, as far as I know, at this point the US government is the ONLY one that has undertaken ANY serious initiatives to stop this atrocity and to prevent a gigantic, entirely foreseeable, humanitarian catastrophe in the coming months. This is a scandal. Those of you who are citizens of European countries, in particular, should do what you can to urge your governments to do something serious (in terms of diplomacy, political pressure, and urgent humanitarian relief, at the very least) ... or, at the minimum, not to obstruct a serious response. Obviously, only a JOINT response by some significant segment of the "international community" can address this crisis in any constructive way.

--Jeff Weintraub


Washington Post
April 10, 2005


Doing Better by Darfur

Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A18

Last June Secretary of State Colin L. Powell visited Sudan in an attempt to stop the Darfur genocide. Sudan's government rewarded him with promises to rein in its allies in the Janjaweed death squads; to stop impeding humanitarian access to Darfur; and to open political talks with Darfur's rebels. None of these concessions worked. The promise to rein in the Janjaweed turned out to be hollow. The improvement in humanitarian access was real but incomplete and impermanent. Negotiations between the government and rebels have gone nowhere. The upshot of Mr. Powell's visit was that mass killing continued, and Darfur's death toll is likely to be even more appalling this year than last.

This week it is the turn of Robert B. Zoellick, the new deputy at the State Department, to journey to Sudan. Mr. Zoellick is a forceful diplomat. In his previous job as President Bush's trade representative, he made progress that eluded his predecessors. He may therefore be tempted to believe that he can continue Mr. Powell's approach of extracting promises from Sudan's government and yet somehow succeed. But success is unlikely unless the administration absorbs the lessons of the past year and changes its strategy. Diplomatic pressure, which should be aimed primarily at getting a large peacekeeping force into Darfur, won't work unless it's supported by the threat of sanctions. And neither the sanctions threat nor the peacekeeping deployment will be credible unless the United States invests more political capital in Darfur than it has so far.

After Mr. Powell's visit last year, the United Nations Security Council passed two resolutions threatening sanctions but then never followed through; this gave Sudan's rulers a green light to kill more people. The reason for the lack of follow-through was that the Bush administration made a conscious decision not to elevate Darfur's genocide to the top of its agenda. Mr. Bush did not place phone calls to the leaders of China and Russia to insist that they back tougher action, so both countries followed their commercial interests -- for China, Sudan is a source of oil; for Russia, it is an arms market. Partly at Mr. Zoellick's urging, Mr. Bush did recently phone Japan's prime minister to complain about beef regulation. Perhaps the president can also be persuaded to call members of the Security Council who resist sanctions on Sudan that might bring an end to genocide.

After Mr. Powell's visit, too, ground was prepared for a small peace-monitoring deployment under the umbrella of the African Union. The presence of AU forces helped to reduce violence but only to a limited extent; 2,000 or so troops cannot monitor an area the size of France. As a result, villages have continued to be burned and their inhabitants forced into unsanitary and undersupplied camps for displaced people. A much bigger peacekeeping force is needed, but none has materialized -- again because the Bush administration has not invested the necessary effort in corralling other countries. The AU's leaders, notably the South Africans and the Nigerians, have been more interested in retaining a lead role in Darfur than in preventing genocide; they see their deployment as a sign that Africa can be responsible for its own problems, and they are reluctant to admit that a bigger deployment is needed, because that would imply accepting extra help from rich countries.

In a better world, the United States would not have to lead on Darfur. Russia and China would support sanctions without being pressured; the African Union would be less prickly. American allies would show more interest in preventing genocide than in haggling over which court should try its perpetrators, as European supporters of the International Criminal Court have done recently. France, in particular, would use its military clout in the region to support the AU peacekeepers. Instead, when NATO's secretary general suggested using his organization's assets to support the AU mission, France resisted, apparently out of a desire to preserve its own status as chief military intervener in Africa.

You face genocide in Sudan with the international partners you have, not the ones you might wish to have. If the United States does not lead on Darfur, nobody else is going to. Leadership means getting a much larger peacekeeping force into Darfur, so that attacks on civilians cease and humanitarian workers can reach all parts of the territory. To achieve that objective, Mr. Zoellick needs to break the collective paralysis by changing the way the Chinese, Russians, Europeans and Africans think; his most important mission is not this week's visit to Khartoum but future trips to Beijing, Moscow and so on. Mr. Zoellick must argue that nations calling themselves civilized cannot stand by while hundreds of thousands are massacred. He must ask America's partners to judge themselves not by whether they have made sympathetic gestures, nor even whether they have done "their share," but rather by the one standard that matters: Is the genocide continuing?


Human Rights Watch
April 12, 2005


Darfur: Women Raped Even After Seeking Refuge
Author: Human Rights Watch
Published on Tue, 12 Apr 2005, 07:34

Women and girls who have fled ethnic cleansing in Darfur are being raped and subjected to sexual violence around the camps where they have sought refuge, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today.

Donors meeting in Oslo on April 11-12 to discuss aid for Sudan must provide more support to protect victims of sexual violence in Darfur and the refugee camps in Chad.

"Rape and sexual violence have been used to terrorize and uproot rural communities in Darfur," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Donors urgently need to set up programs to protect women and girls from sexual violence and address the needs of those who have been raped."

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper documents how the Sudanese security forces, including police deployed to protect displaced persons, and allied Janjaweed militias continue to commit rape and sexual violence on daily basis. Even as refugees in Chad, women and girls fleeing the violence in Darfur continued to face the risk of rape and assault by civilians or militia members when collecting water, fuel or animal fodder near the border. Human Rights Watch interviewed many victims of sexual violence in camps in Chad and Darfur during two research missions to these areas in February.

Some women living in the refugee camps in Chad had been imprisoned by the Chadian authorities for trying to collect firewood outside the camps, only to be raped by Chadian inmates while in jail. Human Rights Watch documented 10 cases of women and girls from Farchana camp who were imprisoned in such circumstances in January.

Rape and sexual violence against women and girls has been a prominent feature of the "ethnic cleansing" campaign carried out by government forces and its Janjaweed militias, both during and following the displacement of civilians from Darfur. As recently as last month, Human Rights Watch has documented scores of cases of rape of women and girls while traveling along rural roads in Darfur.

The response of Sudanese authorities has exacerbated an already appalling situation. Human Rights Watch documented how authorities in Bindisi, West Darfur, harassed and detained pregnant girls and women, many of whom who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The authorities threatened them with charges of fornication if they did not pay a fine. In some refugee camps in Chad, police and male residents have coerced women and girls to provide "sexual services" in exchange for "protection," Human Rights Watch said.

Donors and humanitarian agencies must give much greater emphasis—and more resources—to preventing sexual and gender-based violence. They also must take urgent steps to respond to its medical, psychological, social and economic consequences. The high levels of sexual violence and displacement in Darfur create a risk of increased transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

Despite the existence of clear standards for responding to sexual and gender-based violence, including in the context of conflict, Human Rights Watch's research suggests that humanitarian agencies are not implementing these guidelines on a systematic basis in Darfur and Chad.

"The U.N. and humanitarian agencies should address the specific needs of women and girls who continue to suffer the consequences of sexual violence," said Takirambudde.

As of February, only one in six of the agencies that were providing health services in the refugee camps in Chad had a protocol for rape that included the provision of emergency contraception, comprehensive treatment of sexually transmissible disease and post-exposure prophylaxis of HIV/AIDS.

Sexual violence is a fundamental violation of human rights and has a profound impact on physical, mental, social and economic well-being of women and girls, both immediately and in the long term. Acts of sexual violence committed as part of widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population in Darfur can be classified as crimes against humanity and prosecuted as such.

The Human Rights Watch briefing paper entitled Sexual Violence and its Consequences among Displaced Persons in Darfur and Chad is available online at:

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Remember Afghanistan? (Normblog)

Guest-posted on the weblog of Norman Geras (Normblog)

by Jeff Weintraub

1. The political history of the past several decades has driven home the fact that elections can sometimes be moments of revelation, with powerful and unexpected effects - for example, the Chilean referendum of 1988, which the Pinochet dictatorship expected to win but which instead brought it to an end; the Philippine election of 1986 that toppled the Marcos dictatorship; the recent Ukrainian elections, and so on.

Of course, this doesn't happen all the time or in all circumstances. Authoritarian governments that put on a show of contested elections can still manage to steal them and get away with it - as just happened in Zimbabwe. And straightforward gangster regimes can simply ignore lost elections, if they're willing to rule without even the pretence of legitimacy - for example, when over 80% of the Burmese electorate voted in 1990 for the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the military dictatorship responded by ignoring the results and putting her under house arrest. And the less said about the long-term consequences of the Algerian elections of 1992, the better.

Nevertheless, it has to be recognized that elections can often be exceptionally powerful political rituals - understanding 'ritual' in a Durkheimian rather than a dismissive sense - that carry substantial moral authority, and sometimes they are even symbolic earthquakes that transform the political landscape. The recent elections in Iraq belong in this category, and it seems increasingly clear that the same is true for the elections in Afghanistan in October 2004.

During the period leading up to the Afghan elections, I must confess that I was inclined not to take them very seriously. This was the prevailing conventional wisdom among most observers, informed or otherwise, reflected in the bulk of the news coverage. Some of the reasons for this attitude were and remain plausible. It was not clear that the Afghans would actually be able to pull off the elections. And even if they did, successfully holding an election is not enough, by itself, to establish a stable and effective political regime - let alone one with a serious claim to be called democratic. Afghanistan was still suffering from the effects of decades of war and devastation, and there were continuing guerrilla and terrorist attacks by Taliban and other jihadist forces based in Pakistan, with some residual support among Afghan Pushtuns. Much of the country was being run by local warlords (though Hamid Karzai had recently taken decisive action against some of the most powerful warlords, even dislodging the apparently untouchable Ismail Khan from control of Herat); it seemed likely that the very high voter registration figures were due partly to some voters registering more than once (though the election officials did work out practical ways to prevent multiple voting - which seem to have mostly worked); and so on.

Well, I was wrong (along with the rest of the conventional wisdom). The elections turned out to be a major political event. In some ways the Taliban themselves, who bitterly opposed holding the elections, helped to make them a crucial turning point. The Taliban condemned the elections, promised to disrupt them, and threatened to kill anyone who voted. They comprehensively failed to do this. The elections went ahead with minimal disruption; voter turnout (including that of women voters) was massive, even in the Pushtun areas; and the Taliban did not actually manage to murder, or even intimidate, many potential voters. Whether this happened because they lacked the capacity to disrupt the elections, or because they realized that trying to do so would cause a backlash against them, almost doesn't matter. Either way, the elections were a devastating political defeat for the Taliban, with very damaging effects on their prestige and morale.

Does this guarantee that there will be a decent outcome for Afghanistan in the long run? Of course not. But those who continue to scoff at the Afghan elections as a meaningless charade, or to dismiss Karzai as no more than 'the mayor of Kabul', are not facing reality.

2. The Afghan elections and their aftermath provide an occasion to consider how Afghanistan has been doing more generally since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. Here again, it's useful to try to face reality - which is complex.

Many people who opposed the 2001 anti-Taliban war continue to claim, in the face of all logic and evidence, that the war - which overthrew one of the most appalling, repressive, and reactionary regimes on the planet, as well as bringing a long-running Afghan civil war to an end - was somehow bad for Afghanistan and the Afghan people. It is time for such people to simply admit that, on this point, they were wrong. All the serious reports on life in Afghanistan since 2001, even the most critical and pessimistic, indicate otherwise. And as Peter Bergen pointed out in a New York Times op-ed piece on September 23, if there were any truth at all to this picture, then it would be difficult to explain why millions of Afghan refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban, and continue to do so, rather than fleeing in the opposite direction.

If they want, people who opposed the anti-Taliban war can continue to argue that the war was wrong, unjust, unwise, illegal, and/or imperialist on other grounds. Right or wrong, these arguments raise different issues. But people who make them should honestly face up to the reality that, on balance, the effects of the war were and continue to be beneficial, not harmful, for the great majority of Afghans.

At the same time, it is also true that by any reasonable standard (as distinct from the standard set by the Taliban regime), Afghanistan is still in a terrible mess. It remains devastated and impoverished, with barely rudimentary state institutions and public services. Security is uneven, literacy is low, infant mortality is high, and opium production is booming. As Ahmed Rashid - who knows what he's talking about - indicated in a recent piece for the BBC, it will still require a major effort just to rebuild the 'minimum basic infrastructure that was present in 1979 before the Soviet invasion.'

Ahmed Rashid's piece and two other recent discussions capture some of the complexities of the situation, from slightly different angles. On the one hand, Afghanistan is far from a lost cause, and overall things have gotten better since 2001. On the other hand, Afghanistan needs and deserves more effective help from the so-called international community - meaning not just the US, which could certainly be doing more, but also Europe, Japan, and others. (And, for that matter, why not Muslim countries as well? Much of the Islamic world rather shamefully opposed the war to overthrow the Taliban. Helping Afghans now would be one way to partly redeem themselves.)

(Jeff Weintraub)

Posted by Norm at 02:08 PM | Permalink

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

What you can do about Darfur (Harry's Place)

From the mostly-British democratic-left group weblog "Harry's Place"

What you can do about Darfur
Posted by Gene

Here are a couple of practical ideas for anyone looking for ways to help stop the genocide in Darfur:

--If you live in the US, urge your representatives in Congress to support the Darfur Accountability Act (S 495), which calls for a new UN Security Council resolution with sanctions, accelerated assistance to the African Union mission and a military no-fly zone in Darfur.

If you live in another country, see about supporting similar legislation in that country or in the EU.

--Support divestment from Sudan at whatever level you can. As I posted last December, China is putting billions of dollars into investment, oil revenue and weapons which help sustain the Sudanese government's genocidal policies. I don't expect everyone to stop buying Chinese-made goods (the earnings from which provide those billions), but companies in China and elsewhere are strengthening the Sudanese government's ability to support the Darfur massacres.

Thanks to petitions and protests by students, Harvard University agreed to sell $4.4 million worth of shares in PetroChina-- a subsidiary of state-owned China National Petroleum-- which has invested more than $1 billion in the Sudanese government to secure oil outputs. According to, PetroChina is one of 83 publicly-traded companies doing business in Sudan.

Posted at 07:32 PM International Comments (56) TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

John Paul II & the Arab-Israeli conflict

An open message to Juan Cole, responding to an item on his "Informed Comment" weblog:

I found many points of interest in your thoughtful and intelligent reconsideration of Pope John Paul II and his significance. ("The Other Pope" / Sunday, April 3, 2005 )

You are absolutely right to emphasize that John Paul II's views—and, for that matter, those of the Catholic Church as a whole—don't map directly onto the (somewhat peculiar) left/right axis of US politics ... or of a lot of secular European politics, either. This is true both for the tendencies epitomized in Pius IX's "Syllabus of Errors" and for those epitomized in Leo XIII's "Rerum Novarum" (which, within a Catholic framework, are not necessarily incompatible—though, fortunately, John Paul II downplayed much, though not all, of the first and kept most of the second).
But John Paul II was often an inconvenient man, whose moral vision would be upsetting to the US Republican establishment if it were taken seriously. He opposed the death penalty, to which George W. Bush is so attached. He opposed the Iraq War. He condemned laissez-faire capitalism and cared about the exploitation of workers, who he felt should have a dignity that is seldom bestowed upon them by the Walmarts and other firms in the US.
Right. For the Catholic Church, which thinks in terms of millennia, socio-economic systems come and go. Catholic social doctrine has never accepted the radical self-interested individualism and moral indifference embodied in the notion of laissez-faire capitalism (though it has also rejected most historically available forms of socialism). And when it comes to the issues you mention, John Paul II's positions were fundamentally opposed to those of the Bush administration and the Republicans. This goes beyond John Paul II's own views. On a range of important issues including income inequality, health care, social justice, war, and the death penalty, the official social doctrine of the US Catholic Church would strike most Americans as wildly left-wing ... if they took these positions seriously, or were even aware of them. But one reason they're often not aware of them is that, when it comes to election time, most of the US Catholic hierarchy focuses exclusively on the very narrow range of issues where they happen to be in tune with the Republican right—above all, abortion. (And who appointed these guys?)

I myself would question the Catholic Church's opposition to the Iraq war (and its failure to seriously condemn the repeated acts of genocidal mass murder by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime) on both moral and political grounds. But be that as it may.

In one aspect of your discussion, however, I thought your emphasis was a little odd.
And he cared about the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people in a way that virtually no one in the American political establishment does. He symbolically blessed the Palestinian claim that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Palestinian people.
In fact, the Vatican's policies in the Middle East have historically been pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian, and anti-Israel. There are solid reasons of both theology and realpolitik for this tilt (not least a concern for the rather precarious situation of Christian minorities in the Islamic world). But in this context, there was nothing either new or special about John Paul II's concern (which was indeed commendable) with "the rights and welfare of the Palestinian people."

Instead, the crucial novelty of his approach lies in precisely the opposite direction. His initiatives toward openness and reconciliation with Judaism, the Jews, and Israel were historic and unprecedented. In the case of Judaism, he was following a path opened up by John XXIII, but he took it much further. And in moving toward recognition of Israel, he broke in decisive ways not only with previous Church policies but with the continuing inclinations (and furious opposition) of many people in the Church hierarchy. The result is that the position of the Catholic Church toward the Arab-Israeli conflict is now, to borrow a common term, more "balanced" than ever before. (One can quibble about details, but it's been a qualitative shift.) And this movement away from a more one-sided position is a necessary condition for advancing the possibility of achieving a just and viable solution that can address the needs and rights of both Palestinians and Israelis.

What John Paul II demonstrated, in short, is that in order to be genuinely pro-Palestinian, it's not necessary to be either anti-Zionist or anti-semitic. In fact, quite the contrary. In the world today, this is an important lesson that more people should take seriously.

Of course, as you indicate, the other side of this coin is that he also demonstrated that one can recognize and support Israel's right to exist, not just as a matter of grudging acceptance but with genuine sympathy, without having to be anti-Palestinian or to ignore the sufferings, rights, and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people (though, to be honest, this is not a lesson I needed to learn from the Holy Father). However, if one steps back from a parochial focus on US politics to a wider world perspective, it's clear that the other side of his position was historically more innovative, more provocative, and more courageous both morally and politically.

(It remains to be seen whether and to what extent the Catholic Church will maintain this degree of "balance" in the Arab-Israeli conflict now that John Paul II is gone.)

Jeff Weintraub

P.S. On these matters, I think this article from Ha'aretz is largely on target.

Last update - 12:19 05/04/2005
PM Sharon pays tribute to pope as 'friend' of the Jews
By Haaretz Staff and The Associated Press

Pope John Paul II was "a man of peace, a friend of the Jewish people," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, as he offered the country's condolences on the pope's death to the Christian community both in Israel and abroad.

John Paul "acknowledged its [the Jewish people's] uniqueness and toiled for an historic reconciliation of the nations and the renewal of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Vatican in 1993," continued Sharon, who met the pope in 1999, when he was foreign minister, and invited him to Israel for the millennium celebrations on behalf of the government. "The world lost yesterday one the most important leaders of our times, whose contribution to bringing people together, uniting nations, and to understanding and tolerance will accompany us for many years."

President Moshe Katsav offered a similar tribute, saying: "The pope ... bravely put an end to historic injustice by officially rejecting prejudices and accusations against Jews."

Over the course of his papacy, John Paul II revolutionized the Vatican's relationship with both Israel and the Jewish people. In 1979, on his first journey home to Poland as head of the Catholic Church, he became the first pope ever to visit a Nazi death camp, kneeling in prayer at Auschwitz - a place he described as a "triumph of evil." In 1986, in Rome, he became the first pope to enter a synagogue; during that visit, he made his now-famous statement that the Jews are Christians' "elder brothers" and spoke of Christian responsibility for crimes against the Jews.

In 1993, the Vatican finally recognized Israel, a step widely regarded as removing any theological opposition to the Jewish state's existence. And in 2000, John Paul II not only visited Israel, but won Israelis' hearts by visiting sites such as the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Western Wall, where he observed the ancient Jewish custom of placing a note in the cracks between the stones. "We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer and, asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant," the note read.

But while many Israelis mourned the loss of a uniquely friendly pontiff, for some, the mourning was more personal: Elderly Holocaust survivors reminisced Sunday about growing up with Karol Wojtyla, the man who became John Paul II, in the small Polish town of Wadowice, and about encounters with the young seminary student toward the end of World War II. These early friendships are widely believed to have been a major factor in the late pope's efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

One survivor, Idit Tzirer, said that she was an emaciated 13-year-old in 1945. She had just been released from a Nazi labor camp and was sitting on a street corner in the snow, too weak to walk, when Wojtyla approached.

"Suddenly, he appeared, like an angel from heaven, when nobody else was taking any notice of me," she said on Israel TV. "He brought me a cup of hot tea and two huge slices of bread and cheese ... After a while he asked me if I wanted to get away from that place and I told him I wanted to get to Krakow, but I couldn't walk. So he hoisted me on his back, like a sack of flour, and carried me, four or five kilometers."

Former chief rabbi Israel Meir Lau, also a Holocaust survivor, recalled that he met the pope five times. At one meeting, the aging pontiff told Lau that he remembered the rabbi's grandfather going to synagogue every Saturday with masses of grandchildren around him.

"He asked me: 'How many survived the Holocaust?'" Lau told Israel Radio. "Just five, 42 were killed. And then he [the pope] looked at the ceiling and said: 'In all my travels - I visited 120 countries. I see anti-Semitism and I emphasize our obligation, the obligation of all humanity, to ensure the continued existence and the future of our elder brother, the Jewish nation.'"

Asked whether the next pope would continue this legacy of rapprochement with Israel and the Jews, the papal envoy to Israel, Monsignor Pietro Sambi, told Channel 2 television that he was "sure" that would be the case. He cited the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965 and "speaks about the huge common heritage existing between the Jewish people and the Christian people."

Speaking in English, Sambi added that the Holy See and the chief rabbinate were "unavoidable collaborators in giving to humanity the moral principles for its humanity and its well-being."

An official from the rabbinate agreed. "In the past 10 years, ties have warmed and there is a tight connection between the Israeli rabbinate and the Vatican," he said. "He was the first pope to apologize to the Jews."

Jewish relations with John Paul II were not friction-free: There were disputes, for instance, over the canonization of Edith Stein, a Jewish convert to Christianity who became a nun and died in Auschwitz, and over the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who many Jews accuse of failing to speak out during the Holocaust.

"But under the circumstances, he went a very far distance, more than any other pope, perhaps because of his acquaintance with Jews and the fact that he lived through the Holocaust where he did," said Aharon Lopez, former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican.

"Of all the popes in history, John Paul II is the one who understood Jews the best," added Theo Klein, a former head of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF.

Palestinian Muslims also mourned the pope, but with more skepticism. Bernard Sabella, an official in the Middle East Council of Churches who met the pontiff several times, said that John Paul II was concerned about Palestinian suffering, which led him to visit a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem during his 2000 trip.

But leading Palestinian Muslim cleric, Ikrema Sabri, complained that the pope was unsuccessful in changing the Western world's negative view of Islam.