Monday, July 31, 2006

"knowing what should not be known"

posted by k

This is a very brief book review.
I have interrupted my summer holiday to urge anyone reading this blog to read Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray.
Buy it, read it and, when you have read it, pass it on to a friend.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the tortures and murders that go under the rather restrained title of "human rights violations". I didn't know the details - I still don't as some things were beyond the ability of Craig Murray to write.

I thought I knew enough about the hypocrisy of the British and American governments. I knew we connived at and colluded in torture but the cynicism with which the "guardians of freedom and democracy" have put their own interest above the desperate need for freedom, democracy and justice elsewhere remains a shock.

I thought I knew all I needed to know about the operations of international finance, the diplomatic service, the secret service and the British electoral system.
I didn't know nearly enough.

I didn't know that Bush, Blair and their supporters have been willing to encourage Stalinist state monopolies in exchange for unreliable information gained by raping children.

I didn't know about sophisticated bugs used on British dissidents, their families and friends.

I didn't know that a British minister got away with flagrant breaches of electoral law at the last election.

The book is easy to read. Its contents are unforgettable.

Craig Murray presents himself as a fallible human being - slightly pompous at times, eccentric and often careless of others' well-being. He wasn't a wild left-winger but a mildly liberal, hard-working civil servant who enjoyed his life of privilege.

He insists he isn't a hero. He's something far more important - a human being who saw a dreadful evil and tried to do what was right.

The world needs him - and many more like him.

Murder in Samarkand by Craig Murray - read it now!

(posted in an internet cafe, in great haste)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"the sovereignty of words"

posted by k

a useful glossary for present times

attack usually carried out by people who are neither us nor our allies, involves killing, injuries etc., deliberately inflicted

casualties dead and injured human beings, usually members of the army or other military organisation

ceasefire a pause or halt in killing people, or, according to Tony Blair (British Prime Minister) something people call for in order to feel better

damage, collateral dead and injured human beings who are neither members of the army nor of any other military organisation, often including a high number of children

defence like an attack but carried out by us or our allies. This too involves killing and injuring human beings deliberately

moving soldiers to a position in which it will be easier for them to kill and injure people either directly or indirectly (c.f. infrastructure)

elements, rogue soldiers working for us or our allies who have reached the conclusion that killing and injuring enemies, possible enemies and anyone else in their way is approved by commanders and governments

evacuation urging people to move from a conflict zone (q.v.), leaving behind their homes, possessions, livestock, pets, etc. Note that this is not always possible because roads may have been bombed. Evacuees may, if unfortunate, become “collateral damage”

grief omitted as reference is inappropriate in a conflict situation

incursion, pinpoint
soldiers injuring and killing people with some idea of the point they wish to reach and/or particular people their government would like them to kill. People between the original position of the soldiers and the target they have pinpointed are likely to become “collateral damage”

means of keeping people alive or in communication with one another, often the target of e.g. pinpoint incursion or aerial operation. Infrastructure may include means of supplying food, clean water, heating, etc. People are killed and injured as a result of damaged and destroyed infrastructure. However, as they die of starvation, drought, disease, etc., they do not count as “collateral damage” and are therefore insignificant. People killed by destruction of infrastructure are predominantly very young, very old, sick or disabled

limited describes any attack short of all-out nuclear war. It may also be used to describe all-out nuclear war but this has not occurred yet

operation, aerial, ground, troop, etc pre-meditated killing and injuring of human beings by means of bombs, armed soldiers in tanks, etc. The term conjures up the idea of a kindly surgeon but may, sadly, entail “collateral damage” if people are unwilling or unable to evacuate themselves in time

the beginning of an episode of intensive killing. The word “outbreak” creates a comparison with disease, suggesting that what has occurred is inevitable, even though it never is

rendition, extraordinary moving human beings, in secret, from a democratic country in which they have some legal protection to another in which they can be tortured or killed without anyone – except the security services of the democracy and the torturers – knowing what has happened

sortie, operational attack or more usually (because carried out by us or our allies) defence in which people are killed or injured. Some of the people affected will be “collateral damage”

strike, surgical like a pinpoint operation but usually a matter of bombing large areas including an agreed target. Collateral damage usually occurs but is always regrettable

causing agony to another human being possibly with life-long effects (although the life in question may not be long). Of course, despite extraordinary rendition (q.v.) this is done only by enemies and never by us or our allies, excepting the surprisingly large number of “rogue elements” (q.v.)

wave not a friendly gesture or natural force but a large number of soldiers preceding and/or following another large number of soldiers in an attempt to kill or injure human beings

the area within which killing and injuring occurs, sometimes known as “the killing zone”. If human beings do not evacuate themselves from this area, they risk becoming “collateral damage”

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"in arms abroad"

posted by k

The stories change daily.

It began when a young man - a soldier - was kidnapped. At least, that's when it seemed to begin. This is just part of a story that has been going on for a very long time.

The young soldier is only 19. It's easy to say that 19 is adult and soldiers should expect to be held responsible for the crimes of their state. It's easy enough to list atrocities committed by soldiers. I don't know what this young man is like or what he believes. All I know is that he is young, that he is - at best - a prisoner, and that he is loved. I would like to see him freed.

The police here have some expertise in negotiating with kidnappers. They don't use bombs and missiles. They talk and they listen. The negotiate and work for calm. But now the bombs are falling. Homes become heaps of fragments. In territories under siege, people are dying now or are frightened or in pain. Some are young, pregnant, frail or old. They too are loved and the sight of their death and suffering prompts new calls for vengeance. People who grieve and suffer - people see the pain of those they love - find compassion difficult. Abuse does not usually create saints.

More kidnappings, more pain, more death. The men who run the world - or want to run the world - accuse new people, new nations. They're building their image - looking after their place in history. It's the victors who write the history books. Meanwhile bombs and missiles shatter everyday lives. Refugees in flight are stopped and torn and burnt.

What happened to that 19-year-old who no-one mentions any more? And what is it really about? Oil? Hatred? Power?

I keep watching the stories and notice how they change. Last week's causes aren't the same as this week's. Tomorrow we'll have a new account, a new set of reasons, a new agenda. We start to think of ways out of the crisis - ways to stop the pain and the killing and the grief. For a moment we think we're getting there. Then we're told we've got it wrong - the cause and the enemy have changed.

I shall read the papers carefully and track back through the changes. If I can't find the truth, at least I'll pick up some of the lies - and recognize the falsehood.

Meanwhile, how can we persuade the armies to step back or people to give up their weapons? We may start with the truth - but where is sufficient kindness, courage or intelligence? Who will sacrifice dreams of vengeance for hope and the chance of a future?

If we ever know the truth, what can we do to accomplish change?

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"therefore of necessity nameless"

posted by k

In Britain, all sort of people are being told not to protest - or not to protest in unseemly language. Demonstrators in London may be wise to take masking tape with them in case police object to the language on their placards; placards with "inappropriate" or "offensive" language are confiscated unless the offending words can be covered.

Language itself is under attack. Earlier this year, 18-year-old Kurt Walker was faced with a summary fine for using the phrase "fuck all" in a private conversation with friends which a policewoman happened to overhear. He objected and the case was dropped. The illegal conversation seems to have gone something like this:

Friend: What have you been up to?
Kurt: Fuck all.

I don't know anything about Kurt Walker, beyond what the BBC news stories told me. I don't know how many people are fined for saying "fuck" or whether any statistics are kept. Language can hurt and offend. That alone is no reason for making certain words illegal. Restricting language restricts thought.

Meanwhile, certain slogans are being forbidden - or banned in certain places.

After taking part in a demonstration in London some while ago, I wanted to enter the National Gallery in London. I've been in the habit of visiting the Gallery since I was a child and the combined attractions of art and a cup of tea were irresistible. Tea is quite expensive at the Gallery but I assume that some of the money goes to maintain the collection. As I was one of a group including a couple of children this seemed a particularly good idea. Brief informal tours of galleries can be a good way to introduce children to art - and to give them the idea that art galleries are welcoming places.

We were stopped at the entrance. One child was wearing a peace flag as a cloak and was advised that this was unacceptable - all political slogans and garments were banned. Just as well I wasn't wearing a political T-shirt. But the child put the flag in his pocket and we were admitted. I ascribed the initial refusal to the hot day and the exhaustion of staff rather than any deliberate policy. I could have argued about the political implications of some of the paintings in the gallery - recently they mounted an exhibition demonstrating Botticelli's support for Savonarola, for instance - but it didn't seem worth it. I wanted to see the Titians.

But all kinds of political expression and free expression seems to be under attack. I doubt I'd have much sympathy with the political views of Tony Wright of Burton Lazars, who runs a stall selling T-shirts to members of the Countryside Alliance among others. But I'm extremely worried that I live in a country where the police insist he dismantle his stall and fined him eighty pounds for selling T-shirts with the slogan "BOLLOCKS TO BLAIR".

People have been prevented from wearing the T-shirts too. A pro-hunting young woman was told to remove her T-shirt at a country fair while a Tory campaigner handing out leaflets during the election campaign was asked to remove her jacket with the same slogan or face arrest.

On the other side of the political spectrum, Steve Jago had three photocopies of an article by Henry Porter in Vanity Fair confiscated on the grounds that they constituted "politically motivated material". Steve Jago was in Whitehall, on his own, carrying a banner with a quotation from George Orwell: "In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Steve Jago's arrest under the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act, which bans even one-person demonstrations in "designated areas" seems to reinforce the slogan on his placard.

The headline in the Independent newspaper after the event, warning that it was running "the article that might get you arrested" seemed a little excessive, though an amusing response bringing the article to a wider audience.

But the delightfully-named Charity Sweet was stopped by police as she ate her sandwiches near Downing Street and read that issue of the Independent. Obviously they may have thought the anti-bullying label round her neck was dangerous or, had they known it, that her friendship with Steve Jago was subversive.

It may be that none of this is systematic. But while the police have always defended the government, the attack on language and forceful expressions of opposition is becoming more acute.

Read George Orwell to see why this matters.

Read Tom Leonard.

Language is how we think.
Language is how we communicate with one another.
Language is an important part of how we know ourselves and are known.

To ban language is to ban thought, knowledge and communication.

Language can do immense harm but it also offers a democracy the means of growth.