Archive | August, 2005

Book Review | Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World Before and After September 11

22 Aug

By Thomas L. Friedman.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? To be able to belittle a decision made in the past by dissecting its subsequent ramifications is always tempting.

In his book Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World Before and After September 11, Tom Friedman does not rely on hindsight in his criticisms of US Middle East policy. Friedman warned of the dangers of invading Iraq long before US warplanes began levelling Baghdad and he has the column inches to prove it.

Longitudes and Attitudes is a collection of Freidman’s columns in the New York Times and its timeline closely follows the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, it is relevant as informed commentary of what remains the single most significant world event of the 21st Century.

Friedman became the Times’ foreign-affairs columnist in 1995 and specialises in Mid-East politics. He was bureau chief in Beirut and then Jerusalem during the eighties, and he has contacts throughout region including sheiks, princes, politicians, and businessmen. Few Westerners are as qualified to report from the area and his reports are closely followed by those with an interest in international affairs.

The crux of the early warning about the invasion was the tribal differences between the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish peoples. Friedman realised that the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein suppressed deep ethnic divisions and historical conflicts that had not been resolved. While the despotic rule of the Iraqi president was at times murderous he maintained an uneasy stability. Friedman predicted the civil war that now threatens to tear the country apart.

Since the book was published Friedman has become somewhat more hawkish, preferring to concentrate on the present and what must be done to resolve the conflict. This realism is worthy from a commentator who could draw on his own warnings to continue to criticise the decision to invade. You get the genuine feeling both in the book, and in Freidman’s subsequent columns, that he does care about the region, not just the Israelis, but the Palestinians, and Iraqis too.

In reference to events on September 11th 2001, Friedman is pensive after the event and his shock is evident in his writing, everyone knew the world had changed but to re-read documentation (even commentary) is useful for those with an interest in foreign affairs and in particular US policy abroad.

If there is a criticism of Friedman it is his approach to al Qaida. Friedman like most Americans is unable to see beyond the pain of 9/11. He lacks the philosophical dissection that is evident in many European commentators; Friedman like most Americans wears his wounds on his sleeve.

Even with the above criticism considered the collection remains a worthy addition to the 9/11 literary cannon.

Book Review | Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World Before and After September 11

22 Aug

By Thomas L. Friedman.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? To be able to belittle a decision made in the past by dissecting its subsequent ramifications is always tempting.

In his book Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World Before and After September 11, Tom Friedman does not rely on hindsight in his criticisms of US Middle East policy. Friedman warned of the dangers of invading Iraq long before US warplanes began levelling Baghdad and he has the column inches to prove it.

Longitudes and Attitudes is a collection of Freidman’s columns in the New York Times and its timeline closely follows the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001, it is relevant as informed commentary of what remains the single most significant world event of the 21st Century.

Friedman became the Times’ foreign-affairs columnist in 1995 and specialises in Mid-East politics. He was bureau chief in Beirut and then Jerusalem during the eighties, and he has contacts throughout region including sheiks, princes, politicians, and businessmen. Few Westerners are as qualified to report from the area and his reports are closely followed by those with an interest in international affairs.

The crux of the early warning about the invasion was the tribal differences between the Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish peoples. Friedman realised that the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein suppressed deep ethnic divisions and historical conflicts that had not been resolved. While the despotic rule of the Iraqi president was at times murderous he maintained an uneasy stability. Friedman predicted the civil war that now threatens to tear the country apart.

Since the book was published Friedman has become somewhat more hawkish, preferring to concentrate on the present and what must be done to resolve the conflict. This realism is worthy from a commentator who could draw on his own warnings to continue to criticise the decision to invade. You get the genuine feeling both in the book, and in Freidman’s subsequent columns, that he does care about the region, not just the Israelis, but the Palestinians, and Iraqis too.

In reference to events on September 11th 2001, Friedman is pensive after the event and his shock is evident in his writing, everyone knew the world had changed but to re-read documentation (even commentary) is useful for those with an interest in foreign affairs and in particular US policy abroad.

If there is a criticism of Friedman it is his approach to al Qaida. Friedman like most Americans is unable to see beyond the pain of 9/11. He lacks the philosophical dissection that is evident in many European commentators; Friedman like most Americans wears his wounds on his sleeve.

Even with the above criticism considered the collection remains a worthy addition to the 9/11 literary cannon.

Has the Capitalist system now run out of steam?

20 Aug

Has the Capitalist system now run out of steam, can we continue to accept it as the dominant social-economic system?

Is the future for the Capitalist system authoritarian and corrupt?

We have seen a scaling back of liberties in the US and the UK as a result of Islamic terrorism, and we have increasingly seen law corrupt the market.

Capitalism works if the market is unhindered and the price mechanism is allowed to reach equilibrium. However the synergy and amalgamation of corporations, and the cult of the lobbyist, has led to a skewing of the natural balance of the market.

Take the policy of preventing the sourcing vastly cheaper drugs from outside the US. Medical lobbyists in Washington have Medicare and Medicaid tied into the inflated US market, which costs the taxpayer millions as prices are manipulated and not exposed to market forces (i.e. vastly cheaper drugs from Canada and Europe). All this wasted money goes into the coffers of the pharmaceutical corporations, and of course a percentage of this finds it way into the pockets of lawmakers.

Who suffers? The poor who see their safety nets fraying at the edges.

Is it any wonder that lobbyist salaries have doubled since 2001? With lawmakers now eunuchs to corporate handouts the market is shaped by self-interest and counterproductive laws, the natural balance of the price mechanism corrupted.

Capitalism also relies on fear. There is little natural equality within capitalism and the Capitalists rely on creating a fear of the alternative, take Socialism. The Capitalist feared the rejection of property and the bourgeoisie, that was beginning to take root across Europe after WW2 and created the spectre that was the Soviet Empire. In demonising the Soviet Union the capitalists could unify the masses against a common enemy, creating an innate – although completely ignorant – hatred of communism.

After the collapse of communist Russia and its rapid slide into market fundamentalism and privatisation, the Capitalists had no unifying enemy, 9/11 soon put an end to that. The speed at which al Qaida became equally demonic was incredible, any intelligent debate about the root causes and motivations of the phenomena were quickly suppressed by a unifying patriotism. Any dissenters who raised any contrary opinion were hounded as traitors (take the Ward Churchill incident), rounded on by the compliant media.

So now Capitalism has its new unifying enemy and will continue to exploit the poor to satisfy its ever-demanding hunger for profits.

How can Christianity possibly reconcile itself with the continued rape of God’s earth, or the blood that is so cheaply spilt in the name of oil? It can’t. Again a massive corporate mobilisation of power and influence suppresses dissent. US media is completely dependent on advertising and is at the behest of its paymasters. The Capitalist frowns on any dissention against the policies of the corporate friendly Bush administration, and this pressure resulted in an emasculated media happy to remain silent as the president took the nation to war on a lie.

Capitalists will pump millions of Dollars into research that contradicts the scientific consensus on global warming (ExxonMobil have pumped $8 million dollars into funding these groups). Senior Republican, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton (Tex.) has recently launched a probe into the funding of the scientists who discovered the ‘hockey stick’ phenomena of significant warming over the last part of the millennia – in fact according to their findings the 1990’s were the hottest decade in 1,000 years. Fellow Republican and Chair of the House Science Committee Sherwood L. Boehlert (R-N.Y.) scalded Barton in July of this year:

“My primary concern about your investigation is that its purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them, and to substitute congressional political review for scientific review,”

It is this corruption of law and politics that threatens to undermine the capitalist model and the primacy of the market. The people and environment are secondary to a hunger for profit. The market no longer serves the people, adequately managing scarce resources and redistributing wealth; conversely the people now serve the market.

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So what are we assured are the underlying benefits of the Capitalist system?

‘Choice, freedom, and opportunity!’

Choice.
As the market matures the companies within those markets become increasing homogenised as they mimic each other, profiting on the disinformation of advertising. We are assured the differences between a hundred brands of toothpaste when in reality one will do. Why is this choice useful?

Advertisers corrupt our young with endless portrayals of sex and deviance. Mischief is encouraged and a corporate friendly counter-culture is fostered to extract money from the family purse via the demands of the children. Parents are under incredible pressure to clothe their children in labels, paying extortionate prices for the illusion of the brand.

Why is this choice helpful? It ties us into the subservient world of the paycheque and the need to work ever-longer hours to keep up with modern life. Time with the family is limited as fathers and mothers see parenthood as providing materialism, not love and attention. How is this for the benefit of society?

Freedom.

Where is the freedom to really make a difference in today’s politics? The two-party system in the US and the three-party carve up in the UK offer no real alternative to the status quo. All are centrist political entities that offer marginal differences in policy; all market friendly and increasingly intertwined with the corporate world. Would voting Democrat or Republican, Labour or Conservative actually offer any fundamental difference?

With the political climate as it was after 9/11 Bush wasted no time in introducing limits on liberties with the Patriot Act, and in the UK the Labour government hopes to infringe on civil liberties with its Terrorism Act. We are expected to accept the scaling back of our freedoms so the Capitalists can cement their position, and protect their lifeblood, Oil.

Opportunity.

While the development of new markets through enterprise is still possible, the possibility of carving out a profitable business in retail or manufacturing is almost non-existent. Who can contend with the purchasing power and logistical infrastructure of Wal-Mart or Tesco? How can one hope to compete with the large global manufacturers? The truth is we have very little opportunity left. We cannot penetrate the developed markets of the globalised corporations; one does not have the Capital.

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And so why do we suffer the continued disparity of Capitalism?

To this I have no answers

How can we defuse Islamic hatred and anger?

15 Aug

There has been a great deal of the angry rhetoric and reactionary solutions to resolve the Islamic worlds descent into violence, and the more sensitive issue of terrorism among Europe’s Muslim populous. As is almost always the case, resolutions reached in anger and clouded in hatred are counterproductive and compound the problems we face.

The first goal in achieving conflict resolution is to be honest about one’s own faults; it’s no use crying foul about your adversary and carping about their misdemeanours. Almost half a century of conflict in Israel is proof that such tactics are futile and are self-perpetuating.

If we continue to ignore our own contribution to this crisis we will have to resolve to annihilate the entire Muslim world, including our own Muslim communities. This unacceptable apocalyptic crusade would destabilise the entire world and almost certainly lead to a global economic meltdown. We cannot continue to lie to ourselves about our contribution to the problem.

The incessant argument from Western leaders that “they want to destroy our way of life” does not stand up to scrutiny. Yes there are fundamentalist’s – some actively campaigning in the UK – that wish to subvert our established social order, but these ideologues should not be confused with the wider resentment among the moderate Islamic world. In fact treating the Muslim world as one homogenous group would further cement the radical doctrine among the majority – something that is already apparent post-911.

We confuse ourselves by trying to pigeonhole al Qaida as fundamentalists who cannot be sated, only destroyed. But al Qaida are a product of the modern world (see philosopher John Gray’s book al Qaida: And What it means to be Modern) not some remnant from historical religious divisions. As Michael Scheuer (former head of the CIA’s ‘bin Laden division’) has often argued we are crippling ourselves by accepting the perceived wisdom that al Qaida does not have a strategic goal, and are somehow ‘demonic’. It’s easy to dismiss our enemies as evil as this defers any question of our own contribution to the predicament, this tactic has been used throughout history to mobilise uninformed support against an enemy. I have outlined before the numerous statements by bin Laden that refute this argument, he claims he does not ‘hate our way of life’ but resents the cheapening of Muslim blood and western interference in the Islamic world.

The al Qaida leader also rejects that notion that an American withdrawal from the region would lead to an oil crisis, bin Laden argues that the west can buy the oil because “I can’t drink it. We’re going to sell it to you at a marketplace.”

To ignore the damage that the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and western economic imperialism have on the Muslim populations is very dangerous and cripples any chance of lasting peace.

Those among the Rightwing with an agenda – be they racist, Zionist, or economic – are perpetuating this myth that Islam is malevolent and those who follow are inherently evil because it serves their purpose. These dangerous acolytes are no more palatable than the radicalised Muslims, and are themselves fundamentalists.

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If we are to address our own contribution to the problem, what can Muslims do to address the radicalised element within their own communities and around the Islamic World? Well they need to stand up and challenge the repressive constraints of their religion, and the totalitarian regimes that hold back their development. We can use our economic strength to facilitate this process.

When trying to understand Islam we look through Christian/secularist eyes, this is unavoidable, however I think we are always in danger of considering our own present incarnation of Christianity in absolute terms; it has evolved through many turbulent times. The stability and prosperity of western civilisation has allowed for critical discourse, variation, and the deconstruction of dogma.

Our own faith was once a fear-based faith similar to Islam, and therefore would it not be constructive to foster the conditions that would allow similar growth, and enlightenment in the Islamic world too? Christianity’s Renaissance was possible because the increased wealth from the New World allowed the rising middle-classes to challenge the primacy of the all-powerful organised Church.

The newly affluent merchants demanded political representation and the chance to emerge from the imposed shadow of the medieval doctrine. These men refused to be damned and wanted a return to the Classical ideology of the greatness of man – A Great Man of course would gain credibility through his services to God, his enterprise, and cultural sophistication. Henry VIII’s court painter Hans Holbein (the Younger) observed mans newfound freedom in his great work The Ambassadors. Holbein portrayed two dashing and wealthy young men showing off their wares, however the key to the picture was the skewed skull than adorns the bottom of the painting; a reminder of the mortality of man and the absolution that awaits.

Islam has not yet experienced its Renaissance. Islam never recovered from the crusades the way the western Christian Church did. The once enlightened and progressive Islamic world had –under the threat of Christian invasion – pulled into itself and became a fear-based faith.

So how can we – for the benefit of mankind – foster a Renaissance in the Islamic World? How can we encourage a break from the literal and dangerous teachings of Wahhabism? How can we help women in the Islamic world and wider Muslim diaspora to break free of the regressive tenet that suppresses their freedom and identity?

I argue that if we can encourage greater trade with the Middle East and the wider Muslim world, we can encourage the rise of a middle class that would demand change, greater representation, and increased freedom. The dominant industry that exists in the Middle East, Oil, only perpetuates the regressive nature of Islam by allowing princes and despots to rule. Undemocratic authoritarian leaders who gain legitimacy through the religious clerics they encourage.

This symbiotic relationship is similar to the feudal relationship of the European King and the Catholic Church; this suppressive model was only broken (or in the case of Britain altered and subsequently fragmented) with the emergence of the middle-class and the neoclassical rebirth of democracy.

Could this be the solution to the deterioration of the relationship between the Christian and Islamic worlds? I truly believe we have to give this philosophy a chance.

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In developing Muslims abroad we would help defuse the anger and resentment at home. But we must also protect ourselves from the imminent threat the terrorism poses; this may indeed mean a measured and temporary retraction of liberties.

We must reject the counterproductive excesses of political correctness, and multi-culturalism that gives the freedom for radicals to preach hate. Those that exploit our asylum and hospitality while attempting to subvert our justice and social fabric should be deported; of this I have no problem. Those that practice intolerance and fundamentalism are as much my enemies as anyone else’s. And in this group I include the hard right.

The reason I cannot concur with the Right’s world-view is that it is fundamental in itself. A one-sided reactionary ideology that cannot face up to the difficult task of fixings what is wrong in the world. The hard right never appreciates that society requires sacrifice and effort, it wants to make the problem disappear, because it is fearful of what is does not understand.

This Multi-Cultural Bri
tain has not failed as many have claimed. A few thousand radicals in a nation of millions is not the signal that apocalypse in upon us, or that some experiment has failed. Society is not an experiment that can be abandoned when the going gets tough, you can’t just give in and revert back a hundred years. You assess the causes of the problem and remedy it, and that means looking at oneself and addressing ones own shortcomings and mistakes, not just the errors of those who can be marginalised and blamed.

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So what more can we do to remedy the radicalisation of many of the Britain’s radicalised Muslims?

The first thing we do is encourage greater citizenship and participation within the Muslim community. We stop forgiving the crimes of radical clerics just because we are afraid of upsetting Islam. Our Law, is our Law, is our Law. We have since our royalty spoke French, developed a just and equitable legal system that is much more representative of our national identity than a flag or any appearance.

Our Law should be protected and the foundations of our nation upheld. This does not suggest that additional mechanisms should not be introduced, but merely that we react in proportion and that civil liberties are protected.

I am not an ideologue of liberalism; I will not cut off my nose to spite my face. This country needs protecting, and certain freedoms will be curbed. But do not think this will be a lurch into authoritarianism – Liberalism is not about to die.

I do not claim to have all the answers but I do claim to have a constructive plan to deal with the global threat of extremism, however no western leader would have the conviction to see it through.

Why should we be safe?

10 Aug

Few countries have enjoyed the benefits of internationalism more than the British, former purveyors of an Empire that once circumvented the globe. Economists and politicians talk of globalisation as if it’s a recent phenomenon, as if international trade, and the trans-global corporation are somehow novel. In reality the world has always been a global marketplace.

From Roman times and the traders who travelled the Silk Road the worlds markets have been interlinked and interdependent. All human civilisations are founded on the principles of trade; to argue otherwise would be convoluting the simplicity of our reality.

Trade thrives on stable developing markets; therefore the security of the market is paramount to those who are sustained by its prosperity. Is it no wonder that competition to control the market – and therefore the spoils – has led to so many wars?

Why did European leaders react so disproportionately to the assassination of Arch Duke Fernandez in Sarajevo in June 1914? Why was the murder of an unloved Austro-Hungarian aristocrat so sensitive? Because the complicated web of empires and alliances within Europe had reached a critical point where growth was crippled. For the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and the great empires of Russia, Britain, Germany, and France, the opportunity for extended influence and the control of trade, depended on creating a vacuum. Somebody had to make way. Friction between these empires was manifested in rapid military growth, which was always going to result in direct conflict.

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I have read conservative (and liberal) commentators arguing that the current conflict in the Middle East is not about oil; this statement ignores the actuality of international history and the world today. Sophistry such as this is used to conceal the aggression of our societies when violently protecting their wealth. There are few exceptions to the belief that almost all-human conflict is a battle for prosperity.

Religion, education, nationalism, and government are all mechanisms to control society to allow one or another economic model to thrive. Humanity – in order to sustain its population – relies on the commercial exchange of goods and services. The concept of the ‘town’ is one of a market for pooled resources; the ‘city’ and ‘country’ are extensions of this. Religion and nationalism are merely centrally imposed mind states to ensure unity within the masses, and to rally support against an economic threat.

Today’s world is no different, when Blair talks of our way of life, what he means is protecting our prosperity and wealth. The mounting menace of the emerging economies of Asia poses a significant threat to the access and distribution of the world’s limited natural resources. Chinese political and economic expansion westward through Central Asia threatens the Post-Cold War economic order. American economic hegemony is reliant on a stable oil market, and as in the early part of the last century, competition for dwindling resources is warming up. Conservative foreign policy strategists are working to ensure that the new globalised world is an American one, and Iraq is testament to this.

Iraq sits on the second largest proven oil fields in the world, the worlds oil is near its maximum output (many analyst’s believe this point has already been reached), and yet we are expected to swallow assurances that the war is not about oil. Nonsense.

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Capitalism is economic Darwinism, the fittest survive and the weak die. Capitalism is a science not a religion. Human contact corrupts capitalism; society refuses to accept the absolutism of the market. The human experience of capitalism has resulted in nationalistic economic protectionism, social security, and charitable aid. Market Fundamentalism is roundly rejected as societies refuse to be subjected to the harsh realities of the unfettered market. It is this Humanistic Capitalism that has proved so successful over the past century.

However this model of capitalism is now under threat. The competition for oil threatens to destabilise the macro-economic entity that is western democracy, the very prosperity and permanence of Anglo-Saxon global dominance is in jeopardy. Western leaders know this and action to ensure a military presence in the oil-rich region has been fostered by the enigma of Islamic Terrorism. At home leaders again use the threat of radical Islamism to reform and curtail freedoms and liberties. In the uncertain future the Capitalists’ know that dissent, ideas, and free speech threaten to unsettle their placated populations.

So in the name of Capitalism we are happy to scorch the earth, and kill thousands protecting our way of life, is it not inevitable and fair, that this blood and misery should be visited on our societies too?

The Capitalists are now moving insidiously to shore up their control, rolling back centuries of liberal progress. Liberty and Capitalism have always been uneasy bedfellows, as conflict feeds the need for an authoritarian clampdown on freedoms, to ensure the market is buttressed against insecurity. Capitalism is Darwinism and this means conflict, if someone is to win…. someone else must lose. In the testing times ahead the Capitalists know their ideology will be challenged (prosperity will retract as oil diminishes), and now under the spectre of Islamic Terror we are handing them the power to crush any resistance.

We should therefore reject the newly invigorated nationalism and authoritarianism, and accept the obviousness of our predicament; our way of life is not under threat because of terrorism but because a global economic change threatens our prosperity.

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We are sheltered from the real cost of our societies by the gloss of capitalist consumerism and the cult of property ownership. Should we not know the real costs of our way of life? Maybe a fuel pump should be adorned with the photo of dead Iraqi children, or jewellery shops should replace their posters of brides with that of the severed limbs of African refugees, and maybe the label on our clothes should depict a child slaving away in a sweatshop? We experience none of these realities, but slowly the violence that is proliferated across the world is our name is finally returning home.

So if we are to continue to spill blood and spread misery around the world to protect our primacy, we must understand that we also have a price to pay in our flesh too. And if that means more bombs and even more hatred of our civilisation we must accept this sacrifice.

We in Britain are getting too bogged down in reactionary responses to the attacks in London, while I have sympathy for those involved it remains primarily a non-event compared to the conflicts that continue around the world. Also we must realise that while we use our economic and military strength to exploit others we should expect the effects of this – resentment and hatred – to be manifested in violence towards our societies.

Reform of our homeland security and laws is a diversion from the real problem. Police cordons at tube stations are not the answer, what purpose will this have? Would a suicide happily walk into his/her subsequent arrest? Of course not, they go to the nearest Tesco and blow themselves. And if the police are looking to intimidate, how do you intimidate someone prepared to die?

Racial profiling is also limited as Islamism is not exclusive to a colour of skin; we await the first white British born suicide bomber.

As Robert Baer points out in last Sunday’s Observer the battle is lost when the suicide bomber first straps on the bomb, because at that point society has failed. Our response of further dividing our comm
unities will achieve nothing more than ostracising more young Muslims, and these individuals turning to extremist groups.

The real problem is the inequalities in the world, while there is war and exploitation there will be anger and hatred in the world. In a world where air travel and global trade are pulling down boarders we can’t expect geography and ignorance to protect us from the reactions to our actions.

Until there is peace everywhere, there is peace nowhere.

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“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

IRA Announcement

7 Aug

During the week the Irish Republican Army (IRA) announced an end to their use of violence as a means to force political change in the province: –

“The leadership of Oglaigh na hEireann (IRA) has formally ordered an end to the armed campaign.

“This will take effect from 4pm this afternoon (Thursday). All IRA units have been ordered to dump arms. All volunteers have been instructed to assist the development of purely political and democratic programmes through exclusively peaceful means.” Read more…

While this news must be welcomed, questions still remain over the violent bank robbery in Belfast last December, and the real reason for the cessation of violence. It is clear that on September 11th 2001 the political mood in the United States changed, and the American attitude towards Irish Republicanism soured.

Historically on St. Patrick’s Day Sinn Fein have been invited to the Whitehouse, however this year President Bush snubbed Gerry Adams and his cronies. Read more… Such was outrage at the murder of Robert McCartney, 33, in January, the US government could no longer be seen to be supporting terrorism of any kind. This change of mood has led to the IRA re-evaluating its strategy of paramilitary violence and the attacks on civilians. No doubt the funding from the States, and the favourable support will have dried up since the attacks in New York (a centre of Republican sympathy) 4 years ago.

This announcement should be seen as the disingenuous PR job that it is, Gerry Adams will undoubtedly use it to score political points and attempt to gain some political credibility and legitimacy. The IRA has consistently used violence even when the British government have opened dialogue with its political wing; civilians have died while Gerry Adams was at the table talking peace.

Let’s welcome this announcement but lets not allow Sinn Fein to gain politically from it, and lets have some honest criticism of all sides on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Robin Cook dies aged 59.

6 Aug

Today the British Left has been rocked by the news that Robin Cook has died unexpectedly.

Look up Robin’s articles in The Guardian…astonishingly beautiful prose and a fearsome intellect.

British politics and especially the Labour Party will never quite be the same. He was a politician that gave up his cabinet post – in tears – because he had principles, the only ovation I have ever seen in the Commons.

I am deeply saddened that someone who I admired so much has passed away; there are so many politicians that could never ever hold a candle to Mr Cook. The Left in Britain will be devastated by this news.

As a parliamentarian he was unsurpassed in my lifetime.

A sad day, a desperately sad day.