If the story being reported in the Observer and the BBC is true, about Home Office plans to break up the families of asylum seekers whose claims are rejected by the authorities but who do not jump on the first available flight home by forcing their children into care homes, my contempt for Government ministers will soar to Olympian altitudes.

It just seems unspeakably stupid and offensive.

To support the work of the Refugee Council, ever more important in these harsh times, click here to find out about the different ways in which you can make a donation.

And for VS readers in the Oxford area, don’t forget that 29 November is the 10 Years Too Long demonstration outside Campsfield House, with Bill Morris, Evan Harris MP and others speaking, with music from the Oxford Sol Samba Band supported by Rhythms of Resistance. Full details from the Campaign to Close Campsfield webpage.


Over at Au Currant, Jackie D approvingly quotes Salam Pax quoting his friend G, who talks about himself in the 3rd person:

[T]ell your friends in London that G in Baghdad would have appreciated them much more if they had demonstrated against the atrocities of saddam.

And over at Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram is asking and answering a similar question:

At the same time, liberal hawks are asking rhetorically why there were no demonstrations against Saddam Hussein, or against other tyrannies.(I think that last question is pretty easy to answer: people usually demonstrate because they are angry at their own government (or its associates) rather than at someone else’s. Even anger at yesterday’s bombings in Turkey wouldn’t translate into demonstrations because there would be no point in marching against Al Quaida.)

And, to take the third text for today, an early commenter, John S, wrote this in reply [scroll down]:

Oh come off it Chris!
I went on loads of well-attended anti-apartheid marches in London in the 1980s. They were clearly demonstrations against the South African government. If you’re outraged you will demonstrate. Clearly Saddam’s activities didn’t outrage Britons enough.

Two extended comments directed at no-one in particular follow:

Comment One.

As far as I can tell (from a fairly quick glance at the 1988 volume of Hansard — sadly the online Hansard only goes back to November 1988), the two MPs who made a decent amount of noise about Halabja in the House of Commons in 1988 were Jeremy Corbyn and Ann Clwyd, as they hassled David Mellor, then the junior minister responsible for maintaining smooth relations with the Baathists. Fifteen years later, of course, Corbyn was ardently against the war, and Clwyd a key supporter. That suggests, in its obviously crude way, that there’s not a clear correlation between campaigning about Iraqi atrocities in the 1980s and either supporting or opposing the war today.

(My guess is that this absence of a correlation carries through to wider public protest: I don’t know who stood outside the Iraqi Embassy in protest, but my guess is that it was a mixture of Kurds and Trots, and that some of the former and none of the latter — except, perhaps, for those who became ex-Trots in the interim — supported the war. The only person I know personally — to drop into anecdotal mode — who ever helped to organise memorials for the victims of Halabja before the Americans began to talk about invading Iraq and lots of people rediscovered their outrage at Baathist atrocities is a Trotskyist friend and antiwar activist, who was involved with the commemorations in Liverpool and Manchester a few years ago.)

But if I’m right about the lack of a clear correlation between those who protested against Saddam’s atrocities at the time and their opinions about the legitimacy of the war in 2003, then that raises a question about whether it’s terribly sensible for liberal hawks in the US and the UK now to ask questions about who did what to protest against Saddam over the years — especially since I don’t think anyone has any record of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Blair, Straw, Hoon, and so on, doing much to either protest or memorialise Halabja and the other crimes of the regime before the invasion of Kuwait transformed elite attitudes to Iraq in 1990.

Comment Two.

Surely the key point about “outrage” and demonstrations is that big demonstrations are not (or, rather, almost never) spontaneous public displays of outrage at all, but the product of great investment of time and energy on the parts of event organisers.

Why were anti-apartheid demonstrations in the UK so big and so frequent? Lots of reasons: many ANC activists and exiles had spent time in the UK, the Anglican church (think Tutu and Huddleston) played a prominent role in the struggle, South Africa House provided a very visible central focus for protest in London, the “rebel tours” and sporting connections between England and South Africa kept the issue in the newspapers, as did periodic Commonwealth summits, egregious Tory wankers like John Carlisle would remind ordinary citizens that the enemy lived at home as well as in Pretoria, lots of people in the UK, whatever their citizenship, had personal ties to people in South Africa owing to a shared imperial past, another focal point was provided by the captivity of Nelson Mandela, and, also importantly, the protestors thought they had a realistic chance of achieving something through their protests, and as it turned out they were right to think so. (There are no doubt other reasons, I’m sure: these are just off the top of my head.)

Saddam Hussein’s atrocities didn’t spark mass mobilisations in large part because public levels of awareness (again, for all kinds of reasons) were much lower, and because there weren’t these various networks, political and cultural resources and pre-existing campaigns, for anti-Saddam campaigners to draw upon in order to mobilise mass protest. Nor would it have been clear what, if anything, mass protest at the Iraqi Embassy in 1988 might have achieved.

But to say these things isn’t to say that people in the UK thought that gassing Kurds was just fine whereas apartheid wasn’t — just to say that there’s a much more complicated passage from the fact of moral opposition or outrage to widespread public protest than some people seem to think.

UPDATES [23.11.2003]: This post is being discussed over at Harry’s Place, and on the Normblog. [24.11.2003] Marc Mulholland has joined in, too.

ID Cards

Back in January I encouraged readers of the Virtual Stoa to use the easy-peasy facility provided by to tell the Home Office just what they thought about the proposed ID card scheme during its official consultation period. In today’s Guardian I read that my own and 5,025 other people’s responses were disregarded by HMG for being part of an “organised campaign”.

And, surprise surprise, having binned 5,026 reasoned objections to their insane proposals, the Government has declared that 61% of the people who opined on the matter came out in favour of ID cards…

Ragga Choons

Deepening the trend whereby Guardian journalists reproduce material from blogs they do not properly acknowledge, Simon’s excellent blog has been spotted by the Guardian pop writers:

A reverie on the latest ragga choons might be interrupted with an aside that begins: “For those of you interested in contemporary political philosophy… “

Yes, Google confirms that that’s definitely the silverdollarcircle.[Via the, um, silverdollarcircle]

World of Blogs

Matthew Turner complains: “Isn’t the blogosphere boring at the moment?”

Well, I don’t much like the word “blogosphere”, I don’t think it’s appeared on this blog before, and I agree that things have been quite quiet chez the Virtual Stoa since an possibly-unprecedented amount of material was posted in the first half of November. But some of the following links have been keeping me entertained over the last few days, in the interstices of this, that and the other (which mostly involves marking essays).

Gert’s blog of President Bush’s trip to London is very well done, and very useful for those of us who aren’t living there and only use the telly for rugby and DVDs. Recently there’s been Josh Cherniss’s Greatest Marxists poll which started here, ended here, and prompted discussion here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here; and some of us are waiting for the announcement of the normblog’s Alternative Big Read (my picks were Ulysses, War and Peace and Midnight’s Children with Catch-22 following closely behind, and a long hard brood about what I really think about Brideshead Revisited).

One unintended consequence of the Mass. Supreme Court‘s work this week is that Andrew Sullivan’s blog has become readable again — and, just as predictably, it has prompted howls of… something… over at Conservative Commentary as well as a more thoughtful dissent from Nathan Newman (and this recent post of his on free speech and the Right also deserves a second look).

Thinking of the Right, Melanie Phillips’ blog is now churning out her particular brand of reasoned social commentary on a more-than-daily basis, and she has accumulated a small army of balanced commentators. And she certainly won’t like being listed next to what is almost certainly the most intriguing new-ish blog, Belle de Jour, being the blog of a London call girl, and which Green Fairy has been usefully advertising for a while now.

Finally, looking beyond the blogs to the kinds of things people occasionally blog about, if only to say, go here and read this: The Onion has a small classic, “Media Criticized for Biased Hometown Sports Reporting“, though it’s probably better if (a) you’ve ever lived in America and (b) you’ve ever been on the Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting emailing list.

What we’re all really regretting, though, is not being at the Kendal ASDA for a chat with Tim Collins MP on the issues that matter last week.

Alright. That’s not a great deal. But it’s better than nothing, and probably better than whatever the TV show was that Matthew thought we should be watching instead. Perhaps the world of blogs has been dull because we’ve all been watching too much rugby and going to Emmylou Harris concerts instead of staring at our computer screens for too many hours of the day.