Hyde Park

Tessa Jowell doesn’t want the Stop the War coalition to hold its next big rally in London in Hyde Park. (It’ll be bad for the grass, apparently). How wrong she is.

Here’s Karl Marx, writing in the Neue Oder Zeitung of 28 June 1855:

We were spectators from beginning to end and do not think we are exaggerating in saying that the English Revolution began yesterday in Hyde Park. The latest news from the Crimea acted as an effective ferment upon this “unparliamentary,” “extra-parliamentary” and “anti-parliamentary” demonstration… At three o’clock approximately 50,000 people had gathered at the spot announced on the right bank of the Serpentine in Hyde Park’s immense meadows. Gradually the assembled multitude swelled to a total of at least 200,000 due to additions from the other bank. Milling groups of people could be seen shoved about from place to place. The police, who were present in force, were obviously endeavouring to deprive the organizers of the meeting of what Archimedes had asked for to move the earth, namely, a place to stand upon. Finally a rather large crowd made a firm stand and Bligh the Chartist constituted himself chairman on a small eminence in the midst of the throng. No sooner had he begun his harangue than Police Inspector Banks at the head of 40 truncheon-swinging constables explained to him that the Park was the private property of the Crown and that no meeting might be held in it. After some pourparlers in which Bligh sought to demonstrate to him that parks were public property and in which Banks rejoined he had strict orders to arrest him if he should insist on carrying out his intention, Bligh shouted amidst the bellowing of the masses surrounding him:

“Her Majesty’s police declare that Hyde Park is private property of the Crown and that Her Majesty is unwilling to let her land be used by the people for their meetings. So let’s move to Oxford Market.”

With the ironical cry: “God save the Queen!” the throng broke up to journey to Oxford Market…

There were riots there in 1866 over franchise reform, and battles with suffragettes in 1914. So it’s a terribly suitable venue for this kind of thing, and it’s ridiculous that the minister for what used to be called national heritage should even think of trying to interrupt this vital radical tradition.

Update! [5.2.2003]: Jowell backs down!

Good News!

My friend and comrade Leo Zeilig has had the criminal charges against him dropped. As you may know or remember, he was picked up by police recently for being the man with the megaphone on an antiwar demonstration in London, and had up to five years in prison dangled in front of him on a charge of incitement to violent disorder, or somesuch. He writes:

Comrades and friends,

We fought and we won! At 4pm today my solicitor received a fax from the Crown Prosecution Service that stated, “all charges against your client have been dropped”. While no reasons were given we can feel confident that the message of our campaign — the Right to Protest — the anti-war movement and the show of support at the court on 31 December, the work we did raising the profile of the campaign and the absurdity of the charges against a peaceful demonstrator forced their hand. That they didn’t have the confidence to pursue charges against me with all the evidence they claimed to have amassed on the day is proof of the great strength of the anti-war movement. The cost they have wasted in the last three months runs into thousands. We must make sure that demonstration in London on the 15 February will ring out across the world with the message that we can stop the war and we are RIGHT TO PROTEST!

The support of my comrades and friends in the campaign has ensured this victory. We must make sure that Right to Protest organised by the Stop the War Coalition continues to exist, providing support and solidarity to the others still facing charges and anti-war activists that the police will undoubtedly arrest in the protests and demonstrations against the war in the coming weeks and months.

Excellent news: and many thanks to those who were a bit better than me at managing to make it along to the court hearing.

Democracy in Action

Last year the BBC World Service authoritatively determined that “A Nation Once Again” was the World’s Favourite Song. Now Time magazine is asking the readers of its website to answer the question, “Which country poses the greatest danger to world peace in 2003?”, giving them a rather limited menu of Iraq, North Korea or the United States.

Voting has been going on for a while now, and with almost 57,000 votes cast, the US is in the lead by 70.3% to Iraq’s 18.9% to North Korea’s 10.8%. And the polls are still open

Nick provides an update [16.1.2003]: The US now leads with over 80% of the vote; Iraq and North Korea have under 10% apiece.

If we cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq

To be sung to the tune of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands”:

If we cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets hurt your Mama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are Saudi
And the bank takes back your Audi
And the TV shows are bawdy,
Bomb Iraq.

If the corporate scandals growin’, bomb Iraq.
And your ties to them are showin’, bomb Iraq.
If the smoking gun ain’t smokin’
We don’t care, and we’re not jokin’.
That Saddam will soon be croakin’,
Bomb Iraq.

Even if we have no allies, bomb Iraq.
From the sand dunes to the valleys, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections;
Let’s look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

While the globe is slowly warming, bomb Iraq.
Yay! the clouds of war are storming, bomb Iraq.
If the ozone hole is growing,
Some things we prefer not knowing.
(Though our ignorance is showing),
Bomb Iraq.

So here’s one for dear old daddy, bomb Iraq,
From his favorite little laddy, bomb Iraq.
Saying no would look like treason.
It’s the Hussein hunting season.
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

I’ve no idea who first wrote this: Raj passed it on to me through the electronic ether.

Conspiracy Theory

Hilary wrote to the Virtual Stoa the other day [1.11.2002]:

Up till now I’ve been a passive reader of the Virtual Stoa (can’t rememebr how I stumbled upon it in the first place!), but thought this might interest you.

Appended to her message is a a summary of Gore Vidal’s essay on the war against terrorism, published in last Sunday’s Observer. (The Observer hasn’t published the article on its website, saying that it is “exclusive to the print edition”, but last time I looked there was a copy of the full text posted here). And attached to this summary was a link to the page at emperors-clothes.com, Jared Israel’s website which peddles an awful lot of conspiracism.It’s always nice to get letters from readers of the Stoa – but on this occasion I’m not very interested in this kind of material. Insofar as Vidal’s argument is about grand Republican strategies for dominating Eurasia, it’s quite interesting (though there are better treatments of the topic elsehwere). Insofar as it just repeats the staple claims of 911 conspiracy theories, with their minute-by-minute analyses of who knew what, when, and what they then did about it, or did not do about it, on the day itself, it doesn’t seem to me to be very interesting at all.

Chip Berlet’s page on post-911 conspiracizing is useful, and well-documented, and the rest of the Political Research Associates website has a ton of material on Conspiracy Theories and What is Wrong with Them. Another nice discussion of War against Terror conspiracies is this article from In These Times.

As Max Sawicky notes in a post to the new No War Blog banning conspiracizing discussions on the site, “everything you need to criticize the U.S. government or the capitalist system is right out in the open. The same goes for this war”.


From the Newshour with Jim Lehrer:

JIM LEHRER: Before 9/11, you talked much about reforming the military, changing the way things work, changing the culture. Does this budget reflect any of that?

DONALD RUMSFELD: Oh, indeed, it does. The 2003 budget, which was part of the President’s budget announced today, has a great deal of transformation in it. There’s some who define transformation one way, would say that there’s some $20 billion worth of transformational activities; another way of defining it would say $50 billion. I think it’s almost inappropriate to look at dollars. I think that – that transformation is not an event; it is a process. It is something that involves a mind set, an attitude, a culture. It is something that, for example, might not even involve a new weapons system. It might just be the connectivity among existing weapons systems. It might be a different way of organizing or fighting, as we found in Afghanistan. So I think the transformation – the word – needs to think about it and understand that it’s more of a process than an event.

Got that? This part of the interview is gibberish –but it gets a little more sinister when Mr. Rumsfeld immediately goes on to analogise the US military to the Nazi Blitzkrieg units.

W on the People of the Subcontinent

On Monday, W. spoke to reporters about the crisis in South Asia. Here’s what he said:

I don’t believe the situation is defused yet, but I do believe there is a way to do so, and we are working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis there’s a way to deal with their problems without going to war.

Not all the news reports mentioned his use of the word “Pakis”. The Reuters report has “Pakistanis”; the BBC dropped the offending clause altogether; and the later report in Newsday conceded that the President had used a “slang term” which it described, in unexplained, unsourced quotation marks, as “definitely a derogatory term for Pakistanis”. W.’s spokesperson later denied he meant to be disrespectful; and on the strength of a statement from a spokesperson at the Pakistani embassy that “he did not consider what Bush said to be an insult”, the people at Opinion Journal decided that
“the whole ‘controversy’ in other words, seems to have been an invention of the White House press corps”. Some useful discussion is over at monkeyfish.com.

Band left nameless by holy terror

From today’s New Zealand Herald:

New Zealand’s greatest rock band, Shihad, are changing their name because of its similarity to jihad – the Islamic term for holy war – fearing a backlash as they try to make their mark in America.Osama bin Laden has called a jihad against the United States following the September 11 attacks.

A new name is yet to be decided on. Shihad drummer Tom Larkin said the decision was a tough one to make given the 13 years they had spent under the banner. It had been devastating to consider the implications of changing their name, he said.

“We’ve just spent four months in the US and every news item talks of the ‘Jihad against America’. As far as 99.9 per cent of Americans are concerned, ‘jihad’ means fundamentalist terrorist war against all Americans’.

“We wouldn’t get played on radio, we wouldn’t get tours and what would be the point?”

The name Shihad comes from the misspelling of the word jihad the band lifted from the novel Dune.

The group aim to have the new name in place before playing the Australasian Big Day Out tour, which starts in Auckland next Friday.

Thanks to Aziz, for drawing it to the attention of the weblog.

Who said this — Joe McCarthy or John Ashcroft?

“To those … who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid ___, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends”.

Take the test at morons.org. (I scored 9 out of 14, which isn’t bad).

Alec wrote [12.12.2001]: I achieved exactly the same score! … Looking at one or two of the mistakes I made, I feel like a bit of a moron myself. Ah well. Here is my own ‘favourite’ McCarthy moment, from one of his earlier speeches:

“The great difference between our Western Christian world and the atheistic Communist world is not political, ladies and gentlemen. It is moral. There are other differences, of course, but those could be reconciled. For instance, the Marxian idea of confiscating the land and factories and running the entire economy as a single enterprise is momentous. Likewise, Lenin’s invention of the one-party police state as a way to make Marx’s idea work is hardly less momentous. Stalin’s resolute putting across of these two ideas, of course, did much to divide the world. With only those differences, however, the East and the West could most certainly still live in peace.

“The real, basic difference, however, lies in the religion of immoralism – invented by Marx, preached feverishly by Lenin, and carried to unimaginable extremes by Stalin. This religion of immoralism, if the Red half of the world wins, … will more deeply wound and damage mankind than any conceivable economic or political system.”

Nick wrote [13.12.2001]: OK, then, who wrote this:

“There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

“The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two-hundred-years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.

“The President has proposed that American software companies supply the government with decryption keys to high level encryption programs. Yet, European software producers are free to produce computer encryption codes of all levels of security without providing keys to any government authority. Purchasers of encryption software value security above all else. These buyers will ultimately choose airtight encryption programs that will not be American-made programs to which the U.S. government maintains keys.”

Answer: John Ashcroft, in 1997. Gosh, that was a long time ago…

PS: I got 12 out of 14 at morons.org! Thanks for the link.


Michaele wrote to the weblog the other day [3.12.2001]:

I just want to rant for a little while about how the Bush administration’s attitude about terrorism is currently being deployed to justify some horrendously incoherent foreign policy and the failure to take a morally brave and politically urgent stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Warning: this may be mildly incoherent, as I am a bit tired and angry.

We’ve all known since the W. administration first started talking about a “War on Terrorism” that the definition of terrorism and the list of terrorist organizations and their state sponsors was not based in any principled understanding of what counts as terror (versus, say, freedom fighting or legitimate acts of self-defense), but rather was based in political expediency: a combination of what our “allies” would tolerate, what was necessary to make “allies” of those governments in the first place, and what would justify only the sorts of military action that W. and his more hawkish advisors wanted to pursue anyway (that is, attacks on the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the Gulf War Redux, which is by all reports just around the corner). But until the past twenty-four hours, this peculiar understanding of who the enemy was did not seem to be wholly morally bankrupt (and has therefore had shocking credence among many of my friends and family, despite their varying degrees of distaste with the talk of war and revenge). Whatever objections one might have to war, however much W.’s frequent use of the term “evildoers” in public speeches made one think of a bad Saturday morning cartoon, it made some sense that people who have the capability and the desire to attack civilians across state borders need to be dealt with _in some manner_ because of the unpredictable threat that they pose to the security and stability of those who would be their intended targets.

Yet after W.’s speech in which he extended the moral authority of the U.S. to respond to the Taliban/al-Qaeda to Israel responding to yesterday’s horrific attacks, whatever slight moral promise that his administration’s understanding of terrorism held was completely betrayed. The administration has been flip-flopping since�January on its policy towards Israel, which has to make you wonder whether it is a matter of the much publicized conflicts between Powell and Rumsfeld/Cheney, or simply that no one with any authority in the W. administration has a clear idea of what to do in the Middle East (in part because they thought back in January that they could get away with a policy of selective American isolationism). Sometimes, the administration has condemned Israel’s ‘retaliatory’ attacks on Palestinians as going too far; sometimes it has justified Israel’s attacks. If you look carefully, there seems to be _some_ rhyme and reason to when the administration condemns Israel: when the attacks seem to be on Palestinians in general, involve a disproportionate use of military force, and result in Israeli occupation of�a particular area for some time. When the administration supports Israel, it is typically because the Israeli military has sought out specific targets and isolated them for attack (such as the Hamas leaders traveling by car a few weeks back).

However, last night’s speech by W. in essence authorizing Israel to respond forcefully to the “terrorist” attacks (in quotes because I recognize that who counts as a terrorist really does seem to be a matter of who those with the really big guns think is a terrorist, not because I do not personally condemn the attacks), combined with today’s utter _failure_ to condemn Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian Authority (which smack of war, and not war on terrorists) is a clear sign that the administration has finally abdicated any semblance of taking the moral high ground in its war on “terrorism”. One would think that W. would have learned from his father’s mistakes: taking a permissive ‘we support you-and we won’t interfere’ attitude towards how another state treats its minorities or the sovereignty of state boundaries only serves to firm up other states’ resolve in transgressing international norms. Iraq would not have invaded Kuwait without having the impression that the U.S. would not intervene. Sharon’s Israel could not have notched up the violence and the provocativeness of its attacks on Palestinians, Hamas, and now directly the Palestinian Authority without believing firmly that this would in no way jeopardize relations with its one true ally, the U.S. The absurdly self-congratulatory and self-interested definition of terror and terrorists that is sustaining U.S. actions in Afghanistan is now justifying Sharon’s brutal policy of trying to provoke Palestinians to become more and more violent, more and more politically extreme, so that he can sustain the popular support that keeps him in office, and pursue the policy of complete expulsion of the Palestinian people that he has clearly wanted from the beginning.

I don’t mean to downplay here how much we ought to be critical of how the U.S. attack on terrorism has been deployed to justify the specific way that the U.S. has responded to Sept. 11th. (As a U.S. citizen, I am deeply concerned about how the Justice Department and the executive branch are trying to increase their authority and the secrecy in which they might carry out their war). However, I think that the events of the past 24 hours call on us to be even more vigilant about how the justification of a war on terror is and can be deployed to justify the pursuit of violence over the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of relative homogeneity over the pursuit of pluralist political arrangements that aim at justice for all people living in and sharing a particular space. I originally was concerned about how the war on terror would justify the W. administration’s policies. It is clear that we also need to be concerned about how it divests the U.S. of any moral authority to condemn the clearly objectionable treatment of peoples like the Palestinians in the name of a war on terror.

I think that’s enough for now. Let the criticisms begin!

Thanks for this, and apologies for the delay in posting it on this page.