Armistice Day

Pure blue skies. People in anoraks and kilts gather in a traffic island, next to a pub and a billboard that advertises insurance. Vehicles stream past, ignoring the throng.

Then, at one minute to eleven, the policemen step confidently into the road to stop the traffic. The pedestrians pause and look towards the gathering in the centre of the junction. A lone piper plays The Last Post. The traffic lights keep changing, from green, to red, to amber, and back to green again. But nothing moves.

Alternative currencies

Two alternative currencies from two African countries.

Listening last night to the BBC World Service programme Global Business, we heard from presenter Peter Day that mobile phone credit has become a currency. Apparently, SafariCom phones have the ability to transfer credit from one phone to another. A man can ‘top-up’ his own phone in Nairobi, and send some of the credit to his mother in the rural areas. She can in turn send that credit on to the phones of traders in the market place, in exchange for goods. Entrepreneurs place a high value on mobile phone credit, as the pricing and market information they recieve via their mobile phones is essential to their business.

Unfortunately, the presenter missed the crucial question in his interview with the SafariCom CEO. If their phone credit is being used as currency, what happens when the company decides to raise the cost of their calls? They will effectively devalue a common currency, which could ruin the smaller traders. Should a telecommunications company have this kind of power?

In contrast to Kenya, the economy in Zimbabwe shrinks further every day. Now it transpires that Zimbabwean prostitutes are demanding payment for their services in gasoline.

Legislate for the whole country

Rachel from north London was on the tube from Kings Cross to Russel Square that was attacked on 7th July 2005. During this week of political hand-wringing over whether to intern people for 90 or 28 days without charge, she has published some very pertinent posts, the most recent on the folly of legislating in the name of the terror victims:

And how I wish The Sun, and Tony Blair and Charles Clarke had remembered that, before they start screetching ‘It’s for the Victims!’ when trying to drive through panicky Terror legislation… You don’t cobble together any legislation on the back of feeling sorry for people who were hurt or killed by criminals in one particular incident.

That’s not democracy, that’s a PR and media strategy.

On BBC Radio 4’s Any Answers today, a caller pointed out that the erosion of civil liberties is a one way street, so it is important the laws we do make are considered properly.

Laws should be made in a more sober and detatched manner, not to be populist, or out of panic and fear like this one.

Many unthinkables

I don’t usually read the Daily Mail, but I’m in a pub by myself and there is a copy of the scottish edition on the bar. And there’s more: not only do I not usually buy the Daily Mail, but I don’t usually find myself in agreement with it either.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the 90-day terror bill, the Daily Mail editorial has a stab (definitely the operative word) at criticising Blair’s leadership style. It rightly highlights the inconsistency whereby he cites public opinion as a reason for action – it did not stop the invasion of Iraq. However, I disagree with the paper over the assertion that the Labour MPs have “tasted blood [and] have an appetite for more.” (Surely that is a more likely metaphor for the pro-hunting Tories). Instead, what we are seeing is Tony Blair reaping what he has sown, two years later. He may have survived the Hutton Inquiry, and the decision to go to war in the face of massive opposition and no UN sheild. But the legacy of the bogus WMD-claims is that he now finds that people do not trust him on matters of national security.

Indeed, recent events mean that the police have lost that trust too. After the rightly publicised shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes, and the ridiculous spectacle of an aged Labour party member being arrested under the Terrorism Act for heckling, it is legitimate and patriotic to ask whether we should grant every power the police ask for. Public perception plays a huge part in political decisions.

On the opposite page, Colette Douglas Home has some sane advice: Go against the grain.

Our best chance of beating terror is to hug the Muslim population so close it perceives its first loyalty to be to its fellow Britons – making it impossible for terrorists to infiltrate undetected. We will not do that by plucking people from their midst and effectively interning them.

These are tactics however. What about the moral argument? That habeus corpus should be preserved is a notion that has flown the nest, after MPs agreed that a 28 day sentence without charge is acceptable. A veritable outrage, yet no-one flaps an eyelid in response. The implied argument is that protection of our citizens is ultimately more important than the protection of our civil liberties, our freedom… the same freedom for which we wage the war on terror in the first place.

Freedoms will be destroyed in this so called war on terror. Better they be destroyed by terrorists, as they kill, maim and disrupt, than by the police, our agents of the state. We should play by the rules we have followed for centuries, even if that increases the risk of our being attacked. That is the price we pay for being better than them.

I’m glad to see that this is not such a taboo opinion. Chris at qwghlm makes a similar, difficult point. He links to a supporting post on Where There Are No doors too, which I noticed was also quoted on Tim’s Britblog Roundup, along with this amusing version from Fair Vote Watch:

This lot [militant commenters at Harry’s Place] remember, like to bill themselves as Muscular Liberals. Muscular in the sense of Complan-drinking surrender monkeys that happily ditch 700 years of common law precedent as soon as some twat blows up a bus.

Exactly.

More trouble brewing in Zim

During last week’s special edition of BBC Question Time, a flustered David Cameron said that his party needed to show how enthusiastic they were about foreign affairs:

And when the Conservative Party talks about international affairs, it can’t just be Gibraltar and Zimbabwe – we’ve got to show as much passion about Darfur and the millions of people living on less than a dollar a day in sub-Saharan Africa who are getting poorer while we are getting richer.

Given that Zimbabwe looks set to sink deeper into crisis in the coming weeks, I thought it was bizarre to lump it in with Gibraltar in this way.

The Zimbabwean Pundit reports on police brutality to stamp out demonstrations, and reminds us that the Zimbabwean Congress Trades Unions, the organisation formerly led by Morgan Tsvangirai, will be leading a protest tomorrow, 8th November.

The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is itself in turmoil, ahead of the senate elections. While Tsvangirai wants the party to boycott the elections, fellow party members are not in agreement.

The US ambassador may well be expelled in the coming days, for criticism he levelled at the Zimbabwean Government. What with the township demolitions (now completed without severe sanction to the administration), and the upcoming senate elections providing another career opportunity for ZANU-PF politicians, President Robert Mugabe’s regime will be buoyed.

This is bad news for Zimbabwe. Nowhere is the failure of the state more serious, the failings of the leader more apparent. Calling for an end to this human rights outrage would be a good starting point for Messrs Cameron and Davis to show us just how passionate about international affairs they are.

Kidney's don't have a religion

It was heartening to read that in their moment of tragedy, the family of shot Palestinian Ahmed Khatib have donated one of his kidneys, to an Israeli boy in need of a transplant. 12 year old Ahmed was shot in the head by Israeli Defence Force soldiers on 3rd November. One kidney does not a peace-process make, but it is a powerful gesture of shared humanity.

The act echos a previous donation in 2002, when the kidney of Glaswegian student Yoni Jenser, who killed in a bus suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, was transplanted into an Arab girl from East Jerusalem.

Update: Thanks to Intifada Kid for drawing my attention to Laurie King-Irani’s fascinating article Of transplants and transcendence: Questioning social and symbolic categories in Israel, which mentions the Ahmed Khatib case. It discusses the symbolism of the body in political conflicts.

Ahmed’s parents had many choices of how to react. The choice they made violated the grammar of the conflict and illuminated the intimacy and interconnections between people whom policies and practices divide and separate. Ahmed’s parents decided that their brain-dead son’s organs should be given to people needing transplants. On Sunday, Ahmad’s organs gave new life to six Israelis, Jews and non-Jews alike.

The article discusses suicide bombing and other political (mis)uses of the body.

Murderball

Earlier this week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to an advance screening of Murderball, which opened in the UK yesterday, 4th November. The film follows a group of young men competing in international ‘Quadraplegic Rugby’ competitions, described by one of the players as essentially “bumper cars for wheel-chairs”. It is a fast sport, which the film depicts well with many of the shots from ‘chair-cams’. Our tendancy to think of quadraplegics as people to be treated with awkward pity is totally debunked, as the players swear, shout, and intimidate their opponents. The frequent clashes which overturn the chairs (and their occupants) is an extremely cathartic experience.

Speaking after the screening, co-director Henry-Alex Rubin admitted that the movie was almost ‘ready made’, with a set of strong characters and storylines already in place. The rivalry between the USA and Canadian teams is twisted by the fact that the Canadian coach is Joe Soares, an American who ‘defected’ to Canada after being dropped from Team USA. An early scene depicts three men, all wheel-chair bound, having a drunken argument. “How does it feel to betray your country” says one to Soares. A better set-up could not have been scripted.

Murderball is sentimental in places, but never over the players’ disabilities. It is this robust approach, combined with an uncomprimising wit, whcih makes the film so unexpected. Crucially, the music by Jamie Saft is beautiful, binding the scenes in together in just the way a good sound-track should. This is a surprising documentary that could well receive an Oscar nomination.

Waiting for the Barbarians

My friend and colleague Sharif Hamadeh has just posted an essay on Waiting for the Barbarians at OpenDemocracy. Its one of my favourite books, a stunning examination of our fear of the ‘other’.

Update: Guy Keleny’s ‘Errors and Omissions’ column in The Independent compliments Hamadeh’s article.

The assumption behind the word [barbarian] … is that people who live in cities, pay taxes and obey written laws are superior to the more disorderly and robust denizens of wilder regions.

You may argue that this is so, but is it really fair to regard it as axiomatic, and to imbed in our language an insult to human societies with many admirable features? When people talk about ‘barbaric crimes’, I wonder what would be the reaction of an honourable barbarian such as Vercingetorix, Boudicca or Sitting Bull to the unspeakable crimes comitted by civilised peoples in the 20th century.

I had best find use another word to describe fox hunting.

Let’s disrespect more religions

Hindu looking navitityI’m not sure what the blog nettiquette is for quoting yourself, posting on someone else’s blog. I posted an opinion over at Pickled Politics that I had been meaning to make on this site. I shall repeat the thought here, but with a little more research this time.

The Hindu Forum of Britain are offended that a Royal Mail Stamp depicts a distinctly Hindu family fawning over the infant Jesus.

Commented Ishwer Tailor, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, “Would the worldwide Christian community feel comfortable if the Government of India issued a Diwali stamp with a Christian priest offering worship to Baby Krishna?”

The quote from Ishwer Tailor betrays a wilful lack of understanding of his non-Hindu British neighbours. Despite preposterous Christian symbols on our flag, the British really don’t care about religion, and there would be little outrage to a Vicar/Krishna synthesis.

When seven men were arrested for their part in an alleged Ricin Terror Plot, the police raided Finsbury Park mosque, North London, in a search for evidence. There was an outcry from sections of the local Muslim community, who said that a Christian church would never have been desecrated in this way:

What can people have in a mosque? I think it was a provocative act. It was silly and illogical. When did you last hear of a church being raided when someone has been arrested? These people do not have principles. (Abu Hamza, via CNN)

My response was to laugh. We live in a country where our places of worship are rapidly being converted into pubs and art centres. Does anyone seriously believe that the police would think twice about raiding a chapel or arresting someone in a church! Christianity in this country does not have the same social cohesion as other religions. I cannot imagine criminals being stupid enough to stash anything incriminating under the local pews (although the thought of members of the Finsbury Park WI getting frisked with the same regularity as their neighbours down at the mosque, provokes a malevolent smile).

So it is with the slightly less sensitive issue of the art on stamps. The bizarre truth is that a refusal to pander to the Hindu religion is a sign of true integration with the ex-Christian majority, who refuse to pander to the whims of the increasingly outdated and irrelevant Church of England.

True equality at last! Welcome.

Update

Back at Pickled Politics, a comment by Inders describes an incident in the 1980s where the police broke into a temple in order to deport a Sri Lankan man. I’ve also noticed that the visiting Scientologists are hardly being treated with reverence either…

Protest through music, not guns.

Remi Kazani reviews FREE THE P! over at The Electronic Intifada. Visit the link to get three free MP3s!

A quote from rapper Tamer Nafar, again emphasising that the goal for Palestinians is mere equality, not a jihad against Jews or Christians:

“It’s not that I don’t love the flag. I do.” … Yet, Nafar doesn’t want the Palestinian flag to be altered with a symbol of exclusion, like the Israeli flag, which focuses on the Star of David. Nafar noted that “Muslims, Christians and Jews” made up Palestine before Zionist gangs pillaged the state, and emphasised that the injustice and racism which has enveloped the Israeli state cannot suffocate or hinder the Palestinian cause, which seeks justice, unity, and peace for all Palestinians. The audience of Muslim, Christians, and Jews erupted as the beat rolled on in the background.

Its also nice to know someone agrees with me about symbols on flags.