Earlier this week I wrote to the Iraq Inquiry team about the forthcoming report.
I note that the Inquiry report will be published in July. May I ask in what format the report will be published? I assume that physical paper copies will be available, and also a PDF. However, neither of these are optimal for public discussion and citation. May I recommend that the report is also published in an HTML format? I draw your attention to my project The Leveson Report (As It Should Be) at leveson.robertsharp.co.uk. This is not a rewriting of Lord Justice Leveson’s report but instead a re-setting of the report in HMTL, a format that is far more convenient for students, journalists, policy makers and the public. Each paragraph and chapter carries its own anchor link for easy citation. It is imperative that Sir John Chilcot’s report is published in a similar format. Ideally, transcripts of and written evidence that the Inquiry makes public should be presented in that format too. An organisation that has has done significant work in this area is MySociety. I urge the Inquiry team consult with MySociety and other organisations who work in this area ahead of (not after) the report publication, to ensure that modern web design and coding/markup techniques and ‘best practice’ are applied. The report of the Inquiry is of huge historical, constitutional and political significance and the actual formats in which the report is made available should reflect that. The medium is part of the message of transparency and clarity that is at the heart of the Inquiry.
This blog is ten years old this month. I’ve written previously about the impetus for starting to write, and my reasons for persisting with it. A key factor was the Iraq War of 2003. The arguments about the decision to invade, the human rights abuses that followed and the obtuse behaviour of our leaders were a staple of the ‘blogosphere’ at that time, and I got stuck in. Allow me to indulge in a little old-style blogging, i.e. web-logging, by quoting at length from Anthony Barnett’s recent essay on Jeremy Corbyn, where he summarises the meaning of the Iraq War: Continue reading “On Iraq, we were right and they were wrong”
I have just uploaded some digitised super 8mm cinefilm footage I took in 2003, of the anti-war demonstrations in London.
I sent the original reels to the producers of the We Are Many documentary. They have crowd-sourced footage of the biggest mobilisation of people in history. Sadly, my footage did not make it into the final cut (too much panning, maybe!?) but they provided me with the digitised footage anyway. I am making it available online under a Creative Commons Licence. Watching the footage a decade after I took it, I am amused by how the vintage cinefilm adds an extra sheen of history to the images. Its also serendipitous that I received this footage back just as Instagram launched its video service. The quick cuts and grainy film in my clips are mirrored in the new content being produced today by social media enthusiasts. I was using Instagram Video before it was cool! I am also reminded of these wonderful lines from Karo Kilfeather in her essay ‘The Art of Narcissism‘:
The impulse to create art is as powerful as any other thing that drives us because art connects us to experiences and to one another. Good is besides the point when the need behind it is to create something honest and true to the way we see the world. It’s not about realism. The vintage-tinted Instagram filters are derided for adding a nostalgic cast to the mundane, but what they do is allow users to share their world in the same emotional shades they see. The photo becomes not just a document of a moment, but a story told from a point of view.
This speaks to why I chose to document the protest with Super 8mm cine-film in the first place. The political mobilisation of early 2003 felt historic, and I wanted to convey that in my personal record of the day.
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country. Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place. Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum. This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations. Aavaz have a petition, which I have signed. Please do the same. Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers? I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome. We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soliders working abroad.
Amid all the frantic late night comments about the UN resolution to finally act in Libya, this tweet from @techsoc stood out:
All intervention is risky & w/ great downsides. A non-intervention is also an intervention; letting Gaddafi kill using weapons we sold.
I think this an interesting companion thought to Sunder Katwala’s bolshy piece on the subject of whattaboutery (a topic Johann Hari previously dealt with in this hardy perennial). Sunder explains why it is worth intervening in Libya when we might not do so elsewhere. First, there has to be a clear and present humanitarian crisis (this is not present in most examples of despicable oppression, a small mercy). Second, intervention has to be possible and practical. This generally means the support and assistance of major regional players like the Arab League or African Union, who are notoriously lethargic. And third, the intervention requires a legitimacy, again related to what important external stakeholders think, but also what those inside the country ask for. These three checkboxes provide a case for what Sunder calls contextual universalism. It matters – at least to me – because it articulates why I had a gut feeling that the Iraq war was wrong, and the current intervention is right. This is despite the fact that the documented brutality of Saddam Hussein was ever bit as bad as that of Colonel Gaddafi. The cautious approach is clearly a response to the bungling of Iraq. I watched some of the collegiate House of Commons debate on the issue yesterday, and most of the contributions, from Nicholas Soames to John McDonnell, were infused with the considerations that Sunder lays out. This approach to Foreign policy – the need for practicality and legitimacy, the need to be seen to be going to war for the right reasons – is obviously influenced by how unsuccessful the hawkish and shameless approach of Bush/Blair turned out to be. in 2006 I wrote in this space how protest actually serves to influence future policy more than current policy. I quoted Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads, who wrote:
… someone has to be called to account or the next batch of power-mad bastards – here or abroad – will think they can get away with exactly the same thing.
Well, Tony Blair was not forced kicking and screaming from office in the way Tim hoped. Nevertheless, the way the British and American Governments have acted during this current crisis is telling. It is clear that they have been profoundly affected by the uproar we caused last time. David Cameron is rightly being praised for his handling of the crisis, but his course of action was defined by the parameters set for him by recent history. And those parameters were set by us, the awkward squad of protesters and dissenting bloggers. For that, I think we can claim some credit.