Friday, February 29, 2008

Poles apart

“I don't think it was because they were Polish. They just happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time… Dublin is not as bad as it seems.”
Posting on internet message board regarding double murder in Dublin (Saturday, February 23rd 2008)

The first thing you need to know about racism is that no one is racist. Nobody. Not a single person. You may now and again have the misfortune to encounter someone in a pub who thinks that a declaration of one’s bigotry makes for a great boast but by large even they are thin on the ground these days. Even the British National Party devote a section of their website to proving how they are not racist (though as anyone who has seen the episode of Father Ted featuring Craggy Island’s Chinese community can testify such ventures rarely go as planned).

Foreigners are a relatively new thing here in Ireland. Prior to the mid-nineties we didn’t tend to see that many in the flesh. With the troubles raging up north and a dreadful economy south of the border it wasn’t difficult to see why our little island wasn’t a favoured destination for job seekers. So, while the rest of the British Isles and much of western Europe spent the post-war years transforming themselves into modern multiracial, multicultural democracies we in Ireland somehow stumbled towards the millennium in much the same way as we had begun the 20th century - poor, Christian, white and killing each other.

There was the odd exception. When I was at primary school I remember clearly a young boy joining a class in my year. He was a lad from an Asian background who had spent the first eight or nine years of his life in the much more diverse surroundings of Birmingham. His dark skin and broad distinctive Brummie accent made him an object of curiosity for all of us. We had seen people like this on TV but now one of them was among us. The reactions were varied but, kids being kids, none of them were hostile. In fact, he seemed to make friends quite easily on the basis that firstly he was good at football (kick a ball properly and you’ll never be stuck for mates no matter how much of a bastard you are) and secondly the slight tinge of exoticness seemed to make him a trendy bugger to hang out with (unlike me). I do though recall my best friend back then coming over to me the morning the boy arrived at our school and saying the words: “We’ve got niggers in our school.” I can’t remember whereabouts the conversation headed after that.

Twenty years on and a lot has changed. I am bald for a start. The violence in the north has ceased. The economy in the south has been transformed beyond recognition. Poles, Lithuanians, Romanians, Latvians and many other nationalities from the former eastern bloc states who two decades ago were not even allowed to leave their own country are now permanent residents here, many with families. It’s not just east Europeans either. Nigerians, Portuguese, Chinese, Timorese and many other nationalities are now well established all around the country. I would love to finish at this stage by saying that we all lived happily ever after in a spirit of love and friendship. Sadly, I’d be telling an enormous lie were I to do so.

Yesterday saw the death of a second Polish man stabbed in a frenzied screwdriver attack at a shop in the Drimnagh area of Dublin last Saturday night. Marius Szwajkos, 27, and his friend Pawel Kalite, 26, died after being attacked at a fast food takeaway on the Benbulben Road in the south of the city. The events surrounding the attack are still not fully clear though the Gardai have made a number of arrests and files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Understandably a lot of people in Dublin are hoping that xenophobia was not a motive in this double murder. One account doing the rounds is that it had nothing to do with the men being foreign. What happened, or so the story goes, is that the Polish men had been asked by teenagers to buy them alcohol at a local off-licence. When they refused to do so they were set upon and stabbed in the head. This may well be the case but I still find it hard to believe that the men’s nationality was not a contributing factor. Like all bullies, I would be of the opinion that it is precisely because Marius and Pawel were strangers in a strange land, isolated and vulnerable that these cowards thought that perhaps they were worthy of treatment a bit more severe than that which would have been meted out to anyone from the ‘indigenous’ population who would have refused to purchase them their tipple of choice.

Knives of course don’t need to be involved. Sometimes all it takes is the unwelcoming nature of some natives here that can do irreparable damage. Last year I went out for a drink at my old local back home. It is a rural pub. A local pub for local people you could say. On the Saturday night I was there two Hungarian men who worked in a local factory were in having a pint. They had, they informed me as I waited at the bar for my drinks, just moved to the area. Sadly a handful of rustic locals, well liquored up to provide that extra dose of bravado, decided that it would be good craic to poke fun at our couple of new arrivals. Within a half hour both Hungarians were gone. Their accents were made fun of, their clothes made fun of, even their national football team was made fun of (one of the men did mention Ferenc Puskás but his name meant nothing to my brave fellow countrymen). This little episode may not have bothered most people but it bothered me. It was embarrassing, cringeworthy, humiliating to know that I share the same passports as these people and even worse when I realised that it was being replicated in workplaces and bars and shops throughout the country. Yet it is in each of these little arguments, each of these little bouts of bullying that the seeds for xenophobic attacks are sowed. That night the two Hungarian lads decided to drink up and head elsewhere. On another occasion my compatriots may run out of luck and come across a couple of foreigners not as willing to tolerate such redneck antics.

The more I think of it now the more anecdotes I realise I could bore you with about my encounters with everyday racism, though I won’t bother wasting your time. I am pretty sure you could regale me with similar tales of woe. We are a racist people. We are a xenophobic people. We are comfortable living with ‘our own’. This is not unique. We are no more racist than people in Britain, France, Germany, the US or any other developed nation. However, we are no less racist either and, sadly, this is the lie that a lot of us seem to believe. It is necessary that we dispose completely of any notion that we are special, that somehow we Irish - northerners or southerners - are by some strange twist of fate or history immune from the racist disease; that because of the famine and our troubled history we are now the land of a thousand welcomes in this era of newfound wealth.

The people in Drimnagh who this week have been trying to convince the rest of the country that the events of Saturday night represented just another street row sound like echoes from the northern troubles. Remember in the old days when people would blame outbreaks of violence in their area on ‘outsiders’? Or when, for example, a Catholic (or Protestant) family living on an almost entirely loyalist (or nationalist) estate would be burned out of their home and local community leaders and politicians would question whether or not it was a sectarian attack? We’ve been here before. Whole communities in denial. No one wants to believe the potential for hatred that exists among ‘our own’. Unfortunately we are starting to see it.

Fighting xenophobia will be difficult although in one sense we have an advantage. We can look to our European neighbours and borrow those parts of their experiences which have made integration a success and learn from those mistakes which have caused long term harm. However, a prerequisite to that must be the acceptance of our own shortcomings in the field of tolerance. As I said at the beginning though, that may prove to be the most difficult hurdle to overcome living as we do in a racist society in which no one appears to be racist or wants to admit that racism is a major problem. The reduction of a racist double murder in Drimnagh to the status of an argument that got a bit out of hand may help us to sleep slightly easier in the short term. In the long run, it could have much worse consequences.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

“As my colleague was just saying…” (Or why consensus makes me puke)

To those of you not from our wee province or not familiar with our television schedules, once every month the BBC decides to drop its Thursday night political debate show Question Time for viewers on this side of the Irish Sea. In its place we get Let's Talk, a pathetically poor attempt by the folks in Ormeau Avenue to bring the Question Time format to Belfast. Recently I’ve started to wonder is the programme just another example of substandard regional TV or a microcosm of a society which has forgotten the importance of dissent?

The framework for the show is the exact same as its cross channel counterpart: four panellists, one presenter and a studio audience. Unfortunately, that's where the similarities to Question Time end. Everything about Let's Talk is dire. The intro music is appalling, the title sequence shoddy, presenter Mark Carruthers long ago pinched Pat Kenny's crown for being Ireland’s blandest man and the fed-up audience always seem to look as if they have been frogmarched into the studio at gunpoint. The most dismal part of the programme though is the panel and last week's line up saw the series reach an all time low with Henry Kelly, Arlene Foster, Margaret Ritchie and Mike Nesbitt keeping the seats warm. But whereas David Dimbleby spends most of his time trying to antagonise his guests (albeit in the misleadingly soft dulcet tones of BBC English), Mark Carruthers has never led me to believe that he seeks anything other than an easy night’s pay. Last Thursday's edition was no different. Corruption has been the big issue in the province over the past week or so. Surely then one would imagine that the usual niceties would be put aside and we would finally get to see a bloodbath at Blackstaff. Yes? No.

Henry Kelly, the ex Irish Times journalist and game show host, commented that while the recent flood of stories on the local political scene about dodgy expenses and jobs for the boys (or as one well known Member of the Legislative Assembly referred to them, "unfounded allegations" and "innuendo") might be bad it is at least a lot better than what we were once used to, namely the troubles/war. Mike Nesbitt’s contribution was little better. The former UTV Live presenter (who these days can't seem to form a sentence without using the phrase 'victims and survivors') said that our current disputes represented a change in Northern Irish politics and a shift away from our old ways. How the DUP and SDLP ministers sitting between the two men must have been tittering inside at being handed such blatant get out of jail cards. Of course, none of us should be surprised.

First of all, the attitude of Kelly and Nesbitt really makes you think about the standards that exist in local media circles. Here are two prominent long serving figures of Irish journalism brushing aside the sort of story that most hacks in any other country would foam at the mouth for. You would be hard pressed to find a journalist from Britain - past or present - that would have treated this story so casually when their prey was lined up directly in front of them. I simply cannot envisage Jeremy Paxman in this same situation saying 'oh well old chaps, all this cronyism might be bad but sure isn't better than you blowing each others brains out'. Secondly, it is a matter of urgency that we quickly ditch the idea that the choice open to the people of Northern Ireland is either a) terrorist violence or b) wholesale political corruption. Despite what the Kellys and Nesbitts of this world may think, corruption is not - or at least should not - be a factor in ‘normal’ politics. Politics should be about, to borrow a line from Billy Bragg, schoolbooks and beds in hospitals. Political journalism, that which both of these men are best known for, should be about the pursuit of truth, asking difficult questions and holding public figures to account. Except here. Just as Robert Fisk once said it was virtually impossible in 1993 to find a journalist willing to put his neck on the line and offer any criticism of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, so too does this same unwritten rule forbidding anything other than childish enthusiasm for the power-sharing executive permeate our own media.

When Mark Carruthers next combs his perfect side parting, climbs to the podium and once again attempts to find consensus between four nondescript panellists do not look upon it as merely a case of bad TV. BBC Northern Ireland is only reflecting what is going on in the local political arena. Outside of the studio sectarian differences and policy disagreements are, along with questionable finances, getting swept under the carpet in a province where debate and opposition are being sacrificed in exchange for an endless list of ‘historic moments’ and quaint photoshoots featuring sniggering old enemies to which we will all try our best to be excited and proclaim that we could never have imagined it happening a few years back. In this climate few in the media, politics or society in general want to appear to be the spoilsports. The aim of everyone is to steer away from discord. Our goal is to find common ground. In the Assembly almost everyone is a member of one of the four governing parties. Opposition to the now unified green/orange sectarian power bloc is so miniscule that it is ineffective. An ‘elected dictatorship’, if you want to bring a touch of tabloid sensationalism to it all.

I warn you, this is not natural. What Professor Paul Bew has described as a “Hitler-Stalin Pact, Ulster style” is untenable and the sooner the whole damn thing comes crashing down - which it inevitably will - the better for us all. The troubles are over, done with, gone as Gerry Adams said almost a decade ago now. There is no fear of going back to the bad old days. Therefore the end of the Provo-Paisley Pact, far from being a disaster, would be a relief and provide new opportunities. It would free us from the shackles of the current consociational state of affairs and would create the space for ‘normal politics’ (that strange phenomenon everyone claims to desire) to finally take root. Almost one year has now passed since our Molotov-Ribbentrop moment and virtually nothing of any substance has taken place. The proof is now too overwhelming for anyone to ignore - the old ways simply will not do.

One last thing. If you feel like being part of the studio audience for Let’s Talk you can call the BBC Northern Ireland ticket line on 0870 333 1918. Now, now. Don’t all rush at once. There’ll be enough tickets for everyone. Of that I can assure you.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Some news for Barack Obama

If Michael Moore had said it I wouldn’t have been surprised. If a naïve first year undergraduate student in Queen’s University had said it at the college freshers fayre I wouldn’t have been surprised either. If I had heard it being bandied around at a Saturday afternoon anti-war stall I certainly wouldn’t have been surprised. Sadly, I heard it from a man who is increasingly likely to be the Democratic Party’s candidate in the US Presidential election later this year and, possibly, the most powerful man on the planet by the beginning of 2009. Barack Obama yesterday made the following comments at Ohio State University in response to Republican hopeful John McCain’s pledge to keep up the fight for democracy in Iraq:

“I have some news for John McCain. There was no such thing as al-Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq.”

Short. Sweet. Simple. Stupid.

The sad thing is that one would have to admit that on both sides of the Atlantic the vast bulk of public opinion would weigh in behind Barack Obama in this assertion. Sadly, it is not entirely true. One year before coalition troops rolled into Iraq to remove the Baathist dictatorship, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was already there and as, Christopher Hitchens has pointed out several times, this was not the sort of country you could just move in and out of in the samme manner as we are used to here in Europe. As most of you are no doubt well aware this man was the commander of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, or al-Qaeda in Iraq as it was later rebranded.

Why was al-Zarqawi in Iraq then? Well, the official line is that he arrived in Baghdad for, ahem, ‘medical treatment’ and following two months of attention under Saddam’s not-so-wonderful health care system he strangely left for the foothills of northern Iraq, a bizarre choice indeed as the Kurdish north - far from being the sort of place for some rest and relaxation - was the home to a common enemy of both militant Islamists and the Baathist regime. Collaboration to eliminate a common enemy? Surely not? Al-Zarqawi certainly chose strange moments to move to odd places. Following the 9/11 attacks he returned to Afghanistan, a place where he ran terrorist training camps, to prepare for the coming invasion of US and British forces. It does not to a great leap of the imagination to draw the conclusion that perhaps his presence in Mesopotamia was about more than a quick check up and a holiday in Kurdistan.

If you want more evidence though perhaps you should take a look at the words of none other than Osama Bin Laden, an individual who I believe commands quite a degree of respect in al-Qaeda. The following comments were made before the invasion of Iraq. I first came across the remarks in Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation, a book written by an opponent of the intervention. The comments are revealing as they shed light on just how tolerant al-Qaeda was of the Baathists at a time when al-Zarqawi was already in Iraq:

"It is beyond doubt that this Crusader war is first and foremost directed against the family of Islam irrespective of whether the (Baath) Socialist party and Saddam survive or not. It is incumbent on Muslims in general and specifically those in Iraq - seriously and in the manner of jihad - to roll up their sleeves against this tyrannical campaign. Furthermore they are duty bound to accumulate stocks of ammunition and weapons. Despite our belief and our proclamation concerning the infidelity of socialists, in present day circumstances there is a coincidence of interests between Muslims and socialists in their battles against the Crusaders… Socialists are unbelievers wherever they may be, be it in Baghdad or Aden. The fight that is taking place today is to a great extent similar to the Muslims’ previous fight against the Christians. The coincidence of interests in beneficial. The Muslims’ fight against the Christian coincided with the interests of the Persians and did not in any way harm the companions of the Prophet."

As Robert Fisk points out, this was the moment that Baathism and Islamism fused to form a united front and “we didn’t even notice.” In today’s edition of the Irish Independent Kevin Myers claims that there are a few reasons to vote for Barack Obama, they just aren’t very good ones. I agree with Myers. Obama’s careless and crudely populist anti-war rhetoric is threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. We are it appears on the verge of carrying out the modern day equivalent of replacing Churchill with Chamberlain and handing the forces of fascism their greatest victory. Victory in Iraq for these forces would inspire them to push for even greater victories. The situation is too volatile to hand control of the world’s greatest democracy to a narcissistic individual with little in his favour bar his colour and slightly exotic name. It is an odd state of affairs indeed when all American internationalists, democrats and anti-fascists should this autumn prepare to take a deep breath, cast a vote for McCain and rush home quickly to wash themselves down.

In a time like this we should all be temporary reluctant Republicans.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fifth time lucky?

If there is a god above and, as tradition would have it, he is partial to 'a tryer' then Saint Peter will no doubt be directed to fling the pearly gates wide open upon the arrival of Ralph Nader at the entrance to paradise. At the weekend the consumer rights activist announced that he would once again be putting himself forward as a candidate in this year's eagerly awaited US Presidential election.

If nothing else one has to admire Nader's enthusiasm. Many have applauded John McCain's passion for taking part in the race for the White House at the age of 71, though the situation is made a little bit easier for the Arizona Senator as he is at least in with a shout of actually winning the contest. Old Ralph on the other hand, who turns 74 this Wednesday, doesn't have a hope in hell.

As if you needed reminding, Nader's most famous/infamous moment came in the 2000 race when, standing as a Green Party candidate, he attracted 3% of the overall votes cast. It was a remarkable result for any third party candidate in a Presidential election but it was especially notable for someone as far to the left as Nader (third party candidates in the past tended to be right-wingers like segregationist George Wallace, libertarians like Ron Paul or Ross Perot of the Reform Party). The big story though was not his strong showing at the polls but the fact that Democratic Party hopeful Al Gore lost narrowly in what was the closest US election in decades. In the eight subsequent years liberals have blamed Nader for being the man who indirectly gave us the Bush years.

No doubt Democrats the length and breadth of America will be quivering at the prospect of hearing this name mentioned once again. However, they need not be too concerned. A lot has changed since 2000. At the last election four years ago Nader, running then as a non-party candidate, saw his vote fall by more than two and half million. Don’t expect that loss to be recuperated this time round.

Nevertheless, while I am not a fan of his I am pleased to see that Ralph Nader's name will be on the ballot paper for a fifth time. Unlike here in Europe where most countries have a whole range of parties to choose from come election time the United States is in reality a two party system. Someone like Nader is necessary, if only to inject a bit of colour into what can often be a drab affair. Remember 2004? Even a political junkie like myself found it difficult to get excited by the battle between the unlettered Bush and the bland Kerry. Democrats and Republicans who complain about independent candidates running and siphoning off their vote miss the whole point of what an election is about. Democracy is about choice and debate, a battle of ideas. Idealistic? Slightly. Yet, as I always tell people when they bring up the lack of choice on offer to American voters, don’t forget about Bernie Sanders!

Now all we need is Ron Paul to announce he's running as an independent and we'll really have fun this November.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Another nail in the coffin

I see that John Halligan, a councillor in the No. 3 electoral ward on Waterford City Council, has resigned from The Workers Party. A press release issued by the party claims that Cllr. Halligan (pictured left) resigned as a result of his hostility to WP policy on opposing local authority service charges. Now, I realise that this is hardly the big news story of the week but - believe it or not - there is some significance in this development. A few days ago on the other side of Europe we witnessed, by means of Kosova’s declaration of independence, the last step in the long excruciating death of Yugoslavia. The week has now concluded with what could possibly be the final nail in the coffin of the once great Stickies.

Emerging from the cataclysmic split in the republican movement in the winter of 1969 the WP transformed itself into something of a rarity in these islands - an electorally successful Marxist party. By the early nineties they were at their peak. Unfortunately for them though the best of times also turned out to be the worst of times and at around the same period Yugoslavia was pressing the self destruct button the Sticks were going through a split brought on by the tumultuous events in eastern Europe which had seen the USSR and the ‘east European socialist countries’ fall apart. With Marxism-Leninism viewed as a sinking ship by the faithful, six party TDs, its one MEP, councillors from various counties and hundreds of members the length and breadth of Ireland tore away to set up Democratic Left.

Slowly but surely over the period of the last fifteen years the party has been shrinking. At the general election held a few months after the split it lost Tomas MacGiolla, its last remaining Dail member, in Dublin West. Five years later the party split once more - over reasons still not totally clear - with a minority of members forming what became known as the Official Republican Movement. In the same year they lost their remaining seats on Dublin and Cork corporations. In 2000 Waterford councillor Martin O'Regan, perhaps the last member of the party with a realistic chance of winning a seat in Leinster House, died suddenly. O’Regan’s death was followed a few years later by the sudden death of another senior party activist in Dublin, Sean O’Cionnaith. Another seat was lost at the last local government elections in the old Stickie stronghold of Waterford while in 2005 the party was plunged into yet another crisis as its leader Sean Garland was arrested by detectives in Belfast investigating a bonkers plot between the WP and North Korea to flood the United States with counterfeit $100 bills.

The resignation of John Halligan then is just the latest in a long line of problems to hit the party over the past decade and a half. Yet there is something about the exit of comrade Halligan that pushes the whole organisation that little bit further towards extinction. This is without a doubt the most serious thing to happen the Sticks since the Garland affair three years ago. Firstly, Halligan was the party Vice President so this is not just the small matter of a councillor leaving. This represents the loss of an extremely high profile figure. Secondly, he was the one of the few candidates put forward by the party to actually gain a seat anywhere following the split of 1992. Third of all, and finally, with him gone the party has only one elected representative left in the whole of Ireland. That man, Halligan’s fellow Waterford colleague Davy Walsh, must now feel like he is on the political equivalent of death row.

Its unlikely that The Workers Party will be wound up at any point in the immediate future. Unlike other parties of the left (who on realising they are wasting their time simply dissolve or morph themselves into a think tank) the WP sprang from the Irish republican movement. Within republicanism tradition and continuity is a big thing. The Workers Party still claim to be the direct descendants of the men of Easter 1916 so to wind up the organisation, no matter how small and unsuccessful it has become, would be to wind up the whole socialist and republican revolution. Far better, they would say, for it to be a small band of men stumbling on from day to day trying to find someone new to pass the flame to than not to be stumbling at all.

Anyone who has remained in The Workers Party since the split of 1969 really does deserve a pat on the back for all the disappointments, schisms and heartbreak they have endured. For them the resignation of John Halligan will be just another obstacle thrown up in the struggle against capitalism. Or at least that’s what they’ll tell themselves. It is said that even in the 1970s many Communist Party members in the Soviet Union were well aware that the Marxist-Leninist experiment had failed - the difficult part was getting them to say it out loud. Surely members of The Workers Party, even the most dedicated, must know the game is up. To believe now that the party can be resurrected and lead the people back on the road to socialism requires faith of almost religious proportions. I am sure that someday, when the last WP councillor has lost his seat and the final member of the old guard has left this earth, someone will ask out if loud if there really is any point to it all. Until then the futile struggle will continue.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On the outside looking in

A slightly frivolous piece was posted on this site a few days ago regarding the DPRK (and oral sex) so perhaps I should redress the balance by providing something a bit more substantial on everyone’s least favourite dictatorship.

It is difficult to find any material about North Korea that doesn’t drift into the use of old worn out clichés. Rarely does anything new pop up from which you can actually learn something. Most of the things you see on television or read in the papers these days repeat all the bits and pieces you probably know about the country: the leader Kim Jong Il is a bit mad, he likes to drink Cognac and watch American horror movies, they have a really large army and a lot less electricity. However, you can’t really blame journalists for sliding into the use of such tried and tested anecdotes about this peculiar little part of the world.

Pyongyang doesn’t have a Jeremy Paxman of its own. Neither are the authorities there particularly comfortable with allowing the Paxmans of other lands in for a look around. By far the most fascinating stuff I have watched on North Korea has come not via the mainstream media but through grainy footage shot on small recording equipment and cameras on mobile phones used by smugglers and dissidents in border areas which have given a tantalising glimpse of what exactly is going on in this strange garrison state.

North Korea: A Day in the Life is a documentary film made by Dutch director Pieter Fleury. As the title would suggest it is a glimpse into daily life in the DPRK. Broadcast on al-Jazeera, the presenter does mention beforehand that this was produced under the “watchful eye” of the government so be sure when viewing that every single person that appeared in front of the camera was well briefed on the party line. Not that they would have needed that much briefing. After over half a century cut off from the rest of the world with a population knowing nothing other than what they hear from the official state media in what is perhaps the most extreme form of totalitarianism ever experienced you do sometimes wonder if what you see here is representative of people throughout this country.

Finally, if you ever think you are in a shit job and feel things can’t get worse just remember that at least you will never have to work in the Pyongyang coat factory:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The grass is always greener on the other side (of the border)

A lot of the articles I have read in the past few days regarding the ongoing international row over the recognition of the newly declared Republic of Kosova have seemed to spend quite a bit of time discussing whether or not the territory has a genuine right to independence. Is Kosova really (as the ethnic Albanians claim) a separate country? Or is it (as Belgrade claims) a “historic province” of the Serbian nation? Ask either of these questions and you are guaranteed to open up a whole can of worms. Attempting to obtain a compromise between two people as polarised as the Serbs and the ethnic Albanians over the question of Kosova is, in my opinion, impossible. There is no via media; Kosova is either part of Serbia or it is not.

Personally I do not care whether Kosova is or is not a part of Serbia. For me the important factor is that neither community in this territory has to today live under the tyranny of a bloodthirsty dictator like Slobodan Milosevic. The point which I made at the end of my last post on this subject was that the outbreak of nationalism which was triggered in the early 1990s has to stop. We cannot keep recognising the independence of any group of people that feel the slightest bit distinct from their immediate neighbours. The strengthening, democratisation and expansion of the EU east is far more preferable to the fracturing of this continent. The alternative is more and more of the never-ending constitutional deadlock that has already been witnessed in Belfast, Baghdad, the Basque country, Bosnia and Berwick-upon-Tweed. Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Berwick-upon-Tweed is a town in England. Sort of. Well, not really. The history of the place, not to say anything of its residents, seems a bit confused. Officially this little piece of land with a population of 11,665 proud citizens is the most northern town in England. It is in the English county of Northumberland. The Member of Parliament that it elects and sends to Westminster represents an English constituency. Trevor Steven, a footballer who played in two World Cups for England, is a native of the town.

However, there is another side to the story. Berwick-upon-Tweed is only a couple of miles from Scottish territory and many of the historical and families ties in the area transcend that border. The local football team Berwick Rangers play their matches in the Scottish Football League. The town’s rugby team Berwick RFC compete in the glamorously titled Scottish Hydro Electric Premiership Division Three. Craig Smith, the Scotland rugby international who may be running out against Ireland at Croke Park this Saturday, also came from here. John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, was a preacher here. Most of the banks in the town are Scottish banks. The accent of people living in the town even sounds Scottish. In fact, I wasn’t all that surprised to learn that Berwick-upon-Tweed used to actually be in Scotland. Last Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph pointed out that this fairly obscure piece of land has been part of a 1,000 year tug-of-war between England and Scotland that has witnessed it switch countries no less than thirteen times. Now it seems that the natives are revolting.

A poll carried out by local newspaper the Berwickshire Advertiser found that 80% of people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed want to leave England and return to the Scottish fold. I checked the top of my newspaper that day to see if the date was April 1st. It wasn’t. Now it even appears that the political establishment are treating this dispute which has lasted for a millennium with the utmost seriousness. Christine Grahame, a Scottish National Party MSP situated just over the border, has called for the beginning of “reunification negotiations.” She is adamant that the town “historically” belongs “rightfully” to the Scots. Oh Christine, if only it were that simple. Some suggest, including the local Lib Dem MP Alan Beith, that the longing for people to leave England has little to do with a few too many viewings of Braveheart or a latent desire to wear kilts and ridiculous ginger wigs. The call for a fourteenth move across the border seems to be motivated by the superior public services offered by those living under the Edinburgh administration just a short trip up the road.

So what does all this mean? In real terms, very little. Nobody realistically expects the Anglo-Scottish border to be redrawn at any point in the coming years. However, for me what it does demonstrate is the utter idiocy of nationalism in the modern age. Berwick-upon-Tweed is a harmless little place, a diverse mix of two old traditions, a point at where Englishness and Scottishness meet head on and make the UK that wee bit more interesting. It is a place that has provided international players for both England and Scotland in the world of sport and somewhere in which the unseen border fails to intrude on the more important affairs of business, employment, friendships and marriages. Yet the Christine Grahames of this world are not content - they want to see Berwick-upon-Tweed an undisputed part of the Scottish nation. Others disagree, such as the Liberal Democrat MP mentioned above, and say that the town is a part of England and that it shall stay that way. Sound familiar?

This micro-territorial dispute contains the seeds of the sort of thing that has been keeping gravediggers in the Balkans busy for the past decade and a half. Of course, nobody is going to go to war over Berwick-upon-Tweed. Not any more at least. A few centuries ago Scottish and English people did actually slaughter each other on the battlefield over this land. However, even 600 years after the last border amendment in this quiet little corner of Britain we can still detect the residue of past quarrels when we hear elected parliamentarians demand 'reunification' and talk of a 'historical right' to a piece of land that is 'rightfully' theirs. The political situation may be a million light years from that being used in Belgrade and Priština this week but the language is in many ways similar.

It is not difficult to imagine, had the history of relations between England and Scotland turned out differently, that Berwick-upon-Tweed may have acquired a very different reputation. What if Scotland's relations with London gone down the same terrible road as its neighbour, Ireland? Could this little insignificant piece of soil looking out across the North Sea have become the British east coast's equivalent of Crossmaglen - an insignificant frontier town flung into the international media spotlight for all of the wrong reasons? Perhaps. Thankfully though it is the sort of place whose aspirations to secession from England have done little more than feature on the 'and finally' sections of news bulletins and give newspaper journalists a funny little story with which to fill up a few column inches.

If only things were as simple for the citizens of Mitrovica.

Monday, February 18, 2008

“North Korean men know all the tricks of the trade”

Made by a South Korean art collective called Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, I sometimes wonder why there isn't more of this kind of thing on the internet. Superb, amusing and a tad bizarre - I really would love to know what Kim thinks:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Farewell Kosovo. Hello Kosova.

In the past few minutes I have read that the parliament in Priština has unanimously issued a declaration of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. The United States, Britain and a whole host of other countries around the world will now swiftly move to recognise the new republic. Moscow has given the news a slightly frostier reception and called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. The BBC website is describing the potential for violence as "enormous". At this stage it is still far too early to know whether we should rejoice or be distressed at the news from the Balkans.

Am I rejoicing? Well, I am not a nationalist so not really. When you start the ball rolling on permitting peoples occupying a territory which they consider distinct from the rest of the state on the basis of religion, history or ethnicity to secede from that state at what point do you actually draw the line? Do you draw the line at all? Perhaps these days in what some preposterously call 'post-nationalist Europe' (a Europe with possibly more independent nation states than it has ever had in its history) we support the stance of the 19th century Irish home ruler Charles Stewart Parnell: “No man has the right to fix the boundary of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country: 'Thus far shalt thou go and no further'.” This of course raises the other major question of what is that constitutes a nation and, more importantly, what do we do when another group of people object to that nationhood - such as with the Serbs in today's case. As we in Ireland can testify, independence can be a messy old business and the example of Kosovo does not make the subject any less muddled.

Europe has many unsettled territorial disputes. I wonder what is going through the minds of Basques today as they watch the jubilation in Priština? Surely they must yearn for such scenes someday on the boulevards of Bilbao. What must advocates of Catalan independence be thinking? Or what about the feelings of Scottish and Welsh nationalists? Can they now see their devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff developing into full blown national parliaments? How, I wonder, do the supporters of Breton and Corsican separatism look at today's developments in eastern Europe? Beyond Europe there must be scores upon scores of other nationalist groups longing to take their place among the nations of earth alongside newly free Kosovo.

I believe Kosova (we might as well start using the Albanian spelling from this point on) has a right to be independent, if only because every other old constituent part of the former Yugoslavia ended up gaining their own right to statehood. To exclude Kosovans would be absurd given all that has happened in this region since the early 1990s. But I do sometimes wonder though whether there was another way, an alternative to all that has taken place over the past fifteen years. Or was the fragmentation of Yugoslavia simply inevitable? Were those tens of thousands of deaths really unavoidable? Could it not have been possible to hold together all of the various ethnic groups and avoid the vicious wars of the nineties under some kind of federal framework for the country? Please do not think for one second that I am claiming the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to be a fair model for how to run a country. It was far from it. Nor am I ignorant of that fact that many Croats and others were never content living under the Titoist system. Indeed it would have been redressing its total lack of democracy and federalism that I would have preferred to see happen rather than the option which was chosen - dissolution and war.

Take Spain for example. When the Franco regime was brought to an end in the mid seventies there were minorities within Spain with similarly valid claims to nationhood that had just come out of a similarly long period of dictatorship. The answer in this case was not the total dissolution of the Spanish state but instead the building of a democratic Spain. As idealistic as it may sound now how much better it would have been had Yugoslavia gone through its own Transición.

Nevertheless, the debate as to whether or not the horrifying conflicts in the Balkans in that final decade of the 20th century could have been avoided is now a futile one, of interest only to academics and students studying the history of the region. Today we witnessed the last piece in the jigsaw; the long protracted death of what was Yugoslavia has now ended.

The final irony may come when at some point in the future Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Slovenes, Macedonians and Kosovans all find themselves sitting together in brotherhood and unity - to borrow a phrase from Tito - within a new union. Not the union of Yugoslavia of course, but a strong, united and democratic European Union. It is the job of all progressives to argue in favour of that union and hasten its arrival.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Best album of the year and all she got was a stoopid Brit Award nomination

Fur and Gold by Bat for Lashes was in my humble opinion the best album of last year (yes, I know it was released in 2006 but I invent the rules around here). I now see that the lovely Natasha Khan had such a good twelve months in 2007 that she’s gone and got herself nominated in the Best Breakthrough Act category at this year’s Brit Awards. So to mark this act of recognition from the naff corporate might of the music industry here is a little piece of stop frame animation for the best track off Fur and Gold, the majestic Horse and I. Have a good Saturday:

Friday, February 15, 2008

February 15 - five years on

This day five years ago - February 15th 2003 - thousands of people marched through the centre of Belfast to protest against the approaching invasion of Iraq. Regardless of your opinion on the war this protest was viewed at the time as something of a landmark in the history of Northern Ireland. Never before had so many people in the province turned out to march about a subject so unconnected to the national question or our sectarian conflict. Citizens numbering somewhere in the region of 10,000 (PSNI) and 20,000 (Socialist Worker) departed from outside the Art College that day to walk down towards City Hall and register their disapproval of the United States and Great Britain’s plans to send troops to the Middle East to remove Baghdad’s Baathist dictatorship.

The weeks leading up to the big day of global action will live long in my memory. It seemed as though every conversation you had was dominated by Iraq. The house I lived in at the time was awash with various flyers and leaflets. A poster reading ‘NO WAR ON IRAQ’ adorned my front window, a gesture which led only to a volley of eggs being launched at the house early one morning by some angry passers by not sympathetic to my non-interventionist stance. My email inbox seemed to be constantly clogged up with messages from comrades spreading the word about the demonstration. Everyone seemed to be supporting this protest. It was the most mainstream protest in history. Even the Daily Mirror was supporting it! February 15 was to be huge and it was not to disappoint.

There have been bigger demonstrations in Belfast. The famous loyalist rally against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the mid-eighties is thought to have attracted somewhere in region of 100,000 people to Belfast. A similar number turned out for the funeral of Provisional IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. Yet this was different. February 15 had nothing to do with nationalism or unionism. We were looking at the bigger picture. We were looking at the world.

Royal Avenue that afternoon was a fantastic sight if you had been a long suffering lefty or anti-war campaigner. I hadn’t been on the scene that long - less than ten years - and my experiences of protests had already been pretty miserable. You couldn't have paid people to protest at the visit of Bill Clinton. Few people seemed bothered about NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. The 2001 invasion of Afghanistan swelled the ranks a bit but with memories of 9/11 still fresh they just didn’t swell them enough. During those protests I can remember numerous leaflets, many of which I’d devoted so much painstaking time to, being folded up by the recipient and thrown into a bin only a few metres from where I was standing.

Then along came February 15th 2003. It was like winning the lottery. Everyone was there. Trade unionists, communists, Sinn Fein, the Greens, the Quakers, anarchists, students, the IRSP, the Stickies, Eamonn McCann obviously, the anti-racism crowd, some Christians from north Antrim (who I was proud of managing to convince to take part) and thousands more ordinary citizens of the city with no label or affiliation. It wasn’t just Belfast either. It was London, New York, Rome, Glasgow, even Newry. The global day of action truly was global. Then the bubble burst.

A little over four weeks after that proud march to City Hall, US troops were in Baghdad, Saddam was in hiding and three decades of totalitarian dictatorship had come to an end. At this point the temporary joy and unity of the anti-war movement was terminated. By the beginning of April the events of February 15 seemed like an aeon ago.

I would be lying if I said I was surprised by how the left reacted in the wake of invasion. None of us expected the US and Britain to call off the invasion of Iraq as a result of anti-war protests, so discussions about what position we should take following the conflict represented for us our 'post-war planning'. Like the US efforts at post-war planning they turned out to be a bit of mess. Some reckoned that once the war had finished we should in principle back whatever plans would be put forward to build a new Iraq. Others thought it more wise to lend support to whatever insurgency would pop up to fight the occupation. I came down somewhere in between, feeling that we should support the initiative to democratise Iraq while at the same time keeping up protests against the occupation and making sure Bush and Blair don’t get too confident and decide to bomb Iran next. However, I also maintained that our condemnation of the insurgency be unequivocal (a comrade would tell me later that our duty as anti-imperialists would be to oppose imperialism and not criticise those who fight it).

In my own small circle of comrades dissent appeared before a shot had even been fired. I remember one friend (a former Socialist Party member who by that time was more interested in making music than revolution) asking why leftists weren’t supporting the intervention. “It just seems bizarre,” he said, “that we’re opposing a mission to remove a fascist regime.” He had a point, not that we were keen to acknowledge it. I reached into my big bag of clichés and delivered the line about the necessity of international law and the requirement of a role for the United Nations in this sort of affair rather than reckless gung-ho invasions directed by warmongering generals in Washington and London. “Would you think the same if you lived in Iraq?” he replied. He didn't come on the demonstration that Saturday.

Over the next few months I attempted to read what I could about the emerging left and the trade union movement that was attempting to reassert itself after the years of Baathism. At around the same time I met on my travels - by complete chance - a member of the Iraqi Communist Party. The man had not been in his homeland since the 1970s when both of his parents were murdered by the Saddam regime but he told me that he was planning to go back and visit as soon as he could. I spoke to him at about the same time as the ‘resistance’ was beginning to launch attacks on coalition troops and civilians. I asked him what he made of the insurgents. He hated them. He didn't attempt to provide the sort of rationalisation or understanding of their actions of the kind that you would no doubt hear in a south Belfast coffee shop by someone much less qualified to speak on the subject. He held nothing but pure contempt for them and said that he felt the left would fall into the trap of backing them just because they would see people shooting at Americans. While he admitted he was opposed to the invasion and would rather have seen Hussein brought down by his own people he conceded that he was happy to see him gone. “All the Iraqi people know is dictatorship and hunger and oppression and war. They need breathing space,” he explained. As a good Marxist-Leninist I know that he would never have openly admitted it to me, but I am nevertheless convinced that inside this little man must have been secretly ecstatic when he saw the statues being ripped apart of the man whose henchmen had butchered his parents.

As the weeks passed it became clear that the anti-war movement was not really anti-war at all but a crank collection of sects that were acting as cheerleaders for a terrorist insurgency that increasingly appeared to have the entire population of Iraq on its list of legitimate targets. The revolting Sami Ramadani became one of those cheering loudest for the ragbag group of mercenaries. Ramadani was a so-called leftist who became feted by the SWP, the StWC (who had as their national chairperson Andrew Murray, a North Korea-worshipping card carrying Stalinist) in Britain and the anti-war movement here in Ireland. His most shameful moment came when he openly defended the murder of Hadi Saleh, a Communist Party activist and international secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions. Saleh had survived imprisonment by Saddam and had helped operate an underground trade union movement during the dictatorship. He was strangled at his house with electric cord, shot and his body burned in a killing which, according to the Guardian, bore all the hallmarks of the sort carried out by Saddam’s security services. Regardless of the perpetrators, part of the left had now reached such a demented state that it was willing to applaud the torture and murder of socialists by some of the most fascistic reactionary elements on earth.

How peculiar that some of the staunchest opponents of the Iraqi left was, ironically, the left abroad. Of course not all of them supported the murder of trade union activists by Islamic and Baathist thugs but I seemed to be coming across far too many people who would try to rationalise the actions of the psychopathic gangs. Don't think the Iraqi left didn't notice the uselessness of their supposed brothers and sisters. In a statement issued to Labour Friends of Iraq in London the Iraqi CP stated in a section of the document entitled International Solidarity:

"We have to note, with regret, that the Iraqi democratic forces have not received, in their difficult struggle, effective solidarity and support from international forces of the left. As a result, most of the latter have unfortunately been rendered observers of events, rather than exerting positive influence."

It was an observation put across quite timidly on the part of the CP. Far from not "exerting positive influence" many of those that had marched against the war in February 15th 2003 had gone on to support an enemy that sought the obliteration of left-wingers, communists, trade unionists, Kurds and democrats in Iraq. And it didn't stop in Mesopotamia either. Oh, how well I remember a good friend and trade unionist here in Belfast gloating terrifyingly at a Channel 4 news report that outlined how the Taleban had "waves of suicide bombers" ready to strike against British troops in Helmand Province. Protests 'against' the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 saw marchers carry placards with the now infamous slogan 'we are all Hezbollah'. However, the ultimate display of untainted stupidity came when an extremely confused Trotskyist pal of mine put it to me whether or not I thought that al-Qaeda could develop into a "voice of the oppressed". I asked him what he thought. "Stranger things have happened," came the reply. Oh dear.

From the build up to the invasion in 2003 through to the spring of 2006 I stuck to the anti-war position. Looking back now, quite how I lasted that long really does puzzle me. By the time I went set off on my last march the numbers protesting were tiny. Gone were the Quakers. Gone were the Christians from north Antrim. Gone was the Daily Mirror. Even the students had lost interest. Falling numbers. Lack of interest. Colleagues looking to Osama Bin Laden for salvation. We were, for want of a better term, fucked.

Some people of a certain age, perhaps those who spent 1968 occupying lecture theatres, love to reminisce about their old days of youthful radicalism, of their efforts to change the world through protest. If in the years to come we look back on the February 15 movement in a similar fashion then we will have learnt little. There is nothing in the incoherent, unprincipled, ramshackle anti-war movement that has existed over the past decade to be proud of. This movement was not trying to change the world for the better in 2003. If anything it was a pathetic attempt to get in the way of freeing enslaved people, partly driven by a pathological hatred of the United States.

We have come a long way since February 15th 2003. Will we learn from our experiences? One would certainly hope so, but I doubt it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

EastEnders a legitimate target?

When Ian Paisley utters some bullshit about sinful homosexuality, corrupting pop music or satanic line dancing we can afford to relax a bit. Firstly, you expect that sort of thing from a fundamentalist Christian preacher. Second of all, unless we’re really unlucky he should be dead in a few years. However, the moral guardians of Ulster need worry no longer about any vacuum which may be caused by the passing of the DUP leader for the big man from north Antrim has a capable successor to keep an eye on us all after he has gone off to that big Free Presbyterian tabernacle in the sky. This man’s name? Why isn’t it his good old friend the Deputy First Minister.

I was a bit surprised this morning when I heard that Martin McGuinness had condemned soap operas at a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin for their portrayal of Britain’s booze-fuelled culture, especially at an hour when our innocent little kiddies could be watching. This sort of thing isn’t really Sinn Fein territory. I can remember back in the mid nineties some DUP and UUP figures grumbling about how immoral Channel 4 was for broadcasting a storyline in the soap Brookside which saw siblings Georgia and Nat Simpson grow a little bit too fond of each other. You’d think if incest couldn’t have drawn a response from the Provos a few people having a pint in the Queen Vic or the Rovers Return would hardly raise the roof. Though that is exactly what has happened (well, the roof on the McGuinness family home at least).

Then I thought about it again - I wasn’t one bit surprised. McGuinness is a non-smoker and a non-drinker. The lack of one of those traits I can tolerate. The absence of both is unforgivable. Someone who doesn’t smoke and drink, in my view, simply can’t be trusted. Let’s face it, Martin is a bit of glum bastard. He isn’t the sort of guy you’d want to spend any time with. To cap it all we in Northern Ireland have as our First and Deputy First Minister two men who neither smoke nor take a sup of alcohol. What a depressing state of affairs.

Getting back to the wee man from Derry’s comments, McGuinness stated:

“I am not a fan of EastEnders or Coronation Street, but my wife and my children, particularly the girls, watch the programmes. I am appalled at the drunkenness that is quite clear for everybody to see and all of that before the nine o'clock watershed when children as young as eight, nine, 10 and 11 are watching. Now I regard that as irresponsible broadcasting and I think something should be done about it.”

Oh, fuck off Martin. There was a time when you would have styled yourself a revolutionary and pretended that you were fighting against imperialism and for a 32 county socialist republic. How things change, eh? Even allowing for change though surely you have bigger fish to fry than getting worked up about how the wicked lifestyles of Stacey Slater or Rosie Webster are affecting the children of Ireland? By the way, just while we’re on the subject, since when have you become a figure with the sufficient credentials to give people lectures on morality? Back off. And if you really want to see youthful debauchery check out Hollyoaks on Channel 4 at 6.30pm Monday to Friday (and on E4 First Look every week night at 7.00pm). Not that I watch it or anything. I’m watching BBC Parliament at that time. OK, moving swiftly on.

Enough moaning about Martin and his views on the soaps. Now, as Peggy Mitchell would no doubt say if she was running this site, sling yer hook - I’ve got a blog to run.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Miliband in 'democracy still fasionable' shock

I was encouraged to hear David Miliband’s comments yesterday regarding Afghanistan and Iraq at a meeting honouring Aung San Suu Kyi in Oxford. The Foreign Secretary stated that he was “unapologetic about a mission to help democracy spread through the world and by this I mean not just more elections but the rule of law and economic freedoms which are the basis of liberal democracy.”

Back in November I was critical of Gordon Brown when in a speech on British policy abroad he ignored the elephant in the room by bizarrely opting to omit references to goings on in Baghdad or Kabul from his talk. Thankfully, Miliband did not skirt around such issues when they cropped up on Tuesday. He made it clear that we in the west should not take the onward march of global democracy for granted and that the continuing debate about the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion five years ago had “clouded” the situation. It is unlikely that the interventions to depose both the Taleban and the Baathist regimes are major vote winners in the Foreign Secretary’s constituency of South Shields, so it makes it all the more heartening that such a high profile minister is willing to defend what remain honourable causes. The worldwide spread of democracy is as much a cause for the left as it is for the right and it still angers me that the liberation of the Iraqi and Afghan people from totalitarian regimes is associated in most peoples minds as a project concocted by the right.

When this part of our history has run its course Afghanistan and Iraq will be free and independent democratic states. Perhaps other countries in the region will follow the example set by their neighbours, hopefully without the need military invention. I also remain optimistic that we are now inching ever closer to the realisation of a Palestinian state. And beyond that? Well, be realistic - dream the impossible.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Save Ulster from Creationism

You probably know by now that I don’t particularly like Edwin Poots, our esteemed Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure. Last month I was quite damning of old Pootsy regarding comments he made during an appearance on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme before Christmas when he stated that he considered the Earth to be have been created by his god in 4,000 BC.

To be fair Poots also stated that he did not wish to impose his religious views on others. Indeed, I almost felt like taking my hat off to the man. How noble a principle, I thought. It must take a lot of character to hold such strong views about life, the universe and everything yet not wish to bring it into politics, especially when you are in such a position of power. It’s a pity some of his fellow DUP assembly members wouldn’t follow his example.

I have just belatedly come across an article from an edition of The Irish News on Thursday January 17 in which the newspaper’s Education Correspondent Simon Doyle reports that over the past year the frequency with which some DUP Assembly members have been raising the issue of creation and in particular its place in various areas Northern Irish society has increased dramatically. The paper states that in the course of the past six months alone Mervyn Storey (MLA for North Antrim) and David Simpson (MLA for Upper Bann) have tabled no less than 32 separate written questions to the Education Minister regarding the teaching of fundamentalist Christian rubbish to our children.

Pootsy, I am afraid to say, doesn’t come away from this totally innocent. The culture minister is a member of the Board of Governers at Drumbo and Carr Primary School in county Antrim. Now, I have no evidence to suggest that the minister has been using his position on the board to influence methods of teaching at the school, but when one takes into account that a) creationists in the United States have used their place on school boards to put forward the ‘equal time’ argument and b) the creationist lobby in Northern Ireland is taking its example from their colleagues across the Atlantic you… well, I think you get the jist of what I’m saying.

Please don’t think I am being hysterical or overreacting here. We cannot afford to be complacent. This is not a conspiracy theory. The David Simpsons and the Mervyn Storeys of this world have made abundantly clear their intentions. I have said before on this site that we in Northern Ireland are currently in the early stages of a titanic struggle between science and superstition. For too long we have taken it for granted - as we naturally should of course - that reason would always rule in public life and that religion would remain a matter for individuals and their families. Sadly this is no longer the case.

The largest party in Northern Ireland is currently in the process of trying to hurl us back into a scientific dark age. Is there any party in the Assembly prepared to try and stop them?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

I'd like to thank...

I see one of my posts has been nominated in the Best Blog Post category at the 2008 Irish Blog Awards. The post in question was one which I wrote back in October entitled Some thoughts on Fianna Fail’s recent discovery of the north.

I really don’t know how to feel. I started this blog for a number reasons; these ranged from a desire to articulate the need for a centre left alternative in Northern Ireland to the more crass aspiration of just wanting to argue with as many people as I possibly could. I hope I am doing my best with regard to the former. I know from some of the comments and emails I receive that I have succeeded to some degree in the latter. But awards? Well, it wasn’t what I was expecting. Nevertheless, I am honoured and send out a big thank you to whoever nominated me. I hope the process was thoroughly democratic.

The awards will be dished out in the extremely plush surroundings of Dublin’s Alexander Hotel on Saturday March 1st. Unfortunately due to plans made many weeks ago I am otherwise engaged on that very weekend. If I do happen to win could someone reading this please pick up my award? I’ll buy you a pint.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bishop. Prick.

The comments by Rowan Williams in recent days that the introduction some form of Sharia law is “unavoidable” in the UK have been met with the mixture of derision and revulsion that they deserve. I would have thought it practically impossible for anyone to make a comment that would result in a show of unity between everyone from the Labour left to the British National Party, but that is exactly just what this halfwit head of the Anglican church has managed to do.

I could write thousands of words here about what is wrong with these silly remarks but there really is no point. I’d be wasting your time and mine. Anyone with an ounce of wit can see Williams clearly has lost touch with reality. Apologists for him have said that poor old Rowan has been misinterpreted; he wasn’t actually advocating permitting the stoning women to death in Birmingham or the beheading homosexuals in Manchester. But what then was he suggesting? What elements of a system so associated with pre-Enlightenment values, misogyny, homophobia and general butchery does he think should be incorporated into British law?

David T from Harry’s Place succinctly sums up what the response from all of us on the left should be to these repugnant comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury: sack Williams, ban Bishops from the House of Lords and disestablish the Church of England. I would like to add to that list of demands the inclusion of a written constitution for the United Kingdom which carries a US-style safeguard for the complete separation of church and state.

Sharia law or a written, secular constitution. Which do you think would be better for the UK in the 21st century?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

They think its all over…Mitt is now

Let’s all breathe a collective sigh of relief - Mitt Romney has officially “suspended” his campaign to become the 44th President of the United States. I am pretty sure that, like a monster from a pathetically predictable low budget horror flick, the Mormon creature will return from the swamp at some point in the future. For now the most expensive ego trip in history has been brought to a close.

All of this means that the Republican Party and the American people in general can be thankful in having a candidate of the stature of John McCain in this autumn’s Presidential election. Since the race kicked off the little man has always been my choice for the White House. And I don’t find that an easy thing to say. McCain is after all a Republican, yet as I keep telling people that appear shocked when I say I’d like to see him in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue just what are the alternatives? That loathsome lady from Arkansas who doesn’t appear to have one single shred of conviction? Or the Illinois Democrat with nothing unique to set him apart from the field other than his colour and a remarkable incompetence when it comes to offering his thoughts in the area of foreign policy? No. For me its McCain. His relatively liberal domestic agenda combined with a foreign policy that doesn’t preach capitulation to fascism (unlike Clinton and Obama) makes him the lesser of two evils.

For now at least we can relax. It won’t be Romney.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I am an anarchist. With a talking dog.

A Noam Chomsky calendar? Who knows. It would probably be better than him releasing another book of bloody interviews and attempting to pass it off as a serious piece of work...

Saturday, February 02, 2008

More chaos. More shocks. More disorder.

I hate repeating myself. As a result of my disdain for repetition I thought long and hard this morning as to whether there was even any point in writing something about yesterday's suicide bomb attacks in Baghdad in which two mentally handicapped women were used to transport and detonate the devices that slaughtered approximately 100 civilians and wounded hundreds more.

I have written condemnatory posts many times on this site about Iraqi terrorists (to hell with them, they don't even deserve the 'insurgent' tag that so many of us have previously used as the substitute for the more noble title of 'resistance') and their amazing ability to find new and more cruel ways of killing their fellow countrymen. Each time it becomes more difficult to find a new way to convey my contempt for them. However, there was something about yesterday's attacks by this army of god that made my job that little bit easier. Isn't there a sickening irony in the fact that the men that sent these poor girls out into the Baghdad markets packed with explosives probably yearn for a society in which women are nothing, barred from the world of work, slaves with no rights, yet for just one day these girls - dispensible and handicapped as they were - were permitted to take up a job, that of a suicide bomber?

As I was writing this I came across a posting on David Vance's excellent site A Tangled Web. The posting from a guest on ATW quoted a piece from The Independent written by the obnoxious Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. In it I have never seen a more clear cut admission from a so-called 'anti-war' supporter of their true feelings and intentions:

The past months have been challenging for us in the anti-war camp. I am ashamed to admit that there have been times when I wanted more chaos, more shocks, more disorder to teach our side a lesson. On Monday I found myself again hoping that this handover proves a failure because it has been orchestrated by the Americans.

I wonder, Yasmin, was the detonation of two mentally handicapped females in a market enough chaos for you? 100 dead. Is that enough? Did it create enough of a shock? Enough disorder? Were enough people taught a lesson? Here it is in writing for those of you who considered the 'anti-war' camp to be genuine peace loving people - a desire for democracy in Iraq to fail, not out of some strongly held ideological conviction, but because it is a democracy being constructed by the Americans. The Yanks. Those fat people with the dumb President who do nothing but eat burgers and buy guns, isn't that right Ms Alibhai-Brown? You don't need me to tell you; I'm sure you and the rest of your anti-war comrades have seen enough of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine to have convinced you of the evil of the United States.

Perhaps Yasmin wants to go back to the old days, the days when you knew where you stood with those damn Yanks. Chile in 1973 for instance. Why can't they go back to the days of propping up dictatorships rather than intervening to overthrow them? Opposing dictatorship - even if not really doing much about it - is 'our' job, isn' it?

History will not judge the Pilgers, the Galloways, the Pinters and the Alibhai-Browns of this world kindly. They will be on the losing side when this conflict is finally brought to a close. Despite the horror of Friday's bombings we have reason to be optimistic. The rate of killing in Iraq is falling and, if the disgusting new tactics employed in yesterday's attacks are anything to go by, the long lines of people once reported to be queing to become suicide murderers may be drying up.

Hasta la victoria siempre.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Working girls

Long hours. Late night shifts. Working weekends. No wonder these girls are falling off their feet. I hope Kait Borsay is in a decent union: