Friday, March 28, 2008

Chris vs. Pete

I like Thursday nights. Not only does it mean that we are on the verge of the weekend, Thursday evening also means a triple header of current affairs shows on BBC One to feed the addiction of us political junkies. However, on April 3rd I’ll be opting out of my normal dose of This Week for something likely to be just as - if not more - entertaining.

Christopher Hitchens (yes, him again) is to square up to the brother he apparently doesn’t hate as much as he used to in a public debate this coming Thursday. The event, which is being organised by the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University, is taking place at Fountain Street Church in Grand Rapids. Can’t make it? Don’t worry. We guys over here in Yurp will be able to join proceedings thanks to a live webcast at www.gvsu.edu/hauenstein. The head-to-head should kick off at about half past midnight our time on Friday morning. Check out the promo trail to get you in the mood:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

We have no other option: boycott the 2008 Gulag Games

If I were an senior official involved in the organising of this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing I would be getting more than a little concerned. The coming months are going to witness all sorts of dissent, demonstrations and various shenanigans aimed at drawing the world’s attention to China’s continuing occupation of Tibet. If I were a Tibetan independence activist I would be honing my skills in the art of protest. If yesterday’s events were anything to go by they appear to be relatively well honed already.

Shortly after ten o’clock yesterday morning I was half interestedly watching BBC News 24 and its coverage of the Olympic torch lighting ceremony in Greece. Call me a cynic but I got the impression that the Beeb were only covering this remarkably dreary event on the fairly high chance that pro-Tibetan activists would gatecrash it. If so they got what they wanted. Just as a po-faced bureaucrat from the Chinese delegation was making an extremely dull speech to suit the dull ceremony a protestor - who I now read was from the media rights organisation Reporters Sans Frontieres - jumped out from behind the envoy and unfurled a banner. Headlines grabbed and mission accomplished, the troublesome protestor was dragged away by security.

All of this, as I’m sure you know, comes hot on the heels of major disturbances in Tibet over the past fortnight. With the Olympic Games in Beijing and the eyes of the world on China you do wonder just how far the country’s Stalinist rulers are prepared to go to clamp down on the unruly natives in their colonial possession? Could a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre be on the cards or are the dictatorship not prepared to go this far during a year when the eyes of the world will be fixed on them? I would be of the opinion that the Chinese are in no mood for a bloodbath in the weeks leading up to their showpiece event. In that respect they are - for a brief period at least - forced to confront the forces of democracy with one hand tied behind their backs. So, this is potentially the best opportunity for the people of Tibet in a generation to push their rulers to the very limit. When pro-democracy activists rose up in Burma last year they were faced with a regime that had nothing to lose. China on the other hand has everything to lose. You would think that given the current situation people from around the democratic world would be lining up to stand with Tibetans, right? Wrong.

A quick flick through the websites of the various online editions the world’s newspapers and you get the idea that for a lot of people Tibet isn’t really high on their agenda. Here’s just a few examples. Kevan Gosper, an Australian member of the International Olympic Committee, says that he believes the Tibetan people should not use the 2008 summer games as the basis for their protests. For Mr Gosper it seems that democracy and human rights play second fiddle to the successful running of a 14 day sporting event. According to the National Post in Canada most people there are in agreement with the Aussie IOC man; that paper published a poll that suggests a clear majority of Canadians are opposed to any form of Olympic boycott. Over the past 24 hours police in Nepal have attacked and arrested a number of pro-democracy protestors in Kathmandu. Cambodia has declared its support for China’s repressive measures. So too oddly enough has Fiji, a country that has just received over $100 million from the Chinese government to improve its road system (not that I’m suggesting for one moment that $100 million may possibly have clouded their judgement). Last but definitely not least the men sitting on the Communist Party’s central committee in Beijing can count on the support of the world’s most infamous dictatorship groupie, Mr George Galloway. He has claimed:

“From the outset the American right and their pathetic echo chambers here have been determined to wreck China's Olympic Games, or at least to diminish them in the way the Moscow Olympics of 1980 were. Every button is pushed from China's supposed "occupation" of Tibet (in fact Tibet was always part of the Chinese motherland, and has been rescued from the mists of obscurantism under the demi-God Dalai Lama by the Chinese revolution) through its attitude to circus bears, the Falun Gong and its one-child policy.”

While the repression in Tibet carries on so to does the exploitation of the working class in a state which absurdly still claims to be Marxist. Take for example the construction workers tasked with building the sites for this summer’s games. These men are receiving a mere $5 a day for their endeavours. Their work lasts at least ten hours a day, there are no weekends off, no paid holidays, no contracts, no health insurance and no trade union rights. Welcome to ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

Sadly there does not appear to be anyone advocating a boycott of the 2008 Olympics. President Bush and the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband have said that a boycott is out of the question. Interestingly the only country that has made any sort of positive comments with regard to taking a stand against Stalinist China has been France. The majority of French people are said to support at least a boycott of the opening ceremony, if not a total boycott of the games. Nicolas Sarkozy, a man that in the area of foreign policy at least has moved his country to a much more respectable position than that which it held under that despicable figure of corruption Jacques Chirac, has said that he will not “close the door” to any form of protest. Très bon.

While we cannot count on Bush, Brown, Sarkozy and the rest of the world’s leaders we can at least count on ourselves. Millions turned out on February 15th 2003 to protest against the intervention in Iraq. Its estimated that in our own part of the world around 15,000 turned out in Belfast and something approaching 100,000 marched in Dublin. Why not do the same for Beijing 2008? Select a date, build an international day of protest and take to the streets to register our disapproval. It’s the least we can do.

It seems that it is only sinking in with people in the western world just what we have done by giving this year’s Olympic Games to China. We have given the games to a state that continues to occupy and oppress a nation which it annexed over half a century ago, a country that executes more people than any other on earth, a regime that runs Soviet-style labour camps, a land of no elections, no free trade unions and a place where I could expect to spend a few years in a far flung gulag for the revolutionary act of blogging.

We could take a firm stance. We could put human rights and democracy before the markets and our trading relations with the Chinese dictatorship. Perhaps we could set in motion a series of events that would make 2008 another 1968 or 1989, a year that would be remembered as the one which led to the liberation of the Tibetan and the Chinese people. Alternatively, we could do nothing and thereby put Tibet 2008 in the same category as Burma 2007.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The moral necessity of atheism

Happy Easter from the Hitch. The quality of the video is a bit poor but it isn’t half as bad as Jimmy Nesbitt playing the part of Pontius Pilate in the Beeb’s latest unimaginative recycling of the story of the crucifixion. I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject of accents in Palestine two thousand years ago but I would hazard a guess that the governor of Judea did not speak with a sharp Coleraine brogue. Anyhow, why not take an hour out from the awful holiday telly and allow everyone’s favourite antitheist to inform, educate and entertain you:

Friday, March 21, 2008

"I'm not a great one for anniversaries"

You don't see Seamus Mallon all that much nowadays. The man who was Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister for a brief period, as well as the Member of Parliament for my old stomping ground for almost twenty years, must be enjoying his retirement. I suppose when you consider all of the shit this man has gone through you can hardly blame him for keeping a low profile. However, Mallon popped back into the spotlight this week by way of an interview with Martina Purdy of the BBC to mark the tenth anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. While I've never exactly been his greatest fan, I must admit that some of his recent remarks have been intriguing, encouraging and altogether quite refreshing.

Firstly, I read in The Sunday Tribune last week that the former MP for Newry and Armagh is not not exactly enthusiastic about talk of an SDLP merger with Fianna Fail. Far from it in fact. He has accused Ahern's men of sidelining his party during discussions at Saint Andrew's last year and let it be known that he is in no mood to 'get into bed' with such people. Now, in his interview with the BBC, he has said that if he could make one change to the GFA it would be to remove the way in which members of the Assembly are forced to designate themselves unionist, nationalist or other ("I would seek an alternative to that as a protection for the rights of both communities").

Looking ahead, Mallon was asked by Purdy about the prospect of a united Ireland. On this he displayed a bit more imagination than you would get from a Shinner or an FFer:

"He suggested there may be federal or confederal arrangements in future. 'I believe Britain will go, they will leave. I don't think that will result in a 32 county political arrangement.' Mr Mallon said that a 32-county arrangement would give Northern Ireland's unionists and nationalists the balance of power in the Dail and that would not suit the established parties in Dublin. 'There will still be an administration in the north of Ireland elected by the northern Irish people making decisions. I think it will survive any constitutional change which will come.'"

No to a merger with Fianna Fail. Scrap the sectarian system of designation at Stormont. Imaginative proposals for a future political settlement. You know something Seamus, you just might be onto something.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wake me up on March 18th

I hate St. Patrick's Day. To be honest, I never liked it. When I think of how I spent March 17th every year during my childhood it was usually bored on a damp day off from school either indoors trying hopelessly to find something decent on TV or outdoors in the rain watching an awful parade I didn't want to be at.

As I got older it didn't get any better. St. Paddy's Day 1999 saw me crash my father's car into the back of a traumatised little student's Citroen Saxo at a set of traffic lights. I should add that the whole thing took place in full view of a highly amused British Army patrol (my dad was, needless to say, much less amused). During my four years at university I can only really remember venturing out on the patron saint's day once and that was only due to immense pressure from some easily excitable Spaniards I lived with who had an astonishing ability to find a special reason to get completely shitfaced on each day of the year.

Moving to Belfast has made me dislike the day even more. Not even the prospect of Girls Aloud playing on the main stage in the city centre a few years ago could shift me off my perch on the sofa. Also, for some bizarre reason an element of Belfast society appears to view the day as a chance to establish a 'green twelfth' in the city. Unless you like straight cut fringes, ill-advised moustaches, Glasgow Celtic tops and tracksuit bottoms I'd advise you to go elsewhere (actually, anywhere else) for your St. Patrick's Day celebrations.

Another thing I loathe about March 17th is all the irritating recycled stories we get every year about how the day is being marked around the world. Once again this year I expect to see people pretend to be amazed at how they dye the river green in New York, drink green pints of Guinness in Tokyo and observe the pictures of inebriated Aussies in a bar Melbourne singing twee classics like Danny Boy, If You're Irish Come Into the Parlor and other songs Irish people don't actually sing. Just don't bother mentioning the fact that gays and lesbians aren't allowed to take part in the NYC parade. Provisional IRA fundraisers down the years? Fine. Queers? Oh no.

I know I'm going to be alone in saying this, but St. Patrick's Day is obsolete. It belongs to a time when we were one of the western world's poorer nations; a day when those living here could forget about the misery that surrounded them for 24 hours and a day when those that escaped here for the United States or Australia could get plastered and pretend that they missed the place. The raison d'être for Paddy's Day has gone. It was never religious. It was about something more than that. Today, it just seems to be an opportunity for the world to be condescending and tell us little folk what great craic we all are. Oh, please.

Some people argue that the English, the Scots and the Welsh should celebrate Saint George, Saint Andrew and Saint David's Days in the same way that we celebrate our patron saint. I would suggest to the contrary that we discard or at least downgrade it in the list of things we celebrate every year. Mass unemployment and insecurity regarding our identity have vanished. The 'no dogs, no blacks, no Irish' signs have long gone. We aren't the downtrodden oppressed people we once were. We no longer need this patronising global pat on the back that we get each year.

Now that we're a peaceful, relatively wealthy country perhaps we could return the favour. Perhaps we could do something special to mark Saint Casimir's Day on March 4th for the Poles and Lithuanians every year? If nothing else it might be a cynical way to redress the balance after two Polish men were stabbed to death by screwdriver-wielding thugs in Drimnagh last month. What about something to mark the contribution of Nigerians? That couldn't be too hard - St. Paddy is their patron saint too. Or maybe we could do something for the travelling community (or 'gyppos' as culchies still call them). Now, that would really be a sign of how far we have come. My guess would be not all that far on this one.

I'm not really as grumpy as I sound. I have though decided to work this March 17th as the extra cash is much more appealing than enduring the sight of annoying students in leprechaun hats being all mad and ironic in a kind of E4 way. Still, I won't rule out a few pints after five o'clock. For now, have a happy St. Patrick's Day. No, really I mean it. And let's make Gay Pride Day a public holiday on both sides of the border next year and every year to come. Anyone with me?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Free speech for fascists!

"Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently."
Rosa Luxemburg


Did you happen to watch The Late Late Show on Friday night? If so did you catch Pat Kenny's interview with the British historian David Irving? Or did you switch over in disgust when you heard the man’s name being mentioned? I must admit when I heard that the aging glam rock five-piece Smokie were about to make an appearance I reached for the remote control as well, though at least in my case I had prior knowledge of Living Next Door to Alice on which to make my decision. Many of Mr Irving's opponents have arrived at their conclusion without being so au fait with his works.

David Irving was in Ireland to attend a debate organised by the Philosophical Society at UCC. As is often the case with this sort of event, the meeting had to be cancelled after the Gardai said that they could not guarantee the safety of those attending. No-platform elements in Ireland have had a busy start to 2008. Back in January it was revealed that the Law Society at UCD had invited Jean Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front National in France, to speak at a public meeting on the campus regarding the Lisbon Treaty. The gnashing of teeth that greeted this news was predictable and sickeningly sanctimonious.

'No free speech for fascists' has for a long time been the slogan of a section of - primarily - leftists who feel the best way of combating the heirs to the mantle of Hitler and Mussolini is to deny them a platform to air their views. At a glance it can sound quite persuasive. Why should democracies hand the liberties many millions fought and died to achieve to the people who would quite happily roll them back? Why should a representative from an organisation that wants to deport anyone from a non-white, non-Christian background get the chance to put across his or her nauseating opinions on television or radio or at a debate in one of our universities? Chris Bambery, a long time advocate of the no-platform position, has argued that a political party that advocated the legalisation of rape would be not be tolerated therefore there was no grounds on which to tolerate a party that openly advocated racist policies. As I have said, this approach certainly exerts a lot of pressure on the emotions and it can be a convincing argument, particularly when the people who are having their free speech denied are totally repugnant characters. For me though it is just not convincing enough.

I have never been a proponent of the no-platform line. I simply cannot reconcile my idea of freedom and democracy with that put forward by groups like the Stop Irving Campaign. A much better tradition for me lies in Orwell's great assertion of liberty being the right to tell people that which they do not want to hear. We cannot tolerate some odd selective form of free speech which excludes 'offensive politics' or silences those who do not accept some 'official' form of history. That means we have to accept the right of the idiot who believes that the Holocaust didn't happen to say that it didn't happen. It also means having to accept the right of those present day anti-Semites to argue that Jews are in control of the White House, Westminster and international capitalism (I should add that not all who share that view are from the far right). In fact, it means having to accept all forms of expression that could potentially offend you. Want to call the Pope the antichrist? Go ahead. Want to say Islam is a 'vile and wicked faith'? That's fine by me. Feel like writing a play in which someone gets raped in Sikh temple? Good for you. Perhaps you'd like to stand for election on a fascist ticket? Bring it on.

This whole issue is a no-brainer if you ask me, or at least it should be. There are two principal reasons I would offer in defence of unrestricted free speech. The first is purely strategic. Who is the loser when the no-platform position is applied? Fascists? You must be joking. If you think that giving the BNP a five minute party election broadcast is the first stumble down a slippery slope to dictatorship then I would suggest you may be a tad more naïve then you realise. I prefer a totally different approach. If the opinions of the ultra reactionaries are so ludicrous and their arguments so fragile then let us take them out of their little dark corner and shatter their case in full view of the public.

That is exactly what Dr. Robert Gerwarth of UCD did on The Late Late Show on Friday night when he locked horns with David Irving. Dr. Gerwarth appeared to have a much more rational grasp of Second World War history than the man sat beside him. Mr Irving looked and sounded like an eccentric old uncle who had one too many sherries after Christmas dinner as he bizarrely muttered on about how he could only tot up the deaths of three million "primarily" Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis (and apparently only two million of those were gassed, the other million were machine-gunned into pits). As the incoherent old git continued to garble away I thought that if ever the old dictum about 'from their own mouths do they damn themselves most' seemed relevant then this was it. Irving seemed much more comfortable at the beginning of the interview when he was speaking to Pat Kenny about not being able to attend the debate at UCC. Indeed, the pompous old bastard described the abandonment of the meeting as "a victory." He was right.

If we stifle and smother the voice of the far right how does that appear in the eyes of the public? Do you, like me, not think that Nick Griffin positively revelled in the sight of hundreds of people turning out at Oxford University last year to protest at his involvement in a debate? The British National Party would on any other day have had to pay enormous amounts of cash for that sort of publicity, not to mention the fact that isn't doesn't take that much effort by whoever is in charge of the party's PR machine to make them look like victims being marginalised by those big bad forces of political correctness. 'No platform' these guys and you hand them an easily won propaganda victory on a plate.

Much worse than the leftists and the liberals who protest against the far right are the parliamentarians who somehow feel that you can crush them through legislation. Take two examples of how governments approach this issue. In the sixty years since the end of the Second World War far right parties have more or less been able to organise and contest elections freely in the United Kingdom. Their results have been pathetic. In that same period the Republic of Austria has tried to drive a stake through the heart of its wartime Nazism via the introduction of laws which prohibit denial of the Holocaust and other such thought crimes. The result: Jörg Haider and the first fascist party to achieve power in Europe since the NSDAP.

We don't need to look as far as Vienna. Lessons can be gathered much closer to home. Among those most vocal in their opposition to the proposed pre-Lisbon Treaty referendum visit of Jean Marie Le Pen has ironically enough been Sinn Fein. Their Dublin MEP Mary Lou McDonald was quick to condemn the visit of Le Pen and stated that the FN leader will not "be welcome" in Ireland. This demonstrates clearly that not even those who were on the receiving end of the denial of free speech in Ireland have learned the lesson. Can anyone honestly tell me that the 1981 Broadcasting Act in Northern Ireland and Section 31 of the Broadcasting Act in the Republic - both of which were used to shut up Sinn Fein for many years - did any long term harm to the Provisional movement? They didn't. In fact once again the polar opposite was true. It handed Adams and friends an infinite amount of propaganda material that suited their portrayal as being spokespersons for an oppressed people. 'But,' I hear you holler, 'the Provos weren't fascists.' Perhaps. Which leads me to my next point: who decides exactly who the fascists are?

During a debate in Toronto last year on the subject of free speech Christopher Hitchens made the following remarks:

"Bear in mind that every time you violate or propose to violate the free speech of someone else you in potentia make a rod for your own back. Who is going to decide to whom do you award the right to decide which speech is harmful or who is the harmful speaker or to determine in advance what are the harmful consequences going to be that we know enough about in advance to prevent? To whom would you give this job? To whom are you going to award the task of being the censor? Isn't it a famous old story that the man who has to read all the pornography in order to decide what is fit to be passed and what is fit not to be is the man most likely to become debauched?"

Who shall we appoint to define 'fascism'? When we make a decision to suppress freedom of speech for one individual or one group at what point will we draw the line in another case? Who do you trust to identify the 'bad guys' for us? I certainly wouldn't trust us leftists to sort out what is offensive and what is not. We can be extremely selective about who we offend. The line between satire and racism is dreadfully blurred. Do you remember Jerry Springer: The Opera? Oh, how we laughed as the Beeb flicked a v-sign to Britain's Christian lobby. A year later the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in Copenhagen thought it would be a hoot to publish some cartoons of Islam's prophet Mohammed. The party line on this occasion tended to side with the clerics and denounce the free press. Confused? So was I.

Now picture if you can a scenario in which a group of people - the far right, irksome liberals, anyone - took exception to Eamonn McCann or Kieran Allen addressing a group of students at UCD or any other university campus on this island. Imagine a 'Stop McCann' or 'Kick Out Kieran' campaign. Would the grounds exist to deny two such left-wing firebrands a platform? Both McCann and Allen are members of the Socialist Workers Party, a revolutionary anti-establishment organisation whose official newspaper, Socialist Worker states:

"The present system cannot be patched up — it has to be completely transformed. The structures of the parliament, army, police and judiciary cannot be taken over and used by the working people. Elections can be used to agitate for real improvements in people’s lives and to expose the system we live under, but only the mass action of workers themselves can change the system."

The present system cannot be patched up? Mass action? Pointless elections? Strong stuff indeed, especially when one takes into account the fact that adherents to the above paragraph are to the forefront (Anti-Nazi League, Unite Against Fascism, Anti Racism Network, etc) in keeping Irving and co away from the great unwashed. I don't know about you but that snippet from Socialist Worker seems a tad more frightening than a few Danish cartoons. Perhaps the far left should make clear from now on that it is not totalitarianism and the destruction of our society that they are opposing; its just they support a different form of totalitarianism and destruction of society than that which the BNP and others advocate.

I am not advocating that we bar members of the Socialist Workers Party or any other ultra left group from speaking at public meetings, appearing on TV or writing a column in a newspaper. However, if we were to curb free speech for individuals from the far right of the political spectrum wouldn't there then be an equally valid case for withholding these same rights from members of extreme Leninist groups who unashamedly state their goal as being the obliteration of liberal democracy and its replacement with a one-party dictatorship?

Today I stumbled upon an article that shows just how absurd the no-platform position has now become. Alex Callinicos, a high profile member of RESPECT and the SWP in Britain, has pulled out of speaking at a debate in Oxford as he refused to share a platform with Peter Tatchell. Tatchell - a Green Party member, gay rights activist and long time icon for many on the British left - was deemed to be a 'pro-imperialist' and an 'Islamophobe'. So, in the opinion of Mr Callinicos sharing a platform with a prominent human rights campaigner is off-limits but organising a "civil liberties public meeting with a broad platform" (SWP party notes, August 2005) to defend the Islamofascist sect Hizb ut-Tahrir is fine. As Brett Lock of the secular left-wing website Harry's Place has written, no-platform nowadays really means "no platform for all who disagree with us." You could imagine what life would be like if those guys ever managed to seize power, couldn't you?

We on the left must shake off this foolish tendency to cry out for the censorship of those we find repulsive. Allow Irving his day at UCC. Give Griffin his spot on Newsnight. Provide Le Pen with his soap box in the Lisbon Treaty campaign. Let's take them on. Alternatively we can choose the path of the revolutionary and opt for protection underneath the cover of the anti-hate laws of the bourgeois state. I'll pass on that one thank you.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Felicitaciones

The past year hasn’t been one to remember for the European left: Labour trailing the Tories in the UK polls, Ségolène Royal slumping to defeat in France, Romano Prodi losing a vote of confidence in the Italian senate, Labour’s disappointing result in the Irish Republic and the Social Democratic Party crashing to a rare defeat in the Swedish general election.

All of these negatives made the victory of the PSOE in Spain’s general election at the weekend all the more satisfying. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s government has had a controversial first term in office but the increased vote for the Socialists should give them a much needed boost, particularly with the economy in the country not looking in as healthy a state as it has been in recent years. In some ways Zapatero’s victory in 2004 was never really viewed as a Socialist victory as much as it was looked upon as a spectacular last minute own goal by the then governing centre right Popular Party (I’m sure you do not need reminded about the circumstances).

Zapatero has received much criticism for opening negotiations with ETA yet it is difficult to see what his detractors would have opted for in the wake of the group’s ‘permanent ceasefire’. However, with that ceasefire now over the Basque question is more unpredictable than ever. A few years ago I was of the impression that the separatist group was in a early nineties Provisional IRA-style situation where it genuinely wanted Madrid to provide it with a respectable ‘way out’ which it could sell to its grassroots. Now I am not so sure. ETA appears to have completely lost touch with reality as they increasingly seem to consider everyone a legitimate target. A resolution looks a distant prospect. Nevertheless, the PSOE topped the poll in the Basque country and sent a clear signal out to the terrorists who had decided to mark the election by doing what they do best - murdering a former Socialist councillor. The promise of a new autonomy statue for Catalonia, that other great bone of contention, has turned out to be one of the factors behind their increased vote - the PSOE took 25 of the region’s 47 seats. The Canary Islands Coalition and the Aragon nationalists also lost seats so, overall, not a very good election for separatists.

It’s not just the regions that have been a problem for Zapatero. The Roman Catholic Church has also decided to raise its ugly head and castigate the Prime Minister for his legalisation of same-sex marriage, introducing fast track divorce and removing religious instruction from the school curriculum. And that’s not all. According to today’s Times many in the PSOE are calling on their leader to facilitate embryonic stem-cell research, reform abortion laws and legalise euthanasia. Needless to say, the Bishops are not happy. Who would have thought that at the end of the first decade of the 21st century people in a west European state would be preparing themselves for such a great struggle between socialists and the Catholic Church? Interesting times. Let’s just hope our comrades do not capitulate to the power of the Papists.

Immigration is another big issue for Spaniards. The government’s amnesty for 750,000 illegal immigrants in its first term does not seem to have had the negative impact some in the opposition PP were hoping it would have. And then there’s the war. Nobody is perfect and in withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq I still believe Mr Zapatero made a huge political mistake. It may not have affected his vote but that isn’t really the point. From a man whose party and family have had a long tradition of fighting fascism it is a pity that the present day PSOE have found themselves unable to commit themselves to confronting similar enemies outside of the Iberian peninsula.

To end on a positive note, one really encouraging aspect of this election was the turnout. This was the second consecutive Spanish general election in which over 75% of the electorate came out to cast their vote. How long before we see that figure replicated in these islands? Don’t hold your breath.

So, congratulations comrade Zapatero and good luck for the next four years. Now give those bloody Bishops a slap for me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

George vs. 'Anthony from Texas'

There are some people out there who still maintain that George Galloway is one of the great debaters of British politics. I always thought he had more in common with rabble-rousers like Enoch Powell or Ian Paisley than someone with the eloquence and intellect of Benn or Bevan. After listening to the clip featured below I’m not even sure he’s up to the standards of Powell or Paisley.

Many of Galloway’s pals in the StWC and RESPECT (or whatever its called these days) like to claim that they are not anti-American. Well, since Galloway is one of the big men in the anti-war movement I would think its fair to say that he would give us a pretty accurate picture of what the general feeling is in that camp.

When faced with a call from a pro-war Texan (who is, it should be said, not very good at putting his own point across) on his talkSPORT radio show, Galloway suddenly explodes and wildly attacks the poor guy on the other end of the phone. No subtleties about opposing “US foreign policy” or the “Bush administration.” Certainly not. George acts like a bull in a china shop as he appears to personally accuse ‘Anthony from Texas’ of everything from the My Lai massacre to the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib and even of wars that have yet to take place in Iran and North Korea.

But the real icing on the cake comes in the last thirty seconds when Galloway absurdly lambastes the poor Yanks for being fat. To be honest, I didn’t think even this man would stoop so low. Calling Americans fat, eh? And this man is deluded to think he is a modern day Kier Hardie:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Peace process? What peace process?

The forces of Palestinian terrorism have yet another absurd name to add to their ever-lengthening list: the Jalil Freedom Battalions - the Martyrs of Imad Mughniyeh and Gaza. Needless to say it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue easily, though that doesn't seem to have been a concern for militants in the West Bank and Gaza since someone suggested Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades as a title for a murder gang. It could of course be a cover name for Hamas or any of the other death squads, which begs the question exactly why groups who do butchery and indiscriminate slaughter so well would want to indulge in the practice of using flags of convenience. Perhaps they are under the illusion that they still have some trace of dignity remaining.

There can be little dignity left after last night's murder of eight civilians at the Mercaz Harav college in Jerusalem. All of the dead, with the exception of 26 year old Doron Meherete, were teenagers. In the United States school shootings are something that happens all too frequently. Reading the reports on the internet from eyewitnesses and survivors of last night's attack I was struck by the similarities: the lone gunman, the assault rifle, schoolchildren escaping through windows while others took cover in the library, victims being singled out and shot. In America the gunmen are usually nothing more than alienated kids out to make a name for themselves; in Jerusalem the motive was the much more ominous cocktail of religious fanaticism, fascist politics and anti-Semitism.

The response from Hamas, current rulers of the Islamic fiefdom of Gaza, was as intriguing as it was stomach-churning. While not claiming responsibility for the massacre they did welcome it saying: "We bless the operation. It will not be the last." The response of the BBC was interesting too. Their Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen (a man once described by a BBC insider as someone "whose clear agenda is to tell us Israel is a bastard state") informed us that the school is "at the heart of the settler movement in the occupied West Bank" and that "many of its students are on special courses that combine religious study with service in combat units in the Israeli army." Oh well, that explains everything then. The Zionist bastards clearly had it coming to them.

Incidentally, in an another sign of the pointlessness of the United Nations the organisation's Security Council was last night unable to even produce a statement condemning the massacre. Libya (yes, the pro-terrorist dictatorship is on the 'security' council) and two other states refused to condemn the killings unless any statement also referred directly to the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza over the past week. Of course, had that cheap proposal been accepted someone could have countered with a demand to include a Palestinian atrocity prior to the recent incursion into Gaza and then we could have gone back further and further until we would have been at 1967. Or 1948. Or the Arab Revolt. Or the riots of the twenties.

There is a tiny glimmer of hope. Mahmoud Abbas has unreservedly condemned the attack while the Israeli government has pledged not to let the shooting derail what must now be the longest peace process in history. We live in hope. For now though we shall wait and see what Israel's immediate response is to those in Gaza who feel that the only roadmap to peace worth following is one that includes the mass murder of children.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Between men and women there is no friendship possible

Defending Christopher Hitchens against attacks from the hare-brained 'anti-war' movement was easy. Backing him up against the barrage of abuse he has received from the religious communities was probably even easier. However, more difficult for admirers of the Hitch to support was his article in the January 2007 edition of Vanity Fair which claimed that women were not funny (with the possible exceptions to his theory being those comediennes that are "hefty or dykey or Jewish"). There was a huge reaction to the piece on both sides of the Atlantic, even leading to the screening of possibly the worst item in the history of the BBC's Newsnight show - a head-to-head debate between Hitchens and someone who could hardly be deemed his intellectual equivalent, the irksome Ruby Wax.

Recently the whole 'women aren't funny' debate had died down and it appeared as if we could all get back to arguing with priests and peaceniks. But hey, where's the fun in that. Let's drag the whole bloody thing up again: