Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Netanyahu Speech: A War Criminal's Plea

How cheap the words of a war criminal and how much cheaper the blood of innocents; when dreams give way to fear, and hope is crushed underfoot by hate.

When the Israeli premier took to the podium before the US Congress today, the words spilled from both sides of his mouth; phrases that spoke of peace and honour, of friendship and allies, yet that called for hate and fear, for war and death.

"Netanyahu arriving like a conquering hero" said the BBC's Jeremy Bowen. As the man who now seemingly outranks POTUS, Netanyahu stood before the Congress and claimed that Iran would "always be an enemy" of the US. The kind of Manichean hate mongering which sends peoples to war. He hopes. And then turning the age-old adage on its head, he went on to declare "the enemy of your enemy is your enemy". With the world turning against Israel through BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction), and record numbers of young American Jews standing against the Zionist state, what exactly is this maniacal call meant to usher in - war against us all? What the world witnessed today was Congress sitting, standing, sitting, standing; up and down like a bunch of mindless puppets cheering on a deluded war criminal. Truly frightening and dystopian. And our freedoms and liberties, our very lives, were crushed under the boots of fascists, offered-up willingly to lauded cheers. Has the promise of the American dream ever been so distant?

"And when it is said to them, Do not make mischief in the land, they say: We are but peace-makers" (Quran 2.11)

Netanyahu's unbearably sickening speech went on to shamelessly invoke the Prophet Moses (pbuh), genocide survivors and the Holocaust, whilst he stood there, a man who has presided on ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide, the mutilation and massacre of innocent Palestinian children, to call for more death. Memo to Netanyahu. We do not create peace from war, humanity through oppression, nor freedom by fear.

After all, lest we forget how the Israeli project is a colonial program of wanton destruction to establish a Western outpost in the Middle East.

For this Zionism, no cost is too high, no amount of human suffering too great, all to honour that promise of the British government to the Rothschilds. 

Netanyahu was in fact, the perfect house guest for Obama, a man who has himself presided over the unparallelled killing of innocent children by Israeli and US made drones. His guest arrived uninvited by him, thanked him, took a dump on his lounge floor, swore at him and then left. Today, we look back with incredulity at greying and broken video of fascist speeches to wild cheering crowds, intoxicated on prejudice and we wonder: how? Our children will do the same in the future, wondering how and why we came to be so impotent, rendered so unable to fix the world and stop the slide into oblivion. And we wonder if they should ever forgive us our trespasses, as we allow these war-mongering maniacs to corporatise and destroy our world. 

We await the spiritual revolution, the dawn breaking upon the horizon; for the return of our hearts to humanity, is our last best hope for peace in our time.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Immigration Street, Poverty Porn and The New Far Right

Reckless. Irresponsible. It is sensationalist televisual porn. It creates havoc in communities and leaves a trail of hate and prejudice in its wake. One episode of Immigration Street by Love Productions, is one too many.

When I moved to Southampton over twenty years ago, it was an odd experience. I moved to Alfred Street off Derby Road and experienced things which were reassuringly familiar: Asian shops, halal meat counters, mosques, temples and gurdwareh, diverse communities, the smell of spices wafting in the air, kids playing in the streets. Then there were some things a little less familiar, a drive-by shooting outside the pub on Exmoor Road, drug-dealers on bikes riding through the area, and perhaps the biggest cultural shock for me, prostitution. Little did I know but Derby Road was notorious as one of the most infamous red-light districts in the country. We would regularly see three or four working girls on street corners, some walking up and down Derby Road, or hanging out of balconies with the comings and goings of their punters.

Over the next decade, we saw local communities become stronger and more organised. Local third sector groups became established, representing young people and women, faith communities and residents, clearer in voice and mission. Elders from within the communities, predominantly older Sikh and Muslim men, regularly went for gentle evening strolls around the streets, and with the deftest of touches that only gentlemen of a bygone era could accomplish, their mere presence seemed enough to usher some of the more salubrious figures away. St Mary's stadium over the rail tracks in the Northam estate was built. Things seemed to be on a more positive footing. Over time, we saw employment rise, self employment and community organising improve, we saw schools improve (albeit they still face huge challenges) and we saw street crime, drug-dealing and prostitution forced out of the area - not by a great crack-down from the local police service but through the consensus and will of the local communities. They stood up and said, in a polite but firm voice: 'no thank you, no more'.

As a community organiser and activist in this area for many years, I have come to love our communities here, despite our imperfections and our flaws. Southampton sees a fifth of its 240,000 residents born outside of the UK and the last decade saw numbers of the "other white" population as termed by the census, primarily Polish and Eastern Europeans, increase by 200%. By and large, its been a great success story of integration and social renewal. One Sunday evening I was called up by someone about the impending doom of our local advice centre which in a familiar story, the Tory incumbents had run into the ground and were due to sell-off the next day under cover of darkness. As it turned out the plot for the development of flats was being granted to a housing provider that had just been slammed by the Audit Commission for discriminatory conduct against ethnic minorities, and the sale was being facilitated by way of dodgy adjustments to grant schemes and accounting systems. The advice centre was situated in the only green space in the middle of Derby Road and adjacent to the local mosque. There was little choice but to respond to the call and for us to stand tall and make our case. Having stayed up all night drafting a briefing document, I presented our case, haggard and bleary eyed, to the full council meeting the next afternoon. With a united voice, we forced a hiatus in proceedings and for the next few months I chaired meetings of our local groups and we rallied stakeholders, a force du jour made up of residents, community trusts, activists, the mosque and broader communities who had come together for the benefit of local people, to oppose the closure of the advice centre and building of flats over our green space. We managed to save the advice centre and gardens and ding dong, the secret deal was dead. That place is now home to local community groups and is a valuable asset for our local residents. It's a credit to the tenacity of the local people - they are really not to be messed with. Love Productions might have done their homework before setting foot on Derby Road.

We have seen the impact of what I hope is going to be a short-lived era of sensationalist and unethical documentary making exploiting local communities. The residents of James Turner Street featured in Benefits Street, may have seen the likes of White Dee raised to celebrity status, but for those that remained, trying to get on with their lives and carry on with the humdrum of routine and struggle; they have faced hate, hostility, prejudice, attacks on school children and threats. It was dubbed poverty porn by Charlie Brooker. The contributors to Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, misrepresented and maligned, brought about legal action. The thing is this: its easy to swoop in with cameras and a production team, to dangle the tantalising prospect of "being on the tele" to locals, ethnic minorities and people on benefits. To the poor and vulnerable. To people without a voice. And producers know it. They so know it. This abuse of process and gratuitous exploitation cares not one jot, tittle or iota for the consequences of its superficial aggrandisement. What remains is division, prejudice and scorn poured on people ill-equipped to deal with it. And for what, you may ask?


Any argument that this is about elevated and education television, is sheer nonsense. If this was a case of good faith engagement, we would see production companies and commissioners investing into the community; into cohesion programs to improve resilience, for education and to empower the communities who will face the backlash. We haven't seen this. I'm not sure its even crossed their mind despite our calls for it. Corporate social responsibility aside, there may have been even sharper practices going on.
A few months ago, I was approached to give a speech at a local pro-immigration, pro-multiculturalism event at the Joiners Arms in Southampton, through my friends at St Mary's Calling - to oppose Immigration Street and stand with communities and local unions. Afterwards, one of the artists came to me and mentioned in confidence, that his friend, an immigrant struggling with addiction issues, was solicited to appear in the program. It appears that she was told that the program was going to be about "local communities" and was going to show people in a positive light. There was no mention of immigration. No mention of exploitation. And who, we wonder, was there to look out for her interests and to ensure things would be above board. But this, alas, is how too much of television production works. Ratings first. Ethics second. I've suffered at the hands of unethical editorialising in my BBC1 documentary When Tommy Met Mo, to see facts entirely misrepresented to fit another agenda and later, PR handlers running around like headless chicken to make sure you play ball. And so yes, perhaps I'm a bit sensitive about this nonsense, especially when its now my communities being affected.

There really is something bigger going on here which puts Southampton and Immigration Street at the centre of our national debate. When we think 'far right' we are culturally habituated to think of swastikas, Hitler, Mosely and neo-nazi fascists. The open secret is that the New Far Right and their representatives in Britain, look very different today. They wear smart suits and have shiny shoes; they are media savvy; they are standing in local elections; they are ostensibly 'anti-politics' and place the EU and immigration at the top of their agenda; they are here to defend our national identity. They smile, are charismatic, smoke fags and drink pints at the local pub. They are popular. They are trying to engage the youth, the disaffected, the unemployed. All the whilst, they are allied to neo-nazi groups in Europe, white supremacists and those that think Anders Breivik was correct and we are in the midst of a civilisational struggle between Islam and the West. They are the door to a frightening future of intolerance. They are very much part of a dark cloud which once again rises over Europe. They are fuelling a post-liberalism agenda, rife with intolerance, inhumanity and heartlessness. UKIP's skill to turn moderate English towns with no immigration problem like Eastleigh, into seething hotbeds of racism and xenophobia, is nothing short of remarkable. This is the real face of radicalisation. For the record, any immigration policy which would exclude a low scoring eight year old Somali kid who couldn't speak English, is a policy we have to reject entirely - The Mo Farah Test. Notwithstanding UKIP's public mea culpa to ready them as virginal blushing bride for Tory defilement; don't you dare fall for it. Not for a moment.

If you want a program about immigration, let it be one which is balanced and informative. Educate the people. Explain how we have a record structural deficit and immigration adds £6bn to output growth according to a 2007 government study, or according to other estimates between £2bn and £10bn to the exchequer. Explain how we desperately need immigration as an ageing society with a increasing social welfare bill. Explain how our nation is 94% undeveloped but that the elite are paid to keep their land undeveloped which is why we keep creating urban jungles, buildings on top of buildings, people crammed into increasingly small houses and Tokyo-esque tiny spaces. Explain how The Empty Homes Agency says the UK has over 870,000 empty homes and there are more than 400,000 convertible commercial properties. Explain how there is lots of space, lots of food, lots of jobs. Explain how the UK is helping France with its immigration challenge by sending it a big fence to keep out undesirables; we also funded walls in South Africa and Palestine. How about we stop with these bloody walls. Tear them down. Explain how Paddington Bear would probably be detained in one of our immigration industrial complex concentration camps... excuse me, I mean detention centres. Explain how, whilst 250,000 were massacred in Syria, a xenophobia-ridden Britain has only taken 90 Syrian refugees (counted against asylum figures) whilst Sweden has taken in no less than 15,000 refugees, fleeing the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern history. Explain how only the most ignorant and misguided of people would cap immigration when immigration is a net fiscal benefit to our economy, let alone cultural life, and that we have a record deficit to tackle because we bailed out the bankers to the tune of £1.5 trillion pounds effectively rendering you and your children and theirs, into indentured servitude.

And so whilst UKIP and the far right continue to make gains in most parts of Europe (what price a British Syriza, you cry), they are founded on an unholy trinity of policies: anti-immigrant, Euroscepticism and anti-Islam.

Southampton has become the point of the sword and so find ourselves here, united, raging against the dying of the light, opposed to the rising tide of hate and intolerance. Southampton has a fabulously rich history of immigration over 500 years, from the Huguenots in the 17th century, to the West Indians and Asians over the last decades. It is a largely cohesive place, with a great deal of social challenges around poverty, education and health outcomes. We have our share of headaches. We're doing our best to tackle them. Give us some space to get the job done. We don't want Immigration Street.

We will not go quietly into the night.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Is It Time To Take The War To ISIS?

I am against war. I am against conflict. I have spent my life reaching out to those at the extremes and to work for peace. 

With a heavy heart, placing my life in the hands of my Creator, in humility and sorrow, I arrive at a place where I am left to contemplate - is it now time to take the war to ISIS?

Before all else, let us first place things in their correct context.

Western intervention in the Middle East has lead to this. We in the West, have to take our medicine and stop the denials. There is overwhelming evidence relating to the funding, arming and support for ISIS and its precursors at the hands of Western governments. This is a thing that there is no point in arguing. It is a historic matter that has been superseded by events – however, there is no peace without justice, and without this acknowledgement, the great fear is that Western governments will continue to live under the misguided and misplaced belief that their (our) exceptionalism is justified. It isn’t.

The destruction of the Middle East is no new game. The Berlin Congress in 1878 saw the Western powers come together to divide-up the territories of the Middle East and Africa, amongst themselves. It mattered not that people of antiquity lived in those territories, in relative peace. And so hell was brought to these places, and undoubtedly, whilst the benefits of modernity came to places, tyrants were installed and supported, native populations wiped-out, tribes and ethnic groups were studied, categorised and pitted one against another, to destruction. It has been a straight line to today.

Almost 150 years of war and a reign of terror has gripped Africa and the Middle East. In a war torn society, the political, economic and social infrastructure is ripped asunder. Enlightenment is born out of peace but neither survives. Nations destroyed by war give birth to hardened hearts, brutality and harshness. As to the question of who opened the door to this strife and destruction, this rests at the feet of Western powers. Through WW1, WW2, whilst in Britain and Europe a new normalcy returned, US and European lead wars continued to scorch the rest of the world. A century and half of constant, non-stop war. Between Russia and the West, there has been no respite. None. Moral relativists will turn to Kosovo, Bosnia (whilst glossing over the fact UN peacekeepers disarmed the Muslims in the hills around Sarajevo, who were then slaughtered once rounded-up in UN compounds) and a plethora of other successful peace-keeping missions to justify exceptionalism. It’s a failed model. The ideology that the nation state has emerged to create a peaceful secular society; that democracy is being implemented around the world; the idea that benevolence rather than self-interest is the driver for intervention; that the $1 of economic aid to Africa should be revered, whilst Western governments and interests receive $13 in return from Africa is swept under the proverbial rug.

Slaughter is barbaric. In Pakistan, drones have wiped out more than 3,200 human beings. Those drone strikes are at best 1.76% accurate. They are a better tool for wiping out innocent people, then a suicide bomber. Air strikes, marginally more accurate than drones, behead people. They incinerate children. So let’s not for a moment pretend that war waged by the West is somehow, clean. It is merely sanitised and distilled through the filters of our minds, and by broadcasters in the West who are complicit in the charade. The industrialised mass slaughter of people, of innocent families, is as much a filthy grotesquery as it has ever been. These people are being slaughtered in the most inhumane of ways - not that there ever is a humane method of massacre - the whole debate would be ridiculous if it was not so heartbreaking. Muslim lives have never been so cheap as in the hands of Western nations and their monsters. In fact, Muslims might only hope for Western nations to employ the Prophet Muhammad's (pbuh) Rules of War. In European countries, whilst Muslims face a civil rights crisis, in Muslim majority nations, one by one, Western governments chase their own Frankenstein monsters across the globe, devastating the nations in their wake. And the people. Those mutilated and destroyed people, who neither asked for nor wanted Frankenstein, nor his monsters. They have families, children, hopes dreams and fears. What then of their dreams, crushed beneath our feet and ground into the dirt beneath the tracks of tanks. Incinerated by drone.

Before we even consider ISIS, we have a moral and spiritual responsibility, one to humanity, to acknowledge our demons. We have a responsibility and duty to purge our intentions. It is time for some genuine absolution. We must stop the hypocrisy of Western military engagement and not imagine for a moment that Iraq, Abu Ghraib, the illegality of that war, the ethnic cleansing, war crimes and destruction of Fallujah, of Guantanamo; let us not pretend that these things are lost in the annals of time, or are somehow goods now paid for by the brutality of ISIS.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made it absolutely clear, in the soundest traditions, in the best sources, that torture and killing by fire is strictly prohibited. It is a truly sub-human savagery which carries with it only one sad, yet vital message and a legacy to the memory of Mu'ath Al Kassasbeh – that these people who carry out these acts are not from Islam. They have nothing to do with Islam. They are opposed to Islam. They do not represent, nor do they stand for, Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) has described these people in no uncertain terms: “Khawarij”.  He has condemned them, they are merciless barbarians, and in fact the Prophet (pbuh) stated 1400 years ago that these black-clothed Khawarij, under a black flag, will leave Islam like "an arrow shot from a bow"

Now that much is clear, two things crystallise. Firstly, ISIS must be dealt with. Secondly, to stop this metastasizing, any action must have no roots in the West. Save for reparations to rebuild Iraq, Western governments should have no involvement other than to never again set foot in the region to usurp the will of the people, to never again sponsor a coup d’√©tat, to withdraw and allow self-governance and self-determination of those people. Like a watermark across policy papers, we must never forget that democracy has not been the West’s key global export - it has been conflict to facilitate self-interest. A time will come when this changes, when a spiritual revolution will take hold in Western nations but that time, albeit coming-up over the horizon, is not now. It is a thing which has seen elite interests driving the flow of funds upwards, the greatest shifts in the history of humanity; a precursor to a great shift in consciousness to come.

ISIS will not be defeated in this generation without troops on the ground. It is time to see a pan-Arab coalition of Muslim majority nations lead by Turkey and Saudi Arabia grasping the nettle. Middle Eastern nations who have been supplying funds, support and arms to ISIS must stop with immediate effect. Arab boots will need to be on the ground, under unified pan-Arab air support, to cut away the cancer from the body. That which is left will need to be treated and allowed to heal. There are political realities which also need to be addressed. Assad’s position at the head of a weakened Syria is a strategic imperative for both Israel and Iran, as much as it is for the US/NATO/EU axis powers. Understandably, those axis powers see him preferable to Sunni rule, which is why European nations have done as much as they can, without showing ostensible support, to provide air cover for Assad by air-striking his enemies and arresting and prosecuting those that go to fight against him. It is certainly not a vanilla policy. However, after 250,000 deaths and the displacement of 3 million Syrians to neighbouring nations and 6 million internally, Assad's position is entirely untenable and there will be be no new reality in Syria which sees him remain in-situ. 

Then we face the question of Israel but this is largely an issue playing itself out. Never has there been such a lack of support for Israel in the US and Europe; this converges with the demographic reality that the Israel of today will not be the Israel of tomorrow. This 100 year old colonial project is finally on its last legs - what the new settlement looks like, we do not know but until then, Netanyahu and the hard right in Likud are a powder keg in the region. They are spoiling for a fight and to re-exert their waning influence. They are amongst a number of interests that would have Iran and the Saudis embroiled in a sectarian conflict which would inevitably draw-in (as it stands) Shia controlled Iraq, Alawite controlled Syria, ISIS controlled Levant territories and broader regional players. There is an argument that to avoid this war of global proportions, the lesser of the two evils is to allow ISIS to prevail. It will see fewer lives lost and a lower level of net destruction. That, in fact, will be a compelling argument for many. On balance, I do not see it as being the right one.

The questions that will need to be addressed by regional protagonists, after the removal of ISIS, will be the implementation of full, fair and observed democratic elections. Any new political settlement will necessarily need to include the involvement of the remaining factions - the lesser of the extremes now include, bizarrely, Al Qaeda who to the denial and chagrin of the West, may now be embroiled in a double-game. This is the new normal that an aggressively reconstituted NATO 2,0 will have to accept. It sees former proscribed terrorist organisation the PKK, now morphing into an EU and CIA backed secular PKK/YPG to act as a counter against Islamist forces. Any post conflict push for real democracy will have to be representative, proportionate and we will have to live with the governments that are elected. There can be no return to fomenting the military junta of Sisi in Egypt to overthrow a democratically elected party, nor of sponsoring Fatah to fight Hamas. It will have to be come-what-may because an uneasy peace with uneasy neighbours has to be preferable to what we see today.

People have a fundamental inalienable right to self-determination. We have been screaming this from the rooftops for the Palestinians. Regions need to be returned to a state of peace, of education, of self-control of resources. Direct democracy. Decentralised and localised power. For Muslim majority countries this might signal a return to the highly successful system of "wilayyat" or localised authorities with local councils, without the need for a supra-structure or government-industrial complex. I'm not sure we are asking for anything different in the West right now. Ultimately, peace requires a just settlement but gut wrenchingly, there is a time and place for fighting, even for those of us who extol the virtues of peace. Although we might hate it, it seems that this time may soon be upon us.

Kennedy said that mankind will need to put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.

God forgive us.