Racism – it’s no game

17th June 2018

World Cup

Racism – not just a football issue

Racism, equality and diversity have surfaced as hot topics in the worlds of sport and culture over the past week.  In part this is not unexpected, with the advent of the World Cup and the notorious reputation of a cohort of Russian fans dominating certain sections of the media.  The other strand of the debate has surfaced from a less predictable source, with novelist Lionel Shriver taking issue with the recently stated diversity policy of publishers Penguin Random House (PRH).

Consistent with much corporate expectation these days PRH released a statement suggesting that it aims to make the company as diverse as Britain, with respect to “ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.”

The pledge from PRH as stated on its website is that,

“We want both our new hires and the authors we acquire to reflect UK society by 2015.”

The response of Shriver is, at best sardonic, at worst elitist and betrays a level of appreciation of issues of diversity usually associated with the Daily Mail. For Shriver PRH has abandoned its core mission.

“Drunk on virtue”, she says, “Literary excellence will be secondary to ticking all those ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual education and crap education boxes.”

She continues,

“a manuscript written by a gay transgender Caribbean who dropped out of school at seven and powers around town on a mobility scooter…will be published.”

All of which says more about Shriver than the stated of policy of PRH.   Like the ranting ‘political correctness gone mad’ brigade, who seem to think that dragging modern society out of the nineteenth century is somehow an infringement of their freedoms, Shriver appears to think that PRH are likely to publish anything produced by any so defined ‘minority’, whatever its quality or merit.

There may be many motivations behind the PRH position.  There can be little doubt that their objective to publish from a wider pool of voices than the white, middle class, Oxbridge educated elite within UK society is to be applauded.  However, PRH are a private company, they may have an altruistic exterior but their core motivation as a private sector company is to make money.    It will not matter how gay or ethnically diverse an author is, if they do not sell, they will be dropped.

It is very likely of course that there are many hidden talents in a wide range of communities in the UK, screaming out to be heard.  If PRH remain true to their policy, we may soon be in a position to find out.  As for Shriver she can rest assured that the bastions of white middle class privilege are unlikely to fall any time soon.  If they do start to tumble, she can always take comfort in having gender on her side.

Racism in sport has surfaced this week as the World Cup gets underway, with calls from some for black players to walk off the field if they are subject to racist abuse during any of the games.  Such a response could see entire teams heading for the sidelines, the whole tournament disrupted and a victory for the racists.

John Barnes, former England and Liverpool star, who suffered racist abuse in the 1980s and 90s, has a different take on the issue, believing that racism in football cannot be separated from society as a whole, stating,

“Since I’ve been involved in professional football, it’s as if the rest of society is okay but football has a long way to go.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  As I’ve been saying for decades, as long as racism exists in society, it will exist in all facets of society.  Until we eradicate it from society, football will be like any other industry.

Before we are footballers or fans we are ordinary members of society.  We are doctors, lawyers, milkmen, postmen, unemployed people, students…so why are they called racist football fans? Are they just racist for the 90 minutes, when the other six days a week they’re not?”

Barnes has a clear understanding of the roots of racial discrimination in a society which has been pushing a “narrative that has been spun to us for the last 500 years about the worthiness, morality, and intellect of a certain group of people in relation to other groups, particularly black people.”

Others disagree with Barnes and feel that the walking off tactic would be justified, in order to make an impact and give the issue of racism more prominence on an international stage.

However the issue is handled over the course of the tournament, racism will continue to be an issue in football, publishing and society long after the World Cup is over and long after the comments of Lionel Shriver are yesterday’s news.  The stand taken by Barnes and others in the sporting world helps address the issue, the stand taken by PRH may give a voice to many others not being heard.

It will require concerted effort in every workplace and every industry to get to the roots of the problem and eradicate racism as the divisive force it is.  A working class divided on grounds of race is less of a threat than one united in opposition to those who wish to hang on to their positions of privilege and power.  Tackling racism is integral to tackling the inequality endemic to capitalist society and the challenge of making change permanent.


Sonic attacks claim under question

11th June 2018

US Embassy Havana

US Embassy in Havana, Cuba

Science works best when qualified people can evaluate evidence without political pressure to draw poorly founded conclusions, say 15 neuroscientists and physicists in a letter published in The Guardian on Friday 1 June 2018.

As neuroscientists and physicists we have no reason to dispute that US diplomats living in Cuba heard loud noises, or that they reported feeling ill afterwards. Some US politicians have seized on these reports to construct conspiracy theories in which they imagine a mysterious disease-causing “sound ray gun” – something that isn’t possible with today’s technology. These same politicians have used their positions of authority to present their speculations to a credulous public as though they are fact. The pronouncements, in turn, have led to international confrontation and hysteria, resulting in the removal and expulsion of diplomats, and travel advisories. Now, an apparently analogous incident has been reported in China.

A “preliminary communication” from the University of Pennsylvania, with US government support, published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has been used to buttress this putative “acoustic attack” idea with science. In fact, that work is deeply flawed, and does nothing to support the attack theory. We thus applaud the recent paper by Sergio Della Sala and Robert McIntosh, for its thoughtful criticisms of the JAMA report, and praise the effort described in the Guardian (Cuba calls on US and Canada to investigate ‘sonic attack’ claims, 29 May) to engage in an international scientific collaboration to study any connection between the illnesses and sound. Science works best this way, when qualified people can evaluate evidence without political pressure to draw poorly founded conclusions.

We hope that sober and calmer heads will prevail in de-escalating this frenzy, avoiding a chill in both diplomatic relations and scientific collaboration between the US and Cuba.
Mark M Rasenick University of Illinois College of Medicine
György Buzsáki New York University
Mark S Cohen University of California, Los Angeles
Alan C Evans Montreal Neurological Institute
Karl J Friston University College London
Janina R Galler Harvard University
Rainer Goebel Maastricht University
Steven A Hillyard University of California, San Diego
May-Britt Moser Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Gregory V Simpson Think-Now
Robert Turner Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig
Mitchell Valdés-Sosa Cuban Center for Neuroscience
Pedro Valdés-Sosa Cuban Center for Neuroscience
John Darrell Van Horn University of Southern California
Arno Villringer Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig


Human rights victory in Ireland

2nd June 2018

Irish vote

Women applaud the outcome of the Irish referendum vote

The vote in the Republic of Ireland last week, to repeal the clause in the constitution which denies women abortion rights, may mark the loosening of a thread which has tied Northern Ireland to the so called United Kingdom for too long.  The Irish vote has thrown into stark relief a number of contradictions in the position of the partition statelet and its disproportionate influence on the wider politics of the UK.

That is perhaps unfair to the huge numbers of the population in the North who have no truck with the protestant gangsterism of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and would, quite rightly, object to being tarred with that brush.

While the DUP are, on the one hand, in the position of not being able to participate in the governance of Northern Ireland, largely due to their own corrupt political practices, they remain the tail that wags the Tory dog in Westminster, due to the reliance of Theresa May upon their votes to ensure a majority in the House of Commons.

Once the government of the Republic of Ireland enacts the appropriate legislation, women in that country will be able to legally access abortion.  Their sisters in Northern Ireland will not, in spite of it being part of the UK and, in the opinion of the DUP, wishing to remain so.  In Northern Ireland women are granted access to a termination if the mother’s life is at risk or there is serious risk to her mental and physical health.  Conception as a result of rape or incest is not however grounds for a termination.

Deference to local sensitivities has always been a part of the devolution package.  However, when those local sensitivities represent a direct breach of human rights, imposed by one section of the community upon another, they should be over ruled.

It is probable that many Protestants will abhor the anti-abortion stance of the DUP just as many Catholics will no doubt take the papal dollar and fail to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose.  That should at the very least be tested in a referendum as it was in the Republic where, in spite of all of the predictions of a close outcome, a 2:1 majority came out in favour of a clear pro human rights position.

A decisive government would enact legislation to bring the statelet in line with the rest of the UK anyway but decisive is not an adjective readily associated with the May government.  To be fair, being decisive is difficult when being held hostage, especially when it is the DUP who have their fingers on the trigger.  To shoot first and ask questions later is a position they and their paramilitary cohorts will have been familiar with over the years.

While the reactionary clique around the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg continue to hold out against abortion under any circumstances, May is under considerable pressure from within her own party to address the anomalous position in Northern Ireland.  The current Cabinet minister responsible for women and equalities, Penny Mordaunt, backs reform as do former holders of the women and equalities role such as Amber Rudd, Justine Greening, Nicky Morgan and Maria Miller.  This is hardly a roll call of the most progressive women in Parliament, which underlines further how isolated May’s position has become.

There is growing pressure within the Labour Party to back the amendment, tabled by Stella Creasy, to the domestic violence bill, to extend the 1967 Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

Dawn Butler, the shadow minister for women and equalities, has called on the government to support legislation to extend abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

She called it an “injustice” that women in Northern Ireland are “having to travel to mainland UK” to access an abortion.

“Labour’s manifesto commits to working with the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about these changes and we want to see the Assembly reconvened to make such important decisions, but nearly eighteen months on, women in Northern Ireland should not have to suffer in its absence,” Ms Butler said.

The position of the DUP as a backward looking reactionary force in the politics of Northern Ireland has never been in doubt.  The events of the past week have simply confirmed that reality.  What is even clearer than it was before is the stranglehold which such an unrepresentative minority exercise over the UK government.

Northern Ireland should not be a part of the UK, it should be part of the Republic of Ireland.  There should be no DUP representatives in the House of Commons to exercise any influence over UK politics.  The case for a united Ireland has always been a strong one.  If it were possible, the events of the past week have only made it stronger.





Italians stick with the status quo

27th May 2018


Conte – not likely to rock the boat

The history of post war Italy has been suffused with corruption, coalition and anti-communism, even to the extent that the Communist Party itself fell victim to a particular anti-communist virus, in the form of so called Eurocommunism, in the 1970’s.

The recent elections have resulted in a compromise, bizarre even in the world of Italian politics, which has seen a politically inexperienced defence lawyer, Giuseppe Conte, being elected as Prime Minister.  Conte finds himself in this unlikely position as the leaders of the two main parties involved in the governing alliance could not reach agreement on the position.

Matteo Salvini, leader of La Liga and Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, founded by Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, have chosen Conte because they could not agree on anyone else.

The coalition has emerged following a hung parliament being the outcome of elections of 4th March.  The cobbled together compromise is based upon raising spending, slashing taxes for the rich, opposing migration into Italy and a shared antipathy towards the European Union.

La Liga has form, having originally been constituted as the xenophobic, nationalist Northern League and having previously been in coalition with Silvio Berlusconi from 1994.   Five Star has no previous government experience but has built a following based upon its apparent anti-establishment positions and lambasting of Italian political institutions.

The election outcome was certainly a hammer blow for the usual suspects in Italian politics.  The Democratic Party (PD), the heir to the Eurocommunist poisoners of the Communist Party, lost 180 of its 292 seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia was reduced to a mere 14% of the vote.  By contrast Five Star gained 32.7% of the vote and La Liga 17.4%, four times its previous best showing.

Italians have clearly voted to reject the austerity policies of the past decade but quite what they have voted for is less clear.  Change, certainly, but whether the compromise on offer, in the best Italian tradition, represents the change they want remains to be seen.

A push against being part of the Eurozone and a promise to make the European Central Bank cancel Italy’s €250 bn foreign debt, seem to have been seen off by EU technocrats.

Post election negotiations even involved Silvio Berlusconi, until Five Star insisted that they would not work with him.  Ironically, if there is a force in Italian politics more unpalatable than Berlusconi it is La Liga, whom Five Star are now settling down with as bedfellows.

Like Emmanuelle Macron in France, Conte shares the dubious honour of being a relative political novice.  Macron though did have some previous political credentials and did have a political agenda.  Conte appears to have no such thing and the government he looks set to lead lacks coherence.

The situation in Italy does parallel that in France however in that, far from the Italian election having resulted in anything radical, in spite of the defeat of the establishment parties, there is every sense that the current coalition will be business as usual.  How this will play with the Italian people remains to be seen.  It is unlikely to address their basic needs or tackle the EU imposed austerity agenda.  There is a far greater sense that the Italian establishment, like that in France, has simply been able to repackage itself once again.

The Colour of Money

20th May 2018


Windsor Castle – book now for 2019….

If every board member of every company listed on the FTSE 100 was a woman, it would not be a step forward for the equality of the sexes.  If every board member were black or gay it would not represent a step of any significance for tackling racial equality or homophobia.  Why?  Because the issue is not gender, race or sexual inclination, it is about oppression.  No matter what race or gender you are from, if you rise to the top in a system based upon exploitation you are simply being incorporated by the exploiters.

The fact that Margaret Thatcher was a woman did not prevent her from being an active enemy of the people.  Theresa May’s gender is not lightening the load of those facing homelessness, universal credit or zero hours contracts.

The aristocracy in the UK, the monarchy in particular, is the ruling class soap opera which is designed to distract people from these considerations.  The incorporation this weekend of a US citizen of mixed race into the British monarchy is, we are told, a sign that the monarchy is changing, becoming more modern, reflecting more closely the society of which it is a part.   To suggest that this is arrant nonsense is regarded as treachery in some quarters but we should not expect anything different from the Neanderthals of Little England.

The same cry taken up by the liberal press in the UK however, cannot be excused.  The gushing coverage of this weekend’s royal wedding, which kicks off the front page by Tim Adams in The Observer (20th May 2018), is a classic example.  Covering the build up and the service in fawning detail Adams concludes that, because Meghan Markle addressed a conference in Atlanta last year about racism in Hollywood, “you couldn’t help feeling that she had changed perceptions of princesses just a little bit, but perhaps forever.”

Similar twaddle is repeated by Alfua Hirsch, as The Observer continues its seven pages of royal wedding coverage, who suggests that Markle was “allowing her wedding to be not just a pageant of tradition, but also a celebration of blackness”, due to the ethnic diversity of the guests from TV, film and sports ‘royalty’.  Jess Cartner-Morley may have been the victim of some vicious sub editing but the piece on Markle’s wedding dress with her by-line was headlined, “cool and beautifully simple, a dress fit for a princess and a feminist icon.”  Feminist icon, really?

Buried further on in the comment and analysis section of The Observer it fell to Kenan Malik to restore a semblance of sanity to coverage, stating,

“As for the belief that Meghan will break down barriers for black people and make minorities more accepted as truly British, that’s as anachronistic as the monarchy.  Faced by an abusive skinhead or by a police officer about to stop and search me, my first thought has never been: “If only there was a black Windsor, then I might be accepted more.””

Meghan Markle may well be a perfectly decent, humanitarian and well intentioned person.  Swapping a relatively successful acting career for the job of selling royalty as celebrity to the British people however, may be her biggest performance to date.  As Kenan Malik concludes,

“Equality does not mean making inherited privilege more “diverse”.  It requires us to get rid of the whole shebang.  Adding a splash of colour to a feudal relic is not my idea of social progress.”

However it is dressed, the royal wedding was a knees up run by millionaires to celebrate their continued privilege, while the nation could only look on and count the cost.  At the end of the day, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, whatever the colour of those on the guest list, when it comes to the British ruling class the only colour that really matters is the colour of money.


A one-sided massacre by Israeli troops on the Gaza border

15th May 2018


Israeli troops’ wanton slaughter of unarmed protesters serves as a fitting reminder of the inhuman treatment meted out to Palestinians since being driven off their land to facilitate Israel’s establishment 70 years ago.

International disregard for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees scattered to the four winds by the zionists’ superior armed forces is again mirrored in bourgeois media coverage of today’s killing.

The New York Times recounted that “dozens of Palestinians have died in protests” near the border fence, giving the impression of a unforeseen accident or genetic weakness suddenly taking hold of them.

A similar headline on the BBC website, “Dozens die as US opens Jerusalem embassy” was changed after protests to “Dozens killed as US opens Jerusalem embassy.”

The BBC One O’Clock TV news informed viewers in a judgement-free observation that “violence erupted” on the Gaza border as though two sides had collided and resorted to fighting.

The Times of Israel reported “dozens killed in Gaza clashes,” once again suggesting head-to-head fierce combat.

In contrast, Israeli daily Haaretz headlined in the early afternoon: “Jerusalem Embassy and Gaza Protests. 41 Palestinians Reported Killed by Israeli Gunfire at Border. Over 1,600 wounded, 772 from live gunfire.”

This lays bare the reality of a one-sided massacre, in which one Israeli soldier was slightly hurt by a stone while soldiers of “the most moral army in the world” fired live rounds freely against civilians because political and military leaders would back them regardless.

What chance is there of Israeli civil society or the judiciary curbing the blood lust of politicians from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu down after the Shin Bet security service issued a wild weekend warning?

It forecast: “On May 14, the Hamas terrorist organisation plans to send armed terrorists among 250,000 violent rioters to swarm and breach Israel’s border with Gaza and enter Israeli communities.”

Israel’s government purports to believe that, if it warns Palestinians that they could be “jeopardising” their lives by protesting, they and their troops are legally vindicated.

They must know that this attempt to flout international law is wrong and unfounded.

As human rights group Amnesty International commented, “we are witnessing an abhorrent violation of international law and human rights in Gaza … This must end immediately.”

Unarmed Palestinians are fully entitled to demonstrate for the right of refugees to return to the homes they were driven from in 1948 and several times since. This right is enshrined in United Nations resolution 194.

Every single Palestinian casualty shot by live rounds, wounded by rubber-coated steel bullets or disabled by gas grenades incurred their injuries in Gaza. Not a single one had crossed into Israel, despite the hysteria of zionist politicians, security service and military top brass.

While Israeli soldiers conducted their unrestrained butchery across the border, displaying their moral superiority by killing unarmed children, women and men, government ministers boasted of their achievement in having the Trump administration further display its contempt for international law by shifting the US embassy to Jerusalem.

As with the massacre of at least 52 civilians yesterday and over 1,200 wounded by gunfire, US recognition of occupied East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s capital city doesn’t make it lawful.

Nor does Trump’s plan to impose, alongside Israel, a “peace” settlement on the Palestinians.

Political and media toleration of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people should spur even greater efforts by civil society in Britain to reject our government’s shameful stance and win yet more support for the peaceful boycott, disinvestment, sanctions (BDS) campaign to isolate apartheid Israel.

This article appeared in the Morning Star 15th May 2018

Pouring gasoline on the fire

7th May 2018


Netanyahu alleges Iranian nuclear capability

Events in the Middle East are building towards a critical point over the coming days with a combination of key decisions and key anniversaries combining to make what could be a potentially explosive mix of circumstances.  Added to which is the volatility of the key protagonists, not least US President, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who have done their best to ramp up tensions in recent weeks.

Further uncertainty, provided by the theocratic dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran, locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Muslim world, means that the chances of emerging from the next fortnight without a significant flashpoint are precarious.

The first key date is 12th May, when Donald Trump has a deadline by which to decide whether the US will continue to adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits the capacity for Iran to develop nuclear technology.  The deal was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration and engaged the key EU nations along with the US, China and Russia.  In spite of the fact that the deal has barely made an impact upon the international sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime, Trump regards the deal as “the worst deal in history” and has pledged to pull the US out of it.

The Israelis and Saudis, in a somewhat unholy alliance, back the US on the basis that anything which brings pressure to bear upon Iran, weakening the chances of Iranian economic recovery, is in their interest.   In a bizarre television performance last week Netanyahu took to the airwaves in Israel to allegedly reveal evidence of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons technology.

Quite where Netanyahu sourced his information is unclear, as the inspection regime headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as part of the JCPOA, has verified 10 times, most recently in February of this year, that Iran is in compliance.

Netanyahu has stated that Israel is prepared to go to war with Iran in order to stop Iranian influence in the war of intervention in Syria, stating,

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later.  Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”

Iran’s aggression against Israel appears to be the support provided to the government of President Assad in Syria.  This has resulted in the striking of Iranian targets inside Syria, by the Israelis, several times in recent weeks.

The provocation from Netanyahu and Trump is matched in kind by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pitched in to suggest that,

“If the United States leaves the nuclear agreement, you will soon see that they will regret it like never before in history.  Trump must know that our people are united, the Zionist regime (Israel) must know that our people are united.”

Iran has said that if the US reimposes sanctions it may resume enriching uranium.

Israel on the other hand has an undeclared nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty.

The next date of significance, 14th May, is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.  It is closely followed by the day commemorated by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ on 15th May when thousands were driven from their land to make way for the Israeli state.

The wave of protests building up to these dates has already seen the Israeli Defence Force shoot dead 40 Palestinian protesters and injure countless others, as peaceful protests have been targeted by the Israeli state with live ammunition.

Jerusalem’s status has been a major obstacle in peace negotiations.  The international community, through the United Nations, hold that sovereignty over the city should be agreed between the two sides. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state, but Israel captured it in 1967. It later annexed the city and claims the entire area as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

During the course of this week of significant anniversaries the contribution of the US will be to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Writing in Israeli paper Haaretz, Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of the US team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stated that the embassy move,

“…could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”

European leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, even UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has attempted to persuade Donald Trump this week not to cut loose from the Iran deal and open the pandora’s box which would follow.  Will Trump listen to reason?  The track record so far is not good.  The clock is ticking….