zaterdag 19 februari 2011

Arab Regimes 163

Rebranding Egypt's Revolution

by GUEST POST on FEBRUARY 19, 2011
By Mamoon Alabbasi * | Sabbah Report |
Millions of Egyptian kneel to pray Friday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where demonstrations were billed as a "Day of Victory and Continuation." (Hussein Malla)
The revolution in Egypt came in spite of (or perhaps because of) a long-standing US backing of the dictatorship there. It was clear from the beginning that the protestors were united on one demand: namely that the unelected regime stand down or allow genuine political reform to be carried out.
It is easy to see that these protestors come from diverse backgrounds, have different political views and do not necessary share the exact same list of grievances. Not if your view of the region is influenced by an unhealthy negative obsession with Islam. In such case, so called analysts put on their binary world view glasses and see only 'Islamists' or 'the rest' – not that they have an accurate definition for each of those categories. They ignorantly put Al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran in one bag, and like to think that everyone else that remains falls into what they claim is a liberal category.
With this in mind, western observers who were against the uprising in Egypt were quick to warn that this was (or will be) an 'Islamist' revolution, while those who backed it went to great lengths to stress that the Muslim Brotherhood was an insignificant part of it. They cannot see Egyptians outside this two-dimensional view. That's all that matters: not the humanity and suffering of 80 million Egyptians but how powerful will the Brothers emerge in a democratic Egypt. And if the revolution is going to be a success story then they mustn't appear as having played any part in it.

Of course religious Egyptian protestors who are not officially part of the Brotherhood would automatically be calculated as part of 'the rest', even though many of them may hold views that are more conservative. Demonstrators who complained from the former regime's restriction on religious freedoms or its foreign policy (especially with regards to the US, Israel and Palestine) are also conveniently ignored if they are not members of the Brotherhood. Following this logic you'd be forgiven for thinking that being a cyber activist and a devout Muslim are mutually exclusive.
The fact is this was a revolution of the whole of the Egyptian people, including the Brotherhood (and of course Christians too). But the Brothers did not catch up with the revolution late in the day; it was the masses that finally joined their struggle against the regime. Their activists had long been tortured or routinely detained in the regime's jails decades before the 2011 uprising. Every time there was an election, their campaigners were the first usual suspects to be rounded up.
They played a very positive part in the demonstrations and even their former critics commended their role in protecting protestors when they were attacked. They also never sought to hijack the revolution or claim it as their own. In fact they tried to stay out of the limelight to avoid US animosity towards the uprising. They insist that they do not want a 'religious state' and called for democratic reforms (although they too need to reform). They are a part of Egypt, so who stands to gain from dividing Egyptians? Why do outsiders push for hatred instead of free and fair polls?
In a truly democratic Egypt, political parties will have a place, the strength of which would be determined by the ballot box. The Brotherhood may not be the perfect party (despite improvements over the years) for everyone, but the unwarranted demonising of the group by non-Egyptians is a great disservice to the whole of Egypt. We have witnessed great solidarity between Christians and Muslims during the anti-Mubarak protests, which shows that Egyptians – if left to their own devices – can live together without serious sectarian tensions. There were rare scenes of people holding up copies of the Koran and crucifixes shoulder to shoulder. These people included ultra-conservative Muslims; men with long beards, women with niqabs – all of whom expressing sentiments of unity with their fellow Christian citizens.
This inspiring sense of compassion between Egyptians must not be lost. It is even a greater gain than the fall of Mubarak, because united Egyptians can topple any future dictator. Those who have failed to suppress the Egyptian revolution now seek to derail it or rebrand it to keep the status quo of division and mistrust among the people. But Egyptians of all walks of life need to remember their moments of unity in Tahrir Square and across Egypt: do they want this spirit to continue or will they let their ill-wishers divide (and rule) them once more?
* Mamoon Alabbasi (M.A. in applied linguistics) is a news editor and translator based in London. His op-eds, reports, poetry, and reviews have appeared in a number of media outlets.

The Neoliberal Religion 30

Even opgelet iedereen, de zwendel is weer in volle gang, en de commerciele massamedia doen weer net alsof ze niet weten wat er aan de hand is. Ze presenteren het alsof er een wonder aan het gebeuren is, alsof de luchtgod heeft ingegrepen, alsof er geen oorzaak en gevolg bestaat. Does God exist?

Wall Street's 'Buy Everything' Sentiment Continues

Wall Street Bull
Angela Moon, New York - Investors will continue to ride the speediest rally in U.S. stocks since the Great Depression despite growing concerns that the market is overbought and due for a correction.
Wall Street posted its third consecutive week of gains with the S&P 500 now up 6.8 percent for the year and more than 20 percent in just six months.
"I've never seen a market like this," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont, a market watcher for 35 years.
"I'm showing, by every technical and quantitative standard I have, this market is at extreme levels. But no matter where we start out in the morning, buyers come in."
The trend of stocks starting off lower in the morning session but ending higher by the afternoon has been ongoing for weeks as investors view the small dips as reasons to buy.
But there is a perceptible level of anxiety in the market. Trading volume has been exceptionally low recently and the CBOE Volatility Index .VIX, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, is up on the week despite the gains in stocks.
The index is usually inversely correlated to the S&P 500, and a rise in the VIX typically means a drop in the stock market.
The VIX, which ended at 16.43, up 4.7 percent on the week, is still historically low but substantially higher than in recent months. That suggests investors see more share gyrations ahead.
The driving force behind the rally is the money that poured into riskier assets like stocks in the last quarter of 2010 after the U.S. Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates low.
"With so much momentum in the market, we are likely to see some sideways consolidation next week but nothing more than that," said Ryan Detrick, technical analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, Ohio.


About 7.13 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE Amex and Nasdaq on Friday, below last year's estimated daily average of 8.47 billion.
Stocks have been struggling to match last year's trading levels, hovering in the 7 billion range this week. On Thursday, the volume was the second-lowest of the year at 6.7 billion shares, and Monday's session was the lowest of the year with a mere 6.6 billion shares.
"This is a sign that the market is tired, and unless we see an uptick in this volume," the level of investor anxiety will not retreat, Detrick said.
U.S. markets are closed on Monday for the Presidents Day holiday.

Why It's Not a 'Safe Bet' to Believe In God

The idea that you should believe in God "just in case" trivializes both faith and reality, and concedes your argument before it's begun.
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"Why not believe in God? If you believe and you turn out to be wrong, you haven't lost anything. But if you don't believe and you turn out to be wrong, you lose everything. Isn't believing the safer bet?"
In debates about religion, this argument keeps coming up. Over, and over, and over again. In almost any debate about religion, if the debate lasts long enough, someone is almost guaranteed to bring it up. The argument even has a name: Pascal's Wager, after Blaise Pascal, the philosopher who most famously formulated it.
And it makes atheists want to tear our hair out.
Not because it's a great argument... but because it's such a manifestly lousy one. It doesn't make logical sense. It doesn't make practical sense. It trivializes the whole idea of both belief and non-belief. It trivializes reality. In fact, it concedes the argument before it's even begun. Demolishing Pascal's Wager is like shooting fish in a barrel. Unusually slow fish, in a tiny, tiny barrel. I almost feel guilty writing an entire piece about it. It's such low-hanging fruit.
But alas, it's a ridiculously common argument. In fact, it's one of the most common arguments made in favor of religion. So today, I'm going to take a deep breath, and put on a hat so I don't tear my hair out, and spend a little time annihilating it.
Which God? The first and most obvious problem with Pascal's Wager? It assumes there's only one religion, and only one version of God.
Pascal's Wager assumes the choice between religion and atheism is simple. You pick either religion, or no religion. Belief in God, or no belief in God. One, or the other.
But as anyone knows who's read even a little history -- or who's turned on a TV in the last 10 years -- there are hundreds upon hundreds of different religions, and different gods these religions believe in. Thousands, if you count all the little sub-sects separately. Tens of thousands or more, if you count every religion throughout history that anyone's ever believed in. Even among today's Big Five, there are hundreds of variations: sects of Christianity, for instance, include Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, Mormon, United Church of Christ, Jehovah's Witness, etc. etc. etc. And sub-sects of these sects include Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Southern Baptist, American Baptist, Mormonism (mainstream LDS version), Mormonism (cultish polygamous version), Mormonism (repulsive infant-torturing version), Church of England, American Episcopalian, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod....
How do you know which one to wager on?
The differences between these gods and religions aren't trivial. If you obey the rules of one, you're guaranteed to be violating the rules of another. If you worship Jesus, and Islam turns out to right -- you're screwed. If you worship Allah, and Judaism turns out to be right -- you're screwed. If you worship Jehovah, and Jainism turns out to be right -- you're screwed. Even if you get the broad strokes right, you could be getting the finer points wrong. And in many religions, the finer points matter a lot. Taking Communion or not taking Communion? Baptizing at birth or at the age of reason? Ordaining women as priests or not? Any of these could get you sent straight to hell. No matter if you're Catholic, or Baptist, or Mormon, or Anglican, or whatever... there are a whole bunch of other Christians out there who are absolutely convinced that you've gotten Christianity totally wrong, and that you're just pissing God off more and more every day.
So how on Earth is religion a safer bet?
You're just as likely to be angering God with your belief as atheists are with our lack of it.
To many believers, the answer to the "Which god?" question seems obvious. It's their god, of course. Like, duh. But to someone who doesn't believe -- to someone being presented with Pascal's Wager as a reason to believe -- the answer to "Which god?" is anything but obvious. To someone who doesn't believe, the question is both baffling and crucial. And without some decent evidence supporting one god hypothesis over another, the "Which god?" question renders Pascal's Wager utterly useless.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that your particular religion is the right one and all the others are wrong, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheist's bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that your religion was right, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Does God even care? Pascal's Wager doesn't just assume there's only one god and one religion. It assumes that God cares whether you believe in him. It assumes that God will reward belief with a heavenly eternal afterlife... and punish disbelief with a hellish one.
But why should we assume that?
According to many religions -- the more progressive ecumenical ones leap to mind -- God doesn't care whether we worship him in exactly the right way. Or indeed whether we worship him at all. In these religions, as long as we treat each other well, according to our best understanding of right and wrong, God will be happy with us, and reward us in the afterlife. These believers are totally fine with atheists -- well, as long as we keep our mouths shut and don't disturb anyone with our annoying arguments -- and they certainly don't think we're going to burn in hell.
In fact, according to many of these progressive religionists, God has more respect for sincere atheists who fearlessly proclaim their non-belief than he does for insincere "believers" who pretend to have faith because it's easier and safer and they don't want to rock the boat. According to these progressives, honest atheism is actually the safer bet. The weaselly hypocrisy of Pascal's Wager is more likely to get up God's nose.
So even if you think the god hypothesis is plausible and coherent... why would it automatically follow that belief in said god is an essential part of this afterlife insurance you're supposedly buying with your "safer bet"?
In fact, I've seen (and written about) an atheist version of Pascal's Wager that takes this conundrum into account. In the Atheist's Wager, you might as well just be as good a person as you can in this life, and not worry about God or the afterlife. If (a) God is good, he won't care if you believe in him, as long as you were the best person you could be. If (b) God is a capricious, egoistic, insecure jackass whose lessons on how to act are so unclear we're still fighting about them after thousands of years... then we have no way of knowing what behavior he's going to punish or reward, and we might as well just be good according to our own understanding. And if (c) there is no god, then it's worth being good for its own sake: because we have compassion for other people, and because being good makes our world a better place, for ourselves and everyone else.
Now, to be perfectly clear: I don't, in fact, think the Atheist's Wager is a good argument for atheism. I think the best arguments for atheism are based, not on what kind of behavior is a safer bet for a better afterlife, but on whether religion is, you know, true. The Atheist's Wager is funny, and it makes some valid points... but it's not a sensible argument for why we shouldn't believe in God.
But it makes a hell of a lot more sense than Pascal's Wager.
Unless you have some good evidence that God cares about our religious belief, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that God cares about our religious belief, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Is God that easily fooled? And speaking of whether God cares about our religion: If God does care whether we believe in him... do you really think he's going to be fooled by this sort of bet-hedging?
Let's pretend, for the sake of argument, that God is real. And for the moment, let's also pretend that God cares whether we believe in him. Let's pretend, in fact, that he cares so much about whether we believe in him that, when he's deciding what kind of afterlife we're going to spend eternity in, this belief or lack thereof is the make-or-break factor.
Is God going to be fooled by Pascal's Wager?
When you're lining up at the gates to the afterlife and God is looking deep into your soul -- and when he sees that your belief consisted of, "Hey, why not believe, it's not like I've got anything to lose, and I've got a whole afterlife of good times to gain, so sure, I 'believe' in God, wink wink" -- do you really think God's going to be impressed? Do you really think he's going to say, "Oo, that's sly, that's some ingenious dodging of the question you got there, we just love a slippery weasel here in Heaven, come on in"? Is he going to be flattered by being seen, not as the creator of all existence who breathed life into you and everyone you loved, but as the "safer bet"?
I don't believe in God. Obviously. I think the god hypothesis is implausible at best, incoherent at worst. But of all the implausible, incoherent gods I've seen hypothesized, the one who punishes honest atheists who take the question of his existence seriously enough to reject it when they don't see it supported, and at the same time rewards insincere, bet-hedging religionists who profess belief as part of a self-centered attempt to hit the jackpot at the end of their life... that is easily among the battiest.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that God (a) exists, (b) cares passionately about our religious belief, and yet (c) is dumb enough to be fooled by Pascal's Wager, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence for any of this, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
All of which brings me to:
Does this even count as "belief"? This is one of the things that drives me most nuts about Pascal's Wager. Whenever anyone proposes it, I want to just tear my hair out and yell, "Do you really not care whether the things you believe are true?"
Believers who propose Pascal's Wager apparently think that you can just choose what to believe, as easily as you choose what pair of shoes to buy. They seem to think that "believing" means "professing an allegiance to an opinion, regardless of whether you think it's true." And I am both infuriated and baffled by this notion. I literally have no idea what it means to "believe" something based entirely on what would be most convenient, without any concern for whether it's actually true. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word "believe." I do not think it means what you think it means.
Unless you have a good argument for why insincere, bet-hedging "belief" qualifies as actual belief, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had a good argument for this insincere version of "belief," you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Is the cost of belief really nothing? And, of course, we have one of the core foundational premises of Pascal's Wager. It doesn't just assume that the rewards of belief are infinite. It assumes that the costs of belief are non-existent.
And that is just flatly not true.
Let's take an example. Let's say that I tell you that the Flying Spaghetti Monsterwill reward you with strippers and beer in heaven when you die -- and to receive this reward, you simply have to say the words, "I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, bless his noodly appendage," one time and one time only. You might think I was off my rocker. Okay, you'd almost certainly think I was off my rocker. But because the sacrifice of time and energy would be so tiny, you might, for the sake of hedging your bets, go ahead and say the words. (For the entertainment value, if nothing else.)
But if I tell you that the Flying Spaghetti Monster will reward you with strippers and beer in heaven when you die -- and that to receive this reward, you have to send me a box of Godiva truffles every Saturday, get a full-color image of the Monster tattooed on the back of your right hand, be unfailingly rude to anyone who comes from Detroit, and say the words "I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, bless his noodly appendage" every hour on the hour for the rest of your life... it's very, very unlikely that you're going to comply. You're going to think I'm off my rocker -- and you're going to ignore my pleading request to save your eternal soul from a beerless, stripper-less eternity. You're going to think that following the sacred customs of the FSM faith would be a ridiculous waste of time, energy, and resources. You're definitely not going to think that it's a safer bet.
Do you see where I'm going with this?
Most religions don't simply require you to believe that God exists. They require you to make sacrifices, and adhere to rules. Not just the ordinary ones needed to be a moral/ successful/ happy person in everyday life, either. Religions typically require significant sacrifices, and obedience to strict rules, that can seriously interfere with happiness, success, even morality. Religions require people to donate money; participate in rituals; spend time in houses of worship; follow rules about what to eat, what to wear, what drugs to avoid, who to have sex with and how. Religions require people to cut off their foreskins. Cut off their clitorises. Cut off ties with their gay children. Dress modestly. Suppress their sexuality. Reject evolution. Reject blood transfusions. (For themselves, and their children.) Refuse to consider interfaith marriage. Refuse to consider interfaith friendship. Memorize a long stretch of religious text and recite it in public at age thirteen. Spend their weekends knocking on strangers' doors, pestering them to join the faith. Donate money to fix the church roof. Donate money to send bibles to Nicaragua. Donate money so the preacher can buy a Cadillac. Have as many children as they physically can. Disown their children if they leave the faith. Obey their husbands without question. Not eat pork. Not get tattoos. Get up early to sit in church once a week, on one of only two days a week they have off. Cover their bodies from head to toe. Treat people as unclean who were born into different castes. Treat women as sinners if they have sex outside marriage. Beat or kill their wives and daughters if they have sex outside marriage. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Religion typically requires sacrifice.
And this simple fact, all by itself, completely demolishes the foundational assumption of Pascal's wager.
The assumption of Pascal's Wager is that any other wager is a sucker's bet. Pascal's Wager doesn't just assume that the payoff for winning the bet is infinite bliss, or that the cost of losing is infinite suffering. It assumes that the stakes for the bet are zero.
But the stakes are not zero.
It's even been argued -- correctly, I think -- that the sacrifices religion requires are an essential part of what keep it going. (Think of fraternity hazing. Once you've sacrificed and suffered for a belief or project or group affiliation, you're more likely to stick with it... to convince yourself that the sacrifice was worth it. That's how the rationalizing human mind works.)
And if religion requires sacrifice... then Pascal's Wager collapses. A bet with an infinite payoff and zero stakes? Sure, that's an obvious bet. But a bet with infinite payoff and real stakes? That's a lot less obvious. Especially when there are, as I said before, thousands of competing bets, all with contradictory demands for the specific stakes you're supposed to place. And double especially when there's no good evidence that any one of these competing bets is more likely to pay off than any other... or that any of them at all have any plausible chance whatsoever of paying off. Again: If you wouldn't bet on my Flying Spaghetti Monster religion, with its entirely reasonable demands for chocolate and tattoos and hourly prayer and fanatical Detroit-phobia... then why on Earth are you betting on your own religion?
If this short life is the only one we have, then contorting our lives into narrow and arbitrary restrictions, and following rules that grotesquely distort our moral compass, and giving things up that are harmless and ethical and could make ourselves and others profoundly happy, all for no good reason... that's the sucker bet.
Besides... even if none of this were true? Even if belief in God required absolutely no sacrifice in any practical matters? No rules, no rituals, no circumcision, no sexual guilt, no execution of adulterers, no gay children shamed and abandoned, no dead children who would have lived if they'd gotten blood transfusions, no money in the collection plate? Nothing except belief?
It would still have costs.
And those costs would be significant.
The idea of religious faith? The idea that it makes sense to believe in invisible beings, undetectable forces, events that happen after we die? The idea that it makes sense to believe in a hypothesis that's either entirely untestable... or that's been tested thousands of times and consistently been proven wrong? The idea that we can rely entirely on our personal intuition to tell us what is and isn't true about the world... and ignore hard evidence that contradicts that intuition? The idea that it's not only acceptable, but a positive good, to believe in things for which you have not one single shred of good evidence?
This idea has costs. This idea undermines our critical thinking skills. It closes our minds to new ideas. It bolsters our prejudices and preconceptions. It leaves us vulnerable to bad ideas. It leaves us vulnerable to frauds and charlatans. It leaves us vulnerable to manipulative political leaders. It leads us to devalue evidence and reason. It leads us to trivialize reality.
So all by itself, even without any obvious sacrifices of time or money or restricted lifestyle or screwed-up ethical choices, religious faith shapes the way we live our lives. And it does so in a way that can do a tremendous amount of harm.
Unless you have some actual good evidence that the sacrifice of time/ money/ happiness/ goodness/ etc. required by religion -- and the sacrifice of healthy skepticism and critical thinking and passion for truth -- will actually pay off with the reward of a blissful eternal afterlife, your bet on God is just as shaky as the atheists' bet on no God.
And if you had some good evidence that God exists, and that these sacrifices had a good chance of paying off, you wouldn't be resorting to Pascal's Wager to make your case.
Conceding Your Argument Before You've Even Started It. If you take nothing else from this piece, take this:
The moment you propose Pascal's Wager is the moment you've conceded the argument.
Pascal's Wager isn't an argument for why God exists and is really real. Pascal's Wager is, in fact, 100% disconnected from the question of whether God exists and is really real. Pascal's Wager offers no evidence for God's existence -- not even the shaky "evidence" of the appearance of design or the supposed fine-tuning of the universe or the feelings in your heart. It offers no logical argument for why God must exist or probably exists -- not even the paper-thin "logic" of theFirst Cause argument. It does not offer one scrap of a positive reason for thinking that God is real.
Pascal's Wager is misdirection. Distraction. It's a way of drawing attention away from how crummy the arguments for God actually are. It's an evasion: a slippery, dodgy, wanna-be clever trick to avoid the actual argument. It's a way of making the debater feel wily and ingenious, while ignoring the actual question on the table.
It isn't an argument. It's an excuse for why you don't have an argument. And it's a completely pathetic excuse.
If you're relying on Pascal's Wager for your faith, you might as well believe in unicorns or elves, Zoroaster or Zeus, the invisible dragon in Carl Sagan's garageor the Flying Spaghetti Monster who brought the world into being through his blessed noodley appendage. Pascal's Wager is every bit as good an argument for these beliefs as it is for any religion that people currently believe in.
If you had a better argument for God, you'd be making it. You'd be offering some good evidence for why God exists; some logical explanation for why God has to exist. You wouldn't be resorting to this lazy, slippery, bet-hedging, shot-full-of-holes excuse for why you don't have to actually think about the question.
Pascal's Wager isn't an argument.
It's an admission that you've got nothing

Western Terrorism 15

Uncovered: MI6 in the Palestine Papers
Dr. Daud Abdullah   
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 12:30    

Review of the documents shows clear meddling by MI6 which resulted in widespread torture and deaths; naturally, this raises questions of criminal culpability.

The leaked documents known now as the "Palestine Papers" have been picked over and analysed extensively by Al Jazeera and the Guardian; at least, most of them have. The files relating to the activities of MI6 officials in Jerusalem need a much more thorough investigation. The Middle East Monitor's (MEMO) review of the documents shows clear meddling by MI6 which resulted in widespread torture and deaths; naturally, this raises questions of criminal culpability.

When MEMO published its first report on European complicity in torture and other human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories in 2009 it was dismissed as propaganda. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) gave the report an official cold shoulder with a generic response: "We are investigating." Two years on, the Palestinian Papers have revealed that British funds, training and equipment were used to commit the crime of torture against Palestinian civilians.

Despite persistent official denials that torture was conducted, the Palestinian Papers put the truth beyond any doubt, as articulated in the words of the USSC chief, General Keith Dayton. This is what he told Palestinian Authority officials on 24 June 2009: "By the way, the intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them. They say they are giving as much as they are taking from them – but they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people."

At a meeting in Jericho with David Hale on 17 September 2009, the PLO's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said, "We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun and the rule of law. We continue to perform our obligations."

Throughout the dark days of human rights abuse, the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has been the main target; consistently portrayed as a terrorist organization, no holds have been barred in dealing with its members and supporters. On 25 August 2008, Erekat told a meeting of Palestinian and US security officials that there are "no limits on cooperating on fighting terror". The widespread detention, torture and trial of civilians before military courts have been well-documented by human rights organizations. Between 2007 and 2010 at least 8,640 Palestinians were detained; 95% of them were subject to torture. None of the victims, it must be noted, were involved in terrorist acts against Britain. In fact a Palestinian National Authority document summarizing its obligations under Phase I Road Map for the period from February 1, 2008 to May 14, 2009 confirmed that the PA had arrested approximately 3,700 members of 'armed groups' and summoned around 4,700 individuals for questioning. The document adds that the, 'Palestinian security forces coordinated with Israel in 854 instances of transporting forces and weapons for the purpose of imposing law and order, conducting security campaigns and arresting suspects.'

Apart from the intimate working relationship between the PA and Israel, the Palestine Papers further revealed that as early as 2004 British intelligence officials based in Jerusalem had formulated a security coordination plan which was drawn up in conjunction with Whitehall officials. According to the Guardian this plan was passed by an MI6 officer based in the British Consulate in Jerusalem to the senior PA security official at the time, Jibril Rajoub.

In its reference to this particular document the Guardian did not identify the MI6 official, who apparently operated under the diplomatic cover of the British Consulate in Jerusalem. On the other hand, Al Jazeera on 25th January 2011, referred to the MI6 document which outlined the plan to the Palestinian security services on how to "deal with" Hamas.  It pointed out that the document was handed over by David Craig, the British Political Consul in the British Consulate in Jerusalem to Jibril Rajoub. Clearly, both reports in the Guardian and Al Jazeera jointly complete the full story. The same man later met Khalid Mishal in Damascus in order to seek his assistance for the release of the journalist Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in Gaza in 2007. It was only after the intervention of the Hamas leadership that Mr Johnston was finally released.

Notwithstanding the platitudes about democracy what emerges from the MI6 document is a flagrant intrusion into Palestinian affairs, with the purpose not only to divide, subvert and intern, but also to decide who holds what position. Another interesting document prepared by the UK's Jerusalem's Military Liaison Office (MLO) and dated on 18 March 2005 confirms this argument. It was typed on the official letter head of the agency and the name of Lieutenant Colonel David Cooper, it read:

"A subtle approach reaps real dividends when dealing with the current NSF commanders and managing change will be all-important. For example, there may be advantages in keeping the 'old guard' in positions of authority whilst decisions are made regarding new structures. Steered towards an option that is workable and fits the equipment that is on offer they will take it. In this way, key decisions can be imposed on them without upsetting sensibilities. With subtle timing, once the decisions are made and the new structures are emerging the 'old guard' can be retired with honour. A new command structure can then begin working, with a system in place that Palestinian commanders have planned, directed and thus endorsed."

The strategy pursued was intended to weaken Hamas and strengthen the PA. The MI6 document proposal was geared to "degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists". Hamas's refusal to compromise on national rights was, in itself, enough to legitimise the war against them.

Under the second Blair-led New Labour government (2001-07), Britain accelerated its efforts to bolster Israel's military occupation and crush any resistance to it. The MI6 document of 2003 confirmed, "The UK is already working with trusted PA contacts to have a security drive drawing on UK input adopted by the PA leadership, and to put in place the structures required for its successful implementation. Details are at Annex A. The Palestinians' performance would be verified by the US/UK; we would ask Israel to judge it on results." This last sentence is especially poignant: that the overall master is Israel, and the UK and US are mere servants seeking its approval.

The document makes the interesting point that "the NSF currently lacks the doctrine, command structure and equipment required to be effective". What doctrine are they speaking of? The practice on the ground provided ample explanation – protect the settlers, defend the occupation and harass the opposition.

In the broader scheme of things, it appears, Britain like the Israelis, believes that the Palestinians are either not entitled to or do not deserve full independence and freedom. Several months later, on 2 May 2005, another report from the UK's Military Liaison Office (Jerusalem) listed in detail British projects to bolster the Palestinian security forces. It outlined the specific amounts of funds granted to the Palestinian intelligence services, including General Intelligence (GI) and Preventative Security Services (PSS).

When MEMO contacted the UK Department for International Development (DFID) for information on the levels of funding provided to the Palestinian Authority security and intelligence agencies we were told that its work with Palestinian security agencies between 2004-2010 consisted of support to the Palestinian civil police force. While it is all well and good to distinguish between civil and military activities, the Palestine Papers revealed that according to the doctrine which the British adopted, fighting terror requires military and civilian agencies to work together. Although the DFID response claimed that its assistance was limited to the civilian police, it nevertheless confirmed that, "The UK Government supports the development of the Palestinian Authority security agencies through the Conflict Pool (CP), which is governed and jointly managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the Ministry of Defence."

The policy began in earnest after the PA signed up to the Road Map in 2003 which obliged it to meet its security obligations fully under Phase 1 of the agreement. On the other side, the Road Map also set out most of the key requirements from Israel: an end to "deportations, attacks on civilians, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property... [and] destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure".
There is nothing to show that any concerted action was taken against Israel even though it breached its side of the agreement, especially on settlements after President Bush capitulated to Sharon in April 2004 and called for Palestinian acceptance of the new realities on the ground.

To absolve the British government from responsibility for the human rights abuses committed by the Palestinian Authority since 2003 would be a travesty. Likewise, it is simply not true to claim that it had no knowledge that the PA security services it was funding were torturing opponents of the Ramallah regime.

It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that Britain, having provided equipment, training and finance for the Palestinian security forces, should share some responsibility for their crimes. Failure to do so, and carry through with the legal consequences, will heap injustice on injustice in the struggle for Palestinian independence. As for the victims of torture in the West Bank, they would find in the Palestine Papers ample evidence to seek legal redress and compensation.

Western Terrorism 14

    Does David Cameron really believe in universal human rights?

In his speech in Germany a couple of weeks ago, Britain's Prime Minister said that his government will not give funds to Muslim organisation unless they believe in "universal human rights". David Cameron said that multiculturalism has basically failed to integrate some sections of society in Britain and he focused on Muslims to illustrate his point. I think he made a lot of sense in a lot of the speech, although the timing was unfortunate, coming as it did on the same day that the odious "English Defence League" was on the march in Luton. Naturally, the EDL and other far-right groups made hay out of this, but I don't suggest for one minute that it was the Prime Minister's intention to provide such an easy link.
Looking at the root causes of terrorism, Mr. Cameron acknowledged that Muslims (and others) have "issues about poverty and grievance about foreign policy" but dismissed the notion that these alone are responsible for terrorism. That, he says, is down to the "extremist ideology" of Islamism.
He has a point, but as the Islamist bogey otherwise known as the Muslim Brotherhood prepare to contest what everyone hopes will be free and fair elections in Egypt, I think it is reasonable to ask where this image of "Islamists" came from and whether it is reasonable to brand everyone with what has become a pejorative term because some criminal elements in society claim to want an Islamic society and use violent means to achieve it. Even the Obama administration gave its tacit blessing to the erstwhile Mubarak regime speaking to Egyptian Brotherhood leaders; commentators in the Middle East now expect moves to be made to open up channels for US dialogue with the Hamas government in Gaza (if, indeed, they do not exist already).
I'd like to suggest that the really "extremist ideology" behind foreign policy grievances is not Islamism but a distorted application of the democratic values that David Cameron wants to see everyone in Britain adopting, including Muslims. In practice, this distortion can be summed up in one word: hypocrisy. It's one thing to make fine speeches in front of fellow politicians and hand-picked audiences; it' something else to walk the talk and put democratic values and principles into practice in every aspect of government and public life. On that point, I am afraid that our Prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues and, indeed, many members of parliament on all sides of the House, fail miserably.
The same paragraph of Mr. Cameron's speech is worth quoting extensively: "I'm not saying that these issues of poverty and grievance about foreign policy are not important. Yes, of course we must tackle them. Of course we must tackle poverty. Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine, and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East."
Can you hope to "resolve the sources of tension... in Palestine" by abandoning international law? David Cameron's speech to the Conservative Friends of Israel and his Chancellor George Osborne's to the Board of Deputies of British Jews in the past few months, place both politicians very firmly in the pro-Israel camp. How credible is it for David Cameron to play to the Palestinian gallery with statements about Gaza being a "prison camp" while pledging loyalty and undying support to the state which maintains its military occupation and illegal colonisation of Palestinian land? Backing "peace negotiations" which abandon the law in the so-far fruitless search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and remove justice for the latter from any discussions adds, not reduces, "the sources of tension".
Mr. Cameron continued: "On Egypt, our position should be clear. We want to see the transition to a more broadly-based government, with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society. I simply don't accept that there is somehow a dead end choice between a security state on the one hand, and an Islamist one on the other." Notice how he equates a "security state" with an "Islamist" version? If one is undesirable, so must the other. He appears not to have done any research whatsoever into the statements and policies of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, although he knows precisely why its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, has been unable to govern in anywhere near normal circumstances in neighbouring Gaza. Legitimate governments need legitimate support to function in today's global village; Palestine's legitimately and democratically-elected government has been given no support whatsoever from the paragons of democratic virtue known collectively as "the west", including successive British governments. On the contrary, western democracies have done everything within their power to make sure that no support can be given be branding Hamas as a "terrorist" organisation and imposing a financial and economic blockade at Israel's behest with, it should be said, the help of ex-President (doesn't that look good?) Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
"But let us not fool ourselves," said Mr. Cameron. "These are just contributory factors. Even if we sorted out all of the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism..." Like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before him, David Cameron is not even willing to make changes to Britain's increasingly unethical foreign policy to test and, as far as he is concerned, prove his point. We had to take Blair's and Brown's word for it, and now we have to take his, allowing foreign policy to continue as before, full of duplicity and, yes, hypocrisy.
Do the Muslim organisations arguably eligible for government funding "believe in universal human rights - including for women and people of other faiths?" the Prime Minister asked in Munich. "Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government? Do they encourage integration or separation? These are the sorts of questions we need to ask. Fail these tests and the presumption should be not to engage with organisations - so, no public money, no sharing of platforms with ministers at home."
I am sure that there are many people within the Muslim community who will not be too upset about that last point; take a look at the Cabinet and thank the Lord that you won't have to share a platform with some of its members. But while you're at it, take a look at that last paragraph and then judge for yourself whether David Cameron can be taken seriously when he says that he believes in "universal human rights". What about "equality of all before the law"? Or even - and Palestinians must be choking over this one - "the right of people to elect their own government"? Mr. Cameron forgot to add, "...unless they choose someone Israel doesn't like, in which case we will slap a blockade on the government and support a prime minister who hasn't been elected to office but is prepared to collaborate with a brutal military occupation while we boost the economy of his tiny rump statelet to benefit him and his corrupt cronies".
The British government, through the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gives a great deal of our money to Salam Fayyad's Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority to boost the PA's security forces as part of Palestinian "state building". There is strong evidence that these forces torture political opponents with the knowledge, and therefore the complicity, of the British government (and others). Is that what Mr. Cameron calls "the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society"?
He is not alone in this strangely unequal application of equal rights; it is rampant across Europe, never mind the United States. The European Union, for example, is ignoring its own commitment to "universal human rights" by allowing Israel to have access to lucrative trade, military and research links with the EU and its member states despite the Zionist state's appalling human rights record in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Judged against any credible check-list, Israel should be treated by the EU as a pariah state; instead, it has been described as a member of the EU in all but name. That's how close Israel is to Europe, and we're not just talking about something as trite as taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest or kicking a ball around in the UEFA Champions' League.
The full scandal of how Europe disregards the standards it expects of everyone else when it comes to its dealings with Israel is documented in detail by journalist David Cronin in his book "Europe's alliance with Israel: aiding the occupation" (Pluto Press, 2011). This alliance ranges from political support for Israel's military excesses to arms sales, preferential import tariffs and blind following of American policy mantra that Israel's security is paramount. Democracy and human rights are way behind profits in the pecking order. This book should be compulsory reading for all MEPs and EU officials.
In the light of his Munich speech, I think it is fair to ask why, if David Cameron really, and I mean really, believes in universal human rights, he pays little more than lip-service to the rights abuses perpetrated by his Israeli friends against the people of Palestine on a daily basis. He knows what that involves, and if he doesn't, his civil servants and advisers do. Making sympathetic statements about Gaza to please one's Turkish hosts is not enough, Mr. Cameron; it's time to lead by example and apply those universal human rights, about which you are so enthusiastic, universally, including the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Do that and you won't need to berate Britain's Muslims; they'll be queuing up to back you.

David Cronin 3

 NATO's dangerous games in Asia

Colin Powell was regularly called a “dove” when he was America’s secretary of state. It was a misnomer. While he may have quarrelled with other members of the Bush administration on tactical issues, Powell’s entire military and political career was dedicated to world domination. One of his first acts as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was to lead an invasion of Panama. “We have to put a shingle on our door saying ‘Superpower lives here’,” he said on its first day in December 1989.

Hype would have us believe, too, that there is a substantial difference between Republicans and Democrats on foreign and economic policies. In reality, there is little. Barack Obama has been eager to convince the world that he is not under the spell of the oil industry in the way that George W Bush was. Yet the perks enjoyed by energy giants remain largely unchanged; on top of not having to pay any corporate income tax last year, Exxon Mobil was given a refund worth $156 million.

That businessmen headquartered in the state of Texas continue to wield enormous clout in Washington can be seen from a presentation given by Robert Blake, a State Department official dealing with Central and South Asia, in Houston during January. Blake suggested that the regions covered by his portfolio were replete with untapped resources, declaring – with considerable understatement – that these were bound to be of interest in the Lone Star state. The passage about Uzbekistan read like it was copied from a brochure for an industry fair: “Though often overlooked as an energy source, Uzbekistan has substantial hydrocarbon reserves of its own and produces about as much natural gas as Turkmenistan. Located at the heart of Central Asia, much of the region’s infrastructure – roads, railroads, transmission lines, and pipelines - goes through Uzbekistan, offering it a unique opportunity to expand its exports with little investment in new infrastructure.”

There was no mention of how Uzbekistan is ruled by the brutal dictator Islam Karimov (the same Karimov who was welcomed to the headquarters of NATO and the European Commission recently). Exploiting “overlooked” resources was evidently deemed more important than the lives of the hundreds of unarmed demonstrators killed at Karimov’s behest during the Andijan massacre in 2005.

Blake was – perhaps unwittingly – expanding on a theory posited by Zbigniew Brzezinski, the political scientist and one-time national security adviser to Jimmy Carter. In his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, Brzenzinski argued that control of Asia was essential if the US was to cement its position as the world’s only superpower. “For half a millennium, world affairs were dominated by Eurasian powers and peoples who fought with one another for regional domination and reached out for global power,” he wrote. “Now a non-Eurasian power is pre-eminent in Eurasia - and America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.”

NATO, Brezinski added, would be a vital tool in preserving that dominance. His words appear prescient. According to the official narrative, the invasion of Afghanistan and the consequent expansion of Western military bases in neighbouring countries were a response to how the Taliban was sheltering Osama bin Laden. But can it be a coincidence that the war followed the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation a few months earlier? Was it not a signal to the SCO members like Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that the US was the boss, so they had better reduce their ambitions for greater energy cooperation?

Ever the obedient servant, some of the EU’s most powerful states are helping to increase US penetration into Asia. Following the Andijan massacre, the Union imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan in 2005. The newspaper Tageszeitung revealed last year that Germany defied the sanctions by secretly giving military training to 35 Uzbek soldiers. In 2009, Angela Merkel’s government succeeded in convincing the EU to drop those sanctions. Access to the German military base at Termez in Uzbekistan – which hosts aircraft used in the war in Afghanistan – shouldn’t be affected by something as trivial as human rights, she decided.

NATO has also supplied troops to bases in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, both of which neighbour China. Statements pumped out in Washington and Brussels might habitually describe Beijing as a “partner”. But the games played by NATO in China’s backyard tell another story.

It is a similar situation with Russia. Visiting Georgia last summer, Hillary Clinton effectively told Moscow that only the US and NATO could station troops in the former Soviet Union. Ordering Russia to withdraw its troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the Secretary of State said: “The United States does not recognise spheres of influence.”

During his aforementioned trip to Houston, Robert Blake told his audience that Turkmenistan may hold the key to one of the five largest reserves of gas on the planet. To emphasise their interests in getting hold of gas from the Caspian Sea, delegations from the European Commission and the US government visited Turkmenistan in January. It is hard to imagine that those delegations had not seen a warning issued late last year from Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, about certain countries wishing to “interfere” in the Caspian region.

The scholar Edward Herman has described NATO as a “US and imperial pitbull”. The pitbull is barking simultaneously in the directions of Russia, China and Iran. It needs to be sedated.

·First published by New Europe (, 6-12 February 2011