Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Danger of the Danger of Islamism.

There is a fair amount of talk on the internet and on some news channels about the dangers to Israel, and thus to the stability of the Middle East, of an Islamist government in Egypt. People are concerned that if the secular but brutally oppressive regime of the National Democratic Party* is toppled then it will be replaced by a hardline Iran-style Islamist theocracy which will refuse to recognise Israel and bring to bear the considerable might of Egypt's military on the fragile Jewish homeland. This is held up as a reason to prop up Mubarak, or at least to allow a chosen successor to replace him. This fear of the "danger of Islamism" is rooted in a good intention, to protect the closest thing the Middle East has to a democracy and support peace. There's just one minor flaw in the plan; it's complete bollocks.

Point one to note, the protests are not Islamist, sure the people protesting are Muslims, but in the same way that people at protests in America are Christians; almost everybody there is. There is an Islamist party, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), among the opposition, indeed they form the largest part of the previously elected opposition (this year's sham of a parliamentary election saw them banned as a party and the candidates intimidated and threatened when they ran as independents). This protest movement is not led by them, and for the large part it is not really their supporters on the streets. The MB has a support base largely among the middle aged (similar to the Tea Party, I guess at a certain stage of life politicians talking of golden ages and a return to core values begins to appeal), this is not who is out on the streets. The protests are led by young people who have been exposed to (largely western) deals of democracy, freedom and justice through Twitter and Facebook and Blogs; who have seen the cruel injustices of their government highlighted by Amnesty International and HRW and exposed by Wikileaks. Democracy is an infectious disease and it spreads through information. The calls on the streets are not for Islamic righteousness but for democracy and freedom, the popular figurehead is not an aging cleric but a scientist and diplomat who has done great work on behalf of the entire world in the field of nuclear non-proliferation and whose main problem with Israel is their refusal to join the NPT.

It is true that a democratic Egypt could elect an Islamist party, but such a party working within the framework of democracy would not be in a position to threaten Israel all that much, and the reason is accountability. A democratic government must justify its actions to the people; it is hard (as many politicians have found) to win elections when sacrificing the lives of people's husbands, sons, brothers and fathers into a war of aggression. People vote with their pocketbooks to the extent that even maintaining a military stand-off can be fatal to re-election chances, when people pay taxes they want that money pent on roads, schools, hospitals, police and just enough military power to sleep securely at night, dozens of battalions pointing their guns over the border seems like extravagance. A democratic Egypt may not be as willing to support every action of the USA or the UK as is Mubarak, but the people will be free, self-determinism is a concept introduced to the world by America, and it is a dear one to me, a moral "red line" that I do not feel we should cross. I would rather have the conditional support of a free people than the unwavering obedience of a dictator.

Israel also stands to gain from the domino effect that spread protests from Tunisia to Egypt. If a democratic rule took hold in Egypt it could spread still further. Already King Hussein of Jordan has changed his government. If he is serious about his job security he should give the elected parliament the powers to go with it's impressively fair elections, when democracy is spreading, the history of Europe tells us, constitutional monarchs become cherished, absolute monarchs become corpses. Jordan is at least a relatively just country, and one that has worked hard for peace in the region. The real jewel in the crown would be Syria. A democratic Syria would seal peace for the region, surrounded by democracy Hamas and Hezbollah would have few friends for the violent approach to Israel, and a two-democratic-state solution would have a fair chance of success.

Democracy in Egypt is the jumping off point for democracy throughout the Arab Mediterranean. Democracy in the Middle east is the key to peace in the Middle East.

*national, sure, but democratic they ain't and living under them doesn't seem like a party

Friday, 28 January 2011

Egypt in Pictures

Some fantastic shots here I've always admired those photo-journalists and cameramen who are willing to put themselves in harms way to get information and evocotive images to accompany it.

I just wish people tould remember Martin Luther King's observation
"It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence; it's nonviolence or nonexistence"

Why Egypt Matters.

The news is full of Egypt, and it's got my interest up (so far up in fact I've started using Twitter ( @OverHimself). You could ask why I should care, I'm a hell of a long way from Cairo, living in my safe democracy and totally unaffected by Egyption politics. Only I'm not.

Well, OK, I am those first two, but I'm not unaffected, and in more than just a John Donne "no man is an island" way. The largest part of UK and US foreign policy in recent years is focused on an area from Libya to Pakistan, add in the worries in the Home Office around arab-led, islamist motivated terrorism, and the interdependence created by global trade and this is all of our business. We get to take sides.

My horse, and I just hope she lives up to her form, is with people power. Mubarak and his party have ruled Egypt for 30 years. They have ruled under emergency law for most of that time; they have fixed elections and banned opposition parties and cracked down on dissent. They have provided stability and a degree of economic success. It's the old trade off, freedom from (poverty, hunger etc) at the cost of freedom to (speak, act, protest etc), and that is why the word bread is key in protesters' chants, once you stop providing the one, people will demand the other. The power of people protest is huge, and as I type this various sources are suggesting the government may have fallen.

If true this is a massive leap forward. The victory will belong to the people of Egypt, not to the Muslim Brotherhood, or other groups whose direction comes from Mecca and whose sympathy lies with Al Qaeda. The young, hopeful-looking protesters are talking of democracy and freedom, led by their experience and contact online with citizens of liberal democracies. It will shake up the region. The stabilizing effect of a relativly moderate and benign dictatorship in Egypt has probably prevented wars and moderated intifadas in Israel and Palestine. A democratic Egypt may not have this effect at first. But Angela Merkel had it right, the stability of Egypt is important, but not at the expense of the freedom of Egyptians.

A liberal democracy may not be as reliable a friend as a pocket dictatorship, but in the long run I would rather have a democracy who disagrees with us than a dictatorship always at our side. Democracy tends to moderate policy, it tends to allow rationality a stronger voice, diversity, culture, interaction and peace are all cherished more in democracies, where they are needed than in dictatorships where they can be replaced by a poster of the president. And democracy spreads. Democracy in Egypt could lead to democracy in Jordan, in Syria, in Libya, if all of those happens, even the House of Saud might be shifting uncomfortably in their thrones. And that would give us a more stable, more peaceful, more free world.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Let's hope this isn't libellous.

From Simon Singh;

This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particular dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Something Needs Saying.

The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist.
It's not said often enough and it's not said loud enough, so here it is again:
The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist.
I guess most politicians can't say it as it's not a great tactic to insult the electorate, and the media, if they still have any pride (so not the mail) want to keep at least a veneer of neutrality, so they won't say it.

The facts are simple, the BNP is a party that believes it is not possible to be non-white and British, who encourage the use of the term "racial foreigner" for British citizens, who support "repatriation" and senior members of whom were once filmed saying they wanted to machine gun Muslims. Talk to any BNP member or supporter and you are only one pint of (ironically foreign) larger away from hearing the words "of course Hitler was right about some things.

The BNP is not a protest vote. The Independent Kidderminster Hospital and Health Concern party was a protest vote, Martin Bell was a protest vote, the BNP are an organised fascist party with racist policies. Of course in a democracy they have the right to talk their bullshit, but to vote for them is to support their policies, in short to be one of them.

Did I mention this?

The BNP are racist fascists and if you vote for them you are a racist fascist!

A Good Week for the World.

Every so often the mire of conflicting self interest that is the international community resolves itself into a cohesive unit. For a short time there will be a run of good news stories that move us all in a positive direction. The last week or so has been one of those. Of course it will all run back to shit in the blink of an eye, but let's have a look at the hope while it's still there.

The UN General Assembly meeting, usually an Irish Parliament of pointless rhetoric, and the G20 summit, with a not much better track record, has seen a couple of good announcements.

First the world seemed to unite at last (and all too briefly) around a nuclear non-proliferation/disarmament theme. Russia indicated that she might give support to, or at least not block, further sanctions against Iran on the nuclear issue. With Russia on board, rather than the old position of lending tacit support to Iran, then it may be possible finally to bring enough pressure to bear that Tehran could be coaxed into following Libya's lead and abandoning their weapons programme.

The old, "great" powers of the nuclear world have been taking action too to at least reduce the hypocrisy where we declare to the world that nukes are bad while stockpiling our own. Gordon Brown announced a unilateral 25% cut in at least Britain's delivery system. There are strategic implications and flotilla logistical problems that make the anchor faced matelot in me shudder, but those deserve their own post. Perhaps if we are serious about Britain leading a new wave of disarmament then the best method would be to follow the lead of South Africa or Ukraine and unilaterally disarm, but at least it is a move in the right direction. And it is clearly a part of a general trend, as US-Russia disarmament talks enter a second week, perhaps the two largest nuclear powers might be headed for a further step down.

In something of a surprise the week also brought encouraging signs of action on climate change, with China announcing moves finally to reduce emissions, with similar noises coming from the Indian sub-continent. If these laggards on the environmental stage can be brought up to speed then maybe we can at least eliminate the schoolyard "but china isn't doing it" objections to carbon limits.

And in a no-doubt happy but painful sounding story, a woman in Indonesia has given birth to a 19lb baby!

That' the good news, the normal shitstorm of selfishness international political system will now be resumed.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Many mans doubleplusungood know newspeak.

Many persons malreport ungood used oldspeak words as newspeak. Doubleplususualwise these crimethinkers unknow meaning of newspeak unhaving read Big Brother's seminal 1984 (which sabateurs untruthwise claim Orwell wrote). Samewise persons have plusungood knowledge of Big Brother, Thinkpol, crimethink and Room 101. These duckspeaking oldthinkers are doubleplusun-notannoying.

Ok that's (more than) enough newspeak. I had had the idea of starting a new blog written entirely according to the principles of newspeak, as set out in the appendix to 1984, but it took me far too much effort and made my brain hurt just to write that much. Incidentally I couldn't have got that far without cribbing off the Newspeak Dictionary and I will be forever in the debt of the fabulous Mitchell and Webb for coining the newspeak word "doubleplusunnotannoying" .

The point, if you only know oldspeak is this:

So often on the internet people* decry a statement, usually by a politician but often a social worker, reporter or charity spokesman as "newspeak". The thing is that if they had properly read and understood 1984, and particularly the appendix on the nature and development of newspeak then they would know that the uses they rail against are the opposite of newspeak.

To twist and distort the meaning of words is an horrible thing, and it damages the political debate, but it is not automatically newspeak. Newspeak is not language abusing the existing definitions of words, but a language that eradicates all but the desired definition. It is not the use of new words, almost the opposite, it relies on the removal of words from the lexicon. Newspeak is not the language used by your political opponents, rather its purpose is to deny language to your political opponents (so that it is impossible even to think a heretical thought as thought relies on words).

These same offenders pull the same trick with Big Brother, Thought Police and Doublespeak, and it's just fucking irritating. I haven't read Brideshead Revisited, and so I steer clear of references to Sebastian or Brideshead, however apt what I think that they mean would be. Is it too much to ask that others do the same with Orwell?

Take this as a warning, from now on when I see such a reference to 1984 I shall hunt down its author and beat them to death with a shovel.

*Well I say people, really I mean a certain type of person. Well I say person, more a viciously right wing, half educated wingnut with opinions far in excess of their intellectual capacity. This wingnut hangs around the comments section of the Daily Mail, or the Have Your Say section of the BBC News site, spewing forth hate on pretty much anyone different from them in appearance or opinion.