Israel & Palestine: The underlying racism.

July 26, 2014

For most, it is doubtless the case that what fuels their interest in the conflict in Gaza and Israel, is a desire to see a peaceful resolution, with the region secure for all who live on the land. I have no doubt that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians just want to live a peaceful co-existence. But for others – including many in the leadership of both Israel and Palestine – the fuel is Messianic conquest; a desire to see the region controlled by their faith and their faith alone. Basic civil rights and protection of the people are a secondary concern. With this religiously motivated superiority complex, comes a familiar dehumanisation process aimed at those deemed to be the enemy. This comes from both sides of the aisle.

In the Arab world, it takes just one inoffensive cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to spark off a campaign of violent reprisals. Yet, Arab-Muslim media outlets daily print cartoons portraying Jews (not Israelis) in the most offensive tone possible. The caricatures of Jews follows centuries of anti-semitism from the Catholic Church, appropriated by the Arab World. In 2002, Tishrin in Syria printed a cartoon of the Statue of Liberty smashed to pieces and replaced by a statue of a Jewish stereotype; a man with a long beard, and hat, crooked nose, holding the Torah in place of the Constitution, suggesting a Jewish takeover of the United States. In 2005, Al-Yawm in Saudi Arabia published a photo of the Jewish star of David interlaced with the words “Born to Kill”. In Qatar in 2006. Al-Watan published a cartoon of crooked nosed monstrous-looking villain chiseling a star of David underneath the Dome of the Rock. Most hideously of all, the website of the Arab European League published a cartoon of Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, and the caption: “Write this one in your diary, Anne“. The racist cartoons published by the Arab press help to perpetuate a narrative that has existed for centuries, that insists that Jewish people are inherently evil, seeking to dominate the World (ironic, given the oppressive dominance of Islam over the functions of state in many of those countries). In 1543 Martin Luther wrote:

“I have read and heard many stories about the Jews which agree with this judgment of Christ, namely, how they have poisoned wells, made assassinations, kidnaped children, as related before. I have heard that one Jew sent another Jew, and this by means of a Christian, a pot of blood, with a barrel of wine, in which when drunk empty, a dead Jew was found. There are many other similar stories.”

- Blood libel, caricaturing the Jewish people as inherently monstrous and murderous. This hasn’t stopped. It simply moved to a new form of media. Cartoons, alongside educational material in Palestinian textbooks for children that frame Jewish folk as the enemy, and horrifying pictures posted almost daily on social media of those killed in the Syrian civil war, reframed to look as if they were killed by Israeli troops. Also on social media, we see those deeply partisan few posting completely false statements by Israelis, to give credit to their deeply partisan comment:

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– The irony of this specific Tweet, is that the quote is massively exaggerated, and works to perpetuate racist narratives that portray Jews as seeking complete domination. The Ben Gurion letter is a blueprint for his Zionist vision, and anti-Arab in tone. But the quote above, is wildly inaccurate and works to suggest a much more violent tone to the letter. Ben-Gurion – According to ‘Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting In America’ (CAMERA) actually said:

“We do not wish, we do not need to expel the Arabs and take their place. All our aspirations are built upon the assumption — proven throughout all our activity in the Land — that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs in the land [of Israel]. And if we will have to use force, not for the sake of evicting the Arabs of the Negev or Transjordan, but rather in order to secure the right that belongs to us to settle there, force will be available to us.”

- The blatant misrepresentations, the cartoons, the pictures from other conflicts that someone somewhere has sat and purposely manipulated, are all a continuation of centuries of anti-semitism, and it all plays into the hands of a group like Hamas, whose main goal isn’t the safety and security of the Palestinian people (their method of using civilians as shields for their weapons is evidence enough of that), but complete dominance of the entire region that they’re convinced was divinely ordained for they alone.

This racist and supremacist attitude is of course not restricted to the Arab side of the conflict. In Israel, Professor Daniel Bar-Tal of Tel Aviv University studied 124 school textbooks on history, citizenship, and literature, concluding that the textbooks of the 1950s through to the 1970s told of an ancient industrious land of Palestine, ruined by the Arabs, and now to be saved by the returning Jewish people. Bar-Tal says the textbooks insisted that Jewish people were there primarily:

“…improving the country in ways they believe the Arabs are incapable of.”

- Bar-Tal goes on to say that the Israeli textbooks were portraying Arabs as:

“…tribal, vengeful, exotic, poor, sick, dirty, noisy, colored”
“…they burn, murder, destroy, and are easily inflamed.”

- Eli Yishai – ex-Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, and former leader of Shas – grew up as these textbooks that worked to dehumanise the Arab population of Palestine were prevalent. It is no surprise that Yishai now has an awful lack of consideration for human beings in Gaza. In 2012, Yishai said:

“The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years.”

- This horrendous attitude was reflected by Gilad Sharon – son of Ariel Sharon – who also in 2012 said:

“We need to flatten all of Gaza. The American’s didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough – so they hit Nagasaki too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.”

- It takes a special kind of desensitisation to human suffering in order to advocate the comple ‘flattening’ of a city, invoking the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as desirable. Further, a poll of students in Israel conducted in 2010 by Israeli research institution Maagar Mochot, found that over half of those surveyed believed Arab-Israelis should not be banned from election to the Knesset. The majority of those who wished to see Arabs banned from the Knesset, were very religious, whilst almost half of secular Israeli teens also concurred that Arabs should be banned. Therefore, almost half of the secular students surveyed, along with a vast majority of religious students supported the institutionalisation of racism.

The lack of moral decency from the racists on both sides isn’t confined to a few supremacists. It is entrenched in media outlets, it shapes the debate, it ensures a new generation are ingrained with the same hatred through school textbooks, it goes viral on social media, it pushes ordinary people to embrace the extremes like Hamas, it empowers the religious supremacists, it serves a victim mentality used to justify sadistic acts of violence against innocents, and so by extension, it prevents a peaceful resolution.


Mehdi Hasan and the nature of complicity.

July 17, 2014

The horrifying stories and pictures coming out of Gaza as Hamas launch rockets indiscriminately across the border, and Israel bombard the isolated region resulting in innocent lives lost and fear gripping both sides, rightfully strike at our collective sense of humanity. But it is the romanticised notion of a David and Goliath situation, and the bizarre attempts to either refuse to acknowledge the crimes of Hamas (upon Palestinians as well as Israelis), any wrongdoing whatsoever on the Palestinian side, or to explain away anti-Israeli sentiment whilst willfully silent on abuses elsewhere when they crop up, that seems to be the centre of the Galloway-left response.

Mehdi Hasan’s article for Huffington Post, entitled “We Single Israel Out Because We in the West Are Shamefully Complicit in Its Crimes” was one such attempt to justify a moral compass that only swings into action on human rights and oppression, when it involves Israel or the West in general, isolated from all surrounding context. Hasan says:

“According to the likes of Ben-Ami, there are much more vile regimes, and more violent groups, elsewhere in the world. Why pick on plucky Israel? What about the Chinas, Russias, Syrias, Saudi Arabias, Irans, Sudans and Burmas? Where are the protests against Isis, Boko Haram or the Pakistani Taliban?”

- The criticism from ‘the likes of Ben-Ami’ is a correct one. Western faux-liberals are essentially silent on the crimes of ISIS or Boko Haram, or Hamas. If they do offer criticisms, it’s very quickly glossed over with a criticism of the US or Israel. A sort of “Yeah ISIS is bad, but Blair…” mentality. There are very few willing to stand up for those lives threatened and lost due to blasphemy laws across the religious World, instead having a collective meltdown whenever someone publishes a cartoon of Muhammad. There isn’t a care in the World for the people of Balochistan. The hideous treatment of the LGBT community in the Middle East and Uganda only gets a passing mention by Hasan in a horrifyingly self serving article, in which they’re just a tool to explain to the reader why he doesn’t consider himself a homophobe. Mehdi goes to great lengths to explain why it is he feels the need to focus so much time and energy on Israel. I don’t buy his excuses.

One of Hasan’s ‘complicity’ points in his new article, is that Israel is funded to a large degree by the US. This is of course true, but it is also true – to a much less extent, but still represents ‘complicity’ in the same form – of the Palestinian Authority. By 2010, the main contributors to the Palestinian Authority – amounting to around $1.8bn in 2008, and $1.4bn in 2004 – were the EU and the US. This, despite a ‘Middle East Monitor’ (MEMO)report on widespread corruption within the PA. MEMO, referencing an EU report, quotes a figure of $2bn in aid to the PA, lost to corruption. It quotes a Kuwaiti newspaper in 2005, that accused Arafat of transferring large amounts of aid money to foreign bank accounts. A senior official at the Ministry of Finance in Palestine was caught trying to flee to Jordan with $100mn. In 2012, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights released a report accusing the Palestinian Authority of:

“…inhumane practices and human rights violations.”

- In 2013, blogger Anas Awwad – a critic of the PNA – was arrested and charged with “extending his tongue” against the policies of the PA and President Abbas. Similarly, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq – a lecturer at a university in the West Bank – was arrested for criticising Abbas. If the EU and US is complicit in the crimes of the Israeli leadership, which in turn means we should single out Israel, then they are also complicit in the crimes of the Palestinian leadership , as are those offering their unquestioning support for the Palestinian leadership, and so by implication, we should single the PA leadership out too. A leadership that has enriched itself, to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

According to the World Bank, Pakistan is one of the biggest receivers of US aid, with $3508.6 in 2011 alone. Why no outrage at the Pakistani treatment of the Baloch region? Why very little mention of the millions displaced people from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas? Are we not complicit in that and should we be therefore singling Pakistan out for special criticism? Should we be less outraged, because less money (even though it’s still a huge amount) is given to Pakistan than Israel? If so, by Mehdi’s standards, we should be marching on London right this second.

In 2011, $977.8mn of US aid went to Jordan. Human Rights Watch reported that Jordan had been turning away Syrian refugees who happen to be of Palestinian heritage, or sending them to holding camps near Ramtha, simply for being Palestinian. Jordan also prohibits the right to convert from Islam. Are we not complicit in that too? Should we be singling out Jordan for their anti-apostasy laws, and their ill treatment of Palestinians?

The Democratic Republican of Congo received $5532.5mn in US aid in 2011, despite torture of civilians by authorities, and members of the army using rape as a way to punish those from communities they dislike. Are we complicit with those too, and should Hasan therefore be more vocal in his criticism?

Let’s also not forgot that George Galloway handed £25,000 to Hamas live on TV a few years back. That was in 2009. On April 7th 2011, Hamas shot a Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus in southern Israel, killing 16 year old Daniel Viflic. If even a penny of that £25,000 went to procuring the missile that killed Viflic – or any act of violence since 2009 by Hamas – Galloway is complicit, and Hasan remains silent.

Hasan goes on to ask:

“Which other country is in receipt of $3billion a year in US aid, despite maintaining a 47-year military occupation in violation of international law?”

“Which other country’s prime minister could “humiliate” – to quote the newspaper Ma’ariv – a sitting US vice-president on his visit to Israel in March 2010, yet still receive 29 standing ovations from Congress on his own visit to the US a year later?”

- Well, they’re very specific comparative criticisms. He’s right. No other country has maintained a 47-year military occupation, receiving $3bn in US aid. However, that particular crime (and it is a crime) doesn’t negate the crimes of other nations receiving similar amounts. It’s just one specific crime he mentions. For example, Whilst the US gave just over $3bn in aid to Israel in 2012, it gave over $12bn in economic and military aid to Afghanistan in 2012. This, despite Aghanistan’s National Security Agency accused of torturing suspects, and harassing journalists, and despite the LGBT community facing long jail terms and despite Karzai signing into law the hideously misogynistic ‘Shia Family Law’. Israel may be occupying a region, but in Afghanistan, religious supremacists occupy the entire country, by enshrining its unjustifiably privileged position into the function of state. To rephrase Hasan’s question, which other country is in receipt of $12bn in US aid, despite enshrining religious supremacy to the point where women and the LGBT community are relegated to second class, and criminals?

He’s also right again. No other Prime Minister received 29 standing ovations after humiliating the Vice President. Because that’s a very specific criticism. However, according to Kenya News Online and The Daily Caller, President Karzai humiliated the President of the United States, more than once. Very specific comparative criticisms posed in this way, do not add any credit to the overall point, and appear weak when placed into context.

Indeed, we could also argue that statements Mehdi has made in the past (non-believers lacking intelligence, living like animals, whilst Muslims have the moral high ground), render him complicit in the perpetuation of religious supremacist narratives that continue to manifest as human rights abuses. Complicity, like every other point of debate in the Israel and Palestine conflict, is easy to use against those so deeply partisan on the subject on both sides. In this case, the argument from Mehdi did not seem to be a high quality, well reasoned argument, solely because that wasn’t its aim. Its aim was to absolve Mehdi of his inconsistent moral compass, that lays dormant until a global event that involves Israel or the US appears, at which point, his moral compass spins wildly out of control.


The Island of Secular, Liberal, Democracy.

July 15, 2014

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Involving myself in several debates this week with members of Hizb and their supporters threw up one consistent theme; secular liberal democracy oppresses Muslims, and so by advocating a return of Khilafah, they are in fact fighting oppression (nothing says ‘fighting oppression’ quite like ISIS beheading ordinary people). The obvious question then becomes; how does a system that advocates – according to Hizb’s constitution as drafted by al-Nabhani – the execution of the ex-Muslims (essentially, genocide), and the oppression of the LGBT community, whilst forcing non-Muslims to pay to uphold it and disallowing women from holding high office, get to be considered anything but oppressive?

The response was predictably deflective, the points raised were not addressed (save for the ill-informed “being gay is unnatural” argument often used to defend the hideous oppression of the gay community by religious supremacists), instead opting on far more occasions than I ever considered possible, to just keep insisting that secular, liberal, democracy is in fact an oppressive religion itself. Whilst I’ve argued the case for secular, liberal democracy on several occasions pertaining to the specifics – the veil, or sexuality, free expression, or the building of mosques – I thought I’d use this article to explain my fundamental reasoning behind why I believe secular, liberal, democracy is the opposite of oppression.

Let us imagine there are ten of us on a desert island. We propose to come up with a governing system. Two of the new inhabitants are Muslim. Two Atheist. Two Christian. Two Hindu. Two FutileReligion (my new faith for the purpose of this article). The ten on the island consists heterosexual people, homosexual people, bisexual people, men and women, lighter toned skin and darker toned skin, red haired, blonde haired, blue eyed, green eyed people.

When coming up with our system, we all agree that the green eyed people – on account of having green eyes – have no inherent right to state privilege, nor the blue eye’d people, nor the blonde haired people, nor those with light toned skin. If we were to suggest that green eyed people are entitled the distinct privilege of law making, we imply that no one else is capable. We imply the superiority of one eye colour, to the inferiority of all others. We do so, without any reasonable justification. We therefore not only chain the rights of others whilst privileging green eyed people, we also chain green eyed people who could have their lives improved by the ideas in the minds of the non-green eyed people for improving island living. It is an absurdity. We acknowledge the equality of all when it comes to eye colour. And so we must then ask; if we accept that one particular eye colour isn’t naturally privileged, nor do we accept that the island is naturally a white supremacist island, why would we presume one particular faith must be granted state privilege and supremacy? And if we do believe one particular faith should be permitted an inherent right to state privilege, whose religion shall it be?

Well, the FutileBelievers believe the state should be theirs, and so all Christians and Muslims should be executed immediately for their sinful religion, because FutileGod insists that they are in fact unnatural. We presume that if we call it “God’s law“, it somehow permits it a privileged position to control and punish according to its rules, even those who don’t consider it to be “God’s law“. According to the two Muslims, the state should be Islamic with everyone else paying jizya to uphold the system and that the three gay people on the island should be immediately executed, and the four women disqualified from high office. The four women and the three gay people aren’t given a say in this, because the Muslims automatically presume a right to control those lives, simply on the basis of their personal religious belief. Again, an absurdity. The Christians believe the system should be completely controlled by Christians, with no Muslim being allowed high office, they also seek to burn any condoms they find and your private sex life will essentially be handed over to the two Christians. Muslims don’t get a say over whether they are allowed power in this Christian state, they simply have to deal with being institutionally inferior to their Christian rulers, who have taken it upon themselves to declare supremacy. So, who in this scenario gets to enshrine their particular religion into the framework of state?

Contrary to Hizb and other religious supremacists bizarre notions of oppression, you may note that secular, liberal, democracy enshrines the right to believe whatever it is you choose to believe. It protects that right fully for the individual. No single sect can take that away from you, in a secular, liberal, democracy. It is not anti-religious, it is anti-religious supremacy and privilege. To achieve a state that enshrines religious privilege, and supremacy, requires force and it requires the institutional subduing of others. It is the definition of oppression.

Let us be clear; by privilege I mean the institutionalising of one belief – and so, the power of state handed to two people on the island at all times – into the framework of state; perhaps insisting that gender and sexuality of all inhabitants must be subject to the rules of one faith. I do not mean banning those people from invoking their beliefs when it comes to island debate. Simply, the institutionalising of one belief; The perpetual chaining of everyone to the dictates of the faith of those two. Who gets to make that decision? How might we expect the other 8 react, if the two FutileBelievers were to say “… right, we’re in charge, we now run this place. First thing’s first, all Qur’ans and Bibles are to be burnt“. I imagine they’d react in the same way Catholics reacted when Protestants permitted themselves state privilege and oppression ensued. Or how Shia react when Sunni permit themselves state privilege and oppression ensues. It is a recipe for perpetual oppression and inevitable conflict, because it relies on the oppressed staying quiet and resigning themselves to an inferior status, and history teaches us that if you chain people to the privileged few, those in chains will fight to break them.

We have a situation in which ten people are currently free and equal. Eye colour does not get to control other eye colours, hair colour does not affect our right to participate in society and to an individual life. We extend that principle to belief. The freedoms are equal to all. There are no barriers erected to our liberty. None of those people were born attached to the religious beliefs of any of the others. Therefore, the burden is on those seeking to chain others to their religious beliefs, to convince others to hand over their liberty to that particular belief. As of yet – not just on our island, but on the entire planet – no one has succeeded in convincing others to become subservient to the beliefs of one individual, through anything other than threat and force.

So, how do we develop this impasse into a framework of state? Well, we could all insist that our particular religion is deserving of institutionalised state privilege, that others must be chained to our supernatural beliefs, thus putting us in constant conflict with everyone else on the island who similarly believe themselves privileged, and everyone else subordinate. This is unlikely to end in anything other than violence, when those threatened with the rules of the faith of the other start to break the chains. Or, we could enshrine into the framework, our acceptance that we should all be free to practice our own religion where it does not encroach on the same freedom for others, and where our freedom on the island is not chained to the beliefs of anyone else. We devise a system that is constituted firstly to protect each other, from each other. That is the primary basis of a free and equal society. The freedom of Person A – regardless of sexuality, or gender, ethnicity, or faith – does not end where the religion of Person B begins.

Once individual liberty, to pursue our own goals, is protected through a constitutional framework, we can then all jointly involve ourselves in the political process. The structure of the democratic institutions – be them Parliamentary, or Presidential, direct or representative, comes next. We compromise on decisions that effect us all, we split power, we get it wrong at times, but we learn and we move forward, and our participation in the political process is in no way dependent on our belief, gender, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour, ethnicity, if we’re missing a toe on one foot, or any other biological trait. All of those are irrelevant to our ideas and our participation within society, and so the initial protection of us all is the only possible way to allow everyone our full potential without fear of repression. The burden is on those who seek to remove our liberties, to explain why we should be forced to give them up.

The 10 person society is run on the basis of compromise and free and open debate and discussion. We can inquire, scrutinise, and progress without our ideas and creativity and contribution withheld simply because we have a particular eye colour, gender, or sexuality. If you disagree with a policy, you are free to protest, to run for office on your platform, to scrutinise, to mock, to critique. This is as true for you, as it is for me. This is secular, liberal democracy. It isn’t a religion, and it privileges no single individual or belief above any other. It is the neutral protection of all, from all, and the freedom for all to participate in the process of state. The governing of state in no way inflicts restrictions upon your right to live according to your religion, where your religion does not damage the liberty of anyone else.

To believe secular, liberal democracy is oppressing you, is simply another way to say you believe your faith should be granted state privilege to harm the liberty of others. This isn’t oppressing you, this is denying your determination to oppress others. And on that charge, I absolutely agree, and that is exactly why liberal, secular democratic institutions are the only way to guarantee civil protections for all.


Stop underplaying Hamas’s rocket attacks.

July 11, 2014

Those innocent lives lost as a result of Israeli attacks on perceived Hamas locations in Gaza are not the victims of just one side, they are the victims of both sides and the fact that both leaderships find it easier to hurl rockets at each other, to provoke each other, than they do to negotiate a settlement that protects all civilians in the region. They are the victims of the failures of leadership not just in Israel and Palestine, but the international community also. Too often, those seeking to highlight the plight of the Palestinians and the misery caused by occupation and bombings, try hard to underplay the misery caused by those in groups like Hamas seeking to kill as many as possible.

A couple of days ago, Mohammed Ansar posted this:

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– I see variants of this theme all too often. The image of an apparent Hamas rocket on a barely scratched road implies a pathetically inconsequential capability from the group. When Ansar chooses a picture of a charred road, rather than a picture of dead or injured Israelis to highlight what happens when a rocket from Gaza strikes Israel, he does so consciously, the image of one rather than the other is chosen for a purpose, and so the image Ansar shared works only to dehumanise those victims of Hamas’s rockets in the past, and the recent terror inflicted upon those in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashkelon, Kiryat Malachi, Eshkol, Sderot and more, by subtly hinting that those rockets do no real damage. Ansar then posted pictures of the bodies of victims of Israeli bombs in Gaza. This works to downplay the horrific consequences of rocket fire by Hamas (dismissed as a charred road), whilst highlighting the horrific consequences of the bombings by Israel. The political motivation of such a hideously manipulative tactic, is fuel for the fire of groups like Hamas, and when emulated on the opposite side, fuel for the fire of religious fanatics in Israel.

Contrary to Mo Ansar implying impotence of Hamas rocket fire, between 2001 and 2012, 64 people have been killed by Hamas’s rockets and hundreds more injured, whilst over 4000 in Sderot alone are treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In 2004, a nursery school in Sderot was the victim of a Qassam rocket, that killed Mordechai Yosepov, 49, and Afik Zahavi, 4. Hamas then claimed responsibility for an attack that wounded 30 and killed Yuval Abebeh, 4, and Dorit Benisian, 2 in Sderot.

In July 2006, the town of Ashkelon was hit when a rocket from Gaza struck a school – empty at the time, thankfully – and destroyed classrooms. In March 2008, again in Ashkelon, a rocket injured seven people. In May 2008, another rocket into Ashkelon hit a shopping mall, with four treated for severe injuries, 15 for minor injuries and 87 for shock. Most shockingly in Ashkelon, Iman Shefi – a Palestinian woman from Beit Lahiya – was in an Israeli hospital in Ashkelon, having given birth to two premature babies. Whilst in hospital, Hamas rockets were fired directly at it. Shefi said:

“I was scared that the rockets would hit the Ashkelon hospital where my two babies are.”

- Given the awful situation that Iman Shefi and her children (who are both safe and well) found themselves in, and being from Gaza too, she showed real class and integrity, and a sense of common cause with those affected by Hamas’s bombs in Israel when she said:

“I dream that my children will not have to go through what I have had to, that they will grow up in an era of peace. I pray that the residents of Sderot will not be angry with us. I sympathize with their suffering and don’t want them to be harmed, but we are victims as well. We have no control over the Hamas. They do as they please, in contradiction of the Quran. I do not want the Hamas in power, but I am not sure that Abu Mazen can stop the shooting.”

- Hamas do not care the heritage, or age of those they purposely hurl rockets at. The aim is to kill.

On March 18th 2010, a rocket claimed by both Ansar al-Sunna, and Fatah’s militant wing, al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades killed Thai national Manee Singmueangphon. He was working at an agricultural community in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council. Fifty other Thai nationals were treated for shock.

On April 7th 2011, Hamas shot a Kornet anti-tank missile at a school bus in southern Israel, killing 16 year old Daniel Viflic. On August 20th 2011, Hamas fired 64 rockets into Gaza, in which 500,000 people rushed to bomb shelters, and 38-year-old Yossi Shoshan of the town of Ofakim, and on his way to ensure his 9 month pregnant wife was safe, ended up killed. The same day, a four month old baby was badly wounded, as well as a 9 year old boy. On October 29th 2011, Moshe Ami of Ashkelon was killed after suffering serious shrapnel wounds as a result of a rocket sent from Gaza by Hamas.

Between March 9th – 15th 2012, Hamas and other groups in Palestine fired 300 grad missiles into Israel. In less than a week. 23 people were injured, 11 whilst fleeing in terror, for cover. on October 12th, the militant “Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem” fired a rocket into Israel, which exploded in the garden of a family home, and sent shrapnel into a child’s bedroom. Two were taken to hospital for acute stress reaction. A little over a month later, on November 15th 2012, Mirah Scharf (25), Itzik Amsalem (24), and Aharon Smadja (49) were killed by a rocket attack on an apartment in Kiryat Malachi. Mirah Scharf was a female emissary to New Delhi in India, and had come to Israel to give birth, when she was murdered by terrorists. Ahron Smadja was a father to an eight month old baby girl. The residents of the building were running for any cover they could find, as the rockets flew over, killing three of them.

As well as Mo Ansar, Owen Jones writing for the Guardian says:

“The macabre truth is that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life.”

- He then goes on to reverse his point:

“Israel under renewed Hamas attack”: this was last night’s BBC headline on the escalating bloodshed in Gaza. It is as perverse as Mike Tyson punching a toddler, followed by a headline claiming that the child spat at him.”

- All those killed, injured or terrified mentioned above over the years, are flippantly dismissed here as similar to the inconsequential spit of a child on a heavyweight boxer.

Let’s stop playing the “who kills the most” game, because it isn’t a game. Each civilian death must be regarded as an unacceptable tragedy regardless of which side of the border they happen to reside, for any serious discussion on peace to be workable. Each death is the responsibility of the leadership on both sides. Each death reaffirms the failures of the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, along with the international community, in coming to a negotiated settlement. The partisans who post insensitive and dehumanising comparisons like the one above, work only to provide fuel for those who seek no peaceful resolution, believing their side to be the sole victims of the aggressive opposite, when the reality is that both leaderships – for decades – shoulder the blame as the people they are supposed to be protecting continue to suffer.


Ten Tory MPs with less than 50% of the vote.

July 10, 2014

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It is true that if you were to include the number of potential voters in each constituency, no current Cabinet Minister would have received over 50% of the vote. But with the freedom to vote, comes the freedom to not vote, and with that in mind we should look more closely at the the percentage that current Tory MPs – seeking to impose voter threshold on strike action – managed to win at the 2010 general election, among actual voter turnout.

So here’s a quick list of ten:

  • Sajid Javid – MP for Bromsgrove and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Equalities – 43.7%.
    – A man who is in control of the state’s involvement in culture, media, sport, and has the key responsibility for equality in the UK, was elected with less than 50% of the vote in Bromsgrove.

  • David Jones – MP for Clyde West and Secretary of State for Wales – 41.5%.
    – A Secretary of State for an entire country, elected with a little over 40% of the vote.

  • Oliver Letwin – Minister of State at the Cabinet Office and Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Policy Review – 47.6%
    – Letwin – after winning less than 50% of the vote – insisted that public sector workers require “discipline and fear”. On a completely unrelated note, Letwin used £2,145 in Parliamentary expenses to fix a leaking pipe on his tennis court.

  • Mark Garnier – MP for Wyre Forest -36.9%
    On his website, speaking of strikes in November 2011, Garnier writes:

    “These strikes, which will cost the economy up to half a billion pounds, were not voted for by a majority and will hit ordinary working people hardest.”

    - Replace the words “strikes” with “Tories” in this massively ironic statement, and you have a far more honest sentence.

  • Jessica Lee – MP for Erewash & Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General Dominic Grieve – 39.5%.
  • Stephen Mosley – MP for the City of Chester – 40.6%
    – On his website, Mosley says:

    “The strike action undertaken by PCS union members in June highlighted the unconsidered approach that appears to be the default setting for many unions.
    Less than 20% of their members voted for the industrial action and less than half walked out on their responsibilities that day.”

    - Interesting admiration for majority votes, when almost 60% of Mosley’s own constituency doesn’t want him representing them.

  • Nicky Morgan – MP for Loughborough – 41.6%
    – Elected with a minority of the vote, and yet voted in an attempt to ensure same-sex couples couldn’t get married. She believes with less than 50%, she gets to regulate the love lives of others.

  • Edward Garnier – MP for Harborough, Knight Bachelor and former Solicitor General – 49%.
  • James Morris – MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis – 41.2%
  • Paul Uppal – MP for Wolverhampton South West – 40.7%
    – Uppal voted in favour of a change to striking laws that would prohibit strikes in the transport sector unless a majority of the workforce voted in favour and not merely a majority of those voting. This same principle, if applied to Parliament, would mean every Cabinet Minister would not have been elected. The closest would have been Theresa May, though she’d still have fell short by 7%.

    - If a Conservative Party wishes to impose a 50% voter threshold on strike action, then I see no reason why there should not also be a 50% voter threshold on the ability to propose legislation and vote in Parliament. Indeed, if MPs with less than 50% of the vote in their own constituency can vote to restrict pay and pensions for public sector workers, I see no reason why those same public sector workers can’t then strike with less than 50% of the vote.


  • The rights of Palestine.

    July 8, 2014

    palestineisrael

    The history of modern revolutions is one in which – more often than not – oppressive regimes are threatened and overthrown by the forces of self-proclaimed ‘liberation’ whom themselves become the new oppressive regimes. The Cuban revolution replaced the US backed heartless and brutal regime of Fulgencio Batista, with the vicious and oppressive long lasting Castro regime. The French revolution sought to liberate the country from the excesses of monarchy, and resorted to Robespierre’s reign of terror, swiftly followed by Napoleon. The US revolution attempted to enshrine the concepts of human liberty, and the pursuit of individual happiness and did so to a great extent, whilst the Founding generation held slaves and extended democratic rights to propertied white men only (John Adams; the nation’s second President, warned against extending the vote to women). It is for this reason – the replacement of one form of deep oppression with another – that I tend to be reluctant to support a Palestinian state under its current leadership.

    As a blogger on secularism and religion, I’m often asked about my thoughts on the Israel & Palestine conflict and which side I find myself on. I’ve neglected to write much on the subject, because I find it a difficult question to answer, whilst simultaneously a simply question to answer. It is a particularly difficult and confusing subject, where the balance of my opinions change from week to week.

    It is a difficult question – not least because whatever you say on the subject, someone somewhere takes great offence in a way that no other subject can elicit – because I understand the grievances of both, I understand that Israel is a nation surrounded by nations that wish it extinct, that rockets are fired daily across its borders (today, a rocket from Gaza was intercepted over Tel Aviv), that its establishment (whilst poorly designed and implemented) was the result of historical oppression from Russia to Germany including centuries of anti-Jewish bigotry spewed by the Catholic Church, Mahmoud Abbas’s constant reference to Israel as Muslim and Christian only, and that the Arab press is horrifically racist in its representations of Jewish people as rats controlling some sort of hidden global conspiracy. I understand the paranoia and suspicion driving Israeli policy. Equally, I understand that the Palestinians have a perfectly reasonable claim to the land just as strong as those on the opposite side, that their recent history has been marred by forced removal from land, their chaining to a strip in Gaza and treated as prisoners, Netanyahu’s deliberately provocative statements in the past, that the Palestinians suffer daily not only from the threat of Israeli bombs dropping around them, but from being used as shields by Hamas, and that the ceaseless building of settlements is a daily provocation. Indeed the average Palestinian is stripped of their natural human dignity by the political squabbles of the fanatical religious leaders of both sides of the argument. Earlier this year, Wajih al-Ramahi – a 15 year old Palestinian boy – was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers at the Jalazone refugee camp, for what seems to be no justifiable reason. This sort of crime – and the fear of this sort of crime – is a brutal reminder to the Palestinians that they are not free, and whose lives and liberty are to be treated as occupied and owned indefinitely by Israel.

    However, It is an easy question, because my answer is; I take no side on this. I am critical of those who openly support Israel’s provocative policy of settlement development in the West Bank and defend their violent overreactions, and I am critical of those on the Western Galloway-left that are willing to abandon the principles of human rights, civil liberties, and freedom regardless of sexuality, faith, gender, belief and ethnicity if it means tacitly supporting any group that refers to itself as liberators fighting Israeli aggression.

    I do however support the establishing of a state of Palestine. I feel I need to make that clear, because it seems that if you register concerns about the details of a future Palestinian state, you’re accused of abandoning the Palestinians in their fight for freedom, when in fact, the opposite is true. For the freedom of all Palestinians, the methods, and goals of their leadership requires thorough analysis and critique. To ignore those methods and goals, regardless of how oppressive they are, for the sake of supporting any reaction against Israel, is to abandon that freedom for a lot of Palestinians.

    So, to be clear; my view is that the Palestinians have a right to be free, to self determination, to statehood, and to protection from oppression. That means all Palestinians, not simply Muslim, heterosexual Palestinians. The problem is, that isn’t what the Palestinian leadership has ever promoted. For that reason, it continuously amazes me just how willing Western ‘liberal secularists’ are to abandon their principles and overlook the stated goals and crimes of Hamas, in the quest to form a state of Palestine. The crimes of Hamas, are articulated by Amnesty:

    “The human rights violations perpetrated … have included killings of fugitives, prisoners and detainees, injuries caused by severe physical violence, torture and misuse of weapons, the imposition of house arrest, and other restrictions that have been imposed on civil society organisations.”

    - It is inexplicable given the circumstances, that anyone claiming to be of the left in the West, would support – in any form – the further enshrining of power for groups like Hamas. It cannot be considered an ‘ends justify the means’ situation – despite a lot of liberal secular Westerners claiming their reluctant support for Hamas is based on – because the end goal for Hamas is not a free state of Palestine, but a state as far removed from democratic, secular liberalism as possible. Indeed, Article (6) of Hamas’s charter notes:

    “The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine. Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights.”

    - Throughout Hamas’s charter, are references to the region being Islamic by divine right, and their goal to ensure all in the region are tied to it. Hamas’s reason for being, isn’t to ‘free’ Palestine, it is to chain Palestine to Hamas’s interpretation of a single faith. Secular liberals cannot reasonably offer any support to Hamas given their aims, methods, and public declarations. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, co-founder and senior leader of Hamas, described gay people as being:

    “…a minority of perverts and the mentally and morally sick.”

    - The rights of the LGBT community are not going to be protected in a Palestinian state with Hamas allowed a say in its foundation and constituting. Any defence of Hamas – any defence whatsoever – by those claiming to be secular or liberal, is an insult to those of us who are.

    As well as Hamas’s goal being the subordination of the entire region to Islam, President Abbas tends to be just as provocative and hints at religious war for Jerusalem being an obligation on all Muslims when speaking directly to Muslims in Palestine (rather than an international audience, at which point, he advocates two states). For Abbas, this is a religious conflict. In 2010, on Al-Jazeera, Abbas said:

    “I say to the leaders of our Arab nation and to its peoples: Jerusalem and its environs are a trust that Allah entrusted to us. Saving it from the settlement monster and the danger of Judaization and confiscation is a personal commandment incumbent on all of us.”

    - Abbas is clear with his “Judaization” anti-Semitic rant; the land belongs to Islam. A revolution to replace one oppressor, with another. Jerusalem has of course been occupied by Jews, invaded by Christians, invaded by Muslims, and should in the 21st Century be open to all to visit and enjoy, not controlled by one faith. I find it impossible to support the establishing of a state whose leadership is infected by religious supremacists. If Hamas achieved their stated aims tomorrow, I would suggest that the tacit support for their cause and defence of their actions from those Western secular liberals over the years, would shroud any future complaints of Hamas’s human rights abuses in a deep sea of hypocrisy, by those who were willing to turn a blind-eye to atrocities and Hamas’s commitment to further abuses, pre-statehood. What good is an international liberal left, if it is only willing to voice concerns over the oppressive nature of a state, after it has facilitated the establishment of the same oppressive state?

    The basic law established in 2002 as a proposed constitutional framework for a future Palestinian state and enacted by The Palestinian Legislative Council enshrines one religion, and binds all who live in the proposed state of Palestine, to that one religion in some form, whilst offering the impression of freedom for all. Its authors therefore have assumed for themselves the privilege of state supremacy for one faith:

    “The principles of the Islamic shari`a are a main source for legislation.”

    “Arabic is the official language and Islam is the official religion in Palestine.”

    “The Palestinian people are part of the Arab and Islamic nations.”

    - This privilege for one faith cannot be an acceptable source of law making for anyone claiming to be a secular liberal. The implication is clear; a Palestinian state is to some degree an Islamic state. The two are to be considered inseparable. This is where I tend to part company with many of my fellow liberal secularists who seem unwilling to question, or worse, to offer tacit support to such a framework of state.

    For me, Statehood must not precede human and civil rights, on a secular, liberal framework. Liberal, secular, civil rights and protections must precede statehood. The rights of all Palestinians – be they Muslim, Christian, atheist, Jewish, male, female, heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, Hindu, old, young – must be the starting point of any framework for statehood, with no privilege granted to any single faith.

    Enshrining religion into the fabric of a new state brings with it human and civil rights abuses that are evident in the nations that enshrine Islam in the Middle East, and Christianity in Africa, regardless of assurances of “human rights protections”. In Jordan, the state inhibits the right to convert from Islam, does not recognise Baha’i marriages and the King has to be Muslim. In Lebanon (arguably the least oppressive Arab state in the Middle East), the right to legally change gender is prohibited, there are penalties for blasphemy, and Buddhists and Hindus are not allowed to marry. A Palestinian state must not enshrine the oppression of any group, must uphold civil rights with respect to belief, sexuality, gender, ethnicity and the basic right to expression and secular education. At the moment, the Palestinian leadership is far from a force for liberation, severely lacks respect for basic rights, and is extremely oppressive.

    In 2012, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights released a report accusing the Palestinian Authority of:

    “…inhumane practices and human rights violations.”

    - In 2013, blogger Anas Awwad – a critic of the PNA – was arrested and charged with “extending his tongue” against the policies of the PA and President Abbas. Similarly, Ismat Abdul-Khaleq – a lecturer at a university in the West Bank – was arrested for criticising Abbas. Hamas enforced the wearing of the headscarf for all women entering government buildings. The Palestinian Education Ministry is run by Osama al-Muzayni, on his watch, schools in Gaza City have begun teaching children to speak Hebrew as the “language of the enemy”. The BBC found that at one schools in Gaza City, whilst the girls were quick to speak of the enemy of Israel and learning the language so they’ll know if an individual Israeli wishes to harm them, only one in thirty of the girls had actually met an Israeli. As well as not trusting the Palestinian leadership with the liberal and secular civil rights of all, I do not trust them with respect for free expression of the opponents of their policies, nor with the educating of vulnerable minds away from perpetual conflict and hate.

    Palestinians are all who live on the land – regardless of gender, faith, ethnicity, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour – Palestinians are not a single religion or a single sect of a religion or a single history. Nor are adherents to one single religion inherently privileged above others. Nor is adherence to one particular religion enough to qualify those believers to legislate and punish others according to its dictates whilst enshrining their own privileg. For me it is simple; there can only be the illusion of human and civil rights, unless a constituted Palestinian state protects all, and privileges none. Palestinians have the right to self determination and a state of their own, with secure boarders and protected civil rights free from fear. Palestinians have a right to a state. Islam doesn’t.


    A brief history of Independence Day.

    July 4, 2014

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
    - The Declaration of Independence.

    Alongside being the day that I make my American friends take to Skype to recite the Pledge, July 4th is one of the most recognisable dates in history, with what appears to be a straight forward narrative. The day the colonies declared independence from Great Britain, with a finely crafted and beautifully worded document owing to the genius of Thomas Jefferson, and enshrining the liberty of all in one meaningful sentence. Those months between January and July 4th 1776 are both intriguing and surprising. Intriguing, for the political wrangling that took place, and surprising, in that July 4th wasn’t the date that independence was declared at all.

    It was late in December 1775 that Parliament pushed the colonies one step further on the path to independence, by prohibiting trade with the new world. Until then, most colonial leaders had hoped that reconciliation would be achievable by the end of 1776. The prohibition on trade, turned the tide entirely, and by July 1776 there existed 90 localised independence movements throughout the colonies, with instructions given to their delegation in the Continental Congress to declare independence. The first to take note of this growing voice for independence (largely taking root since the January publication of Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense’) was the ever revolutionary Virginia convention, who on May 15th in Williamsburg declared:

    “…the Delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the Crown or Parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this colony to such a declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances, and a Confederation of the Colonies.”

    - Having received this instruction, Richard Lee of Virginia proposed independence to the Congress on June 7th. It was a revolutionary act, and one that wasn’t going to be easy to proceed with. It was the first official call to the colonies to gather and declare independence. Indeed, Congress agreed to halt a vote on independence whilst delegations from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey traveled back to their colonial assemblies to gather support for independence. It was going to be a tough sell, given that Pennsylvania had elected a new assembly that was not in support of independence.

    John Dickinson; a delegate from Delaware refused to support independence when the vote came up on July 1st. He believed that the states should complete a Constitutional framework first, secure foreign aid second, and only then should independence be declared. His refusal to vote left Delaware in deadlock between Thomas McKean – favouring independence – and George Read – favouring reconciliation for Britain. Hearing there was deadlock, Caesar Rodney – also from Delaware – incredibly raced 70 miles through the night and through a thunderstorm to arrive at the State House in Philadelphia to add his vote to McKean’s and thus add Delaware to the list of those voting Yes on independence. Anti-independence sentiment in Delaware was strong enough to disapprove of Rodney’s actions, to the point in which he lost his seat for Kent County for the new Delaware General Assembly. But on July 2nd 1776, it set off a chain of events that would go down in history.

    Now that Delaware had joined with the voices of independence, South Carolina soon followed on the same day. John Dicksinson of Delaware was also a delegate for Pennsylvania, and his abstention along with fellow Pennsylvania delegate Robert Morris, meant that Pennsylvania now voted 3-2 in favour of independence. New York abstained (though finally announced their support for independence on July 15th). Independence had now been declared by 12 of the 13 colonies, on July 2nd 1776. The Pennsylvania Gazette the next morning, on July 3rd 1776 wrote:

    “Yesterday, the CONTINENTAL CONGRESS declared the UNITED COLONIES FREE and INDEPENDENT STATES.”

    - Indeed, John Adams was so excited by the declaration, that he wrote to his wife Abigail, that July 2nd would forever live in the memory of America as the day independence was declared:

    “The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

    - Two days later, on July 4th, the wording of the Declaration – originally penned by Thomas Jefferson in June, and subject to several revisions and amendments – was approved and sent to publication. Contrary to our imagined scene in which all the delegates sign the Declaration together in Philadelphia on July 4th, the document wasn’t signed by the delegates until August 2nd. The date of July 4th was preserved in history, because it appears on the final draft of the declaration, rather than the date that independence was actually declared, which was July 2nd. Further, the first independence day celebration, was July 8th 1776, when Philadelphia threw a parade and street party for the new independent colonies.

    The scenes of mass jubilation and celebration were not present in the early years after independence. It was only with the new Democratic Party and the Whig Party, following the decline of the Federalist Party (not too keen on the wording of the Declaration), that July 4th started to become a big national day of celebration, largely due to renewed interest in Thomas Jefferson. Both the Whigs and The Democrats – having split from the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans – based themselves to some degree on Jefferson’s ideas. Both of the new main parties promoted July 4th as a day to celebrate, as homage to a man they considered their own. It’s also perhaps worth noting that July 4th took on an even greater degree of importance, when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – the second and third Presidents – died on the same day, in the same year, fifty years after the approval of the Declaration that they both helped to draw up… on July 4th 1826.

    Happy July 4th, to all of my American readers!


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