Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Nick Cohen

The lengthy Realism on Syria:

Future generations will despise us for this politics

The same politics we applied with the rise of Nazism

When the people of the future look back at our time, there will be much wringing of hands at the west’s failure to stop the slaughter in Syria.

Liberal writers will bewail our “guilt” and “shame” (bewailing is what we liberals are best at, after all).

Readers will pat themselves on the back and say that they would never have behaved as we behaved; just as we look back on the Second World War and imagine we would never have collaborated if the Nazis had invaded.

Najat Rizk shared a link.
Even as hundreds of thousands of Syrians flee their homeland, western powers refuse to address the root cause for their flight|By Nick Cohen

By 2015, the Syrian civil war had lasted longer than the First World War.

Hundreds of thousands had died and 11 million had been driven from their homes, four million of them as refugees to foreign lands. (Out of a total population of 20 million)

On the one side was Bashar al-Assad, chief capo in a hereditary tyranny.

He joined Saddam Hussein in becoming one of only two leaders to have used chemical weapons against civilians since the end of the Second World War. (ISIS has been using chemical weapons for years now, and the US is still not serious about stopping these attacks)

In 2013, Barack Obama, the leader of the free world, no less, boomed: “What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way?”

He then looked the other way. As did the British Labour party, which joined with the Tory right in defeating David Cameron’s attempt to punish Assad.

On the other side is Islamic State.

If you want a comparison to shame you, consider that at least 700 religious fanatics have left Britain to rape, murder and enslave in Syria at a time when the British government was pulling every trick it could think of to stop Syrians fleeing rape, murder and enslavement finding asylum here.

Here is a taste of the condemnations we can expect from the future.

Western leaders interpreted the “silence” about the massacres in Syria “as an indicator of public indifference”. They reasoned that they “would incur no costs” if they did nothing, but “face steep risks if they intervened”.

(Should have intervened against the Nousra Front of Al Qaeda in Syria, before Daesh got the upper hand)

For all their cries of “never again”, they accepted genocide and pretended it had nothing to do with them.

Except those quotes are from the past not the future. They come from Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a bleak account, published in 2003, of how from the Turkish massacre of the Armenians through to Saddam’s genocide of the Kurds, the unwritten rule of the US State Department was that America should look the other way.

I was hugely impressed by her breadth of scholarship, how she showed that it was always unpopular to state clearly that Armenians, Jews, Cambodians, Kurds, Bosniaks and Tutsis were victims of the greatest of crimes; how there were always authoritative voices warning us against “overreaction” and insisting that the situation was more complicated than it seemed.

Those who blew the whistle lost their jobs but in their determination to speak out, they proved the truth of George Bernard Shaw’s maxim: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him… The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself… All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Obama was impressed too. He made Power America’s UN ambassador, where together they became reasonable – depressingly, shamefully, criminally reasonable – and stood by as the Syrian massacres escalated.

For understandable reasons, a half-truth became established during the presidency of George W Bush: America was the main source of conflict on the planet. If it stepped back and refused to intervene, the “root cause” of violence would vanish. Obama and Powers have tested that theory to destruction.

They have shown that, when the west does not intervene, other powers do.

Russia and Iran have ruthlessly pursued their national interest in keeping Assad in power: Iran because it wants a client Shia state; Russia because it wants to keep its Mediterranean base and show the world that no one messes with Putin.

No one in the west, or, rather, no one but the reckless, wanted an invasion of Syria. (Invasion? Didn’t learn from Iraq and Viet Nam? No other political alternatives?

They wanted no-fly zones and safe havens. A few realised that the Kurds had as much right to a state as the Palestinians and wanted western support for a Kurdistan, not least because the Kurds were doing most of the fighting against Islamic State.

They’ve got nothing.

The Kurds are now being attacked by our Nato ally Turkey. Safe havens remain a fantasy. And while western air forces are bombing Isis in a desultory war that seems to be doing no good at all, they allow Assad to drop barrel bombs on Syrian civilians.

Although Cameron has behaved more honourably than Labour, and has clearly agonised over the Syrian crisis, his agonies have not extended to providing the money our dilapidated armed forces would need to intervene.

Before power made her “reasonable”, Samantha Power knew why: western electorates don’t care. The mood in Britain in particular is now isolationist: anti-immigrant, anti-intervention, anti any measure that does not put “our own people first”.

I see no sign that the flood of refugees fleeing into Europe is changing minds. Liberals rightly criticise Cameron for not allowing enough into Britain, but hardly any have shown that they have the smallest inclination to tackle the “root cause” of their flight.

Now western governments hint that they are about to commit the final treason. They will either drop their demands that the butcher Assad must go or, more probably, quietly accept that he is a man they must do business with.

There’s an old argument between supporters of an ethical and of a “realist” foreign policy, but it does not arise on this occasion. The Sunni people of Syria will not turn on Isis so they can suffer again at the hands of a man responsible for gassing their families.

Isis will be able to say – with justice – that the west wants to turn you over to Shia, Hezbollah and Iranian militias. It will be able to say, again with truth, that the west is now the de facto ally of an Iran that wants to encircle and oppress you.

Sometimes, the ethical is also realistic: dealing with Assad is never going to work.

(Not dealing with Assad is the root of all the catastrophe. Now, after the failure of uprooting Assad, they want to discuss and dialogue with him. But the damage is done. And million of refugees will keep on the move to somewhere)





Overcoming fear? Spread  of self-censorship? Aftermath of French weekly Charlie Hebdo attack

No one can overcome fear: We just submit to the belief that bad actions hit the neighbors.

Almost all victories were the result of submitting to fear. And that is why terror activities have been the preferred currency throughout history.

We have a blasphemy law. No electorate has approved it. No parliament has passed it. No judge supervises its application and no jury determines guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

There’s no right of appeal. And the penalty is death.

It is enforced not by a police bound by codes of conduct, but by a fear that dare not speak its name; a cowardice so total it lacks the courage to admit it is afraid.

We take on the powerful – and ask you to admire our bravery – only if they are not a paramilitary force that may kill us.

The British are the world’s worst cowards. It is one thing to say you don’t approve of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons.

But the BBC, Channel 4 and many newspapers won’t run any images of Mohammad whatsoever. They would at least have acknowledged censorship if they had announced that they were frightened of attacks on their staff. They would have clung to a remnant of their honour if they had said: “We are not censoring out of respect. We loathe the murderers who enforce their taboos with Kalashnikovs. But we do not want to spend years living in hiding, as Salman Rushdie did.

Or be stabbed in the street, as Theo van Gogh was. Or hear an Islamist smash at our door with an axe and cry: “We will get our revenge,” – as Kurt Westergaard did. So we are backing away.”

Admittedly, an honest admission that terror works would shred the pretence that journalists are fearless speakers of truth to power. (Before the invasion of the US of Afghanistan and then to Iraq, the western journalist were bold because they felt secure of terrorist attacks. The done has changed as resentment skyrocketed)

But it would be a small gesture of solidarity. It would say to everyone, from Pakistani secularists murdered for opposing theocratic savagery, to British parents worried sick that their boys will join Islamic State, that radical Islam is a real fascistic force.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen in the street.

The Charlie Hebdo gunmen in the street. Photograph: Anne Gelbard/AFP/Getty Images

Instead, most journalists have lived a lie for years, as have many in the arts, academia and comedy. We take on the powerful – and ask you to admire our bravery – if, and only if, the powerful are not a paramilitary force that may kill us.

The mass murder of cartoonists and police officers at Charlie Hebdo, and the attacks on Jews, which revive so many foul memories of European fascism, will change our world – almost certainly for the worst. Unless we find the courage to overcome fear, the self-censorship will spread, and not only in the media.

Colleagues who wanted historians at a London museum to talk about the long history of depictions of Muhammad in Islamic art last week were met with panicking press officers trying to shut them up.

Historian Tom Holland, who received death threats after he challenged the creation myths of Islam, said: “I cannot think of any other area of history where debate is so nervous.” He hopes that historians will continue to say that the Koran was a manmade creation, but doubts that journalists will be keen to take their work to the public.

(All books are manmade, and all religious stories are myths, and that is regardless of what people says, and it is totally pointless to play the smart-ass disseminating the obvious)

This is not a small capitulation. In the 19th century, the textual criticism of German scholars revealed that the supposed word of God in the Bible was a mess of competing stories. It did as much damage to Christianity and Judaism as Darwinism.

Anyone hoping to repeat the exercise by taking apart the Koran and the hadiths today will be restrained by the fear that they will end up as dead as satirists who try to do the same with anti-clerical humour.

My friend and comrade Maajid Nawaz was a jihadi before he converted to liberalism and understands the totalitarian mind. He says that people still do not realise that radical Islamists do not just want to impose their taboos at gunpoint. They want to “create a civil war” so that European Muslims accept that they can only live in the caliphate; to encourage the rise of the white far-right so that ordinary coexistence becomes impossible. If they win one demand, as they are winning in Britain, then they will up the tension and move to another.

As soon as you look at demands rather than labels, the wall dividing extremists from the rest begins to crumble. Saudi Arabia is Britain’s trusted partner and ally. It receives vast quantities of armaments and in turn pumps propaganda into British mosques and universities.

As Paris looked like a war zone, it flogged the Saudi liberal Raif Badawi for insulting Islam. At least they did not kill him, you might say. But if the religious courts had found him guilty of apostasy – that is, of taking the adult decision to abandon the religion of his childhood – the sentence would have been death.

European liberals ought to have stopped, as the lash fell on Badawi’s shoulders, and wondered about their queasiness at criticising the religions of the “powerless”and “marginalised”. The Saudi Arabian monarchy is all too powerful, as are the other dictatorships of the Middle East. Power depends on where you stand and who stands below you.

The unemployed man with the gun is more powerful than the Parisian journalist. The marginal cleric may have a hard life, but if he sits in a sharia court imposing misogynist rules on British Muslim women he is to be feared.

European liberals might try to be true to their principles and ally with dissidents, liberals, leftists and free thinkers within Muslim communities. They might help ex-Muslims who fear that one day they will be murdered for apostasy. They might reflect that a Muslim man will encounter xenophobia from the right, but they will hear no rigorous criticism at university or other leftist institutions of the sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia and bloodlust of militant religion.

Self-interest ought to be a motivator. Fear of radical Islam is not only driving support for the National Front in France and Ukip here, but providing an excuse for more attacks on civil liberties, including, despite David Cameron’s pious words after Charlie Hebdo, attacks on freedom of speech.

I hope I am wrong, but I cannot see a culture shift on this necessary scale happening. I fear we must look forward to a lying and frightened future.

Note: Time to bypass religious ideology and mythical stories and let them die their slow death from lack of dissemination. Let us focus on the civil rights of people and extending opportunities for a better life.

Scale on the “abuse of migrant workers” in FIFA selection of World Cup sites?

Should FIFA start a revised procedure for the selection of World Cup locations?

Like, how the government will go about finishing the project and the cost in abuse of workers, humiliations and deprivation of the citizens during the preparation phase… And what the citizens benefit from all the investment and headaches they are subjected to for years?

With the European football association, Uefa, reaching the unavoidable conclusion that you cannot play competitive sport in the 50C heat of a Qatari summer, the way is clear for the international football association Fifa, to break with precedent and make a decision that does not seem corrupt or senseless or both.

Link to video: Qatar: the migrant workers forced to work for no pay in World Cup host country

In hosting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Fifa is choosing to ignore the abuse of migrant workers.

Nick Cohen published in the Observer this Sept. 21, 2013 :

How many more must die for Qatar’s World Cup?

All being well, the 2022 tournament will be held in the winter. Just one niggling question remains: how many lives will be lost so that the Fifa World Cup™ can live up to its boast that it is the most successful festival of sport on the planet?

“More workers will die building World Cup infrastructure than players will take to the field,” predicts Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Even if the teams in Qatar use all their substitutes, she is likely to be right.

Qatar, Cohen

Fans take their seats before 2009’s Brazil v England friendly in Doha, Qatar. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Qatar’s absolute monarchy, run by the fabulously rich and extraordinarily secretive Al Thani clan, no more keeps health and safety statistics than it allows free elections.

The Trade Union Confederation has had to count the corpses the hard way.

It found that 83 Indians have died so far this year.

The Gulf statelet was also the graveyard for 119 Nepalese construction workers.

With 202 migrants from other countries dying over the same 9 months, Ms Burrow is able to say with confidence there is at least one death for every day of the year.

The body count can only rise now that Qatar has announced that it will take on 500,000 more migrants, mainly from the Indian subcontinent, to build the stadiums, hotels and roads for 2022.

Not all the fatalities are on construction sites.

The combination of back-breaking work, nonexistent legal protections, intense heat and labour camps without air conditioning allows death to come in many guises.

To give you a taste of its variety, the friends of Chirari Mahato went online to describe how he would work from 6 am to 7 pm. He would return to a hot, non ventilated room he shared with 12 others.

Because Chirari Mahato died in his sleep, rather than on site, his employers would not accept that they had worked him to death.

There are millions of workers like him around the Gulf. When we gawp at the wealth that allows the Qatari royals to buy the Olympic Village and Chelsea Barracks, we miss their plight, and the strangeness of the oil rich states, too.

How to characterize them?

“Absolute monarchy” does not begin to capture a society such as Qatar, where migrants make up 99% of the private sector workforce.

Apartheid South Africa is a useful point of reference. The 225,000 Qatari citizens can form trade unions and strike. The roughly 1.8 million migrants cannot. Sparta also comes to mind. But instead of a warrior elite living off the labour of helots, we have plutocrats and sybarites sustained by faceless armies of disposable migrants.

The official justification for oppression is, as so often, religious.

Migrants and employers are bound by the kafala system – taken from Islamic law on the adoption of children. “Kafala” derives from “to feed”. Nourishment is the last thing the system provides, however.

The system delivers captive labour instead. Migrant workers cannot change jobs without their sponsoring employers’ consent. As Human Rights Watch says “if workers walk out, the employers – the adoptive parents – can say they have absconded and the authorities will arrest them”.

In order to leave Qatar, migrants must obtain an exit visa from their sponsor. This stipulation means that they can be held hostage if they threaten to sue over a breach of contract. Wouldn’t it make a bracing change if the religious leaders we hear condemning free speech as blasphemy so often could find the time to damn this exploitation?

It is not just poor construction workers who suffer.

One might expect that Fifa would have been concerned about the fate of foreign footballers working under kafala contracts. Abdeslam Ouaddou, who once played for Fulham, has warned players not to go near Qatar.

Speaking from experience – Abdeslam Ouaddou played for Qatar SC in the Qatari domestic league – he said that if a player is injured or his form drops, the club can break his contract. If the player goes to lawyers, the club (as “sponsor”) can refuse to let him leave the country until he drops his case.

Ouaddou got out of Qatar after much tortuous negotiation. But French player Zahir Belounis, a former captain of the team Al-Jaish, is trapped in the country with his family and hasn’t been paid for two years. When he went to the international press, he was threatened with defamation proceedings.

After promising the International Trade Union Confederation that it would ensure human rights were respected in Qatar, Fifa tells me that it is “promoting a dialogue” to ensure dignified working conditions. Sharan Burrow’s colleagues say all they hear is PR flam.

It is not just Qatar in 2022.

The corruption and waste around the 2014 World Cup has provoked riots in Brazil.

As for 2018, Putin’s Duma has already restricted the rights of workers preparing the stadiums for the World Cup.

Fifa strikes me as a decadent organisation in the political rather than literary meaning of the word. It is an institution whose behaviour contradicts all of its professed purposes.

If Fifa cared about football, it would not even have thought of staging a tournament in the Qatari summer.

If it cared about footballers, it would take up the case of Belounis.

And if it respected human life, it would say that the kafala system could not govern World Cup contracts.

I don’t know how much longer sports journalists can ignore the abuse Fifa tolerates.

The World Cup is overturning all the cliches. People say that “football is a matter of life or death”, said Bill Shankly. “It’s more important than that.” Shankly was joking. Qatar and Fifa appear to mean it.

Sport is “war minus the shooting“, said Orwell. There may not be any actual shooting in Qatar but workers will die nonetheless.

The quote that ought to haunt all who love football is CLR James‘s paraphrase of Kipling:

What do they know of cricket that only cricket know?” James was writing about how sport was bound up in the Caribbean with colonialism, race and class.

Anyone writing about the World Cup must also acknowledge that the beautiful game is now bound up with racial privilege, exploitation and the deaths of men, who should not be forgotten so readily.

Note: World Cup procedures are carbon copy of the wishes of extreme liberal capitalism that love to thrive in political systems such as practiced in Qatar, Saudi Arabia…




June 2023

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