Yesterday I attended the Mayor of London’s conference “A World Civilisation or a Clash of Civilisations” in London’s Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre (20/1/2007). Clearly the vast majority of the audience, which must have been at least 3 – 4,000, lived in London, although it would be difficult to imagine a place on earth not represented. I arrived a bit late.
I managed to get a fairly early train direct to Marylebone on the Chiltern line. It was, as is usual, exceptionally clean and very quiet. Takes a bit longer than London-Euston on Virgin, but you don’t get the claustrophobic feeling that you’re sitting in one of Branson’s airliners. The seats are more comfortable and spacious. There was a bit of panic on the tube. A large red suitcase was wobbling about by the door apparently unattended. A lady opposite with a walking stick attracted my attention by waving it at me and saying the luggage had been left. I leapt into action and was about to push the offending item onto the platform. Luckily I didn’t since its owner appeared from down the compartment to take charge and I was saved a deal of embarrassment.
At the conference centre I entered the room to find a large screen where Ken Livingstone was giving an introduction to the conference. There was no one at the microphone however. It turned out to be one of the two overflow halls. Livingstone, together with Councillor Salma Yaqoob, also from Birmingham, were speaking for the proposal with Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum and advisor to the Washington government on MIddle East Policy and Douglas Murray of the Social Affairs Unit, speaking against.
Pipes argued that “Islamists”, who were inherently right wing, were being supported by the left who were not recognising the danger they posed. He made a distinction between “Islamists” and Islam as those who held views that they wanted to see states with Sharia law opposing more “moderate” Islamic opinion. Quite where he drew the line was not clear however since he attacked Councillor Yaqoob’s position. I suppose he defined his outlook by citing an axis of opposition from Washington, London and Jerusalem. As I pointed out a short while ago, it appears Israel has an identity crisis concerning its geographical location, seeing itself as part of Europe rather than Asia where it actually is. There are clear racist undertones to this.
Yaqoob clearly articulated the difficulties Muslims faced given he way they were characterised. no one raised the issue of Christian fundamentalism and the idea of Armageddon which seeks to justify believers sacrificing their lives and taking others.
I managed to get to a preview of Banner Theatre’s latest production entitled “Strangers in Paradise Circus”. (19/1/2007). Although it’s about groups like the Kurdish people rather than for them, there were a number in the audience. The presentation involved a projection with comments responded to by the performers who were themselves from a number of different backgrounds. The material drew attention to the hardships imposed on people seeking asylum etc. It showed clearly the effects of homelessness and being without a job. One poignant moment was when a little girl spoke to her former classmates from Yarlswood Detention Centre. “No it wasn’t like detention at school” she said in answer to one of their questions. Go to see it of you can!
As with the Banner Theatre tradition hard social issues are confronted head on. It will be touring the country and their are two performances in Kings Norton in Birmingham, an area where there is currently a programme on dealing with racial harassment. The BNP have been active over recent years. A number of former Labour supporters moved in that direction I found when I interviewed them on the doorstep.
City Road Hospital in Birmingham and Sandwell Hospital have already joined together within the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital Trust, Now there are radical plans to rationalise services in the mid term with plans to build a new hospital on a new site in Sandwell between the two in the longer term. The Trust has embarked on a series of consultation meetings, although the impression left is that decisions have already been made.
The Birmingham Evening Mail set up a meeting at the Afro-Caribbean Millenium Centre last night (16/1/2007) with the difference that there were two panels with opposing views. About 200 people attended and most were unconvinced by the Chief Executive’s explanation. It appears that this is a top down exercise.
Some of those who worked at the hospitals, particularly the nearby City Hospital in Dudley Road, were critical of services which had already been cut. Facilities for children and young people have disappeared. Recent job losses have left people demoralised. Having waited in A and E for four hours for a young person to be admitted I had to wonder what was going on, particularly when the sign board was saying that waiting was due to a shortage of staff. The presentation announced the building of new up-to-date facilities (no dissent on that) but there appeared to be uncertainty of what could be provided given the budget available.
Barack Obama is to announce his candidacy for the Democratic Party following his rise in popularity. This makes him a front runner alongside Hilary Clinton. Clinton’s support for the Iraq War in 2002 is noted so Obama’s consistent opposition makes him appealing to many people.
Obama is amazed at the way his support has grown. His visit to Kenya, his father’s place of origin, showed that his popularity is confined to the U.S. His two books have given him a high profile, although a reference to trying drugs raised some controversy.
BAE is once again in the headline news. Following the report on the deal to Tanzania which was both costly and unnecessary, there is now great concern over the stopping of an enquiry into a deal with Saudi Arabia. Blair once again comes off very badly confirming him to be a war monger.
One aspect of the war in Iraq wa that it would bring huge business opportunities for U.S. companies. It was the U.S. that supplied the deadly cluster bombs used by Israel in the Lebanon. It was remarked that if the Israelis had used their own they would have been more reliable in detonating on contact rather than lie around killing and maiming civilians. It seems that BAE leaned on Blair with the argument that an enquiry would jeopardise important contracts. The argument used was that British national security would be put at risk. This was supported by Lord Goldsmith, but the Head of MI6 is now refusing to endorse this view.
One way the so-called developed world can stay wealthy, and afford to pollute the planet as if there is no tomorrow, is to sell unnecessary things to those who can least afford it. Tanzania has been sold a military radar system which it doesn’t need at an inflated price. According to the Guardian lead article Blair supported while Clare Short and Gordon Brown opposed the deal.
“Yesterday’s admissions by the Tanzanian middleman, Sailesh Vithlani, led Ms Short to call for BAE’s prosecution if the allegations were proved. She said the prime minister had been personally responsible for forcing the licence for the Tanzania deal through the cabinet.
‘No 10 insisted on letting this go ahead, when it stank,’ she said. “It was always obvious that this useless project was corrupt. ‘ “
Last night I attended an Eid Party at the Fulham Road Mosque in the Sparkhill district of Birmingham. I met old friends, including a respected teacher who was a former colleague. Lord Ahmed was the Guest of Honour. At the last celebration Lynne Jones M.P. and Roger Godsiff M.P. attended. Last night the newly appointed Bishop of Birmingham was unable to attend but sent his representative. The main thrust of the evening was interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians. A local head teacher brought some children from a local primary school who sang some devotional songs.
One speaker happened to mention that Channel 4 had been around and the Fulham Road Mosque was to be one of the subjects of its Dispatches programme on Monday evening (15/1/2006). I don’t know everyone there, but I did speak to some who were members of the Mosque. One was a businessman who had been working in the area for many years and declared that all he was interested in was being able to practice the faith that helped his everyday life.
So was this a hotbed of “terrorism” to which I had come? The term, although quite unspecific in its meaning, can be turned to mean virtually anything that journalists or politicians want it to mean. It has a purpose of inducing an irrational fear of a supposed threat. Al Qaeda undoubtedly exists, but whether it did as a significant force before it was constructed for political reasons is very doubtful. Now there is a danger of it becoming a synonym for a group of people who are extremely vulnerable in our society.
While Bush and Blair are said to be isolated, they still wield power. Substantial power judging by the fact that Bush is able to dictate the sending of extra troops to Iraq, to threaten Iran and at the same time bomb Somalia. Oxfam claim that many tribespeople have lost their lives. There is yet to be evidence presented that the al Qaeda people targeted were killed.
The death toll of Iraqis in 2006 has been estimated as 22,950, while the number of U.S. troops has reached 3,000 over the entire conflict. No wonder the author Baghdad Burning says all that matters now that they dodge bullets, car bombs and kidnappers. Reconstruction pales into insignificance if you can’t keep safe and secure.
Today in Iraq gives a blow by blow account of what’s happening as PNN records the Palestinian experience. Now both the United Nations and the European Union have called on Iraq not to go ahead with further hangings.
It seems doubtful if anyone will listen to reason, even though the execution of Saddam Hussain has been described as a lynching by his political opponents in a number of press articles.
Going to work shouldn’t be too much of a problem, although the traffic might be dreadful or the train cancelled. If you are Palestinian and work in Haifa, a once Palestinian coastal city, life is not so simple. You run the risk of being beaten up and arrested for your trouble.
The PNN News Network reports:
“Palestinian workers who comprise part of the low-wage Israeli labor force are subjected to brutality as they try to reach work, in their places of employment, and are often arrested.
Israeli police arrested 60 Palestinian workers on Saturday inside Israeli boundaries under the pretext of being there without permits. The workers were employed in the former Palestinian coastal city of Haifa. They were arrested, banned from work for one month, and fined 5,000 shekels. But first they were severely beaten.”
If you are an Israeli citizen but Arab, life in Haifa may not be so simple either as Uri Avnery points out in his column. Falling in love and marrying the wrong person can be problematic to say the least. Such is the inhumane treatment legalised by the Israeli Government for its citizens. (“What Makes Sammy Run?”)
John MacDonnell finally managed to get to Birmingham yesterday (4/1/2007) when he spoke at a meeting organised by BTUC. He appealed for a party which was a coalition of more than one faction, a situation which had come about under New Labour engineered by Blair, Mandelson and Brown and underlined in John Reid’s speech. John Smith had put into practice appointing a Cabinet from a wide coalition. (I believe though that he didn’t have too much time for the likes of Mandelson).
As with us in Birmingham, John MacDonnell worked tirelessly against the Thatcher Tory government, but it wasn’t to see endless privatisation or reckless foreign policy. He acknowledged Blair was now saying we needed a broad coalition, but that was far from what he was practising. He saw an irony in the misadventure of Iraq, which was likely to be Blair’s legacy, instead of recognising the effort he had made in Northern Ireland to bring about a settlement there.
Questions were asked about Labour Party membership, which has declined sharply. Instead of branches functioning with members providing resolutions to conference, they were lectured on what to do and say. At party conference members were given texts to read out – they acted in a way that “even Stalin would have been embarrassed!”