3rd December, 2010

The impact of the WikiLeaks revelations

by Sunny at 3:51 pm    

This article by Richard Adams lists seven key lessons so far from ‘cable-gate’:

1. Silvio Berlusconi ‘profited from secret deals’ with Vladimir Putin
Yes, we may have known that these two men were close – but this is the first time allegations of financial ties have surfaced, with Putin allegedly giving Berlusconi a cut of energy contracts.

2. The US pressured Spain over CIA rendition and Guantánamo
The extraordinary tale of how the Bush administration threatened Spain to leave off its prosecutions over the US’s use of torture – and how senior Spanish legal officials connived with the US to help them.

3. US diplomats spied on the UN’s leadership
The shocking news that the US state department, acting on a wishlist drawn up by the CIA, asked its diplomats to obtain credit card accounts, email addresses, mobile phone numbers and even the DNA of UN officials, a possible breach of international law.

4. The scale of Afghan corruption is overwhelming
Even knowing that there was widespread corruption is no preparation for the magnitude of it, suggesting the US has a hopeless task in Afghanistan.

5. Hillary Clinton queried Cristina Kirchner’s mental health
A hugely damaging revelation in Argentina, straining relations with the US after the cables revealed an official request to find out if the country’s president was on “medication” and how she dealt with stress.

6. The Bank of England governor played backroom politics
Mervyn King faced calls for his resignation and a very uncomfortable position after he was revealed to be advising the Conservatives on fiscal policy while denigrating them in secret to US diplomats.

7. The British government remains in thrall to the US
Over Diego Garcia, over an international cluster munitions ban, over using British bases for rendition and spying flights, the British authorities were either ignored, manipulated or co-opted.

  • People going on about how ‘tedious’ or unsurprising these revelations are simply not even worth bothering with at this point. They just illustrate their own lack of knowledge on what’s come out so far. A German minister has now also resigned after admitting to acting as a mole for the US embassy during negotiations to form a government.

    Plus – Foreign contractors hired Afghan ‘dancing boys’, WikiLeaks cable revealscompletely irrelevant I’m sure you’ll agree.

  • The worrying developments in the way that Amazon and other companies are relenting to US pressure and dropping WikiLeaks hosting.
  • Earlier, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that nobody has died because of WikiLeaks
  • Also – Index on Censorship is doing very well in leading the way on what this means for free speech.
  • Filed under: Civil liberties
    21st November, 2010

    Labour change policy on detention without trial

    by Rumbold at 8:42 pm    

    In a welcome shift, Ed Balls, the shadow home secretary, has abandoned support for Labour’s policy of detaining terror suspects for up to forty two days without trial:

    A major policy shift on the length of time terror suspects can be held without charge was signalled by Labour today, after the shadow home secretary said he could support cutting the limit to 14 days.

    Ed Balls said that the party was ready to abandon backing for the current 28-day limit, which was introduced by the Labour government in 2006, and added that previous plans to raise this to 42 days had been “a step too far”.

    Some credit for this shift should also go the Coalition. During Labour’s time in power, there was a drive to appear ‘tougher’ than the opposition: harsh measures were in part enacted for populist reasons so as to play to the tabloid gallery, with the other parties at risk of looking elitist and soft if they ‘sacrificed the safety of the British people’ for the legal rights of terrorists by opposing new laws. Since the Coalition government came to power (thanks mainly the the Liberal Democrats), this posturing has ceased, and civil liberties have come to the fore again. This meant Labour have had to shift their policies to avoid looking too extreme.

    15th November, 2010

    Yasmin A-B won’t be pressing charges over Tweet

    by Sunny at 6:12 pm    

    Writing in her Independent column today, the columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says:

    Some crazed demons on Twitter believe anything goes. Written words matter and hold meanings beyond that narcissistic urge to send off instant thoughts. The Tory councillor who sent out a vile and scary message about me says it was a joke.

    After some thought I decided I will not press charges. My objections have been made and there is no need for more.

    I’m pleased by this, and said earlier that it was a bad idea. Whether the CPS decides to take this further is up to them. But at least Yasmin has washed her hands off the affair.

    As I said earlier – she didn’t report it to the police either, though they had to take it seriously. Yasmin gets a lot of death threats, and while I sympathise with the desire to punish people who make idle threats, it wasn’t a good idea in this case because of the huge free speech implications.

    Filed under: Civil liberties
    30th October, 2010

    Neo-con asks why Julian Assange isn’t dead yet

    by Sunny at 4:44 am    

    Jonah Goldberg is a regular contributor to Fox News, editor-at-large of National Review Onlien (right-wing US mag) and one of those highly rabid neo-conservatives. In an article for the Chicago Tribune, he asks: Why is Assange still alive?.

    These people stop at nothing in order to silence anyone who exposes their projects (the Iraq war) as one massive scandal.

    26th October, 2010

    Writer Arundhati Roy threatened with arrest for ‘sedition’; English PEN speaks out

    by Sunny at 7:40 pm    

    Update: I’ve changed the headline from ‘arrested’. That was my mistake.
    News reports from India state that Roy, the author of the Booker Prize winning novel The God of Small Things, will be arrested and charged with ‘sedition’ over comments she made on Kashmir.

    In statement issued to news organisations and campaigners (reproduced below), Roy claims she said only “what millions of people here say every day” and that her comments against India’s operations in Kashmir were made in support of her fellow countrymen.
    Lisa Appignanesi, President of English PEN, said:

    Since June, Kashmiri journalists and broadcasters attempting to report on unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir have been subject to violence and gagging.

    Booker Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy has now stepped forward to draw the world’s attention to the plight of Kashmiris. The truth of what is happening in Kashmir needs to be told. Brutality by the state, and the silencing of reporters, is no option for a modern India.

    The author Hari Kunzru said:

    I’m concerned to hear that Arundhati Roy may face sedition charges. India trumpets its status as the world’s largest democracy, but the Indian establishment is notoriously unwilling to listen to dissident voices. Whether or not one agrees with Roy’s positions on Kashmir or the Maoist insurgency in Central India, the issues she raises are important and deserve to be debated. The willingness by elements of the Indian establishment to use the legal system to intimidate critics is lamentable. India’s writers are an important part of the nation’s identity on the international stage. Supporting their right to free speech goes hand in hand with applauding them when they win the Booker prize. One is meaningless without the other.

    Laws of ‘sedition’ (criticising the state) are routinely used by governments all around the world to threaten critics of official policy and state actions. In former British colonies, these are based on archaic English laws. Last year, English PEN campaigned successfully to ensure the remnants of such laws were removed from the English statute books, but elsewhere in the Commonwealth they remain law.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Civil liberties,India
    25th October, 2010

    Tories are for debating white extremists, but not Muslim ones

    by Sunny at 10:22 am    

    Most Tories say they’re against the ‘no-platform’ stance with extremists like the BNP. They put up Baroness Warsi against Nick Griffin on BBC Question Time even though Labour MPs like Peter Hain refused to share a platform with the BNP.

    Their reasoning is that white extremists should be debated rather than shunned, otherwise the problem gets worse. And debating solves everything, right?

    But you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s one rule for white extremists and another rule for Muslims. The Observer reported yesterday that David Cameron has banned Baroness Warsi from attending the Global Peace and Unity event organised by the Islam Channel. Since it’s the IC, you can expect some Muslim extremists to also be part of the proceedings. But the Tories don’t want them to be debated. Neither does Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome – who previously argued that we should debate the BNP.

    Oh, bloggers at Harry’s Place are also applauding this decision, but they gave up any pretence on having equal standards on free speech ages ago.

    As I’ve documented before – this hypocrisy of neo-conservatives, on the left and right, crops up regularly. Tories are against racial profiling when it’s to encourage equality in representation, but for it when arguing for black and Asian men to be stopped and searched. They want to allow white extremists like Geert Wilders coming into this country, but not Muslim ones like al-Qaradawi. They wouldn’t like white extremist groups like the BNP to be banned, but happy to advocate for groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir to be banned.

    I don’t suppose it makes the heads of these ideologues explode with irony and hypocrisy, but you’d think at least government ministers who claim to care for free speech and civil liberties engage their brains a bit more. For the record: I’m not fussed either way – what pisses me off is the double-standards. Either say you’re going to debate all extremists, or don’t share a platform with any.

    Filed under: Civil liberties,Media
    24th October, 2010

    A school that forces women to wear the niqab is attacking tolerance

    by guest at 8:15 pm    

    by Tehmina Kazi from British Muslims for Secular Democracy

    The website of the Madani Girls School in Tower Hamlets is replete with slogans about “educating for an Islamic life.” Amidst all the glittering reports of a 100% pass rate at GCSE, and a recent OFSTED inspection where inspectors praised the school for the “motivated staff and the enthusiastic and polite nature of the pupils,” one section lies conspicuously blank: school uniform policy.

    This school – as well as the Jameah Al Kauthar in Lancaster and Jameah Girls’ Academy in Leicester – came under fire this weekend for insisting that all girls must wear a niqab (face-veil) when travelling to and from school.

    The Sunday Telegraph, having captured the Madani Girls School uniform policy before it was removed from their website, confirmed: “The present uniform conforms to the Islamic Code of dressing. Outside the school, this comprises of the black Burka and Niqab.”

    Nobody is calling the school’s outstanding results into question; they go some way towards justifying the £1,900-a-year fees that parents have to pay (in cold, hard cash as opposed to cheques, which the school refuses to accept).

    It goes without saying that tolerance is a two-way street, which is why an absolute ban on niqab in public spaces was always going to be a bad idea.

    However, it is disingenuous for niqab advocates to use the language of choice and empowerment when advocating their religious freedoms, then to deny these same concepts to young girls in the same breath. It is one thing for a mature adult to make a decision about covering her face in public, but quite another to impose a face-covering onto girls as young as eleven.

    Continue Reading...

    Asian journo faces £1m libel case over article

    by Sunny at 6:01 am    

    This from a press release
    At the High Court in London this week, Lady Justice Smith granted Indian national ‘His Holiness Sant Baba Jeet Singh ji Maharaj’ the right to appeal in his libel case against British journalist Hardeep Singh. The case will now go before three judges at the Court of Appeal to decide whether it should proceed to a full trial.

    Hardeep Singh said: “I’ve been fighting this case for three years already; this adds a minimum of another six months of torment. If I lose, it will cost me over £1 million, let alone my costs so far and a tenth of my life. This feels like the biggest game of poker you can possibly play: all for exercising my right to free expression.”

    He added: “I’m hoping the government take reform of our libel laws seriously and we get a robust bill in the New Year.”

    Mike Harris from Index on Censorship said: “When individuals like Hardeep Singh risk £1million and bankruptcy all for a single newspaper article, it really hits home how important libel reform is. I hope the government backs the Libel Reform Campaign’s call for wholesale reform of our libel laws so free speech is protected.”

    Síle Lane from Sense About Science said: ‘Change in the libel laws cannot come soon enough. Singh’s case highlights that the laws as they stand are unfair, unduly costly, out of date and against the public interest. Until we have a clear, strong public interest defence against libel actions writers, bloggers, NGOs and journalists will be forced to back down in the face of threats.’

    The case centres on an article that Hardeep Singh wrote in August 2007 for the Sikh Times, a British newspaper, in which he claimed that Jeet Singh was an “accused Cult leader” whose teachings were not in line with mainstream Sikh doctrine. In May 2010 Mr Justice Eady threw the case out with no right to appeal.

    Eady’s judgment held that secular courts should not make a judgment on a religious dispute. This week’s application for appeal was granted on the limited basis that there are arguable issues in Singh’s article that do not tread on the forbidden area of doctrinal dispute.

    Filed under: Civil liberties,Media
    29th September, 2010

    Barbaric regime jails blogger for twenty years

    by Rumbold at 11:17 am    

    A prominent blogger in Iran has been jailed for nineteen and a half years by the Iranian regime:

    Readers of the Guardian’s news section may have seen that Hossein Derakhshan, the prominent Iranian blogger, has been jailed for 19 and a half years by a court in Tehran.

    Derakhshan, who also has Canadian citizenship, was apparently convicted of “co-operation with hostile countries, spreading propaganda against the establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups, insulting Islamic thought and religious figures and managing obscene websites”.

    This continues the trend for Iran’s regime in handing out vicious and/or lengthy punishments to people who cross it, migrants or women.

    27th September, 2010

    Releasing extremists

    by Rumbold at 11:54 pm    

    An expert on Islamist prison radicalism is bemoaning the dominant strategy of those jailed for terrorism-related offences, in response to the head of MI5 warning about the dangers of soon to be released terrorists/terrorist supporters:

    Rehabilitation is not the main priority of the British prison system. However, during my research, in the case of prisoners convicted of terrorist offences, it was not even taken into consideration. Rather, intense surveillance, sometimes to the limit of removing the prisoner’s human rights, and in some prisons, abuse by the other inmates (and in some cases prison officers) were often the norm rather than the exception…

    The former government, as I explain in my book, made an enormous effort to show that radicalisation within prisons was controlled and the mass media reports of Muslim radicalisation behind bars were addressed. Yet it did not care about the future of prisoners or about the issues less covered by the media, such as re-integration.

    Prisoners who still pose a danger to wider society are always a thorny issue, especially as it is draconian to continue to hold them after they have served their sentences, unless new and concrete evidence is presented in a court of law. Yet many of those released are unlikely to have softened their views of the British state or society, so what can be done? The system needs to be reformed, but what about those being released now? Certainly non-EU citizens should be deported, whilst the others should be watched initially, but without any other interference in their liberties (unless they are being released early under specified bail conditions).

    (Hat-tip: Naadir Jeewa )

    19th September, 2010

    Suddenly Nick Cohen realises counter-terrorism laws can be abused

    by Sunny at 11:22 am    

    Nick Cohen actually has a good article in the Observer today (no, I’m not joking!) about the so-called Twitter trial. Read the whole thing, though this bit caught my eye specifically:

    Beyond the law lies the politics. The hounding of Paul Chambers stinks of Labour authoritarianism. The prosecuting authorities showed no respect for free speech. They could not take a joke. They carried on prosecuting Chambers even when they knew he was harmless. They turned a trifle into a crime because a conviction helped them hit performance targets. Inside their bureaucratic hierarchies, it was dangerous to speak out against a superior’s stupidity. Better to let an injustice take place than risk a black mark against your name.

    What surprises me is that anyone thought it was going to turn out any other way.

    I’ve opposed most anti-terrorism legislation precisely because it had the potential (and likelihood) of being abused to get anyone the police did not like. They used it to stop protests during the pro-Tibetan rally in London; they’ve used these laws against environmental protesters for years.

    But Nick Cohen and his mates were adamant that Islamists represented the biggest threat to western civilisation ever, and so the extra vigilance was necessary.

    This is the same Nick Cohen who said that terrorist suspects should be deported even if there was a chance they’d be tortured, remember?

    The French, being French, don’t have taboos. They just do what’s in their national interest.

    I’m pretty sure ‘national interest’ is invoked by the police when asking for these increasingly draconian anti-terror laws.

    And here’s a more recent article where he says:

    Most of the British do not behave as if they are at war. Every third-rate political pundit has ruled that we cannot say that we are in a “war on terror”. Meanwhile, politicians will not allow us to say that we are in a “war against radical Islam” because they have to pretend that religion does not motivate religious extremists.

    We’re at war people. And what happens when we’re at war? Yes, the executive usually ask for extra powers and justify excessive force in the name of national security.

    It’s quite amusing to see a columnist who helped in raising the temperature through his rhetoric is now lamenting that the anti-terror laws that came as a result are a bastard.

    Filed under: Civil liberties
    15th September, 2010

    American church in Memphis welcomes neighbouring Islamic Centre

    by Jai at 11:45 am    

    As is now known worldwide, there has been a huge amount of publicity about the now-cancelled “Quran-burning” by Terry Jones, a pastor in Florida who not only attempted to link his own anti-Islam agenda to the ongoing “Ground Zero Mosque” issue involving Park51/Cordoba House in New York, but also views Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism as being literally “from the Devil”. In fact, if he’d wanted to “send a message to radical Islam” as he’d claimed, it would have made far more sense for him to burn a bonfire of photos of Osama bin Laden instead. It’s also worth remembering that by far the largest numbers of victims of Islamist militants have actually been ordinary Muslims; tens of thousands have been killed during the past decade alone.

    In relation to the Quran-burning issue in particular, Pickled Politics recently discussed the inordinate weight that many sections of the mainstream media have given to the extremists on all sides; the need for moderates everywhere to oppose the latter has also been emphasised by the Sufi Imam Rauf of the Cordoba Initiative. Readers may also be interested to hear that Imam Rauf was interviewed at great length by CNN last week, and a wide range of relevant issues were discussed in considerable detail (full transcript here).

    There are some horribly ironic facts in this situation: Not only has Imam Rauf been actively assisting the US Government with anti-Islamist-extremism efforts for a number of years (both the Bush Administration and now the Obama Administration), but Salafi-Jihadists like Al-Qaeda and the Taliban actually violently hate Sufi Muslims, because they regard Sufis as “heretics” who are “excessively liberal” and “excessively benevolent” towards non-Muslims. Therefore, we now have Sufis being persecuted by fundamentalist Christians, the American “conservative Right”, and militant Islamist extremists, aided and abetted by Fox News and their allies in the Republican Party.

    However, a more encouraging development in America which has unfortunately received comparatively little publicity is the following: During the course of the past year, members of a church in Memphis, Tennessee, have gone out of their way to welcome the presence of a neighbouring Islamic Centre which is in the process of being built. This has very recently been covered by CNN and MSNBC as a positive counterexample to the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry in other sections of American society.

    Continue Reading...
    11th September, 2010

    Qur’an burning: Where does Freedom of Speech fit in?

    by guest at 11:32 am    

    This is a joint post by Shamit and Rumbold

    Global news media have had one common headline over the past few days – a Christian pastor wanting to burn the Qur’an. World leaders, including the Vatican, have condemned the proposed event in Gainesville Florida, yet violent protests have erupted in parts of the Muslim world.

    Pastor Terry Jones is an unpleasant individual. The minister behind the now-suspended Qur’an burning lives in luxury, yet forces his followers to live in accommodation he owns and work long hours for his business unpaid. His own daughter labelled his group a ‘cult’ which had no more than fifty followers until this whole controversy got the oxygen of 24×7 media publicity around the globe.

    Book burning is never right. It is not only vulgar, but also invokes memories of totalitarian regimes trying to destroy ideas they do not approve of. Furthermore, it indicates a failure of the burner to combat what is written, leaving them with no option but to try and erase what they could not challenge intellectually. And, in secular societies, such as the United States, a man of god should respect rights of others to practice their religion as they see fit.

    This proposed Qur’an burning has been widely condemned by plenty of prominent people; no doubt many of those share the aversion to book burning. But some have condemned the proposed actions of an unknown, leading a handful of people, not because of the hurt it causes to ordinary Muslims worldwide, but the expected violent reactions of a small community of criminals within the Muslim world that would attack and kill innocent people.

    Continue Reading...
    9th September, 2010

    Backlash against France’s anti-Roma policy

    by Rumbold at 9:34 pm    

    The European Parliament has criticised Nicholas Sarkozy’s mass deportations of Roma people from France:

    A parliament resolution denouncing the French government’s policy of deporting Roma families and demolishing their encampments was carried by a much bigger majority than expected – a vote of 337 to 245, bringing an uncommon victory for the centre-left and liberals in a chamber dominated by conservatives.

    The Economist recently had a good piece on the Roma.

    27th August, 2010

    Alleged “Ground Zero Mosque” financier is Fox News co-owner

    by Jai at 11:45 am    

    Fox News have recently been at the forefront of whipping up hysteria about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. This is actually quite a major turnaround for them, considering that Fox had previously interviewed both Imam Rauf (the head of the Cordoba Initiative) and his wife Daisy Khan, and their attitudes towards these individuals and their efforts were very positive indeed. Park51/Cordoba House was even explicitly discussed with Daisy Khan during an interview in December 2009, and the Fox anchor at the time stated “I can’t find many people who really have a problem with it….I like what you’re trying to do.”

    With the exception of the upbeat interview with Daisy Khan on Fox News after the New York Times published a detailed front-page article on 9th December 2009 about the plans for Park51/Corboda House, there was no reaction from the “conservative Right” and no newspaper articles about the subject at all for the next five months…..until Fox News began taking a stridently hostile view towards the building in May 2010.

    Someone who has been a particularly vociferous opponent – and an individual who has subsequently been provided with considerable public exposure by Fox News — has been Pamela Geller of “Stop the Islamization of America”, who is allied with racist white supremacists in South Africa and has also openly praised the English Defence League/EDL on a number of occasions, to the extent that she’s repeatedly been in contact with the EDL’s leadership; apparently she also firmly believes that US President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim.

    Fox News’s own promotion of consistently anti-Muslim stories has of course become an established characteristic of the channel. And most recently, Fox News have run multiple news segments making sinister insinuations about a shadowy Saudi Arabian figure with alleged ties to radical Islamist extremists who owns the “Kingdom Foundation” (aka Kingdom Holding Company) and has allegedly been a major financier of Park51/Cordoba House. Fox News have never named this person on-air.

    Continue Reading...
    21st August, 2010

    The “Ground Zero Mosque”: Ignorance, Prejudice and Historical Precedents – Part 2

    by Jai at 7:00 pm    

    (This article is an immediate continuation of Part 1. Readers are therefore strongly advised to read that part first before continuing below).

    Indian history and “the Sikh 9/11”

    Firstly, during India’s “Great Mughal” era, the 6th Sikh Guru actually had a mosque built for the ordinary Muslims who had settled in the town he had founded in Punjab – despite the fact that his own father had been severely tortured over a period of several days upon the orders of the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and ultimately died of his horrific injuries. In fact, that same mosque was very recently jointly renovated by Sikh and Muslim volunteers in India as part of a major restoration project. There are even mosques in Amritsar itself, the “holy city” of the Sikhs. It’s certainly a far cry from Newt Gingrich’s “no mosques until there are churches in Saudi Arabia” rhetoric, given that he’s effectively recommending that the United States should duplicate fundamentalist Wahhabi Saudi Arabian attitudes towards places of worship; furthermore, the notion of holding your own country’s citizens hostage to – and penalising them for – the actions of a foreign government because they happen to be affiliated with superficially the same religion (despite being from very different “denominations”) isn’t just irrational and barbaric, it’s also morally bankrupt.

    Continue Reading...
    19th August, 2010

    The “Ground Zero Mosque”: Ignorance, Prejudice and Historical Precedents – Part 1

    by Jai at 7:15 pm    

    “It is rash to condemn where you are ignorant.”

    Much has recently been said about the proposed Cordoba House facility in New York, dubbed the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. As is now widely known, CNN anchor and Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria returned his award to the ADL and explained his rationale extremely well (he’s subsequently also summarised Sufism and the reasons for Al-Qaeda’s hatred of it); Alex Massie also recently discussed the issue and made a number of brilliant points. This article in the New York Times by the acclaimed historian William Dalrymple about the Cordoba Initiative’s Sufi connection is excellent too, as is this article by Richard Cohen of the Washington Post. This segment from MSNBC by Keith Olbermann forcefully argues against the escalating bigotry towards Muslims and also discusses the potential ramifications for America if these attitudes are allowed to continue. US President Barack Obama himself has now emphatically voiced his support for the right of the founders of Cordoba House to build the proposed centre (also see here). Even Christopher Hitchens has been demolishing the arguments of many of the people opposed to Cordoba House (including Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin) and has condemned their sectarian prejudice and often staggering level of ignorance. The quote at the top of this paragraph by the Roman philosopher Seneca clearly still has great resonance 2000 years later; coincidentally, the great man was born in Cordoba himself.

    Continue Reading...
    17th August, 2010

    West Yorkshire police wants Bradford EDL demo banned

    by Sunny at 6:36 pm    

    According to Hope Not Hate:

    In a strongly worded statement, the police say they believe the risk to public order is enough to warrant a ban on the racist march. This will be the first time any police force has applied for a ban since the EDL tried to march in Luton in summer 2009.

    Bradford City Council will now formally request a ban from the Home Secretary and a decision will be announced early next week.

    I’m still torn on this. It is very likely the EDL will deliberately try to stir up trouble, go on a rampage and destroy property. They are a bunch of thugs, no doubt about it. But it’s not a certainty, and I’m loathe to agree with every police demand for a ban, especially since they call for bans far too often.

    In actual fact, part of the reason why the march should go ahead is because Unite Against Fascism are doing a good job of organising a peaceful counter-demonstration that brings people together called ‘We are Bradford’. This is the kind of civil society response I was hoping for.

    Filed under: Civil liberties
    14th August, 2010

    Standing up for liberal values

    by Sunny at 4:12 pm    

    A few weeks ago I was invited to a discussion by the global warming denialists Institute of Ideas. The subject of the Burqa came up. On the panel was Jo Phillips who said she was ‘somewhat libertarian’ on the issue and then proceeded to completely contradict herself.

    She said she found it annoying that many liberals were unwilling to ‘assert their values’ and tell these women who wear the Burqa that they should follow western values. This is a standard decent-left / neo-con talking point: in the name of forcing people to do what they like, they claim that lefties or liberals are afraid to stand up for western values.

    This kind of tripe is repeated all the time by Martin Amis, Chris Hitchens, Nick Cohen etc. I pointed out that if she actually believed in liberal values or was even vaguely libertarian she would stand up for the right for people to wear what they want. Unsurprisingly – the audience overwhelmingly sided with me (the irony is that the same Jo Phillips later said, when talking about global warming, that people should be allowed to live how they want to and carry on polluting if they wished).

    I’m reminded of this when reading about Obama’s strident defence of the Ground Zero Mosque. Obama doesn’t just call it a constitutional issue – he makes it (rightly) an issue about American character and way of life:

    This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

    America has a shaky history, but freedom of religion is written into its political DNA more powerfully than most countries on the planet. Obama isn’t just standing up for enlightenment values, he’s saying we should stand up for these values regardless of those exercising it. That is principle – not the pathetic gibbering that many on the decent-left/neo-con fringe come up with.

    13th August, 2010

    A slightly different take on liberty from most libertarians

    by Sunny at 3:22 am    

    A friend went to Manchester this week to meet a woman, an Ahmadi Muslim woman from Bangladesh (Ms B). She arrived here over five years ago and has a young daughter who goes to school. The daughter has a Mancunian accent is well settled in, except that sometimes the kids tease her because they’re so poor. During this time Ms B has been here, the government has not granted her the right to stay or work – she has to live on meagre benefits.

    They’ve now rejected Ms B’s application to stay in this country and planning to forcibly detain her. This might involve separation from her child (who will also be detained) and then they’ll be deported to Bangladesh. Given Ms B ran away from her husband – she has no family support back there, no money or business, and no way to live. It’s likely she and her daughter will fall into deep destitution.

    This is just one examples of hundreds, if not thousands, across the country where the government is forcibly coercing people out of the country and knowingly driving them to destitution.

    I bring up this anecdote in response to Mr CivLib, who wrote a long-explanatory blog post about libertarianism to explain the point that libertarianism is a diverse ideology (as is socialism, which he accepts, though most libertarians don’t). Anyway, I think him for having the courtesy to engage properly.

    Continue Reading...
    Filed under: Civil liberties
    9th August, 2010

    Why some direct EU taxes would be a good idea

    by Rumbold at 9:55 pm    

    For those who oppose the deepening of the EU state, the idea of that body directly taxing European citizens should be anathema. It would take power from national governments, who are seen to have a mandate from the voters, and give it to the EU, where an essentially unelected and opaque body holds sway. This is what the EU’s Budget Commissioner is proposing, and it is unsurprising that the call has elucidated a storm of protest:

    Taxes on aviation, financial transactions and CO2 emission permits are all possibilities, he told the daily Financial Times Deutschland.

    However, the UK promptly rejected the idea.

    Despite the headline implications though, this could potentially benefit those who wish to see the EU trimmed and focused more on the goal of providing a single market with freedom of movement, goods and services.

    The EU state has massively deepened (and expanded) in the last thirty years. It has extended its control into employment, health, law, defence, justice, foreign policy and any other number of areas. When the European Constitution was originally rejected, the EU merely introduced the bits it wanted anyway, changed the name of the rest of it and got it reintroduced. Labour and the Liberal Democrats promised to support a referendum in their manifesto, reneged on the deal, yet were not punished for it electorally. Lacking any mandate from voters, the EU has nonetheless multiplied its power and influence many times over. How? Because the ordinary voter just doesn’t care enough.

    The percentage of British laws that come from the EU is estimated to range from around 10-80%. The fact we can’t get a reasonable estimate is damning enough, but for argument’s sake, let’s call it 20%. A body that makes 20% of our laws should be permanently in the public gaze, especially as it can currently overrule UK rulings and law. Yet how often do you see EU policy making headlines on the BBC, or debated on Newsnight? That is not to say that there is some Europhile media conspiracy. The Eurosceptic press concerns themselves with tales of the supposed criminalisation of egg merchants for using incorrect labels. This reduces the EU to the status of a pantomime villain. How many voters who can explain the British political process can explain the EU one?

    So why would direct EU taxes be a good idea then? You only have to look at the anger that followed the domestic expenses scandal to see that voters see taxes as ‘their money’ if they think it is being squandered and it has come directly from them. The removed nature of the EU does not create this feeling for most at present. EU taxes should make voters care more about the EU, and pay more attention to how the money is being spent. This hopefully would encourage more media interest in the actual EU apparatus, increasing understanding and thus creating a virtuous circle. There would be more pressure for good governance, something which should please Euro-sceptics and -philes alike.

    Debate today: Is the Burqa a threat to freedom?

    by Sunny at 8:59 am    

    (click on it for the full version)

    More about the event here
    Today · 19:00 – 22:00
    Location The Cafe at the Rich Mix centre
    35 – 47 Bethnal Green Road
    London, United Kingdom
    Free to attend

    Filed under: Civil liberties,Events
    6th August, 2010

    Don’t hate on WikiLeaks, join it

    by Sunny at 10:32 am    

    Excellent blog-post at the New Yorker on WikiLeaks:

    Shutting WikiLeaks down—assuming that this is even possible—would only lead to copycat sites devised by innovators who would make their services even more difficult to curtail. A better approach for the Defense Department might be to consider WikiLeaks a competitor rather than a threat, and to recognize that the spirit of transparency that motivates Assange and his volunteers is shared by a far wider community of people who use the Internet.

    Currently, the government has its own versions of WikiLeaks: the Freedom of Information Act and the Mandatory Declassification Review. The problem is that both of these mechanisms can be grindingly slow and inconsistent, in part because the government appears to be overwhelmed by a vast amount of data that should never have been classified to begin with—a phenomenon known as “overclassification.”

    I have to say it did amuse me earlier when neo-cons who won’t go as far as saying they want WikiLeaks shut down nevertheless said, ‘yeah but we should stop putting it on a pedestal‘.

    The WikiLeaks monster is out there now. All governments will have to adjust accordingly, even the United States. But then, as I’ve said before, this commitment to civil liberties by neo-cons was always just a rhetorical ploy rather than a core belief.

    Filed under: Civil liberties
    3rd August, 2010

    The neo-con attacks on WikiLeaks – article

    by Sunny at 6:39 pm    

    My latest article is on the Guardian titled: Neocons are hypocrites on WikiLeaks. Oliver Kamm and David Aaronovitch (notice his spelling of my name) aren’t happy. Awwww.

    An excerpt:

    The rhetoric has now reached absurd levels. The US defence secretary said the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, had “blood on his hands”; people on Fox News have called it “a terrorist organisation”; and one of the Washington Post’s columnists called it a “criminal enterprise”. The former Bush speechwriter also said he wanted it shut down and Assange to “be brought to justice” by any means necessary, and has previously justified waterboarding. It has been reported that one WikiLeaks editor has already been harassed by US border police.

    But there’s one point I want to expand on. I say:

    But not only do claims about Europe’s changing demographics fail to stand up, they betray the sort of moral relativism that they always accuse their opponents of.

    This is key. One common rhetorical trick among neo-cons is that they constantly rail against lefties and liberals for “moral relativism”. Don’t you know that it’s only the neo-cons who care for the plight of Muslim women in the Middle East?

    This absurd rhetorical attack rests on the view that lefties have double-standards when it comes to rights (of women) and free speech etc. It was employed frequently during the Danish cartoons controversy and is repeatedly brought up over Salman Rushdie – see, you lefties didn’t care for our fundamentally enlightened values then!.

    But as I’ve repeatedly pointed out on this blog and show in the article, this concern for “enlightenment values” of free speech and individual liberty is only skin deep. The minute they think western civilisation is being destroyed (a major concern for them) then those values are junked out of the window.

    26th July, 2010

    The war on Wikileaks begins

    by Sunny at 10:20 pm    

    I’ve said a few times that one of the more obvious double-standard of many neo-cons is how they like to apply different standards to people. So for example, free speech and civil liberties are very important for Muslims to understand and respect (because they’re unenlightened innit?) but when it comes to protecting the rights of Muslim hate-mongers to say what they want, then suddenly they start accusing others of ‘enabling terrorism’ or something.

    They’re all for human rights and stuff, but not when Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch are criticising Israel or the US. Why can’t they just focus on the Muslims? They’re worse! — they squeal.

    I don’t want to make this intro too long. I’ll just summarise it by pointing to this tweet by the Times’ David Aaronovitch:

    The stuff that recent Russian spies managed to filch won’t have been 1,000th as damaging to security as the Wikileaks material. Big moment.

    Tim Montgomerie, who’s more of a neocon than Liam Fox himself, agrees.

    Hmmm… I wonder what they’re trying to get at? How long before Wikileaks is declared a threat to our national security and ‘an enabler’ of Islamists? How long before they start trying to find bias against western governments at Wikileaks and demand it be shut down? Not very long at all.

    Filed under: Civil liberties,Media
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