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Unrepentant empire

The long shadow of the Iraq war still hangs over British politics. Gordon Brown's announcement of an inquiry into the war rekindled all the opposition and discontent which led to the mass movement against the war in the first place.

  • Written by Lindsey German
  • Category: Opinion

Neo Clue

Economics for the last 30 years has been presented as an ideological scrap between neoliberalism and Keynesian government intervention.

  • Written by The Sauce
  • Category: Opinion

Shutting the door on the poor

After 'British jobs for British workers' we now have 'British homes for British workers' - brought to us yet again by a Labour government. Labour is claiming that it will give more local rights to people waiting on the housing list to get homes. Ministers want to allay fears, they say, that local people are being by passed by 'immigrants with large families [who] vault to the top of the council house list', as it's so quaintly put in the Daily Mail.

  • Written by Lindsey German
  • Category: Opinion

Obama's speech more on rhetoric less on delivery

President Barack Obama's landmark speech to an invited audience at Cairo University earlier this month had nothing new. Most of what Obama said had already been mentioned by him at various venues including Turkey. However, what was different was that the tone and the language were both balanced and respectful.

The issues he covered were varied; human rights, women's rights, democracy, economy, 9/11, religious freedom, Middle East and violent extremism.

His rhetoric was measured but on the political front, he failed to convince. Take the example of Palestine and Israel.

Obama acknowledged the sufferings of the Palestinians and Israelis and uniquely for a US president, he acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation. 'Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust' [Palestinians] endure the daily humiliations ' large and small ' that come with occupation,' he said.

But when it came to politics, he, like Bush before him, took the pro-Israeli line. He said the 'strong bonds' with Israel will continue and are 'unbreakable'. Obama asks the Palestinians to abandon violence but says nothing about the Israeli violence. 'It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,' he argues. There was not a word about the greater Israeli bombing of Gaza in December and January when hundreds of civilians, including old women and children were killed. Nor was there any mention of the inhumane siege of Gaza.

He said violence to resist occupation does not succeed, so why did America lead military action against Iraq when it occupied Kuwait? Why did they use and are still using violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan to achieve their aims? Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for decades and diplomacy has never worked.

Palestinians argue the world doesn't care and the only solution left for them is resistance. The US has not used any sanctions, military or economic to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories or to dismantle and stop building new settlements. Obama did request Israel to stop building new settlements but Israeli Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu continues to defy him.

Netanyahu even has refused to recognise an independent and sovereign Palestinian State. Instead, he has reluctantly agreed a state with no control of its boundaries, no army, no air force, no navy; that is a state subservient to Israel. And to top it all he said Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel and that Palestinians should accept Israel as a Jewish state exclusively for Jews removing the right of return for the Palestinians. In addition around 1.4 million Arab Israelis would be under threat of expulsion from Israel.

The US President also spoke on nuclear weapons and blamed Iran for wishing to lead the Middle East 'down a hugely dangerous path.' What he did not say is that Iran does not possess, nor is there any evidence that it is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, just mere suspicions. He remains opposed to Iran being allowed to enrich its own uranium when Japan, Brazil and others are allowed to, as it is a right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In contrast, he did not say even a single word about Israel's existing stockpile of between 100 to 300 nuclear weapons, the only state in the Middle East to have any.

It seems when Israel is concerned, Obama, just like Bush, has not changed.

For the world to believe Obama, he has to show it by example. The US's domestic and international policies must be based on ethics. They should be balanced, just and fair.

As Abdelwahab El-Affendi argues on Obama's speech, dialogue is important, it is 'not a question of searching for a missing 'common ground' or elusive 'shared values'. What is needed is to live up to the values we already share.' (p 7)

The goodwill that Obama had when he became the President of the United States of America is slowly eroding. If the US policies do not positively change, we will be back to square one.

Muslim News

  • Written by Muslim News
  • Category: Opinion

The Democrats and the War Criminal

Agim Ceku commanded “ethnic cleansing” operations in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, then headed an organization labeled “terrorist” by a senior US official. But top Dems made him their man in Kosovo.

  • Written by Jeremy Scahill
  • Category: Opinion

Iranian elections crisis

A pivotal and unpredictable process of events are taking place in Iran that have serious implications, not only for the lives of Iranians, but for the future of political Islam.

What the courageous protests and the violent repression on the streets represent is a struggle over the true legacy of the Iranian revolution which established the Islamic Republic 30 years ago. To understand the complexity of the current situation, we need to address a number of important questions.

Sunday’s Chatham House report has answered key questions over vote-rigging. It found a turnout of more than 100% was recorded in conservative provinces Mazandaran and Yazd. But putting the election result to one side, if the protests have demonstrated one thing it is the breadth and scale of Mousavi’s “green wave”. Not limited to the middle-class, northern Tehran ‘elite’ the movement has shown its deep social roots.

Of course millions of Iranians did vote for Ahmadinejad and for valid reasons - in support of his populist hand outs, pension rises and state subsidies. For example, he introduced a law that provided insurance to three million female domestic carpet-weavers. He cleverly grouped Mousavi with the corrupt political powerhouse ex-President Rafsanjani whose family had funded the reformist campaign.

However this tactic was far more effective in 2005 - when he could pit himself against the likes of Rafsanjani as the unknown blacksmith’s son ready to ‘cut the hands of the oil mafia’. He could revive the economic populism of the 80s, which benefited the poor, in stark contrast to Rafsanjani’s 90s economic liberalization which increased inflation and inequality. In 2009, as a President who has failed to deliver on promises of reducing corruption and inequality (both have increased) and against an ‘establishment’ candidate like Mousavi - whose term as Prime Minister in the 80s associates him precisely with those populist policies - it just didn’t wash.

More importantly, with 70-80% of Iranian industry still state owned, organisations that were set-up in the 80s to provide social and welfare programmes have now become massive capitalist enterprises owned and controlled by the state bureaucracy including the military. The Revolutionary Guard, for example, controls 30% of the Iranian economy. In power, Ahmadinejad has shown to defend and represent the interests of this bureaucracy.

Hence during the election campaign it was in fact Mousavi who was greeted as the ‘man of the mostazafin (oppressed)’ even in Ahmadinejad strongholds like the eastern town of Birjand.

Mousavi’s mix of revolutionary credentials and call for greater social and political freedoms, in which his wife Zahra Rahnavard played a decisive role in representing the grievances of women, gathered greater momentum than the campaign which saw the election of reformist President Khatami in 1997.

We cannot underestimate how deep the crisis goes. Twenty years ago, it was Rafsanjani and Khamenei’s conservative alliance that wrestled control of power over the ‘leftists’ (like Mousavi) at the top. Now Rafsanjani’s daughter has been arrested and he himself is in the religious city of Qom (where Khamenei is already unpopular) trying to convince the clergy to move against Khamenei. Five senior clerics have already protested but as Iranian academic Ali Ansari argues a serious intervention from an essentially quietest clergy ‘could be decisive’

What’s behind all this? One factor is Khamenei himself. Lacking the political charisma, popularity and authority of Khomeini, he has relied on constitutional changes and an alliance with radical conservative elements to maintain and strengthen his position as Supreme Leader. Another is the reformist demise. Despite being a formidable force in the 1990s the Presidency and parliament majority, by 2005 they had lost all centres of power to conservatives.

There were reasons for this. Khatami held the movement back at its peak, condemning university students in 1999 who had risen up to defend the banning of a reformist newspaper. A demoralised movement then boycotted the Presidential election in 2005 - another reason behind Ahmadinejad’s victory (interestingly he only just beat Karoubi to second place in the first round).

This time round the reformist voters turned out in huge numbers knowing a high-turnout would benefit them (with 70% of Iranians living in the cities). This explains the explosion of anger over the election result and refusal to halt demonstrations.

But a far more important consequence of conservative control was the debate it precipitated in the movement which questioned the very theoretical foundation of the Islamic Republic - velaayat-e faqih (rule of the jurist). It has now reached a point where the majority opinion in the reformist movement believes the only solution for Iran is a separation of religion from the state.

This does not, as some suggest, spell the end of political Islam. Rooftop chants of “Allahu Akbar” late into the evening (reminiscent of the Iranian revolution) and Mousavi’s ‘green’ (representing Islam and peace) movement is a reminder that religion still plays an important ideological framework. But the call for secularization of the state by an Islamist reform movement is undoubtedly a turning point. So important is this, that Mousavi was ‘ready for martyrdom’ and calling for a general strike if arrested. Indeed, the stakes are high for both the leadership and the demonstrators.

This raises huge questions for the movement in Iran. It’s a no brainer that the interests of a powerful capitalist like Rafsanjani or Mousavi conflict sharply with the office worker throwing rocks at police and putting his life in danger. After all, the maior factor of Khatami’s demise was the continuation of Rafsanjani’s privitisation and neoliberal reforms, which alienated the poor. Unfortunately Mousavi in power is likely to follow a similar path.

So whilst working with them, the left must form a critique of its reformist leaders. It should challenge their ties to neo-liberalism and raise the struggle of the poor and the working class.

It must also try to win over Ahmadinejad supporters. There is evidence of this with slogans like “Baseej why kill your brothers?” (the Baseej come from the poor) and reports that some Baseeji are refusing to attack protestors. This is not to say that the Baseej have stopped attacking or killing protesters (as a daily stream of amateur video footage proves) but that crisis goes deep into even the armed conservative elements defending the regime.

A further challenge is to organise separately from the leadership. The demoralization with Khatami stemmed from resting too much hope in his promises of reform. Mousavi is after all a key figure in the regime during some of its most horrific excesses.

Crucially there’s the question of western powers wanting to use this movement as a way of undermining the obstacle Iran presents to their plans for the region.

Under Khatami the government’s opportunist support for the US invasion of Afghanistan provided a valuable lesson. As a consequence, Iran found itself in the ‘axis of evil’, surrounded by US military bases in neighbouring countries Iraq and Afghanistan and a massive American naval fleet in the Persian Gulf. Ahmadinejad’s victory and popularity (in Iran and the region) relied heavily on his fiery antagonism towards the US and Israel.

Mousavi is, in fact, not the ideal candidate for the US. He does not recognise Israel, has vowed to continue with uranium enrichment and openly committed to the ideals of the revolution - that’s why he is popular with Iranians. Though Obama’s administration is likely to deal with any Iranian leader. As activists in Egypt and Saudi Arabia will attest, the struggle for democracy will be a lot harder in Iran with a government backed by the US.

Despite Obama’s talk of ‘not meddling’ in Iran’s affairs, the conservatives can still point to the $400 million dollar budget allocated to ‘covert operations’ in Iran, especially with the bombing of a mosque in Shiraz last month.

Given the Iranian government’s monopoly on anti-imperialism, this is the hardest of challenges for the movement in Iran, but a critical one which must be taken up.

But for now the main priority is to be at the forefront of the democratic struggle. Because if this movement is crushed, life for Iranians (and the left) will be a lot worse off.

As activists in the West, we must throw our full support behind those who have taken to the streets in Iran against their rulers.

At the same time we must also highlight the hypocrisy of our own governments and media organisations. Their support for democracy stands in stark contrast with their refusal to recognize the democratic election of Hamas in Palestine or the vote-rigging of Mobarak’s dictatorship in Egypt.

So whilst expressing solidarity with Iranians, we must warn against the dangers of imperialist powers abusing the situation by continuing to our campaign against the existing suffocating sanctions and any catastrophic plans for war. That way, we allow the Iranian democracy movement to continue without foreign intervention or interference.

  • Written by Naz Massoumi
  • Category: Opinion

Obama's Undeclared War Against Pakistan

In a new interview, Obama said he has “no intention” of sending US troops into Pakistan. But US troops are already in the country and US drones attack Pakistan regularly.

  • Written by Jeremy Scahill
  • Category: Opinion

Iran - 1979 and 2009

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a mass event, a popular uprising of a scale rarely seen before. 30 years on, the Iranian people are out in their millions once again but the questions remain, what is this really about and where is this movement going?

  • Written by Dominic Kouros Kavakeb
  • Category: Opinion

Attacks on Romanians in Belfast

Now, you might be thinking, "bigotry in Belfast? Well, I never!" True, the attacks on Romanians earlier this week come after years of assaults and intimidation of Chinese workers which reached a bloody crescendo in 2003 and 2004. And it follows attacks on Polish workers earlier this year, in which Unionist politicians tried to cover up the extent of what was happening. Actually, Unionist politicians like Sammy Wilson - one of the few people in the world who really does have a face like a well-smacked arse - have been openly encouraging discrimination against migrant workers. But I do consider it significant that the attackers were chanting BNP and Combat-18 slogans as they did this. Not because there's a powerful Nazi organisation in Ulster, but it does look as if Northern Ireland's disproportionate number of violent young bigots have been heartened by the recent success of fascism in the mainland. Eamonn McCann, noting the lack of BNP presence in the areas affected, suggests that the attackers are "invoking an established brand rather than acting at the instigation of an organisation". (Mind you, it seems the BNP have just established their national call centre in Dundonald, and presumably intend to try and build a little family of fascists in the area: can't you just hear the pitter-patter of tiny goosesteeps?)

Over at Splintered Sunrise, I see that the UDA boss is ventilating over the BNP's malevolent influence, desperately trying to deflect any blame that might be placed on his right-wing paramilitary outfit: "It seems that what is exercising Hard Bap is the possibility that the UDA’s good name might be besmirched by commentators linking it with the BNP. Which sort of says something about Nick Griffin’s push for respectability." This won't fly, of course. Studies have shown that 90% of racist crime in Northern Ireland takes place in Loyalist areas. It may not be that the UDA are actually encouraging such attacks, but there is a powerful continuity in the methods of violence and intimidation, and the bigotry underwriting them. Moreover, it seems that some other things don't change either: most of Northern Ireland's minorities consider the Police Service of Northern Ireland (n√©e RUC) to be institutionally racist. Well, of course it is. It is the still largely unreconstructed authority of an occupying power that has spent decades terrorising Catholic estates. On top of that, the Crown Prosecution Service only seems to try a fraction of the reported cases of racist violence. So, if you're being driven out of your home by some jumped up Rangers fans with an admiration for the fascist way of doing things, you can't rely on the police, and you can't rely on the courts. And as for the Assembly, they've done fuck all about it for years, despite having pledged to do so. (The lack of consideration given to migrants in policymaking is discussed in this lengthy and useful report [pdf]). The efforts of solidarity campaigners is all that is coming down the pipeline.

McCann argues that the root of this is more than a deflection of older forms of sectarian violence, though, and I think this is crucial:

It is not to excuse the assaults to point to the fact that the Protestant working class, and its young people in particular, have been the main losers from change in Northern Ireland. It's not that they have taken a hit that their equivalents on the Catholic side have not also suffered. Whatever your religion, the poorer you are here the more likely you are to have not benefited at all from the agreement hailed around the world as ushering in a peace based on mutual tolerance. It's no accident that the Real IRA draws its support almost exclusively from the least well-off in the Catholic community.

The snarling young men who forced the Romanian families out have the additional grievance that the Protestant community's sense of itself as living in "their" state has been shattered by the developments symbolised by Sinn Féin sitting snugly in government with the DUP. That none of them can remember the glory days of untrammelled unionist rule matters little. They feel - and it's a feeling they know is endorsed and welcomed by many nationalists - that Catholics are on the way up, Protestants on the way down.

I know that complaint very well. One used to hear quite a bit (from Protestants) in the 1990s, that while once it was the Catholics who were being victimised, now it's the poor Prods. The neoliberal consensus reinforces this sense of grievance by reducing the sphere of legitimate arguments about public spending and resources to sectarian ones: not, will we close this hospital, but will this hospital be closed in a Protestant, or a Catholic area. This entails McCann's conclusion that, while it is necessary to confront these thugs - physically, if it comes to that - it is also essential to build the kind of radical anti-neoliberal left that has just done so splendidly well in the south of Ireland.
  • Written by Lenin's Tomb
  • Category: Opinion

Timeline: Recession

Author and activist John Rees introduces a programme on the economic crisis - screened live on the Islam Channel Sunday 14 June 2pm, Wednesday 17th June 10pm and Friday 19th June 10:45pm

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