Sunday 19 June 2011

The week's links

A few things that may have passed you by in the last seven days or so:

As Labour ponders its leadership and its electoral prospects, Luke Akehurst calls for a greater sense of pride in what the party achieved in power:
Every time I walk through the ward where I am a councillor, one of the most deprived wards in England, I see what Labour did for the poorest people in society: refurbished social housing, a brand new city academy where a failing school stood, a primary school rebuilt with BSF money, another new secondary school being built under a contract Ed Balls signed off, safer neighbourhood coppers and PCSOs put there by Ken Livingstone. Lives of my constituents which are still tough and sometimes desperate but lived a little safer, a little warmer, a little more prosperous and a little more full of hope and opportunity because of Labour.
Balls and Livingstone are not my favourite Labour politicians, to say the least, but I'm in general agreement with what Luke says here. The other Ed should take note: putting distance between yourself and the achievements of New Labour is not necessarily a winning strategy. Elsewhere, this was the week that the Guardian published the speech that the Other Brother would have made had he been crowned leader, in which he echoed Luke's sentiments:
Last year Gordon read out a list of what had been achieved – by him, by Tony, by all of us. Two million new jobs. The ban on handguns. The Winter Fuel Allowance. 80 000 more nurses. Free museums. Rights of recognition for trade unions and the end of the union ban at GCHQ. And the small matter of peace in Northern Ireland. 
Just because we lost doesn't mean they are wrong. We clapped those changes in our country last year and we should clap them again, because if we don't defend our record no one will. 
Meanwhile, elements of the British left continue to make the wrong call when it comes to the Arab spring. Germaine Greer poured scorn on the suggestion that Gaddafi's soldiers were raping civilians, but thinks that British troops should not be deployed to Libya because there's no guarantee they won't become a 'rape squad' on the prowl. Hugo Schmidt is not impressed. I don't completely agree with his first sentence, but I think he's right about where the real fight for women's rights is happening today:

A single British soldier fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan or Al Qaeda does more for women’s rights than Greer has done in her entire life. That is worth bearing in mind, as is the fact that there is a small band of radicals who genuinely are fighting for the emancipation of women – women such as Nonie Darwish, Wafa Sultan and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to name only some of the most prominent – who deserve our maximum support and solidarity, and yet do not receive anywhere near the fawning treatment that Greer does. 
Last week I quoted Mick Hulme's weaselly scepticism about the crimes of Ratko Mladic. This week's shameful apologia for repression comes from Alastair Crooke, who writes fawningly of Bashar al-Assad as 'a young leader...not ossified by time and convention' who 'really does believe in reform'. This fondness for the Syrian dictator seems to derive from the latter's endorsement of Crooke's own pet causes: 'Assad had opposed the war in Iraq and has supported the resistance in Palestine'. Nick Cohen is not won over:
Read the whole piece and you will recognise an astute work of propaganda that plays subtle tricks with considerable skill. The author seduces the reader by offering entrance to a privileged world of insider knowledge. He manipulates the belief, common among intelligent people, that events are more complicated than they appear. The simple-minded may hear of the troops of a dictatorship massacring civilians and think the dictator an evil man. We, by flattering contrast, know that the world is not black and white but coloured in shades of grey. Naïve westerners believe that Assad is just another vicious dictator, but he allows us to see that Assad is not a monster but a man who recognises the need for reform, who is admired around the region for his foreign policy and so on.
And Nick has his own explanation for Crooke's position:
He runs an organisation called Conflicts Forum, which aims to promote the Islamist cause. (His commitment to religious reactionaries, incidentally, probably explains his enthusiasm for the Syrian Baathists. Although they are nominally secular, they give logistical and financial support to Hamas and Hezbollah.)
This week, we discovered that the 'gay girl in Damascus', the supposed Syrian blogger who had apparently been kidnapped by the regime, was in fact a straight American man living in Edinburgh who created the persona as a mouthpiece for his own propaganda purposes. His confession was hardly apologetic: 'This experience has sadly only confirmed my feelings regarding the often superficial coverage of the Middle East and the pervasiveness of new forms of liberal Orientalism.' As Ethan Zuckerman comments: 'it’s hard to imagine a more orientalist project than a married, male American writer masquerading as a Syrian lesbian to tell a story about oppression and democratic protest.'

If you want to understand what's really going on in Syria, you could do worse than read the Henry Jackson Society's report on the country's nascent opposition movement, summarised here by Michael Weiss. He concludes: 'The evidence suggests that this revolution is the most liberal and Western-friendly of any of the Arab Spring uprisings. That it's also the least supported by the West is a tragedy.' Michael was also on BBC News this week, cutting through the regime propaganda to provide an excellent summary of the current situation.

Optimism about the prospects for a democratic revolution in Syria should be tempered by the realisation that demonstrations on a similar scale in Iran two years ago have done little to weaken the grip of the regime. In fact, the abuse of human rights has worsened, as these statistics from the British Embassy in Tehran attest. Last week, United4Iran and Move4Iran staged a quietly eloquent flashmob in a Paris metro station to mark the anniversary of the country's stolen election:

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