Saturday, August 20, 2005 

Swaziland admits: abstinence doesn't work.

Thinking that you live in a culture-free decadent shithole full of selfish attention whores can get you pretty depressed. Knowing that the religious right wants the exact opposite of this always makes me feel just a bit better. Articles like this are then the equivalent of the best sex you've ever had combined with a feeling of euphoria you get from knowing that those you hate are wrong:

The King of Swaziland has abandoned a four-year campaign to enforce chastity among teenagers following criticism of his own behaviour and with figures showing that the policy has completely failed to stop the spread of HIV in the country.

The announcement in the kingdom's papers yesterday coincided with the release of government statistics revealing nearly a third of Swazi 15- to 19-year-olds carry the virus that causes Aids, the scourge King Mswati III had hoped to combat with his appeals to girls to remain virgins.

Alarmed at the high rate of HIV infection, Mswati in 2001 reinstated for five years the "unchwasho" rite, banning sexual relations for unmarried girls younger than 18.

Swazi girls were instructed to wear a tasselled scarf as a symbolic badge of virginity.

If an unchwasho girl was approached by a man, she was expected to throw her tassels at his homestead, forcing his family to pay a penalty of a cow.

When the king chose a 17-year-old as his ninth wife in 2001, about 300 young women marched to a royal residence, laying down their tassels in protest.

The king's aides argued the ban was designed to discourage casual relationships, not marriage. But Mswati surrendered the cow, which was roasted and eaten by the young women.

As a result of criticism that he has behaved hypocritically, the king decided to end the teenage chastity rite a year early.

The Aids crisis has compounded poverty, with estimates that 480,000 people now carry HIV. Aids has hit Swaziland harder than almost any country in the world.

According to results released yesterday, 29% of 15- to 19-year-olds are HIV-positive.

The report said 42.6% of pregnant women tested at clinics were infected and 40% of adults aged between 30 and 39 who opted for voluntary counselling and testing were HIV positive in 2004.

One of the tenets of the Bush administration's foreign policy, especially on Africa, is that countries will not receive any aid towards family planning clinics or anything that even suggests the evil that is abortion. This also applies to a lesser degree on condoms. The religious right is convinced of the virtue of this policy; after all, sex before marriage or with multiple partners is going to send you straight to hell. This obviously ignores the HIV/Aids pandemic which is sweeping through Africa, leaving a whole generation of children growing up as orphans, many themselves born with HIV. It's therefore heartening to hear that the king of Swaziland himself has admitted that such a policy is a complete disaster.

The UN supported fight against Aids in Africa is often referred to as ABC: abstinence, be faithful, condoms. The US problem is that it only wants the A and the B of that plan. Not only does this ignore the cultural differences of Africa, it also misunderstands the difficulty of a lot of women in the continent in saying no to male advances. It's often the husband who passes on the virus to his wife after he's slept around with other women without using condoms.

Uganda is widely regarded as the best model in the fight against AIDS; a report found that while prevalence of HIV was 15% in 1992, this has now dropped to around 6%, although this has been disputed. This was mainly due to education on abstinence and condoms in schools, as well as prophylactics being made widely available. The very worst advice comes from the Catholic church, which claims that condoms have microscopic holes which let HIV through.

It's about time that the United States stopped deluding itself over some of its very worst and inhumane policies. Sucking up to the religious right might work in the short term, but as usual it's storing up even more problems for the future. If we let the religious right impose their false moral superiority over Africa, it'll be us next.

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Friday, August 19, 2005 

Rigorous Intuition: from fascism to Islamic fundamentalism.

There's a brilliant article on the free-thinking Rigorous Intuition blog, chronicling the changing views of one David Myatt.

In the mid-90s, in an essay entitled "Death Before Dishonour," he wrote:

To live and act like an Aryan - that is, with nobility of character - means upholding and living by this principle of Death Before Dishonour. Nothing else is more important - not personal happiness, not personal love, not personal comfort and wealth. This principle expresses the spirit, or ethos, of the Aryan warrior, and to be Aryan means to live like such a warrior, for however short a time.

Two years ago, in "The Perspective of Islam," radical theoretician and al Qaeda apologist Abdul Aziz wrote:

The majority of Westerners condemn martyrdom operations on the basis of the Western perspective, using Western criteria, failing to understand the Muslim belief that this life of ours is only a means, a test, and thus failing to understand that many Muslims are willing to give up their own lives in order to do their Islamic duty, trusting as these Muslims do in the judgement of Allah.... Our life here on this planet we call Earth is only an opportunity - never to return - to gain entry into Jannah and that one of the best means to gain such entry is to strive, and if necessary die, in the Cause of Allah.

What do these people have in common? Everything. They - and many more, besides - are the same person. Let's call him, for simplicity's sake, David Myatt. But what he is, there's nothing simple about that.

The article in full is here.

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Mo Mowlam: 1949-2005

2 leftish Labour politicians dead in 2 weeks. Might may well be worth taking out a bet on Michael Foot or Clare Short kicking the bucket; after all, deaths are meant to come in threes.

Mo Mowlam was special though. It's not often that a politician can win gratitude and tributes from both the republicans and loyalists of Northern Ireland, as she did. Her effort in mediating the groups led to the Good Friday agreement and the inevitable recent statement that the IRA has abandoned armed struggle. More than that, she said what she thought and wasn't afraid to be radical and go against the political orthodoxy. There's a full obituary here.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005 

"Sir" Ian Blair personally tried to stop independent investigation into Stockwell shooting.

Britain's top police officer, the Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Ian Blair, attempted to stop an independent external investigation into the shooting of a young Brazilian mistaken for a suicide bomber, it emerged yesterday.

Sir Ian wrote to John Gieve, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, on July 22, the morning Jean Charles de Menezes was shot at short range on the London tube. The commissioner argued for an internal inquiry into the killing on the grounds that the ongoing anti-terrorist investigation took precedence over any independent look into his death.

According to senior police and Whitehall sources, Sir Ian was concerned that an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission could impact on national security and intelligence. He was also understood to be worried that an outside investigation would damage the morale of CO19, the elite firearms section working under enormous pressure.

Later that same day, after an exchange of opinions between Sir Ian, the Home Office and the IPCC, the commissioner was overruled. A Whitehall insider said: "We won that battle. There's no ambiguity in the legislation, they had to do it."

Even more damning than "Sir" Ian Blair's attempts to stop an independent investigation required by law is the way the IPCC was then further obstructed:

But a statement from the Met yesterday showed that despite the agreement to allow in independent investigators, the IPCC was kept away from Stockwell tube in south London, the scene of the shooting, for a further three days. This runs counter to usual practice, where the IPCC would expect to be at the scene within hours.

That was in the Guardian this morning. Since then, the reality has got even worse:

Scotland Yard "initially resisted" the investigation into the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the Independent Police Complaints Commission has said.

The inquiry was not formally handed over to the IPCC until five days after the Brazilian was shot dead by police on a Tube, BBC News now understands.

Three days, then five days. During that time it appears that the CCTV footage was either removed, or that the IPCC was told that it wasn't working or that the press was misled into thinking it wasn't working. There's been no conclusive answers on that score. Thankfully, the lawyers for the de Menezes family now do seem to be making their voices heard:

Lawyers for the family of the innocent Brazilian shot dead by police demanded today to be told whether misinformation about the killing was due to incompetence by officials or "something sinister".

Gareth Peirce and Harriet Wistrich, acting for the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, said many of their urgent questions remained unanswered after meeting investigators this morning.

Ms Peirce said her main concern remained why the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had not been called in immediately to begin the inquiry.

None of this leaves the Met or the IPCC investigation in a good light. "Sir" Ian Blair at best was misinformed (being head of the Met, this would be damning of his leadership and the officers below him) about the shooting, and at worst actively tried to cover it up by delaying the investigation. If the latter is true, he also lied in the Friday press conference. It's still not clear how or why the documents from the IPCC were leaked to ITV News. Was it by a whistleblower who wanted the misinformation from the police corrected, or was it to draw attention to a cover-up which was actively being organised? The blocking of an independent investigation doesn't quite vindicate my suspicions that this shooting was an attempt to win plaudits for courage from the press and to stop investigations into the police use of fire-arms, but it also doesn't disprove it either. At the moment the whole thing smacks of a cover-up. Even the notorious right wing rag the Daily Mail asked a similar question on its front page today.

The lawyers are right to ask for an independent inquiry, and one needs to carried out quickly. While we've had a bad recent record in this country with inquiries, i.e. both the Hutton and Butler reports, we need one here to properly establish the truth of what happened on that morning, the police conduct following the shooting, and the IPCC's inquiries up until the leak. The faith in the IPCC's investigation has been shaken too far for their report to be considered fair or an accurate representation of what actually happened.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005 

Jean Charles de Menezes - It was murder.

The truth has come out. Jean Charles de Menezes was already being held with his hands at his side by a surveillance officer when he was shot dead.

From a Guardian article, following up the leaking of documents to ITV News:

The documents reveal that a member of the surveillance team, who sat nearby, grabbed Mr de Menezes before he was shot: "I heard shouting which included the word 'police' and turned to face the male in the denim jacket.

"He immediately stood up and advanced towards me and the CO19 [firearms squad] officers ... I grabbed the male in the denim jacket by wrapping both my arms around his torso, pinning his arms to his side. I then pushed him back on to the seat where he had been previously sitting ... I then heard a gun shot very close to my left ear and was dragged away on to the floor of the carriage."

Let's just get this completely straight. It's been admitted that Jean Charles was not aware he was being followed. He was not positively identified by the police watching the Tulse Hill flats, as the officer at the time was 'relieving' himself. It doesn't say whether he was masturbating or urinating, unfortunately. He was followed by plain clothes police on the bus to the Stockwell tube station. He was not wearing a heavy jacket or belt, rather as the above photo suggests, he was wearing a light denim jacket. He used a rail card to gain access to the tube station; he did not leap the barriers. It's now thought that was one of the armed officers in high pursuit. He may have ran to get onto the train as it arrived, details of that are rather sketchy. He sat down on the train. A shout of police was apparently made, and Jean Charles stood up and walked towards the surveillance officer and the CO19 (SO19?) gunmen. The surveillance officer grabbed Jean Charles, pinning his hands to side, and pushing him back into his seat. The witness then describes hearing a gun shot, and being dragged away.

It's now quite obvious from these reports that Jean Charles de Menezes was executed. An additional report in the Financial Times said that he was believed to have been Hussain Osman, the July 21st suspect arrested in Rome. If that is true, it doesn't make any difference. The only reason that this man was now shot is that it was an exercise in demonstrating the use of the shoot to kill policy, and also a further attempt to stop automatic investigations into police shootings. Imagine the tabloids on hearing that one of the evil terrorists had been killed by a heroic police officer just as he was about to detonate his explosives in a crowded tube train. The only problem with this was that they shot and killed an innocent man.

It's becoming clear that the police almost instantly recognised their mistake. They've been attempting to cover it up ever since. They planted witnesses or paid them off to speak to the press. Mark Whitby, one of the most interviewed witnesses has refused to comment on these revelations. There must now be questions about the independent inquiry itself. Why were these documents leaked to ITV News, and how did it happen? Both the Observer and Guardian reported that most of the CCTV cameras were not working at the tube station, according to the police. The image at the top of this post now already refutes that suggestion. Were these pictures and documents leaked by someone involved in the inquiry who knew that a cover-up and whitewash were being prepared? The police has already encountered problems with its CO19 (SO19?) fire-arms squad going on strike after two of its members were suspended from work following an investigation into the shooting of Harry Stanley. Stanley was shot in the back, after raising a chair leg in a plastic bag at an armed police officer. A similar setback here, with charges against the gunman now seeming likely, would be a disaster.

This is a huge mess of the Mets own making. They could have come clean straight away, admitted they had shot the wrong man in a tragic accident, and corrected the misinformation and lies which was spread immediately afterwards. While they did call the shooting a tragedy, they didn't stop the lies and the spinning. It's took a leak from the inquiry to do that. Instead it now seems as if a cover-up was in progress. Most of all however, there was no need to shoot the man, terrorist suspect or not. He had been held. He could have instantly been handcuffed. Instead he was shot 7 times in the head, once in the shoulder and 3 or 4 bullets even missed him. The perpetrators of this execution must now be brought to justice. The terrorist attacks were acts of criminal inhumanity. That an innocent man was murdered by police to win tabloid plaudits and stop legitimate investigations into avoidable incidents ranks on the same level.

An excellent comparison of the original stories and the leaked documents version of events is available here. Thanks to the Guardian and ITV News for the image at the top of this piece.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2005 

Bearded extremist threatens to deport more "preachers of hate", alleges link between bombings.

A new wave of expulsions of foreign-born "preachers of hate" who foment terrorism is likely to emerge within days, the home secretary indicated last night.

The disclosure came as Charles Clarke warned that it would "be absolutely foolish" to assume there would not be a third terrorist attack on London - but he made clear after meeting the Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, after his return from holiday that there was no specific intelligence to suggest another attack is imminent.

Mr Clarke said last night that a much wider purge of those "working against the interests of this country" will be implemented when his wider powers to exclude or deport come into effect this weekend.

The new powers announced on July 20 will give Mr Clarke the right to throw out of Britain or exclude from entering the country any foreign nationals who represent "an indirect threat" because they "foment terrorism" or justify or glorify terrorism by preaching, running websites or publishing material either here or abroad. The two-week consultation period on the "list of unacceptable behaviours" that will trigger such action ends on Friday.

"We are continuing to look at people in this country whose presence here is not conducive to the public good," said Mr Clarke.

"We will be looking at further steps that can be taken to ensure that those who are working against the interests of this country are properly dealt with."

After he emerged from Scotland Yard, the home secretary was asked if there was still a risk of a third attack on London. He said: "We remain worried. The commissioner has been very clear throughout that it would be ridiculous for us to assume that a further act would not take place.

The message was backed up by Sir Ian. "The fact that there's been two attacks makes it more, rather than less, likely that there'll be further attacks. I mean, that's just the logic of all this, but we of course are working incredibly hard with the intelligence services to prevent it," he said.

I'll come to "Sir" Ian Blair's incredible statement in a moment, but first let's welcome back No Trousers Charlie from his well-earned break. After having to deal with the ghastly Hazel Blears making daily statements, it's almost a relief.

It appears that Britain is following the United States policy, particuarly in the banning of individuals from coming here even to give speeches. I expect that Cat Stevens will be told of his imminent removal in due course. Secondly, we've had a long consultation period to consider these illiberal plans. Two weeks is hell of a long time when you're lounging around on a beach, especially when parliament isn't in session to discuss the measures. It's nice to see that the government can take such unilateral actions based on a quarter of the public's support at the election and on a majority of 67 seats. It's not worth debating the merits of deporting these so-called "preachers of hate" at the moment, especially as we don't know who they are. What has to be remembered is that these men have not committed a crime. They are being deported simply for "not being conducive to the public good". Also, they will again most likely be deported to countries that condone or have been known to use torture. Once again, the British government proves it is rising above the likes of the indiscriminate extremists. We won't torture you, but it's fine if our allies do.

Sir Ian Blair has already given out misinformation, and admitted to the Met lying about the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. In case you missed it, it turns out the CCTV at the station where he was shot wasn't working. You know, just a day after the attempted terrorist attacks, when everyone was incredibly nervous in case they might try again. Looks like the investigation will have to rely on witnesses, which to judge by the news reports are contradictory or even blatant police plants. Anyway, I digress. How does the fact that there have been two attacks make another more likely "Sir" Ian? How is that logical? The bombers in the July the 7th attacks are supposed to be dead. All the failed bombers of July the 21st are in custody. With two groups of terrorists gone, is he telling us that there are more out there, at the same time as saying that there's no intelligence of any groups planning attacks? Another case of blatant scare-mongering by those in power who have come to rely on it.

Here's No Trousers Charlie again, this time sticking his foot right in it:

The home secretary, Charles Clarke, today said it would be "very, very surprising" if the two terrorist bomb attacks on London last month were not linked.

In his first comment since returning from a strongly-criticised summer holiday, Mr Clarke said there was no evidence "in the judicial sense" to yet link the July 7 and 21 attacks, but that the intelligence services were looking at the "support, training, inducting and tasking" of the men involved.

If there's no evidence in the judicial sense, why is he bringing it up? If a newspaper printed this, there would be a possibility that it could be hauled in front of a judge under the contempt of court act. Linking the failed 21st of July bombers with those of the 7th who "succeeded" is surely a daft remark to make at such a time.
The 21st of July bombers were so well-trained that none of them killed themselves and that they were tracked down and arrested by the police without a fight. Hardly in the al-Qaida style of going out with all guns blazing, as has happened in Pakistan and Spain.

More and more misinformation is spiralling out of mouths and into print. I'd blame the silly season, but it looks like in Britain we might have to question everything for a long time to come.

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More loyalist killings and aggression in Northern Ireland.

It's about time that attacks by loyalists on Catholics and loyalist feuds were higher up the news agenda. The alleged IRA bank robbery last December and the murder of Robert McCartney were front page news for weeks. These incidents are almost completely ignored:

A man was shot dead as he arrived for work in Belfast yesterday in what appeared to be the latest murder in a loyalist feud which has claimed four lives in the past six weeks.

Two gunmen ambushed the victim, Michael Green, 42, at 8.15am, as he got off his motorbike outside Gilpins furniture store, in Sandy Row, a loyalist heartland in the south of the city. The father of three was shot several times from behind. An ambulance arrived within minutes but he died at the scene.

The LVF blamed the UVF for the murder and although an LVF source denied Mr Green, from Ballysillan in north Belfast, was one of its members, other loyalists claimed he had LVF links.

He is the fourth man to be killed in the feud, which is costing £30,000 a day to police. All three previous murders have also been blamed on the UVF, which is supposed to be observing a ceasefire.

Jameson Lockhart, 25, was shot as he sat in a lorry in east Belfast on July 8; Craig McCausland, 20, was shot in front of his girlfriend and baby in their north Belfast home on July 12; and on July 30 Stephen Paul, a father of four, was shot dead outside his north Belfast home.

The UVF has vowed to wipe out the smaller LVF, which it accuses of terrorising people through drug dealing, but other loyalist sources say there is drug dealing on both sides and the feud is about power and grudges.

If it was a feud between say, the Continuity IRA and the Real IRA, such a happening would be major news. As it's a loyalist feud, no one except the Guardian and Independent cares. The apologists for the Ulster Unionists and "Democratic" Ulster Unionist party in the Daily Telegraph ignore such incidents and only call on the IRA to abandon all activity immediately. Often in these communities, it's the loyalists who are causing friction, not the Republicans. Just one example:

A couple are to leave their County Antrim home after an overnight attack.

Bottles filled with paint were thrown at the house in Tudor Vale in Ahoghill, at 2330 BST on Monday.

Police have said they are treating the attack on the Catholic couple as sectarian. A primary school and Catholic church were also targeted.

Pat McGaughey, who has lived there for eight years, said they feared for their lives. "We are not willing to take a chance on our safety," she said.

"We are going to move, we are going to leave, we'll have to sell our house and go.

But Mrs McGaughey said she felt "nothing has been said" by the church leaders or the politicians to help to end such attacks.

On Tuesday morning, the parish priest of St Mary's Church on the Ballynafie Road in the village discovered that paint had been thrown on the driveway.

There was a similar attack at St Joseph's School in the village.

The DUP Mayor of Ballymena, Tommy Nicholl, condemned the attack and said he sympathised with the McGaughey family.

He called on "all right-thinking people to ensure that this type of activity is brought to an end".

Such weasel words from the DUP Mayor are worthless. Only weeks ago the DUP leader Ian Paisley was demanding that the IRA don "sackcloth and ashes" and produce photographs showing their disarmament. Apologies were also demanded for those who died in bomb attacks. Such measures are designed not only to humiliate the IRA, but also the Catholic community in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisley is the type of fire and brimstone preacher who could be deported under Charles Clarke's new measure for dealing with extremists. Sadly, there'll only be people with brown skin deported, while Ian will be invited to join Mr Blair in a nice cup of tea when he returns from his snorkeling holiday.

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Monday, August 15, 2005 

Israel begins pullout from the Gaza strip.

Israel is at long last beginning to withdraw from land it has occupied illegally since 1967, in violation of numerous UN resolutions. It's obviously not worth getting over-excited about the chances of further withdrawals, as over 150,000 settlers now live in the West Bank. The majority of those are highly religious fanatical Jews, who believe in the so-called Greater Israel spreading from Samaria to Judea.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which has largely become a prison for its Palestinian occupants during the intifada, should be greatly welcomed. That it has been orchestrated by Ariel Sharon, one of the greatest proponents of settler communities and often called a war criminal, is all the more surprising. Critics on the left are wise to suspect that this may well be a ploy to keep huge parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It's worth remembering that President Bush himself declared that full withdrawal from lands occupied in 1967 was "unrealistic". Despite a call from the United States to stop any further building of settlements in the West Bank, itself a violation of both UN resolutions and of the "road-map" to peace, Sharon in 2004 gave the go-ahead for the building of 1,000 new homes. Also not to be forgotten is the security wall, which is surrounding Jewish settlements, cutting off some Palestinian farmers off from their land, and destroying the few remnants of economic activity which the Palestinians have left.

Although it may be scaremongering by the Israeli government, warnings have been constant about the possible threats to the lives of those carrying out and promoting the Gaza disengagement. Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by a extremist religious Jew after the Oslo peace accords. Similarly, the disengagement also faces resistance by some former cabinet ministers, including Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been wrangling with Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party for the past few years. Netanyahu is a symptom of the Israeli far-right: the misplaced belief that strong military power, occupation and assassinations will keep the Palestinians suppressed, while suicide bombings by Islamists will stop the international community from demanding Israel stops such actions. We have seen over the years of infitada what a disastrous policy that is. Such a policy also ignores the consequences of the far higher Arab birth-rate within Israel and the occupied territories, leading to Arabs becoming the majority by as soon as 2025.

Despite all this, the disengagement is one of the first positive moves towards peace that Israel has made in the last few years. Now that Yasser Arafat is gone, the Israeli excuse for not having a partner to deal with has also disappeared. No longer should Israel be allowed to not discuss the status of the West Bank with the excuse that armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad stop the "terror" and disarm. The peace processes in Northern Ireland and Aceh in Indonesia did not start with the armed organisations instantly melting down their weapons. Neither should this be the case in Israel. A Palestinian state, living in harmony alongside Israel would be one of the greatest chances for the establishment of peace and the end of other theocracies and dictatorships throughout the Middle East. It would rid religious extremists of an excuse for terrorism all across the world, not just in Israel. It's uncertain whether Ariel Sharon can deliver peace. What is certain is that he will not unless he is fully pressured by the United States. If President Bush truly believes in bringing democracy and peace to the Middle East, he should start by making Sharon negotiate a viable Palestinian state on the borders of occupied 1967 land now. Anything less will, and should be rejected.

(Thanks to the Guardian for the map at the top of this piece. Click to enlarge it.)

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