24 June 2014

Free the Al-Jazeera journalists, but what about Qatar?

There is no doubt that it reprehensible for the Egyptian government to prosecute English language journalists of Al-Jazeera for "terrorism".  The campaign #journalismisnotacrime is quite right in what it calls for. As much as I support the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood autocracy that appeared to have the view that democracy means "one vote once" in its drive to create a theocracy, it does not justify the new regime suppressing free journalism.  The response to criticism should be rebuttal, not to throw people in prison.

However, looking a little bit further behind the campaign some big questions deserve to be asked...

1.  What press freedom does Al Jazeera's owners offer in its home country?  The answer is very little. Reporters Without Borders ranks Qatar as 113th in press freedom globally.  Of course, if you're Al Jazeera journalists who dare to report critically about Qatar, you at best wont last in your job long, at worst you'll end up in prison too.  This is a country where there is a proposed crime to spread "false news".  Qatar itself gets a "not free" ranking by Freedom House, which notes that:

"Al-Jazeera generally does not cover Qatari politics and focuses instead on regional issues."

2. What about journalists arrested in many other countries?  Reporters Without Borders notes that 170 journalists have been imprisoned in over 30 other countries this year.   That includes 32 in China, 28 in the largely ignored Eritrea (the north Korea of Africa), 21 in Iran and 16 in Syria.  Why pick on Egypt?  Is it because, unlike the others, it gets US backing, rather than because journalists per se mater?

3.  Why is international attention paid to Al Jazeera journalists working for Al Jazeera English, but not when those who work for Al Jazeera Arabic are arrested?  Doesn't this feed the concern of the Anglo-centric bias of so much of the mainstream media?  Few of the journalists imprisoned in other countries work predominantly in English.  Why should that matter?  

4.  How do people working for broadcasters, owned by dictatorships that intervene in other countries, expect to be treated in those countries?  I don't doubt that many journalists who work for Al-Jazeera are professional in their outlook, and wouldn't want to act as mouthpieces for their owners, but when your employer's owners are directly funding and arming the authoritarian opposition (and former government) in a country, and you're in the country reporting on it, don't you think it raises some issues about independence?

17 June 2014

Iraq, Iran and what now

The dominant discourse as of late about Iraq has been the opportunity for those who opposed the Western intervention in Iraq to gloat, to repeat the largely vacuous claims that the war was "illegal" (when it was legally authorised by the governments concerned and to grant any legal status to the psychopathic Saddam Hussein regime is to abrogate any notion of needing law at all) and to blame the recent ISIS successes on Tony Blair and GW Bush.

The grain of truth in that is important, but it is not the key point at this stage

It is true that whilst the West was very capable, with aplomb even, in overthrowing the Hussein regime, and indeed few think that was bad in itself (although Saddam Hussein's chief sycophant George Galloway thinks so, but he has since gone on to lick the blood stained boots of Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin), but was woeful in establishing a new order and constitutional framework on Iraq.  It was completely morally correct to overthrow the regime, which itself broke international law across many fields (international aggression, use and development of weapons of mass destruction and human rights) and was egregiously evil.   However, to expend over US$1 trillion in taxpayers' money and thousands of Western soldiers lives and not have an effective plan for a peaceful future (except for the relatively successful Kurdish region, which had spent over a decade effectively protected by a UNSC endorsed No Fly Zone), was grossly negligent.

It is for that, that Bush, Blair and the supporting leadership of those administrations deserve to be damned.

Let's be clear, had the bulk of Iraqis been imbued with the belief that all other Iraqis, regardless of what sect of Islam they followed (if any) or their background, deserved to live their lives in peace, then it would have been easy.

06 June 2014

Britain matters to Germany

One of the reasons given as to why many in continental Europe do not understand the British lack of enthusiasm for the European Union is that no other country in the EU was bound by being the victor in World War Two.  The war, and being on the right side, was and remains a common cause of pride and identity for the UK.  Not for the UK is there a smidgeon of guilt over what happened in World War Two.  

Compare that to Germany, which has spent the post-war period being reminded that it was the land that started two wars in the 20th century and committed the world's first modern industrial level form of genocide.  Whereas other states on the continent were either allied to the Nazis, neutral towards them or defeated by them.  Unlike Britain, the idea that the EEC and then the EU would ensure that these countries would never fight each other again, is powerful and is fed, in part, by a sense of national guilt that their ancestors either didn't do enough for peace, or were themselves cheering on the militarism that consumed the continent.  The UK can firmly be sure that it didn't start the war, it wasn't neutral and it wasn't defeated, even if geography helped that (Ireland remained neutral, as it was solipsistically focused on its own bloody independence, rather than seeing the evil on the continent).   

Don't underestimate the different psychological effect that Britain takes for granted, in having its war veterans appear on D-Day, telling their stories, with pride and heroism.  Feeding the nationalist pride of just victory, is not something that happens on the continent.  At best some resistance fighters, at worst those who fought for fascism, genocide and totalitarianism, denies the strength of identity based on such history, refocusing pride on more benign identity points, such as language, older history and post-war culture, and the EU as the antidote to the guilt.

It understandably, is never discussed.  Indeed, the new EU Member States that once lay under the jackboot of the USSR have similar issues, with so many in those countries who were a part of systems that oppressed their fellow citizens.

So when Angela Merkel yesterday said "What would have become of Europe if the British people had not found the strength to put their existence at risk in order to save Europe?" it was a welcome sign that, despite the arrogance and smug self-satisfaction of the EU, some in continental Europe will say what is known - Europe today would not be free if it had not had the UK (and the USA) to fight against Nazism and keep Stalin behind an iron curtain.

There is no need to be repeatedly grateful for winning the war, after all most of those alive across Europe bear no responsibility or guilt for what their ancestors did.  I didn't win the war or do anything to help, so I shouldn't claim any esteem from what happened.  

However, it would do well for others in Europe to note the differences in history, and the reasons why the UK does feel confident about its own national sovereignty, history and ability to avoid declaring war on its neighbours.