Sunday, October 6, 2013


The hypocrisy in international relations, although nothing new, still manages to bewilder and irritate me in equal measures. Are these hypocrites so blind, so indoctrinated, that they don't see the nonsense that spews from their mouths? Or are they very much aware of the double standards that form the basis of their rhetoric but hope the public won't pick up on it? There have been some great recent examples of such hypocrisy.

A few weeks back French and American political and social commentators were lining up to take a shot at Britain's perceived “crisis of democracy” over parliaments no vote to military strikes in Syria. Apparently international law must be respected at all times, and any violators must be severely punished. Except, what they actually mean is that certain people and countries must respect international rules, where others need not concern themselves with such things. It's telling when you see big political figures such as US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry replace the more objective term “international law” with the subjective “international norms”. But, as big violators of the former, what choice do countries like the US have but to change the terminology they use to deflect from the reality of their foreign policy.

Politicians and political commentators, particularly from the US and Israel, but Britain too, have been quick to dismiss the newly elected Iranian president's pledged willingness to discuss a settlement over the nuclear issue. Here the hypocrisy is as acute as ever. Often reference to Iran's violation of a UN resolution is quoted in the same conversation that mentions Israel's security; yet rarely are Israel's constant abuses of international law and disregard for UN resolutions mentioned. In that region, India, Pakistan, and even more relevant, Israel, are all allowed to stockpile nuclear weapons, whilst the international community headed by the US refuse Iran that same right.

Another recent example of the use of double standards in international relations was the grounding of the plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales. Spain, France, Italy and Portugal, at the insistence of Washington, all denied his plane access to airspace over their respective countries, forcing him to land in Vienna. Whistle blower and to most outside the US, hero Edward Snowden, responsible for the recent NSA leaks, was suspected of being on-board. The fact that this turned out to be incorrect is irrelevant. What is disturbing is that the US and it's allies feel they have the right to force a plane carrying a democratically elected president to land in order for them to search that plane. Can you imagine, and I mean really try to envisage, a group of Latin American countries trying to force Air Force One, with president on-board, to land at a place of their choosing so they can carry out a thorough search. We all know what consequences would likely follow – the US would severely punish the perpetrators, and quite possibly, militarily.

Hypocrisy seems to be a key theme that runs through the foreign polices of some Western powers. Is there any wonder then that countries like Iran or North Korea are reluctant to engage with such countries? Countries that criticise them for their human rights record yet at the same time cosy up to Saudi Arabia, probably one of the worst abusers of human rights out there. What are the rest of the world seeing when they look at the US or Britain? - Aggressive, untrustworthy, and extremely hypocritical countries – and it's really not that hard to understand why they have such a perception!  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Having just read Anne Frank's diary I cannot help but ponder over questions regarding the Nazi persecution of European Jews during WW2, and of racial and religious hatred in general. In many ways Anne Frank was a slightly unique teenage girl: witty and intelligent beyond her years; Anne was constantly in a mode of self-assessment and self-improvement, not just academically but morally. Her descriptions of both the banal and the exceptional living conditions in which she found herself living under were vivid due to her writing abilities and philosophising mind. But, in other ways, Anne was a typical teenager with typical feelings of confusion, angst and alienation. What child of that age doesn't feel misunderstood by their parents, and by adults in general. It was this mixture of both her uniqueness and ordinariness that helps to draw the reader into her world, and leaves you pondering questions of humanity: the kindness and courage of some verses the cruelness and hatred of others.

The risks that many people took to hide and protect Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, as well as other persecuted peoples, was nothing short of heroic. To put themselves on the line in that way, knowing in full the penalties that await such people if caught, shows a beautiful mix of compassion and courage that makes you both sad and hopeful all at the same moment. Equally, Anne Frank's desire to live as full a life as possible whilst in hiding, and her commitment to do the same once the occupation was over, while all that time living in constant fear of capture, torture and death, is inspiring and heart-warming. When faced with such cruelty as was commonplace under Nazi rule, and also for those who unfortunately fell under imperial Japanese rule too, it's comforting to know so many people fought back, and not just with violence but with kindness too.

But what drives people to commit such abominable acts in the first place. The fact that a large group of people, in this case the Germans, can be so systematically cruel to another group of people, the Jews, is horrifying, and you can't help but wonder what horrors await us in the future. Having said that, we know many Germans at the time were repulsed by Hitler and the Nazi ideology, some fighting back while others were coerced or intimidated into playing along. Nevertheless, there was big support for Hitler among the German population, certainly at the beginning of the war, and anti-Semitism was rife. It's simply to easy and dismissive to label these people as brutes and animals, and it gets us nowhere in trying to understand what caused the support for this ideology.

At the time of Hitler's ascension to power, Germany was on it's knees economically, causing many hardships for ordinary people. We now know from experience that when people are suffering they often look for someone to blame. Extreme elements of society exploit this, often by pushing their own prejudices onto other people by blaming those who are different to them for societies ills. Hitler was clever and charismatic, and he seemed to be able to offer the Germans a way out of the mess they found themselves in. He gave them someone to blame and fight, someone they could hate - a common enemy. Unfortunately, a combination of Nazi propaganda and a feeling of helplessness among many sections of the German people, caused a nation to come together to fight for a deluded ideology that sickens me to my very core.

If we can agree that people aren't inherently cruel, born either good or evil with no room for movement between the two, then there must be cause for hope and optimism for the future. If we know that what drives people to do good or bad mostly depends on their environment, then as humans we must do our best to discourage unfavourable conditions, like poverty, and encourage socially desirable ones, like equality. We will never be able to entirely eradicate human cruelty from our repertoire, but lessening the conditions where this behaviour thrives would hopefully reduce the chances of us seeing such large scale atrocities like those we have witnessed in the past.    

Thursday, April 4, 2013

North Korea - Aggressive or Misunderstood?

There's disconcerting sounds coming out of North Korea right now. It's hopefully all bravado but Kim Jong-un, like his farther before him, strikes me as a megalomaniac. A megalomaniac who is now bored and wants to play armies. Of course any attack of sizeable proportion against the South, and any attack whatsoever against the US, would be suicide and I'm sure that he and his cohorts realise this. Still, it's worrying times for the region.

However, we must be careful when judging Kim Jong-un and North Korea, as our Western-centric perspective, often formed from biased media reporting, can sometimes hamper our ability to see the world as they do. Clearly there is a repressive regime in place and for the average citizen life is hard due to a lack of some of life's more basic necessities such as food and water, as well as healthcare, eduction and jobs. But, they are also faced with some external worries: they live next door to their well armed enemy neighbour; and they also live close to some state of the art army and naval bases that happen to belong to the US, probably the most aggressive country in the world, with a track record of militarily intervening in countries both overtly and covertly. When you start looking at it from this perspective, you start to see that North Korea probably feels insecure and vulnerable, singled out for sanctions and bullied by the international community, with very few friends in the world. It's quite common for someone who perceives injustice in the way they are treated by others to lash out, and this might well help to explain North Korea's behaviour, at least in part. That's not to excuse their behaviour, but it would be helpful going forward if this was taken into account when dealing with this rouge state.   

Thursday, March 21, 2013


There are still people out there who continue to defend Tony Blair's decision to follow the US into war with Iraq. The reasons given for their pro-war stance are varied, but the most common tends to centre around the argument that the removal of Saddam has put an end to genocide and oppression, paving the way for democracy and freedom. This reasoning does not really paint an accurate picture of what life is like now for many Iraqis. Nor does it take into account the high price paid to remove Saddam. Here are 5 reasons why the war was a big mistake:

1. Legality of war 

Under international war, there are certain conditions that must be met before engaging in conflict with another country. These conditions were not met, a point that was not lost on the majority of the international community, and a reason why a subsequent vote in the UN favoured giving weapons inspectors more time to gather evidence, rather than using force. I recently read someone's argument for going to war which stated that we shouldn't let “legality” get in the way of doing what is morally right. There way be times when a quote such as this holds some validity, certainly in regards to some authoritarian regimes or to some archaic laws that are no longer relevant to the modern world. But, when it comes to international law, to ignore certain laws in order to justify acts of aggression only serves to encourage others to commit crimes if they deem it beneficial. How can we turn around and criticise a county who flaunts the law when we are also guilty of this.

2. The rationale for going to war was based on lies 

Many lies were bandied about during the build up to war, with Tony Blair and George Bush at the helms of their respective governments being the worst culprits. Many experts had doubts regarding the quality of the intelligence being cited as justification, Hans Blix being one example. But since then the information has been made public, making it quite clear that a mixture of lies and exaggerated truths were used to encourage public support for the war. Did Saddam Hussein have connections to Al-Qaeda. Did he possess WMDs? Was he a threat to us or our allies? Of course, we now all know that the answers to these questions are no. This therefore brings us on to the next point; what were the actual motives for war.

3. Immoral motives 

Since Iraq was not a threat, and Blair and Bush both stated at the beginning that regime change was not their objective, ruling out reasons based on humanitarian grounds and stability (or though this was later stated as an objective once the security threat could no longer be wheeled out as justification), then what on earth could have been driving our leaders to send our troops to invade a foreign land? Well, looking at who benefited most from the war, that is to say, mainly Western companies involved in oil, construction, security, as well as arms manufacturers and suppliers, then it's not hard to come to the conclusion that our motives were not born out of the highest of moral standards.

4. Death and suffering 

Civilian deaths related to the war are estimated to be anywhere between over 100,000 at the very conservative end, to over 600,000. Either way, the statistics are depressing and do not include long term injuries, both physical and mental. Then, added to that are the deaths and injuries that the coalition and Iraqi troops sustained. I know some feel little sympathy for Saddam's forces but they had the right, under international law, to resist foreign invaders. And whilst some troops were loyal to Saddam and/or Iraq, many fought out of fear for him. Can all this combined suffering we worth the removal of Saddam and his regime? As we know, the suffering continued long after regime change, and continues to this day.

5. The aftermath (the suffering continues) 

While some lives have undoubtedly improved post Saddam, like those of the Kurds in northern Iraq, many areas of the country are less stable and the quality of life has worsened when compared to Saddam's reign. Sectarian violence, unemployment, lack of education and access to healthcare are all common complaints, while woman's rights have also taken a step backwards.

As an outsider looking in, ask yourself, would you have preferred to live in Iraq pre or post regime change? I know in terms of my safety I would be better of picking the former. For Iraqis the answer to this question would depend on factors such as where they live or of what religion persuasion they are. What is clear is that for a great many number of Iraqis life has got much harder, and shows little sign of improvement any time soon.  

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Am I an anti-capitalist? This is a question I've been asked on several occasions, and not just by others, I also ask myself this same question. The truth is, I don't think it matters if I am or not, capitalism is the system we've got and for the time being it's here to stay. What I want to see is a more ethical, fairer capitalism. Maybe by the very nature of capitalism there will always be winners and losers, but there must be a way, probably through some sort of regulation agreed on a global scale, to increase the amount of winners and address the issue of inequality by reducing the wealth gap between the rich and the poor.

A multinational company that makes huge profits while their workers on the factory floor don't make a living wage, inhibiting them to adequately feed their families or send their children to school, is quite frankly, sickening. Capitalism seems to encourage some of humankind's less admirable qualities such as greed and selfishness, therefore, is it not common sense to try and restrain those who see no problem in profiting at other people's expense?

There are clearly some areas, for example, such as water, electric, gas and other essentials, that should NEVER be privatised in order to protect the public from unethical practices that can have a devastating effect on people's lives. Even in Britain we are seeing utility companies making record profits whilst continually increasing their prices, consequently pushing more and more families deeper into poverty. Mass privatisation of state-owned assets is always a mistake, as we have seen time and time again. But where and when the private sector is in control, and there are some good arguments as to why they should always play a massive role locally and globally, then there should always be safeguards in place that affords the public some protection from those who are more inclined to do business in a less scrupulous manner.   

Friday, March 1, 2013

Haredi Rabbis Child Abuse Shame - Britain's Hidden Child Abuse

Child abuse cases are always shocking whatever the circumstances. But, when the abuser is supposedly a person of high moral standing and in a position of trust, the level of deceit that goes with the actual abuse tends to add fuel to the flames of anger. Dispatches, Channel 4's flagship investigative current affairs programme, recently aired a brilliant documentary exposing Rabbis within the Jewish Haredi community discouraging victims of child abuse from going to the police, preferring to deal with matters in-house and within the community. We later find out that what is meant by dealing with matters within the community is to do very little.

The Rabbis featured showed no interest in gaining justice for the victim and no interest in protecting children from future abuse. It's about time we stopped assuming that a religious man is necessarily a man of morals. Time and time again it has been proven that the former can lack the latter. And vice versa, one can be moral and yet have no religious faith whatsoever, this is a point I think that needs making. Child abusers should be punished accordingly, and so should their enablers, whether a rabbi, a priest, or anyone else that sits in a position of authority and fails to adequately protect the vulnerable under their care.

If you haven't already I highly recommend watching the documentary:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Iraq 10 Years On

10 years on from Iraq and still Blair is a free man. No trial, no charge, not even an arrest. The invasion of Iraq has probably got to be the biggest crime my country has committed since my birth. Certainly the most straight forward case of war crimes and breach of international law. How can we expect people across the world to obey the rule of law when we flaunt it so frivolously?

And what legacy have we left Iraq? Some argue that although the motives may have been dubious, we have removed a tyrant and installed democracy, leaving the country in a better state than before the invasion. I cannot see this. I see a corrupt government using the banner of democracy to hide their wealth accumulation. I see constant sectarian violence terrorising the innocent and vulnerable. I see a lack of eduction and jobs. Saddam Hussein was a vicious dictator, few would disagree, I certainly wouldn't. But, are the normal citizens of Iraq generally better off now than before the invasion? With the exception of the Kurds, the evidence seems to suggest, NO.

It was wrong and immoral to attack and invade Iraq, and the mess we left the country in is a crime in its self. I do not feel good about belonging to a country that has committed such terrible acts. To see Blair, among others, on trial at The Hague, would go some way to addressing the injustices the Iraqi people have endured. It would also send a clear message to the international community and discourage any further abuses. Unfortunately this is unlikely to happen.

It looks quite a distinct possibility that Iran may be the next victim. Iran is constantly vilified in the media, and it's true that the regime there is brutal and oppressive, but they show no physical aggression towards their neighbours or beyond, they are not a threat to world peace, not like we, the US and Israel are. Hopefully, with much of the British population feeling let down by are exploits in Iraq, public opinion against any involvement in such an act will be strong enough to dissuade the government in participating. I'm sure the streets will see unprecedented numbers of protesters if the people are ignored.      

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Drug Test For Every Employee

There is a school of thought at the moment that as part of the fight against drugs, every single employee should be drug tested at their place of work. This proposition seems to have gained at least some popular support, although as far as I can tell no politician is pushing for this yet. Leaving aside any possible breach of human rights and invasion of privacy, which is not to be taken lightly, this seems to me to be an ill-considered proposal which would have deeply damaging social implications.

Of course, the idea is that employees who take drugs will reconsider doing so, due to the possibility of loosing their job through being tested positive at work. This may well be the case for some occasional drug takers, but what happens to those, for example, who are regular cannabis smokers and who are not willing to forgo one of their pleasures? Estimates of adult cannabis usage in the UK put the figures anywhere between 6% - 9% of the population. Even if we take a very conservative estimate, that's well over 3 million cannabis users of working age. That's potentially 3 million people, many of whom are good and productive workers, now unemployed and claiming benefits. And the perverse thing is that takers of harder drugs, such as ecstasy and cocaine, have a better chance of keeping their jobs as their drugs of choice take a much shorter period of time to work their way out of the body.

What a scandal this would lead to if passed in law. Employers would loose many of their best workers, those who lost their job would find it extremely difficult to find new employment, and the drain on our already very tight public funds would be immense. I'm not condoning anyone going into work under the influence of any drug, including alcohol, but as long as an employee is doing their job to a satisfactory level, is it really of any concern to the employer what they do outside of work? 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mali and the War On Terrorism

Jihadists, Islamic extremists, Islamic fundamentalists, or whatever label you want to apply to them, are again headline news due to increased activity, this time in northern Mali where French troops, with the help of Malian troops, have been given the unenvious task of liberating towns from Al-Qaeda occupation. As each town falls to French forces we learn of the brutality handed out by these terrorists to the native populations, particularly the black residents, where torture and murder seems to have been used not just to keep order, but in a self-righteous sadistic manner synonymous with Al-Qaeda.

Whether or not you think European involvement is the correct course of action, there is little doubting the possible threat to peace these terrorists could cause, not just to the region but, the world as a whole. Having said that, as always happens, the only thought is how to eliminate the threat and there is no discussion on why this threat exists in the first place. Why is it that these Islamic extremist groups seem to have an endless pool of enthusiastic recruits that are frothing at the mouth at the thought of carrying out such despicable acts, particularly in regards to the West and their supporters? Why is there so much hate and resentment aimed at the West? The main stream media finds the answer to these questions too uncomfortable so chooses not to ask them.

Mali, like many other African and Middle Eastern countries, all have two relevant common characteristics: They are oil producers and they have mass poverty. Then there is a third factor that comes into play: Many of them have corrupt governments that allow Western multinationals to make ridiculously large profits from their oil reserves. How must this look to the native populations? Often living in dire poverty, lacking food, water, housing, employment, eduction, and probably most importantly – hope, it's enough to turn anyone bitter. They have practically nothing, yet through stealing their natural resources Western multinationals turn over huge profits. It's not hard to see the link between terrorism, poverty and the theft of resources.

If we want to reduce terrorism we have three options, along side the use of force. One, stop profiting from other countries resources, which I think we can all agree is unlikely to happen. Two, eradicate or reduce poverty in those countries. Three, continue to exploit their resources but use a fair amount of the profit to fight poverty in their respective countries by funding housing, education, infrastructure etc. If we ignore these options, and I'm sure we will, global terrorism will not go away.    

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The World: 50 Years Down the Line

I'm sure that even people with the most positive of dispositions find it hard to look beyond the near future with any real optimism. Maybe humans by nature tend not to think that far ahead anyway, preferring to focus on the here and now instead, which is understandable. Western governments and multinationals are certainly very limited in their long term planning, with the latter prioritising short term profit above everything else. Attitudes in the East, particularly China, seem to be much more adept at long term planning, sometimes thinking many generations ahead. But, it is this general lack of consideration for the future that further exacerbates the problems that the planet faces and will continue to face with increasing urgency.

It is problems that we are already confronted with which in my reckoning will, without urgent attention, cause untold suffering to the world, barely leaving any corners untouched. In fact, these particular problems are already having a devastating affect on some peoples lives. Over-population, diminishing natural resources, and climate change. These three issues are not unrelated to each other, they work in combination, one fuelling the other. Neither are these issues foreign or obscure, they are well known to everyone, certainly throughout the developed world, maybe to a lesser extent in the developing world where poverty reduction seems more relevant.

To many the world is already over-populated, with many of people's basic needs such as food and water not being met. Whether you think that this is a population problem or just bad management of the earth's resources, it's hard to deny that if the current population growth trends continue, we will certainly be unable to provide for massive parts of the world's population, with increased famine being just one of the awful consequences we will be confronted with. We have limited natural resources, whether that be oil, gas, minerals or fish stocks, we all know this. Yet we continue to largely ignore this fact, choosing to up our consumption of such resources, while limiting our investment in greener renewable alternatives. Through increased Co2 levels, animal agriculture, deforestation, as well as many other factors, we are affecting climate change which is upsetting the natural balance of the planet.

It is the combination of these three ever-growing problems, over-population, dwindling natural resources, and climate change, together with what seems to be mankind's short-sightedness and thirst for confrontation and conflict, that will bring about such terrifying consequences: major natural disasters and large scale war.

Extreme weather patterns due to a warming in the earth's temperature and a rise in sea levels, are something we are already familiar with, but these are likely to increase in volume and severity in the future. With droughts, hurricanes, and monsoons killing more and more people, as well as wildlife. There is also likely to be a rise in volcano eruptions and earthquakes. The world, simply put, will become much less hospitable, making survival an uphill battle.

Probably more worrying, at least in terms of the immediate destruction it can cause, is a world that turns to war in pursuit of the world's dwindling resources. This is not simply paranoia or an over-the-top prediction of an apocalyptic end to the world. The history of humankind is littered with war and violence, even our more recent history is no exception, with advanced modern countries showing the same disregard for human life and lust for destruction. The most striking of differences the technologically driven modern world has compared with the past is the array and destructiveness of its weapons, not least nuclear weapons which have now become prolific.

Some argue that nuclear weapons, which now several countries possess, have brought about a certain amount of stability. I believe there is some truth in this, after all, one country tends not to attack another country if they are able to respond with a nuclear threat. But given that the worlds growing population, who have a propensity for war, is running out of resources, it's doesn't take much of a leap to argue that nations may engage in war over these resources. I would like to be optimistic about our future here on earth, but the logical part of my brain tells me there will be wars, continuous, brutal and probably nuclear world wars. Unless we get are shit together, the world in 50 years time will be no picnic!  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Shattered Faith in the Liberal Democrats and UK Politics

Today was the final nail in the coffin, the Liberal Democrats will no longer get my support. It was looking more and more unlikely that they would receive my vote in the next election, but this most recent attack aimed at the poorer and more disadvantaged echelons of society in the form of benefit cuts, is the final straw. My hope that the Liberal Democrats would somehow restrain the Conservatives and their elitist policies did not pan out, showing no conviction in protecting what are supposed to be the party's core values. While the disadvantaged, who can not be held accountable for the financial mess we are in, are attacked and demonised, the Liberal Democrats seem to either actively support Conservative policies or fall into a state of inertia.

We can expect more of the same over the next couple of years, inequality and poverty will continue to increase, bringing with it all manner of social ills and unrest. The Coalition will continue to blame the economy and financial deficit for the crimes they commit against their own people. Labour will of course be loud in opposition, and maybe it's true that if they were in government the cuts would be less harsh, but what else can they offer? They have to take a fair chunk of the blame for this financial mess which has allowed the Conservatives to act which such cruelty. Labour's record on human rights and civil liberties are probably worse than that of the Conservatives, and their aggressive foreign policy is abhorrent, thus to me, they are no alternative.

So what voting alternatives have we got for the next election? I'm sure UKIP and the BNP will continue to pick up votes, these more extreme parties seem to do well when society as a whole is suffering, but lets hope not. Now that my faith in the Liberal Democrats has been shattered, it is only the Green Party that I see as a viable alternative. Their policies and values are very appealing, but it is their lack of experience and political savvy where I have doubts. Having said that, it's not as if they are going to find themselves in government by the next election. A gradual rise in popularity would seem more likely, allowing them to pick seats up here and there, gaining experience and influence as they go. My faith in British politics is at an all time low, it's hard to see any other than the three current mainstream parties dominating for the foreseeable future. No wonder pessimism is taking hold.