Alternative Views’ Gulf War documentary: damning criticism of UK and US complicity in Iraq-Kuwaiti discord

 Frank Morrow / Alternative Views, Gulf War documentary (1990s?)

Found an interesting documentary on the Gulf War which delves into the history of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia just after the end of the First World War and the demise of the Ottoman empire. Under Ottoman rule, there were not political boundaries separating the regions that became these countries and Iraq and Kuwait in particular were part of the historical region of Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with the cultural and commercial capital based in Baghdad. Once these areas came under British rule, the British carved out the territory that became Kuwait in 1922 so as to deny Iraq, which resisted British rule forcefully during the early 1920s, a sea-port. Over the next 20-plus years, the Kuwaitis and Iraqis endeavoured to reunite their countries but were continually thwarted by the British. After the Second World War, the Iraqis continued their effort to reunite the two countries right up to and after 1961 when the British granted Kuwait its independence. Iraqi leaders who attempted reunification tended to be bumped off violently, and the assassins usually turned out to have the blessing of (and assistance from) the British and, later, the US through the CIA. In the 1960s, the Ba’ath Party was in power in Iraq and a rising star in that party was Saddam Hussein.

The documentary jumps roughly three decades to the early 1990s when Saddam Hussein is President over a war-weary and impoverished Iraq, having fought an 8-year-long war against Iran that resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for Iraq. The film speculates that based on evidence the CIA may have tricked Iraq into invading Iran, duping Hussein into believing that the Iranians were weak and disorganised after the Shah’s downfall and that parts of Iran would be easy pickings. Certainly the US was supplying Iraq with weapons and intelligence on Iranian troop movements, and at the same time was supplying Iran with weapons, ensuring the two countries would bleed each other. The effect of the Iran-Iraq war was to restrict the supply of oil, ratcheting up oil prices and profits for oil companies.

The documentary consists of various talking heads dominated by Frank Morrow narrating the recent history of the Persian Gulf region. After the halfway point the documentary becomes a group discussion involving Morrow, economist Dr Harry Cleaver and Doug Kellner. Kellner then takes over, detailing how Iraq in the early 1990s came to be seen as the major threat to peace in the Middle East and how Saddam Hussein and his war machine had to be taught a lesson. Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya were also seen as threats. (Israel was not considered a threat despite having the largest war machine in the region and a history of attacking and destabilising Lebanon.) Other speakers include former CIA officer Phil Agee, US academic Edward Said and David Sheehan: their sections of the film appear to be excerpts of longer film clips.

The film is put together in a basic way and cuts off at the end but the gist is clear: the unhappy history of Iraq and its fraught relations with Kuwait is in large part a result of cynical manipulation by the British empire and then the Americans with the aim of keeping the Iraqis weak and malleable, and of controlling the region’s oil resources. The Americans come to realise that by manipulating Iraq and Iran through supplying both sides with armaments they can control the supply of oil and set oil prices accordingly. The US continues to play off Iraq and Kuwait against each other. Saddam Hussein himself doesn’t come off all that well; one might have thought that he should be more wary of relying on the Americans’ good graces and not take the US at face value.

As for the British, their sordid role in the making of the current Middle East and in particular Iraq and Kuwait has largely disappeared into the fog of history and the film’s greatest value is in highlighting the enormous damage the British empire did to Arab peoples across western Asia in the early 20th century. I suspect that even here the documentary has only scratched the surface of ongoing British political and economic involvement in the politics of region.

 

A compelling character study in “American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince”

Martin Scorsese, “American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince” (1978)

After making his break-through films “Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver” and “New York, New York”, Martin Scorsese turned back to directing a documentary short about a friend, Steven Prince, who appeared in a small part in “Taxi Driver”. The film is in the form of an extended interview divided up into several chapters headed by film clips of Prince as a small child at home. Prince talks about several hair-raising episodes in his life as a drug addict  before he got the “Taxi Driver” gig, including the time he shot and killed an armed robber while working at a petrol station, helping a woman who overdosed on a drug by injecting adrenalin into her chest and following a manual while doing so (a tale nicked by Quentin Tarantino for “Pulp Fiction”), escaping the cops during a drugs bust by bursting into tears and accidentally electrocuting someone while driving a van over wires.

Scorsese focusses his camera on Prince and just lets the film roll while Prince reminisces animatedly about the ups and downs in his life and sometimes acts out what he or someone did. The stories may or may not be true and those that are might be very exaggerated for the benefit of viewers. Prince has quite a cadaverous look similar to Marilyn Manson / Brian Warner in his younger days in the 1990s. The relaxed, minimal nature of the filming with very few edits gives it the feel of a home movie and Prince is a very entertaining raconteur who holds viewers spellbound with his tall tales. Scorsese and another actor appear in the film as minor presences.

The film does look a bit ragged early on, especially during a fight scene, but it is very well-made and has none of the jerkiness and occasional out-of-focus shot that might be expected of a home movie of its type. One has to remember Scorsese made this film during a period in his life when he was partying a lot and high on drugs including cocaine. There’s no moralising about how drugs are bad for you and can ruin your life, or how being a drug addict exposes you to the full range of human behaviours and their depravity and is a life lesson in itself. The last scene in which Prince talks about his last conversation with his father before the older man’s death from heart disease is very moving: for a brief moment before the credits begin to roll, Prince falls silent and his usually lively face becomes a quietly powerful study of warmth and feeling as though resolving to stride forward in life as a tribute to his dad with whom he had a rocky relationship until their telephone reconciliation.

Definitely worth a look if you’re a Scorsese fan or you just like visual character studies pared down to the bone.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Igor Artemov – intriguing opinions from Russian nationalist deserve closer study

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Igor Artemov” (Voice of Reason Radio Network, 21 May 2012)

Where does he find his interview subjects? In this episode of The Stark Truth, journalist Robert Stark speaks to Russian nationalist, writer and founder of the Russian All-National Union Igor Artemov who (to me) has some very intriguing opinions of contemporary Russian politics and politicians. In a nutshell, Artemov considers that under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been reconstructed as a quasi-Soviet state which persecutes Russian nationalism and that it is a mistake for people to believe that Putin is a Russian nationalist. He discusses what has happened in Russian politics, culture and economy since the downfall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, gives his opinion of Putin as a leader and politician, contends that Russian nationalists are being persecuted by the Putin government and considers the country’s future with respect with immigration and the overall world agenda.

Although his English can be stilted and his accent is strong, Artemov is quite easy to follow. He explains why he formed the Russian All-National Union in the context of the damaging effect that the Soviet Union and the general Sovietisation policy had on Russian culture and nationalism. There is a discussion of how Russian nationalist parties have been treated by Moscow since the early 1990s and how their fortunes have varied. During the Yeltsin period, when political democracy seemed to be at its peak, Artemov explains that nationalism was stifled and that this blockage of nationalist parties has continued under Putin. Artemov considers that Putin’s rule has brought down on Russia a reconstruction of the Soviet state and that Putin himself is a puppet of the globalist elites based in Europe and North America. The aim therefore of Putin’s government is to weaken Russian culture and spirit.

Artemov’s opinion on immigration in Russia is that the huge numbers of people coming from Central Asia and China are undermining wages and living standards among ethnic Russians and leading to a rise in crime and drug abuse in cities and large towns. In particular, Russian Orthodox Christianity is being weakened by the influx of Muslim peoples from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Artemov’s view is that Putin’s government is reinstating the multicultural policies of the Soviet Union.

Artemov’s opinion on the oligarchs is that they are the least of Russia’s problems and the real rich people are bureaucrats, senior members of the security forces such as police and the FSB. Many oligarchs are actually supportive of Putin and his government as they benefit from the corrupt system that the government has formed and supports, and those oligarchs who have fallen foul of Putin have done so due to personal enmity or issues between them and him.

Political elections and the process of registering as an electoral candidate are delineated in some detail and Artemov points out the obstacles involved for candidates, particularly independent candidates.

After a pause for a break, Stark and Artemov switch to a different topic about mixed-ethnic marriages in the Soviet Union. The Soviet policy was to encourage such relationships as a basis for creating the New Soviet Man but in reality most people involved in such liaisons recognised their mixed nature and origins and cherished them. The conversation switches to Chechnya which Artemov considers to be a semi-independent state supported by Moscow. Later Artemov discusses the role of Russian Jews in Russian politics and the advantages that having dual citizenship of Israel and Russia confers.

The situation in Syria is dissected with Iran seen as encouraging Islamic separatists in Syria and Israel not playing a beneficent role either.

Overall Artemov is an interesting and articulate speaker whose opinions deserve some consideration even though I don’t agree with many of them. His suggestion that oligarchs overall support Putin and Putin promotes himself as champion against corporate corruption and criminal activity by singling out particular individuals like Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Boris Berezovsky for tender care merits a closer look. As to the issue of immigration, I am not so sure that Putin is deliberately using migrants to dilute the ethnic Russian population and weaken the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church but it would be worth following the Putin government’s attitude to the current Pussy Riot trial and the role of the Russian Orthodox Church in influencing or determining the trial’s outcome and the sentence imposed on the foolish women as a way of determining what the real government attitude towards Orthodoxy is. It may very well be that Putin’s strategy, if such exists, may be to convince the Russian public that he is acting in their best interests and that he is a strong, decisive leader by picking off easy targets like Khodorkovsky because by doing all this, he can carry out an agenda favourable to the emergence of a New World Order from which he and his supporters benefit.

I suppose if Putin really were acting in the long-term interest of Russian people, then among other things he would have done more to support Colonel Gadhafi’s Libya and prevent that nation from falling into chaos, and Syria currently would not be a magnet for Libyan rebel mercenaries eager to exploit the unrest there; he would have demanded more accountability to Moscow from  current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov regarding apparent human rights abuses in Chechnya and the opaque political culture there; and he would have tried to shift Russia’s economy away from dependence on primary industry and energy exploitation towards a mix of light and heavy manufacturing faster and more emphatically than he has done so far. Admittedly Putin’s task is difficult in the face of a world hostile to him and his government and he probably does have to tread carefully but with the rest of the world threatening to go down in flames and poverty, Russia must be a beacon to inspire others and provide hope and Putin could be the leader who achieves that.

Sex, Lies and Julian Assange: TV program exposes lies and corrupt behaviour

Andrew Fowler and Wayne Hurley, “Sex, Lies and Julian Assange” (Four Corners / Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 23 July 2012)

Australian current affairs program Four Corners broadcast a special episode “Sex, Lies and Julian Assange” which investigates the chronology of Wikileaks head Julian Assange’s activities in Sweden 2010 when he visited the country to address a conference and investigate basing Wikileaks’ operations in a secure computer facility there. The episode can be viewed at this link. Reporter Andrew Fowler narrates his detailed inquiry into Assange’s whereabouts and associations with Sofia Wilen and Anna Ardin and how these led to the Swedish authorities issuing a warrant for his arrest on charges of rape and sexual molestation and his forced flight to the United Kingdom. Using reports and interviews with various Assange supporters and his lawyers, Fowler uncovers evidence that the rape and molestation allegations against Assange have no substance and are intended to blacken his name and turn the public around the world against him. Fowler also investigates the link between the Swedish government’s pursuit of Assange and the US government’s determination to indict Assange on charges of espionage for Wikileaks’ release of thousands of US diplomatic cables exposing American war crimes in the Middle East.

Fowler describes a blow-by-blow account of what Assange got up to in Sweden and shows that Ardin and Wilen’s groupie- like activities with and around Assange suggest he may have been set up by two honey-pots working on behalf of an unnamed agency or that the two women were under pressure to help concoct a case against him. The reporter goes on to describe the farcical series of events following the issue of the arrest warrant in which a senior prosecutor dismissed the rape allegations and Assange asked for his police interview not to be leaked to the press; in spite of assurances from the police interviewer, the interview did end up being leaked. Assange went to the UK in September 2010 and the following month saw Wikileaks’ exposure of thousands of Iraq War logs detailing US atrocities committed by US soldiers and Iraqi police between 2004 and 2009. Sweden subsequently issued an Interpol Red Notice warrant to arrest Assange and the US government began a full-scale investigation into Wikileaks and a financial blockade of the organisation.

A highlight of the program is its exhibition of a copy of the subpoena issued by a US Grand Jury showing the numbers 10 and 3793, the latter explained by Assange’s US lawyer Michael Ratner as demonstrating that Assange is to be charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. The charge is intended to link Assange’s name with that of Bradley Manning, the US soldier  currently in prison for having passed material to Wikileaks. Significant also is Four Corners’ exposure of Sweden’s record in co-operating with the US, in particular its rendition of two asylum seekers to the CIA who flew the men to Egypt where they were tortured.

However nothing was said about the Swedish government’s record of secretly selling weapons or other military equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia which have rather dodgy human rights records. Nor did Four Corners refer to a bilateral treaty Sweden and the US signed in 1984, supplementary to one signed in 1961, in which Article II (point 1), interpreted broadly, allows the US to bypass standard extradition tests and procedures in requesting Sweden to extradite someone: this is the document that Assange is really afraid of.  If the Swedish government has shown already that it will disregard its own laws in dealing with foreign countries that happen to have global influence or huge buckets of money, how will it treat someone like Julian Assange when the US, militarily and economically superior to Sweden, asks for or demands his extradition?

The creepiest part of the program is its spotlight on the harassment Julian Assange’s lawyers and supporters including one person Assange interviewed in his “The World Tomorrow” series have been receiving from US government agencies. What does it say about the US government’s obsession with Assange that it would send out agents to pursue people associated with Assange and entrap them into informing on him, pressure them to give up information on him or threaten them in some way? What does such treatment tell us about the police state the US has become?

The general thrust of the program is as “hard-hitting” and “direct” as would be expected of most commercially oriented current affairs programs aimed at the general public but it didn’t reveal anything or give any analysis of Assange’s plight that other news and current affairs sources have not already reached. Revelations about the Australian government’s support of the US and abandonment of Assange are well known from other news media and Four Corners simply repeated them. 

Generally the program is a good summary of Assange’s plight and the events that have ensnared him and forced him to seek asylum with the Ecuadorian embassy in London. For people befuddled by the fog of disinformation emanating from British and Swedish media about the rape accusations against him, this clear-headed documentary is a welcome antidote.

 

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Greg Johnson (New Right versus Old Right) – commendable vision of meritocratic society founded on dubious arguments

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Greg Johnson (New Right versus Old Right)”, (Voice of Reason, 22 June 2012)

Robert Stark’s radio talkshow “The Stark Truth” features regular guests and one of these is Greg Johnson who has written an essay “New Right vs Old Right” and on which this interview is based and which it further extends. Johnson begins by explaining what he understands as constituting the political Right and how it is distinguished from the political Left: the Right is predicated on a recognition that people by their differing talents, temperaments, intelligence and biological endowments are not equal and cannot compete equally as individuals. As Johnson sees it, the fact that biological inequalities exist means that human societies are naturally unequal and hierarchic. Egalitarianism as a political ideal is not only unrealistic but also leads to authoritarian / totalitarian forms of government to enforce strict social, economic and politicial egalitarianism. He goes on to say how the Old Right in North America and Europe failed by concentrating on party politics and adopting an agenda that includes accepting egalitarianism, traditional social hierarchies developed from tradition, custom or inertia and imperialism based on conquest of land and resources as values. Johnson outlines his vision of the New Right in North America which would purge plutocracy and an egalitarianism which would restore Anglo-American people’s pride in their culture and achievements, and restore meritocracy as the guiding force for shaping a new, revitalised society.

Johnson is a strong speaker, very knowledgeable about his sources and influences, and he speaks passionately about his beliefs and the reasons for why he believes what he does. This interview is one of the easier Stark Truth interviews I have been following so far! Even so, logical though Johnson appears, though his vision is commendable, many of his ideas are mirror versions of what many people who consider themselves politically Leftist have been advocating all along and the premises for his ideas aren’t always based on fact. Johnson says that all traditional societies have been unequal and incorporated structures that maintained hierarchy and inequalities, therefore hierarchy and inequality are natural and organic. It does not seem to occur to him that such inequalities and hierarchical structures might have been the result of conquest and people being forced to accept alien culture and values by conquerors who desired their land and resources, and are not evolved developments intrinsic to societies. Are war, conquest and imperialism “natural” to humans and therefore should humans abandon diplomacy?

He also does not consider that at the same time that societies have had hierarchies and inequalities, they have also had strong tendencies towards egalitarianism: the long history of China for example includes peasant rebellions against the ruling class; Muslim caliphates and dynasties in Egypt and Turkey have been challenged by and taken over by slave soldiers; the Roman Catholic Church smashed heretical Christian sects such as the Cathars and Bogomils which practised early forms of democracy in the High Middle Ages. (Admittedly though the winning peasants became new Emperors and founders of new repressive dynasties in China and slave soldiers in Egypt and Turkey simply insinuated themselves as a new ruling class or bureaucratic layer as the underlying political and social structures and the cultural values supporting them remained unchallenged.) Even lords in England sought to curb the power of the monarchy by forcing King John to sign Magna Carta in 1215 and this document became the basis for the development of constitutional law and limited monarchy in that country. In Scandinavia, a peculiar tradition known as the Jantelov has existed since at least the late 19th or early 20th century, in which individualism is subsumed by the community so as to be completely blanked out: individual effort, hard work, success and achievement are derided as absurd and unworthy and adherence to the collective and group identity is all-important. It might be said that hierarchy and inequality in society depend very much on this “egalitarianism” in which individual social layers within a hierarchy police their members’ behaviour and conduct, and drag those thinking of achieving above their station in life back forcefully into the mental as well as physical fold!

Johnson explains how the New Right differs from the Old Right and how it repudiates the values of Fascism and National Socialism. A most significant difference is that in Johnson’s vision the New Right is strictly based on meritocratic values and abhors the idea of elites barring entry of talented outsiders born on the wrong side of the social train-track into their ranks while allowing their own offspring who have the right background but who lack ability to sponge off family and social networks to gain power over lower social layers. On the other hand, Johnson considers that many social, political and economic evils in Western society are the work of the so-called “organised Jewish community”; while it’s true that Israel’s government and its lobbyists in big business and media dominate and corrupt politics in most Western societies, it must be said that the interests of the Israeli government, Zionism and their backers in both Jewish and gentile institutions and networks (and by gentile, I’m also including Muslims) around the world are not the same as those of Jewish people and in fact endanger the survival of Jewish people everywhere and traditional Jewish ideals such as … ahem, freedom and rights for all. Of course it’s also true that Judaism incorporates a  belief in Jewish racial superiority; human institutions are nothing if not contradictory.

In the end, Johnson argues for a world in which multiculturalism is abolished and people should be allowed or encouraged to return to their homelands and practise their own cultures. White pride in white culture is restored by education, cultural activities, media broadcasting and new forms of community structure. Within this new culture, intellectual, cultural, scientific and political diversity can still flourish. Johnson believes Israel should still exist as a homeland for all Jews and a homeland for Palestinians should also exist side by side. The problem here though is war and over-exploitation have made many lands unfit for habitation: large parts of the Middle East are contaminated with DU radiation and populations in parts of the region are too large for the available water supplies. Is it right to expect all Jews and Palestinians in the world to go and live in those areas? Additionally what is to be done with people of mixed ethnic and cultural heritage? Another problem is that even ethnically and religiously homogeneous societies aren’t necessarily stable ones: Somalia is probably the most ethnically homogeneous country in Africa and yet it’s a byword for political instability and backwardness. What Johnson also forgets is that many problems in the world today require the co-operation of several countries; the more diverse they are internally and among themselves, the more likely original and creative solutions will be generated but this could require some commonalities among them that might only be possible if the countries are internally diverse by ethnicity and religion.

Also Johnson should take a closer look at history: he’ll discover that many, even most countries and empires have always been multicultural and multilingual, the Roman empire, the Ottoman empire, various empires in Persia and India through the ages, the Aztec and Inca empires and even empires in China at different times being fine examples of multicultural societies. If history doesn’t support Johnson’s thesis, his whole edifice of meritocracy falls apart.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Jim Goad – self-styled lone wolf is a highly genial character tackling racism, prejudice and bigotry

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Jim Goad” (Voice of Reason, 20 June 2012)

I read Jim Goad’s “The Redneck Manifesto” over a decade ago and I’ve forgotten all of it except for the part where he refers to white indentured convict labour being imported into the American colonies from Ireland by the English / British in tandem with slaves imported from Africa during the 17th and early 18th centuries, and often treated worse than the slaves by their Anglo masters: that bit I found a real eye-opener. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Goad is not only alive and well but also still a gadfly prepared to prick the myths and misconceptions prevalent in Western society about racism and other important issues. He writes for Taki magazine and has his own website. In this episode of “The Stark Truth”, Jim Goad is under the spotlight and ranges confidently across a variety of topics such as racism in Israel, his time in prison, nationalism in Europe and bigotry generally.

Although he sounds as though he was stuck in an elevator shaft at the time of interview, the sound quality isn’t that bad and you quickly become accustomed to the echo in Goad’s voice. He is an excellent interviewee, well spoken, well informed about many topics, surprisingly self-deprecating and with plenty of insight into human behaviour gained from his own experience as well as his own reading and research. He admits to being fascinated with ideas and topics that most people, whether politically and socially liberal or conservative, prefer swept under the carpet which is why he often concerns himself with issues of racism, bigotry and hate and the rise of nationalism and soft fascism in Europe.

Goad begins by describing himself and a bit about his background and his prison record. He wrote an article about his time in prison and his surprise at meeting polite and well-mannered criminals and seeing blacks and neo-Nazi fellows playing cards together. He found out that contrary to most news about US prison populations, about 70% of US prisoners are white. (I vaguely recall reading something similar and that the most common offence whites are in prison for is possessing drugs for personal use.) The conversation segues into the recent news about Israel deporting African immigrants and how the US media avoids mentioning such news and the fact that Jewish rabbis are at the forefront of demands to kick out these immigrants. He and Stark plumb beliefs about what constitutes facts and non-facts that come under the label of “racism”, and how to define “racist” and “anti-Semite”. What is sometimes dismissed as “racist” and so avoided often turns out to be facts or evidence that must be acknowledged and dealt with if people are to live together; unfortunately there is evidence that mean IQs of different population groups do differ even after factors such as nutrition, educational levels, poverty levels and social and cultural context are accounted for to remove study or experimental bias.

Goad admits to having “tribal” instincts (or white pride which by itself is not necessarily racist) and argues for teaching the history of racism, hatred and bigotry rather than pretend that such feelings and behaviour are anomalous in human society and history. If we deny racism and bigotry and whitewash them out of history or society, they go underground and fester until the social context that favours their resurgence arises; when they do come out in the open, society is unable to deal with them because by denying them, we don’t develop the tools and strategies to combat them. He also questions Western society’s obsession with demonising Nazis and neo-Nazis and not other ideologies which are just as biased, subjective and oppressive.

Self-hatred is another topic Goad tackles in relation to society’s denial of racism and the PC movement. He and Stark discuss an article Goad wrote for Taki magazine, “Give bigots a pill”, in relation to racism. They talk about how white American men strive to be acceptable to women to the extent of denying their masculinity while black men are allowed to exult in their masculinity (but don’t say how this double standard for white and black men might be rooted in US imperialism / colonialism). The interview ends with Goad saying that he believes in meritocracy and that people should have the opportunity to rise to the level that their intelligence, abilities and skills equip them for; that the problem of Communist societies was that they did not account for human nature in their economic and social decision-making; that he distrusts our present economic systems; and that he basically is a lone wolf who at heart may be inclined towards some form of libertarian belief.

Although there was quite a lot in the interview that I lost track of as Goad glided from one topic to another but always within the general theme of prejudice and bigotry and how society at large ignores and denies the existence of bigotry and differences among groups of people that influence their life chances and those of their descendants, on the whole Goad is a genial and entertaining character who strives to make meaning of the crazy, mixed-up world we live in, in the best way he can with the resources and experience he can muster. Despite his claim that he is an individualist with weakly developed social instincts, Goad appears to be quite a sociable creature indeed, one I’d rather spend time with than other people possessing “highly developed social instincts” who turn out to be self-obsessed and not at all interested in their fellows’ well-being or the current state of the world.

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 11: Anwar Ibrahim): a fine conclusion to a generally good interview series

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 11: Anwar Ibrahim)” (Russia Today, 3 July 2012)

In this final installment in his interview series, Assange goes over to Malaysia by video link-up to speak to Anwar Ibrahim, the major personality and leader of the political opposition in Malaysia. A former student activist and member of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed’s government in the 1990s, Ibrahim fell out of favour and was thrown out of political life on corruption and sodomy charges, and spent several years in prison. Returning to politics in 2008, he was hit with fresh sodomy and pedophilia charges which he fought through the courts for four years until January 2012, when all charges against him were dropped.

The interview starts with a discussion of Ibrahim’s imprisonment, how he came to be jailed and the reasons for that, and how he coped with the confinement and being separated from his wife and young children. Reading famous Russian writers like Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Shakespeare’s plays helped him to construct an inner life otherwise devoid of social contact and external stimulation. Ibrahim was acquitted of charges in 2004 and released from jail; he then lived in the US and the UK for a time. The interview segues into a comparison of Malaysian-style democracy (or whatever passes as such) with regional countries such as Burma / Myanmar, the security situation in Southeast Asia and whether Malaysia and Indonesia should form a security pact with Australia, and the history of ethnic relations among the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians in Malaysia and how inter-ethnic frictions among these groups and others are exploited by the Malaysian government, political elites and their lackeys.

There’s a sidestep into discussing the application of Islamic Shari’a law in Malaysia and Ibrahim makes the point that his concern is about corruption in the country’s law courts regardless of whether they apply Western laws or Shari’a laws. He also makes a plea for religious tolerance and points out that most people in Malaysia, and in Penang in particular where he hails from, practise such tolerance in their daily lives and during public holidays or important social events such as weddings.

The formal interview concludes with a talk on what the future holds for Malaysia and what Ibrahim plans to do should his opposition party win power in the mid-year 2012 general elections. At the point when Assange would normally say his goodbyes, Ibrahim drags him back for a few minutes to talk about Saudi Arabian investment in Malaysia and Assange’s own unhappy circumstances in which the US has filed a secret indictment against him which it intends to use to pressure Sweden to extradite him to US shores after the UK has dumped him with the Swedes to answer allegations of having raped two women, one of whom (Anna Ardin) apparently has ties to anti-Castro Cuban charity funded by the CIA and supported by Luis Posada Carriles who is wanted by both Cuba and Venezuela for having blown up an airliner in 1976. Ibrahim brings up the interesting point that because the US, the UK and Sweden are now seen to be acting as the bullies they have always been, other countries now feel entitled to act the same way; Assange agrees and cites the case of two Swedish journalists detained by the Zenawi government in Ethiopia which felt justified in doing so since it had noted Sweden’s earlier detention of Assange.

Of all Assange’s interview subjects in the series, Ibrahim is one of the more articulate ones though the majority of interviewees have been very impressive in this respect with Noam Chomsky and David Horowitz the big surprise losers. I’d have preferred Assange to have interviewed people with more radical ideas – the kind of interviewee whom Robert Stark in his weekly “The Stark Report” radio interview series takes on – as the choice of people he has had on “The World Tomorrow” was predictable to say the least.  Assange himself has improved as an interviewer as the series progressed and shows himself to be well informed about the politics and history of many different countries. He is passionate about particular issues such as democracy and equality and at the same time is respectful of his interviewees’ opinions.

If more journalists were like Assange in their conduct and in the questions they ask of their subjects, journalism would be much improved in reputation across the world and in English-speaking countries especially. As the situation presently stands, Assange is getting no support from the very people in his profession who should be helping him; this is deplorable and we should hang our heads in shame that we are not holding our media to task over its betrayal of its supposed ethics for allowing him to be thrown by politicians to the wolves in the US government.

This review is based mostly on the transcript of the interview which can be found at this link.

 

The Stark Truth: Interview with Benjamin Noyles – introduction to Integralism as an ideology and alternative to mainstream politics

Robert Stark, “The Stark Truth: Interview with Benjamin Noyles” (Voice of Reason, 15 June 2012)

Ah, that Robert Stack, how I love him, fearlessly striding into no-go media zones where the mainstream news and current affairs media avoid like one hundred raging plague epidemics: in this episode he interviews Benjamin Noyles of the Integralist Party of the United Kingdom. Noyles talks about Integralist philosophy and policies and how the party’s approach differs from that of other political parties in Britain; the importance of principles for parties based on nationalism, such as the BNP; the importance of nation, national identity and national life; and building a movement among a nation’s youth. Noyles is a passionate speaker who all but runs away with whatever question or topic Stack puts to him and it’s major work indeed just trying to keep up with him. A sneeze on my part and I’ve lost him forever so I have to re-run the interview. Fortunately the topics he deals with are interesting and important ones about politics, society and culture so I’m not worried about having to replay the interview several times.

To understand what Noyles is saying, listeners really have to do some background research on Integralism as a philosophy. The nation is an organic unity and institution in which social differentiation and hierarchy naturally exist with the different social classes co-operating with one another. To that end, Integralism supports the existence of trade unions or guilds, corporatism (a system of political / economic / social structures in which people are organised into corporate groups on the basis of common interests such as work) and organic political representation that reflects the structure of society. It follows that different countries might have different forms of Integralism as no two countries will have the same corporate structures and organisations and their corporate-based political representation will also be very different. The citizens will identify with their country as an end in itself and therefore nationalism is seen as a positive force. The political / social tendency is towards conservatism, preserving values and traditions that are believed to represent the nation and the people, though economic practice may not necessarily be conservative in the sense usually understood. A social welfare state might fit in easily in this set-up if economic egalitarianism is valued by the people as part of their national identity; on the other hand, if economic egalitarianism is not such a big deal and individualism, economic self-reliance and resourcefulness are more valued, a welfare state might be frowned upon and the country will do without it.

Having that as our context, we can start to understand Noyles when he explains the policies and strategies of the Integralist Party of the United Kingdom, and what he considers are the mistakes that far right-wing parties in the UK have made. He considers that right-wing parties try to make themselves respectable to the public and this is a great mistake; rather these parties should be aiming at empowering people to believe in the nation as their highest goal and value and to subsume themselves and their energies and talents in working for the nation. He and Stark discuss the Wikipedia article on Integralism in some detail which then leads into a brief talk about the history of fascist political groups in Britain. Other topics covered include the current state of liberalism in the West. I must confess that for much of the first half-hour of the interview, I was lost as Noyles covered so much territory, drawing in human rights abuses in Iraq committed by the United States, the way in which Adolf Hitler’s name is used to silence people and block debate about important issues, and criticisms of Integralism and mild forms of fascism by so-called liberal groups, among other things.

After a break, Noyles continues with criticism of current economic systems and neo-liberalism and how these have degraded culture, society and the natural environment.

The interview can be hard to follow and repeated listenings will be necessary for most people to get a hang of what Stark and Noyles discuss. I suggest that to get a better idea of Integralism and Noyles’s beliefs, listeners should refer to the website of the Integral Party of the United Kingdom highlighted in the first paragraph above and explore it. Looking at the website myself, I can see how people equate the party with fascism though Noyles emphasises that Integralist ideology is different from classical fascism: Integralist ideology is about devolving power to corporate groups whereas classical fascism seeks to centralise it.

My major criticism of Integralism is that among other things it depends on everyone as individuals and as members of corporate groups agreeing on what ideals and values are representative of the nation and which are worth striving for. Social differentiation and hierarchy are seen as natural but what do Integralists do if hierarchy, through natural tendencies, drifts into a situation where the upper classes and lower classes disagree on values and their interests start to clash? What if national ideals and values start to conflict, how will leaders and their followers agree on which ideals and which values take higher priority? Will an Integralist society also be a flexible society, able to promote original thinking and innovations in political, economic and cultural practices, and ready to adapt to external traumas that can’t be avoided and which wreak irreversible changes to the society?

 

The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali): disappointing choice of interviewees

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 10: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali)” (Russia Today, 26 June 2012)

Here is a really disappointing choice of interviewees: Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali are already well-known, Chomsky is arguably past his best as both linguist and political activist and there are many people Assange could have spoken to who are better choices as people likely to influence the world’s future with fresh and innovative ideas and strategies for change. US radio journalist Robert Stark, some of whose Stark Truth interviews I have been following, finds from the land called Out-of-the-Blue interesting interviewees whose ideas, unorthodox and controversial though they might be, at least are stimulating intellectual pabulum. In this penultimate episode, Assange ploughs over familiar territory with Chomsky and Ali: democracy, protests and how First World countries were caught on the hop by the Arab Spring even though early signs, such as demonstrations over escalating food prices and severe food shortages, were apparent.

Ali is an articulate and knowledgeable speaker while Chomsky is his usual monotone scratched-record self. They basically describe what’s been happening in the world from a “leftist” point of view but are unable to go beyond the current situation and say what they believe should be done or what they would like to see occur. The emptiness of the interview is illustrated in the response Ali gives to Assange as to what a new generation of activists can take from the previous generation: Ali simply says, don’t give up, have hope, remain skeptical, criticise The Man and sooner or later “things” will change; Chomsky for his part notes that “a lot of things have changed over the years … often to the better”, that changes are afoot and people “can do something about them” before he compares humans to lemmings charging over a cliff over issues like fossil fuel use and climate change. (Obviously Chomsky has never watched Disneyland documentaries.) Quite a banal message to send to youth from these supposed giants of the Left!

Topics covered include the role of the political centre (that is, the middle ground between so-called “right-wing” and “left-wing” parties) in advancing the agenda of “right-wing” or corporatist interests, South America as a beacon of freedom and independence, the state of democracy under siege from corporatism and state capitalism as practised in the US.

It really should have been apparent to all participants in the interview that the dichotomy between “right-wing” and “left-wing” beliefs and ideologies is an arbitrary one that obscures the real division between those who would concentrate power in a small elite that controls the rest of the world through layers of bureaucrats and/or technology on one hand and on the other those who would decentralise power and spread it to all, confident in the belief that all humans can be trusted to govern themselves and do not need a nanny state to push them along; certainly Chomsky and Ali know enough of the world and what goes on in it to gently yet firmly tell Assange that things aren’t so black-and-white or right-versus-left and that the issue is about power and how it’s wielded, to what purpose and who benefits.

One consolation here is that I have never seen Assange so animated and forthright about his views on democracy, capitalism and industrialisation as he is here; something of the old Wikileaks maverick is coming to the fore at last!

The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan): interesting discussion with a passionate and idealistic politician

Julian Assange, “The World Tomorrow (Episode 9: Imran Khan)” (Russia Today, 19 June 2012)

For his next episode, Julian Assange springs a real surprise by interviewing famous former sports celebrity turned politician Imran Khan – yes, that Imran Khan the former Pakistani cricket team captain / all-rounder and former hand-bag to UK socialite Jemima Goldsmith. The interview takes place over a satellite link between Assange in home detention in the UK and Khan at home and it so happens that the acoustics in Khan’s lounge-room are too good so there is a lot of echo coming through in the film clip when he speaks. Fortunately a transcript can be downloaded here.

Assange starts with a brief survey of how Khan’s political began slowly and then suddenly took off after Wikileaks’ release of US embassy cables which revealed the extent of corruption within Pakistan’s government and among the country’s political elite and parties. The interesting thing about the cables is that they show Khan as clean compared to the rest of Pakistan’s political elite. Khan then lays out the territory for Assange, detailing the breadth and depth of criminality in Pakistan’s major institutions, principally the political structure and the military and the people at the top levels in those institutions, and explaining how the country’s huge accumulated debt keeps its people poor and entrenches the corruption.

The issue of Osama bin Laden’s death and the effect that his “assassination” might have had on Pakistan’s relationship with the US are brought up. (My personal view is that bin Laden died in Afghanistan in December 2001 which is why I used quotation marks around THAT word.) Khan expresses the view that the assassination humiliated Pakistan after all the country had done FOR the US in the so-called War on Terror, having lost about 40,000 dead and put in huge amounts of resources in fighting al Qa’ida and accommodating huge waves of refugees fleeing Afghanistan. He is fearful that the War on Terror will not only radicalise Afghanistan even more against the US but will completely devastate Pakistan financially and politically. The country’s political elite will benefit from the increased corruption while ordinary Pakistanis continue to pay for their leaders’ sins with their lives. Khan suggests that Pakistan’s relationship with the US must be realigned on the basis of mutual respect and dignity, and self-respect on Pakistan’s part.

It’s not all doom and gloom … Khan mentions Turkey and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan as role models for Pakistani economic and political development and views the country’s youth, its natural resources and the Pakistani diaspora around the world as assets the country could capitalise on. Hmm, doesn’t Khan know that having valuable natural resources wanted by everyone around the world isn’t necessarily a good thing and that some of the richest countries in the world – Japan, South Korea and Sweden come to mind – actually don’t have much in the way of valuable “natural resources” and their wealth derives from their human capital instead? And that countries rolling in energy and mineral wealth tend to squander the income derived from those?

Khan comes across as a persuasive and passionate speaker and for his age is still quite good-looking. Unfortunately Assange doesn’t press Khan on what political and economic reforms he’d undertake if he were PM so his views on politics and economics remain unknown. A squiz at Khan’s Wikipedia entry reveals that Khan ‘s political platform is a mish-mash of Islamic values, democracy, decreased bureaucracy, liberal (sort of) economics with an emphasis both on deregulation and maintaining a welfare state, an independent judiciary, reform in the army and police force and decentralising and returning political power to the people. In that list one can discern a revulsion against centralised government power and one hopes also that Khan can see that centralised power in private corporations is just as bad as it would be in government, especially if private power is linked to government power.

Overall this is an interesting if not really informative interview: Khan appears genuine enough but his political platform is idealistic and as the cliché goes, only time will tell if he can translate his ideals into reality. A great deal is riding on his shoulders as well.