All posts by Binoy Kampmark

The Brutality of “Bulldozer Justice” in India

It looks all too eerily similar as a method: the expulsion of individuals from their home, the demolition of said home and the punishing of entire families.  All excused by a harsh reading of local regulations.  But this method, used by Israeli authorities for years against vulnerable Palestinians, has become a weapon of choice for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat.

On June 12, Muslim activist Javed Mohammed, a member of the Welfare Party of India, tasted such retributive justice in witnessing the family home demolished by the Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA).  The actions were also inflicted on two other homes belonging to individuals accused of throwing projectiles after Friday prayers.  Similar measures have been implemented in Saharanpur and Kanpur.

As with all such brutal, state-sanctioned BJP thuggery, the measure is given a legal gloss in victimising the occupants.  They are the ones in the wrong, without the valid construction permits, or paperwork.  The PDA insists that Javed was notified on May 10 to have his illegal construction razed by June 9. But this claim was only made in a rude note that demanded he vacate the premises by 11 am on June 12.

Beyond the imputations associated with dubious paperwork, the religious credentials of the victims are what bothers the authorities the most.  They are also the ones deemed in the wrong when protesting the reprehensible conduct of BJP officials, notably in the context of inflammatory remarks made against the Muslim faith.

Such “bulldozer justice”, as it is grotesquely termed, has become fashionable against Muslim leaders accused of participating and stirring protest in response to remarks on the Prophet Mohammad made by former BJP leaders Nupur Sharm and Naveen Jindal.  This month’s protests organised in Prayagraj and Saharanpur subsequently turned violent.  Thirteen police were injured and 300 people arrested.

Law enforcement authorities and the PDA have taken a particular interest in Javed’s activities, arresting him and detaining his wife and second daughter, Somaiya.  Afreen, his firebrand daughter and student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, has also piqued the interest of the authorities for her role in inspiring protest.  Her pedigree as a marcher and organiser was already assured in her role in protests against the nasty Citizenship Amendment Act.

What, then, of the response to such brutal, extra-judicial punishments?  The demolition of Javed’s home and other activists did not exactly see opposition politicians voice concerns about natural justice and the right to shelter.

In fact, outrage against such acts has been in short supply.  Some television networks even went so far as to express delight at treatment they regarded as appropriate against mischief makers who had masterminded protests in Prayagraj.  Rahul Gandhi of the Congress Party preferred to focus on the unwanted attention of the Enforcement Directorate regarding money-laundering claims connected with the sale of the National Herald newspaper.

Added to the specious justification that the homes were illegally constructed, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath would revel in applying the brutal treatment.  His media adviser, Mrityunjay Kumar, showed little reluctance in celebrating the use of the bulldozer and promising more demolitions with this heralded weapon. “Unruly elements remember,” he tweeted, captioning a picture of a bulldozer doing its dastardly work, “every Friday is followed by a Saturday.”

Some members of the legal fraternity have begged to differ.  “Even if you assume for a moment that the construction was illegal, which, by the way is how crores of Indians live” explained former Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, Govind Mathur, “it is impermissible that you demolish a house on a Sunday when the residents are in custody.”

A number of lawyers have written to the current Allahabad High Court Chief Justice, pointing out that Javed’s home was actually in his wife’s name.  Neither had received earlier notices of illegal construction, as claimed by the PDA, suggesting that due process had been denied.

The courts have become the logical, if only battleground for victims to seek redress.  Challenges have been launched in the Supreme Court, the Allahabad High Court and the Madhya Pradesh High Court, though these cases remain in legal limbo.  The delay in judicial action has drawn criticism from legal commentators, with twelve figures including former Supreme Court and High Court justices urging Supreme Court Chief Justice NV Ramana to uphold its role as “custodians of the Constitution”. “We hope and trust the Supreme Court will rise to the occasion and not let the citizens and the Constitution down at this crucial juncture.”

The nature of judicial intervention in these cases has certainly preoccupied some Supreme Court justices, though they claim to eschew activism.  Supreme Court Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, set to become Chief Justice come November, recently delivered a lecture at King’s College, London observing a “growing litigious trend in the country” that indicated “the lack of patience in the political discourse.  The result is a slippery slope where courts are regarded as the only organ of the State for the realisation of rights – obviating the need for continuous engagement with the legislature and the executive.”

Fearing judicial overreach, Justice Chandrachud accepted that the Supreme Court, while entrusted to “protect the fundamental rights of the citizens”, should not decide “issues requiring the involvement of elected representatives.”  In so doing, the court would deviate from its “constitutional role” and “not service a democratic society, which at its core, must resolve issues through public deliberation, discourse and the engagement of citizens with their representatives and the constitution.”

This noble depiction of democracy is admirable and politically hard to fault in instances where the rule of law reigns in all majesty.  But in cases of executive or legislative overreach, particularly when it comes to “bulldozer justice”, it seems sterile and non-committal.  In the context of such savage retribution, it would only be fitting for the judges to consider that any dialogue between the authorities, the electors and the victims who have lost, and will lose their homes, is at an end.

The post The Brutality of “Bulldozer Justice” in India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Top Gun: Maverick The Pentagon Recruitment Drive

Hollywood, like the US press, has not been spared the influential hand of government.  Under the mask of various projects, the defence establishment has sought to influence the narrative of Freedom Land’s pursuits, buying a stake in the way exploits are marketed or, when needed, buried.

The extent of such collaboration, manipulation and interference can be gathered in National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood (2017).  Matthew Alford and Tom Secker argue that a number of operations mounted by the Pentagon, the CIA and the FBI were designed to further “violent, American-centric solutions to international problems based on twisted readings of history.”

The US Air Force has its own Entertainment Liaison Office in Hollywood, run by director Lieutenant Colonel Glen Roberts.  “Our job,” he explained in 2016, “is to project and protect the image of the US Air Force and its Airmen in the entertainment space.”  Propaganda is not a word he knows, even though he is its most ardent practitioner.  He describes the involvement of his office across scripted or unscripted television, movies, documentaries, reality TV, award and game shows, sporting events and video games.  Its purpose: “to present the Air Force and its people in a credible, realistic way” and provide the entertainment industry with “access to Airmen, bases and equipment if they meet certain standards set by the Department of Defense.”

No more blatant has this link between celluloid, entertainment and the military industrial complex been evident than in the promotion of Top Gun.  When it hit the cinemas in 1986, the US military received a wash of service academy applications, though finding exact recruitment figures linked to the film has not been easy.  (This has not stopped publications such as Military History Now confidently asserting that interest in US Navy flight training rose 500% that year.)

The film was, after all, nothing else than a relentless, eye-goggling advertisement (well, at least 100 minutes) for the US military, a sequence of swerves, testosterone jerks and puerile masculinity.  “It was probably the most realistic flying move that I’d seen, and it just left a mark on me,” Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Brown told a gathering at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. last August.  “I was out of pilot training, and I was already going to fighters, so it was one of those where you kind of go ‘that’s pretty realistic.’”

Top Gun also served as something of a palette cleanser for US power, bruised by its failings in Indochina and hobbled by the “Vietnam Syndrome”.  In the words of Roger Stahl, a communications academic based at the University of Georgia, “The original Top Gun arrived just in time to clean up this image and clear the way for a more palatable high-tech vision of imperialism and ultimately the Persian Gulf War.”

With Top Gun: Maverick, the collaboration between the Pentagon and the film’s producers is unerring and nakedly evident.  While Cruise plays the role of a rule breaking pilot who lives up to his name, his production is distinctly obedient to the dictates of the US Navy.

It’s also worth noting that Cruise has had trouble using the facilities of other defence ministries to shoot his films given his ties to the Church of Scientology.  There has been no such trouble with the Pentagon.  Both, it seems, have mutual fantasies to promote.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information show that the movie only proceeded with the proviso of extensive defence involvement.  The production agreement between the Department of Defense (DoD) and Paramount Pictures is explicit in outlining the role.  The US Marine Corps expressly guaranteed providing 20 Marines from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, California “to appear as an official funeral detail for the filming sequence” along with access to MCAS Miramar “to enable actors the opportunity to experience flight simulator training.  All aspects of familiarization and training will be captured by second production unit.”

In return for such access to equipment and facilities, along with necessary technical support and personnel, the DoD openly mentions assigning “a senior staff, post-command Officer to review with public affairs the script’s thematics and weave in key talking points relevant to the aviation community”.

Clause 19 of the agreement reiterates the importance of the Pentagon’s role in the production process.  A “viewing of the roughly edited, but final version of the production (the ‘rough cut’)” was to be provided to the DoD, relevant project officers, and the DoD Director of Entertainment Media “at a stage of editing when changes can be accommodated”.  This would enable the “DoD to confirm that the tone of the military sequences substantially conforms to the agreed script treatment, or narrative description”.  Any material deemed compromising would result in its removal.

The USAF has gone into an enthusiastic recruitment drive, hoping to inject some verve into the numbers.  In of itself, this is unremarkable, given a shortage of pilots that was already being pointed out in March 2018.  That month, Congress was warned about a shortfall of 10 percent equating to 2,100 of the 21,000 pilots required to pursue the National Defence Strategy.  Shortages were also being noted by the US Navy.

Recruitment stalls have mushroomed across movie halls.  Navy spokesperson Commander Dave Benham is hopeful. “We think Top Gun: Maverick will certainly raise awareness and should positively contribute to individual decisions to serve in the Navy.”  With the film running throughout the country, the Navy’s recruitment goals for the 2022 financial year of 40,000 enlistees and 3,800 officers in both active and reserve components may be that much easier.

Patriotic publications have also delighted in the recruitment pap of the new film, seeing it as eminently more suitable and chest-beating than advertising gimmicks such as the 2-minute video featuring Corporal Emma Malonelord.  Released last year, it features an individual who operates the US Patriotic Missile Air Defence system.  From the outset, we are told about a “little girl raised by two moms” in California.  “Although I had a fairly typical childhood, took ballet, played violin, I also marched for equality.  I like to think I’ve been defending freedom from an early age.”

The video is also pap of a different type.  It shows that those freedom loving types in defence can also be musical, balletic products of lesbian unions and peaceful protest.  “Emma’s reason for joining up is selfish,” states a sneering piece in The Federalist.  “There is zero in the video to inspire any kind of bravery, sacrifice, duty, honor, integrity, excellence, teamwork, or respect.”  Senator Ted Cruz was blunter in his assessment.  “Holy crap.  Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea”.

Best leave it to the likes of Cruise the patriot scientologist, lubricated with tips and much assistance from the Pentagon, to give their version of service in the US military.  Even if it is deceptive, controlled tripe.

The post Top Gun: Maverick The Pentagon Recruitment Drive first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Deadly Games: The Labour Casualties of Qatar’s World Cup

A sordid enterprise, nasty, crude and needless.  But the World Cup 2022 will be, should anyone bother watching it, stained by one of the highest casualty rates amongst workers in its history, marked by corruption and stained by a pharisee quality.  The sportswashers, cleaning agent at the ready, will be out in force, and the hypocrites dressed to the nines.

From the start, the link between the world’s premier football (or soccer) competition and the gulf state was an odd one.  Qatar and the World Cup are as connected in kinship as gigantic icebergs and parched desert sands.  But money was the glue, prestige the aim, and there was much glue to go around when it came to securing the rights to host the competition.  What was lacking was a football tradition, an absence of sporting infrastructure, and the presence of scorching weather.

The central figure in this effort of bald graft over distinguished merit was Mohamed Bin Hammam, Qatar’s football grandee and construction magnate.  From his position as a member of the executive committee of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), he is said to have acted, on occasion, more like “the head of a crime organisation” than a mere board official.  All the time, he risibly claimed that he was a fan of reform, calling for “more transparency in FIFA.”

There was little evidence of transparency when it came to Doha’s bid.  With manoeuvring and cash incentives, the votes fell Qatar’s way in December 2010.  FIFA’s own comically named ethics committee cleared the country’s officials of any misdemeanour (it was “verified internally” that no secret plots had been made leading up to the award), while also having harsh words for other bidders, notably England.

The body also commissioned a 430-page report from lawyer and ethics investigator Michael Garcia that put the officialdom of both Russia and Qatar at ease.  For one thing, Garcia seemed mild in noting that, “A number of executive committee members sought to obtain personal favours or benefits that would enhance their stature within their home countries or considerations.”  With specific reference to Qatar, Garcia mentioned the country’s Aspire sports academy, alerted to it being used to “curry favour with executive committee members”.  This gave “the appearance of impropriety.  Those actions served to undermine the integrity of the bidding process.”  But not enough, it would seem, to invalidate the choice.

In all the scrounging, haggling and dealing, the fate of tens of thousands of migrant workers have fallen into the void, showing that sporting choices, even if nourished by a grossly unethical base, will still be tolerated.  Despite this, the reports about the appalling treatment Qatar affords its imported labour have not stopped coming.  For one thing, 2 million workers retained to build the various stadia, a new airport, roads, the metro system, not to mention providing a range of other services (restaurants, transport, in some cases, even security), would generally count as indispensable.  The problem with modern trafficking and slave practices lies in the fact that they will, when the time comes, be dispensable.  The pool is large and constantly replenished.

The years since Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup have seen a degree of ugliness that would make the hair stand on the back of any labour and human rights activist.  Much of this predates the commencement of work upon the facilities needed for the sporting event, a legacy shaped by the Kafala system.  The system of sponsor-based employment effectively indentures the worker to the employer, or kafeel, trapping the employee by restricting mobility, choice of employment and visa status.

In 2017, Qatar reluctantly signed an agreement with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) giving an undertaking to combat labour exploitation and “align its laws and practices with international labour standards”.

Despite such undertakings, The Guardian revealed in February 2021 that 6,750 migrant workers hailing from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had perished in Qatar since December 2010.  Such a total would be further inflated were it to account for other source countries of migrant labour, including Kenya and the Philippines.

The circumstances behind each death vary from suicide to being killed in shoddy worker accommodation.  But the authorities have done their best to relay the causes in murky terms, often aided by a reluctance to conduct autopsies.  “Natural deaths” tops the list as a favourite, with respiratory and acute heart failure featuring strongly.

In May this year, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, FairSquare, and a number of international migrant rights groups, labour unions, business and rights groups, along with football fans and abuse survivors, made a plea to FIFA.  In a letter addressed to its President Gianni Infantino, the collective writes of “hundreds of thousands of migrant workers” who had yet to receive “adequate remedy, including financial compensation, for serious labour abuses they suffered while building and servicing the infrastructure essential for the preparation and delivery of the World Cup in Qatar.”

In urging Infantino to work with the Qatar government, trade unions, the ILO and other relevant bodies to address labour abuses, the collective acknowledges various modest improvements.  But minor labour reforms and the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy Initiatives came “too late”.  The various reforms have also been unevenly enforced.  Many workers essential to the World Cup enterprise also fall outside the remit of the Supreme Committee’s initiatives.

This whole endeavour, in short, remains plagued and blotted by institutional callousness.  But a good deal of this will be forgotten come the opening ceremony and lost among the hordes of politically illiterate fans.  The sporting show will go on, and anyone wishing to protest its merits will risk five-year prison sentences and a fine of 100,000 Qatari riyals (US$27,000) for “stirring up public opinion”.  That’s mightily sporting of the authorities.

The post Deadly Games: The Labour Casualties of Qatar’s World Cup first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Predictable Monstrosities: Priti Patel Approves Assange’s Extradition

The only shock about the UK Home Secretary’s decision regarding Julian Assange was that it did not come sooner.  In April, Chief Magistrate Senior District Judge Paul Goldspring expressed the view that he was “duty-bound” to send the case to Priti Patel to decide on whether to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States to face 18 charges, 17 grafted from the US Espionage Act of 1917.

Patel, for her part, was never exercised by the more sordid details of the case.  Her approach to matters of justice is one of premature adjudication: the guilty are everywhere, and only multiply.  When it came to WikiLeaks, such fine points of law and fact as a shaky indictment based on fabricated evidence, meditations on assassination, and a genuine, diagnosed risk of self-harm, were piffling distractions.  The US Department of Justice would not be denied.

“Under the Extradition Act 2003,” a nameless spokesman for the Home Office stated, “the Secretary of State must sign an extradition order if there are no grounds to prohibit the order being made.  Extradition requests are only sent to the Home Secretary once a judge decides it can proceed after considering various aspects of the case.”

Evidently, overt politicisation, bad faith, and flimsy reassurances from the US Department of Justice on how Assange will be detained, do not constitute sufficient grounds.  But the cue came from the courts themselves, which have done a fabulous job of covering the US justice system with tinsel in actually believing assurances that Assange would not be facing special administrative detention measures (SAMs) or permanent captivity in the ADX Florence supermax in Colorado.  “In this case, the UK courts have not found that it would be oppressive, unjust or an abuse of process to extradite Mr Assange.”

In such a scatterbrained, and amoral cosmos that marks decision making in the Home Office, no mention has been made of the surveillance operation against the publisher in the Ecuadorian embassy, orchestrated at the behest of the Central Intelligence Agency.  None, either, of contemplated abduction or assassination, or the frail mental health Assange finds himself.

As late as June 10, a letter from the group Doctors for Assange, comprising 300 doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, noted that the Home Secretary’s “denial of the cruel, inhuman treatment inflicted by upon Assange was then, and is even more so now, irreconcilable with the reality of the situation”.

In April, an umbrella grouping of nineteen organisations dedicated to press freedom and free speech urged Patel, in reviewing the case, to appreciate that Assange would “highly likely” face isolation or solitary confinement US conditions “despite the US government’s assurances, which would severely exacerbate the risk of suicide”.

The co-chairs of the Courage Foundation’s Assange Defense Committee, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Alice Walker, reflected on the depravity of the order in a statement.  “It is a sad day for western democracy.  The UK’s decision to extradite Julian Assange to the nation that plotted to assassinate him – the nation that wants to imprison him for 175 years for publishing truthful information in the public interest – is an abomination.”  As for the UK, it had “shown its complicity in this farce, by agreeing to extradite a foreigner based on politically motivated charges that collapse under the slightest scrutiny.”

Similar views were expressed by Amnesty International (“a chilling message to journalists the world over”) and Reporters Without Borders (“another failure by the UK to protect journalism and press freedom”).  There was even concern from Conservative MP David Davis, who expressed his belief that Assange would not “get a fair trial.”  The extradition law was, as matters stood, lopsided in favour of US citizens.

All this is consistent with Patel, who seems to relish the prospect of sending individuals to a place where human rights are marginal jottings on a policy paper.  The UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Partnership, as it is euphemistically termed, is her pride and joy, albeit one currently facing strenuous legal opposition.

Under the arrangement, individuals crossing the channel will receive one-way tickets to Rwanda to have their claims processed without a prospect of settling in the UK.  The Rwandan government, hostile to contrarians, the rule of law and refugees, will be subsidised for their pain and labours.

To this sadistic streak can be added her admiration for the Espionage Act being used to prosecute Assange.  This fact should have disqualified her in any country operating under the rule of law.  Even as Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a Conservative no-confidence vote this month, Patel’s National Security Bill passed its second reading in Parliament.  The bill articulates an offence of “obtaining or disclosing protected information” that includes “any information… which either is, or could reasonably be expected to be, subject to any type of restrictions of access for protecting the safety and interests of the UK.”

In a polite nod of deference to US law, the proposed law states that an offence is committed when a person “obtains, copies, records or retains protected information, or discloses or provides access to protected information” for a purpose “that they know, or ought reasonably to know, is prejudicial to the safety or interests of the United Kingdom” and if “the foreign power condition is met”.  The requirement there is that the act is “carried out for or on behalf of a foreign power”, including instances where “an indirect relationship” exists.

Assange has 14 days to appeal this insidious rubber stamping of judicially sanctioned brutality.  His legal team are hoping to use the High Court as the route to highlight the political dimension of the case and draw attention back to the way the extradition law was read.

If the defence fail, Assange will be sent across the Atlantic, entrusted to officials, some of whom considered murdering him, to be made an example of.  It will be the clarion call to regimes across the world that punishing a publisher is something supposed liberal democracies can do as well, and as deviously, as anybody else.

The post Predictable Monstrosities: Priti Patel Approves Assange’s Extradition first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Julian Assange in Ithaka

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is where you’re destined for.
— C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems (Princeton University Press, 1975), trans. Edmund Keeley

John Shipton, despite his size, glides with insect-like grace across surfaces.  He moves with a hovering sense, a holy man with message and meaning.  As Julian Assange’s father, he has found himself a bearer of messages and meaning, attempting to convince those in power that good sense and justice should prevail over brute stupidity and callousness.  His one object: release Julian.

At the now defunct Druids Café on Swanston Street in Melbourne, he materialised out of the shadows, seeking candidates to stump for the incipient WikiLeaks Party over a decade ago.  The intention was to run candidates in the 2013 Senate elections in Australia, providing a platform for the publisher, then confined in the less than commodious surrounds of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  Soft, a voice of reed and bird song, Shipton urged activists and citizens to join the fray, to save his son, to battle for a cause imperishably golden and pure.  From this summit, power would be held accountable, institutions would function with sublime transparency, and citizens could be assured that their privacy would be protected.

In the documentary Ithaka, directed by Ben Lawrence, we see Shipton, Assange’s partner, Stella, the two children, the cat, glimpses of brother Gabriel, all pointing to the common cause that rises to the summit of purpose.  The central figure, who only ever manifests in spectral form – on screen via phone or fleeting footage – is one of moral reminder, the purpose that supplies blood for all these figures.  Assange is being held at Belmarsh, Britain’s most secure and infamous of prisons, denied bail, and being crushed by judicial procedure.  But in these supporters, he has some vestigial reminders of a life outside.

The film’s promotion site describes the subject as, “The world’s most famous political prisoner, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange” a figure who has “become an emblem of an international arm wrestle over freedom of journalism, government corruption and unpunished war crimes.”  But it takes such a moment as Stella’s remarks in Geneva reflecting on the freshly erected statue of her husband to give a sense of breath, flesh and blood.  “I am here to remind you that Julian isn’t a name, he isn’t a symbol, he’s a man and he’s suffering.”

And suffer he shall, if the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel decides to agree to the wishes of the US Department of Justice.  The DOJ insists that their man face 17 charges framed, disgracefully and archaically, from a US law passed during the First World War and inimical to free press protections.  (The eighteenth, predictably, deals with computer intrusion.)  The Espionage Act of 1917 has become the crutch and support for prosecutors who see, in Assange, less a journalist than an opportunistic hacker who outed informants and betrayed confidences.  Seductively, he gathered a following and persuaded many that the US imperium was not flaxen of hair and noble of heart.  Beneath the impostor lay the bodies of Collateral Murder, war crimes and torture.  The emperor not only lacked clothes but was a sanctimonious murderer to boot.

Material for Lawrence comes readily enough, largely because of a flat he shared with Shipton during filming in England.  The notable pauses over bread and a glass of wine, pregnant with meaning, the careful digestion of questions before the snappy response, and the throwaway line of resigned wisdom, are all repeated signatures.  In the background are the crashes and waves of the US imperium, menacing comfort and ravaging peace.  All of this is a reminder that individual humanity is the best antidote to rapacious power.

Through the film, the exhausting sense of media, that estate ever present but not always listening, comes through.  This point is significant enough; the media – at least in terms of the traditional fourth estate – put huge stock in the release of material from WikiLeaks in 2010, hailing the effort and praising the man behind it.  But relations soured, and tabloid nastiness set in.  The Left found tell-all information and tales of Hillary Clinton too much to handle while the Right, having initially revelled in the revelations of WikiLeaks in 2016, took to demonising the herald.  Perversely, in the United States, accord was reached across a good number of political denizens: Assange had to go, and to go, he had to be prosecuted in the United Kingdom and extradited to the United States.

The documentary covers the usual highlights without overly pressing the viewer.   A decent run-up is given to the Ecuadorian stint lasting 7 years, with Assange’s bundling out, and the Old Bailey proceedings covering extradition.  But Shipton and Stella Moris are the ones who provide the balancing acts in this mission to aid the man they both love.

Shipton, at points, seems tired and disgusted, his face abstracted in pain.  He is dedicated, because the mission of a father is to be such.  His son is in, as he puts it, “the shit”, and he is going to damn well shovel him out of it.  But there is nothing blindingly optimistic about the endeavour.

The film has faced, as with its subject, the usual problems of distribution and discussion. When Assange is mentioned, the dull minded exit for fear of reputation, and the hysterical pronounce and pounce.  In Gabriel Shipton’s words, “All of the negative propaganda and character assassination is so pervasive that many people in the sector and the traditional distribution outlets don’t want to be seen as engaging in advocacy for Julian.”

Where Assange goes, the power monopolies recoil.  Distribution and the review of a documentary such as Ithaka is bound to face problems in the face of such a compromised, potted media terrain.  Assange is a reminder of plague in the patient of democracy, pox on the body politic.

Despite these efforts, Shipton and Assange’s new wife are wandering minds, filled with experiences of hurt and hope. Shipton, in particular, gives off a smell of resignation before the execution.  It’s not in the sense of Candide, where Panglossian glory occupies the mind and we accept that the lot delved out is the best possible of all possible worlds.  Shipton offers something else: things can only get worse, but he would still do it again.  As we all should, when finding our way to Ithaka.

The post Julian Assange in Ithaka first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Weapons of Faith: The Arming of American Schools

The United States remains a country of tenacious faith.  The nature of that faith stretches from the digital pulpits of Silicon Valley, where cool technology occupies the seat of majesty, to the hot Bible Belt of spiritual endurance and suffering, where the good Lord holds sway in stern disapproval.  In between, market fundamentalists take time to worship the invisible hand of business and capitalism.

The symptoms of that faith can be extraordinary, almost to the point of caustic neuroses.  Faith in the sanctity of guns permits a form of tolerable urban warfare, a type of assimilated frontier violence characterised by high death tolls.  For all the rage and mourning that takes place after each massacre, be it in school or in places of worship, the slain are merely the tax paid for exercising a constitutional liberty.  As with all freedoms, exercising them comes at a cost.

As a sacred totem, the gun, like ancient god figures drawn from verdant groves and sun-bleached deserts, is an idol to be replicated in displays, shows, and performances.  Any chinks in this system of idolatry are put down to the nature of the worshipper, weak of character, questionable of principle.  The Uvalde shooter was, in keeping with this view, a mental basket case, detached, isolated, estranged.  He was lobotomised by the cruel workings of social media, an outcast, a social vegetable.  A suburban family with 50 assault weapons salivating over their next purchase is, by contrast, sanely functional, good citizens going about their business under the double blessing of the Second Amendment and the marketplace.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s understanding of this issue is typical and unblemished by complexity.  In the language of a sweetly crafted, and predictable fairy tale, Cruz sees a morality tale in the business of owning guns.  To the 19 children and two adults who perished at Robb Elementary School, he had this response: “What stops bad guys is armed good guys.”

Garden gnome psychology is never far from such reasoning.  “We know that many of those who commit the most heinous crimes they’re isolated from human contact,” Cruz told members of the National Rifle Association in an address last month.  “They’re living a virtual life in the absence of community and faith and love.”

Addressing the medical, pathological aspect – to de-psycho, as it were, the field of ownership – is seen as one answer from the pro-gun fraternity.  The other is counter-intuitive and, in its way, truly a matter of faith.  To solve the gun problem, more weapons, not fewer, are needed.  Spread the fetish, proliferate the means of mass lethality.  As certain theorists of security and international relations regard the issue of addressing nuclear weapons, the more countries have them, the more secure the world will be.  Terror binds us; terror deters us.  If you cannot abolish weapons, then partake of its fruits.

In such mind-numbing logic, schools can solve shootings by flooding the administrative system with guns, arming teachers, militarising the spaces and places of learning.  In a 2021 Pew Research poll, 43% of those surveyed favoured allowing K-12 teachers and school officials to carry guns.  Of the percentage, 66% of them were Republicans; 24% Democrats.  63% of gun owners supported the measure; 33% of non-gun owners did not.

In response to Uvalde, Senator Cruz, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, are stirring their base.  Their suggestions of arming schools are of uneven quality, childish and resoundingly doltish.  But they point to a central understanding of acceptable carnage and military permissiveness.

Attorney General Paxton has been true over the years to the view that a citizenry armed to the teeth, even when going about mundane tasks, is a safe one.  In December 2017, he issued an opinion claiming that licensed handgun owners could legally carry loaded weapons into Texas churches with no posted signs banning them.  As for what could have been done in Uvalde, the theme is familiar.  The key was to make it “more difficult for people even to get in that point of entry” by having “teachers and other administrators who have gone through training and who are armed.”

Such a measure, Paxton argued, was to be encouraged as law enforcement authorities tended to be late on the scene, failing to prevent the shooting.  “The reality is,” he explained to Fox News, “we don’t have the resources to have law enforcement at every school.”

Patrick’s statement of June 3 could just as well apply to a discussion about violent insurgencies US foreign policy has tended to foment over the years.  “If every member of law enforcement across the state, approximately 80,000 officers, had a bulletproof shield in their vehicle, their ability to respond to an active shooter situation would be greatly enhanced.”  (Does he envisage police driving into the active shooter in class?)

He notes that “more training is needed”, but the urgency of having measures in place before the start of the new school year to “better equip our police who respond to these attacks” was paramount.  As with any planning for a military campaign, having the appropriate material in stock might be a problem.  “There could be a supply-chain issue at present, but we should try to buy every quality shield we can find and order the rest so we are at the front line when more become available.”

Not that these matters solve the problem.  To equate armed teachers with safety is a false equation.  The Uvalde shooter could still go about his business even in the face of a heavily armed response unit.  The “good guys” seemed rather ineffectual to stop the “bad guy” at Uvalde.  The National Education Association President Becky Pringle’s statement in response to shootings could only seem peculiar in an environment of gun fetishists.  “Bringing more guns into schools makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence.”

Dispirited about such responses, Daniel Siegel, a 23-year-old middle-school teacher from Houston, suggested something disturbingly radical.  Give schools more resources, not in terms of weapons and defences but on matters of learning and the nurturing of students’ emotional wellbeing.  Sadly, that horse, saddled by the Second Amendment, bolted some time ago.

The post Weapons of Faith: The Arming of American Schools first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Fighting the First UK-Rwandan Refugee Flight

June 10 bore witness to a valiant effort on the part of refugee groups and a trade union to stop what promises to be the first journey of many as part of the UK-Rwanda plan.  Their attempt to seek an injunction failed to convince the High Court.  Next Tuesday, the first flight from the UK to Rwanda filled with asylum seekers will, unless the Court of Appeal rules otherwise, take off.  Some 31 people of Iraqi and Syrian background have been told they will be on board with one-way tickets.

The UK-Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership, hammered out by the Home Secretary Priti Patel and her counterparts in Kigali, has one central purpose: to deter the arrival of asylum seekers by boat across the English Channel.  Its genesis lies in a range of sources, none more insidious than the Australian model of offshore processing.  At its core is a rejection of international refugee law and its obligations.  In its place is the sentiment of convenience, callousness and cruel stinginess.

This conduct is only appealing to the insecure and the smug.  In a piece by Sam Ashworth-Hayes, a former director of studies at the conservative Henry Jackson Society, we see the old nostalgic refrain that Britain is glorious, people want to travel there, but that, unfortunately, transport has become easier and cheaper in a world where refugee laws simply have not kept up.  Borders needed to be firmed; regulations tightened.  And praise be showered upon Rwanda, who can profit from the refugee industry and market model so maligned by Patel.   The plan had to “surely rank as among the most generous development aid schemes ever devised.”  Apart, of course, for those unfortunates seeking asylum.

The policy has irked a goodly number, and not just the steadfastly committed campaigners.  The Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, has made mutterings about it, expressing the view that the “whole approach is appalling.”  Admittedly, this revelation was spilled by an anonymous source to the Daily Mail and Times.  When asked for comment from Clarence House, a spokesperson said that: “We would not comment on supposed anonymous private conversations with the Prince of Wales, except to restate that he remains politically neutral.  Matters of policy are decisions for the government.”

Multinationals, on even more slippery ground, have also taken issue with the policy.  Ben and Jerry’s took to Twitter to stormily urge “folks” to “talk about Priti Patel’s ‘ugly’ Rwanda plan and what this means.”  The dispenser of ice cream products took issue with the UK’s “plan to forcibly send people to a country thousands of miles away, simply for seeking refuge in the UK” as “cruel and morally bankrupt.”

In the High Court, various arguments by the legal team representing the charities Detention Action, Care4Calais and the PCS Union were made hoping to block the first flight scheduled to leave on June 14, calling the plan unsafe and irrational.  According to the court submission from Raza Hussain, the barrister representing the three groups, Patel’s “assessment … that the UNHCR [Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees] is giving this plan a green light is a false claim.”

Government lawyer Mathew Gullick countered the criticisms of the UK-Rwandan arrangement.  They were “backward-looking” and did not genuinely take into account the way migrants were to be treated.  Deterring illegal immigration was a matter of “important public interest”.

Husain’s point was confirmed by a last minute intervention from the UNHCR, which argued in its submission to the court that the UK-Rwanda scheme failed to meet the standards of “legality and appropriateness” in terms of transferring asylum seekers from one state to another.  Laura Dubinsky, QC, representing the UNHCR, told the court that the agency believed there were “risks of serious irreparable harm to refugees” inherent in this “unlawful” plan.  The UK Home Office has peddled “inaccuracies” in claiming that the agency endorsed the scheme.

The court document from the UNHCR revealed “serious concerns that asylum seekers transferred from the UK to Rwanda will not have access to fair and efficient procedures for the determination of refugee status, with consequent risks of refoulement.”

Refoulement, a term Patel breezily buries when considering asylum seeker claims, remains a canonical precept of refugee law outlined in Article 33 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.  Contracting states have an obligation not to “expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in a manner whatsoever to the frontiers or territories where his [or her] life or freedom would be threatened on account of his [or her] race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

In the agency’s view, there was also a grave risk “that the burden of processing the asylum claims of new arrivals from the UK could further overstretch the capacity of the Rwanda national asylum system, thereby undermining its ability to provide protection for all those who seek asylum.”

The UNHCR was being fleet footed in avoiding any description of Kigali’s less than impressive record on refugees and human rights.  In its 2022 report on Rwanda, Human Rights Watch noted the iron hand of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in stifling dissent and criticism, the detention and disappearing of opposition members and critics, the liberal use of torture, arbitrary detention and a scanty observance of the rule of law.

Disturbingly enough, Rwanda has produced its own refugees and asylum seekers, who continue being threatened, harassed and, in some instances, “forcibly disappeared and returned to Rwanda, or killed.”

None of the arguments were enough to convince Judge Jonathan Swift in his June 10 decision to reject the application to block the removal of the asylum seekers.  There was a “material public interest in the Home Secretary (Priti Patel) being able to implement immigration decisions.”

Resorting to that ancient method of reasoning when faced with a tight conundrum, Judge Swift could only dismiss the concerns voiced by the applicants as insignificant or lying “in the realms of speculation”.  In their submission to the Court of Appeal, and in the fuller judicial review of the plan to take place later in the month, the appellants have much to prove otherwise.

The post Fighting the First UK-Rwandan Refugee Flight first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Spanish Court Calls: Mike Pompeo, We Want You

On June 3, Judge Santiago Pedraz of Spain’s national court, the Audienca Nacional, issued a summons for former CIA director and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to testify in an ongoing investigation into the conduct of private security firm UC Global and its founder, David Morales.

The security firm is said to have been hired by US intelligence operatives to monitor Julian Assange and his associates during his time in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.  In all likelihood, if we are to take the evidence of UC Global’s former head of operations, Michel Wallemacq, seriously, Ecuador’s intelligence services were also involved.

The allegations were given a very dramatic airing in the initial extradition trial of Assange at the Old Bailey in London, when two former UC Global employees were called to testify for the defence.  One of the two gave testimony on the rather seedy task of pilfering “a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange”.

The witness also revealed that Assange’s seemingly interminable stay had, by December 2017, caused nerves to fray.  The “Americans … had even suggested that more extreme measures should be deployed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation”.  This might involve staging an “accident” that “would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.

The move against Pompeo comes as part of a petition filed by Aitor Martínez, one of the lawyers representing Assange in the proceedings against UC Global.  In addition to summoning Pompeo, Judge Pedraz is also seeking to question William Evanina, a former US counterintelligence official who is said to have confessed to viewing security camera footage and audio recordings from inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Pompeo has had a rather fickle relationship with WikiLeaks, an addling mixture of opportunistic appreciation and loathing.  As House Representative from Kansas, he drew much upon the organisation’s published emails as evidence of the DNC’s rigging proclivities in selecting candidates for the 2016 election.  “Need further proof that the fix was from Pres. Obama on down?  BUSTED: 19,252 Emails from DNC Leaked by WikiLeaks,” tweeted Pompeo in July 2016.

When questioned about the tweet during his confirmation hearings for the post of CIA Director, selective amnesia gripped.  Asked by Maine Senator Angus King whether he felt that WikiLeaks was “a reliable source of information”, Pompeo replied in the negative, adding that he had “never believed” the publishing entity to be “a credible source of information”.  He had a “deep understanding of WikiLeaks” (evidence of that knowledge was not forthcoming) and had never seen it as having credible information “for the United States or for anyone else.”

Instead of making an issue of this, Senator King felt less than combative, appreciating the “candour” shown by Pompeo, with a recommendation that he “speak truth to the highest level of power in this country”.  King merely hoped “that you will hold onto the commitment that you made today, because it’s not going to be easy.”

On becoming director, WikiLeaks became an object of mania for Pompeo, suggesting that his views on the outfit’s credibility had been rather short on candour.  Their publishing feats, in other words, were simply too credible.  The disruptive role played by the publishing organisation in the 2016 election through publishing leaked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign was filed away to gather dust.  “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is,” he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and international Studies (CSIS) on April 13, 2017, “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

This was aided, in no small part, by the release by WikiLeaks of the CIA’s own crown jewels – or at the very least a good smattering of them.  The publication of the Vault 7 files, detailing hacking tools developed by the intelligence organisation, unleashed a storm within the organisation.  “This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code,” WikiLeaks declared in a press release, “gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”

According to the report from Yahoo!News last September, a former Trump national security official claimed that the administration saw “blood” in the aftermath of the release.  Ideas and plans were exchanged among various officials to abduct Assange, and even, given the chance, assassinate him.

Pompeo, again showing himself to be a man of brimming candour, refused to confirm the veracity of the details in the report.  “I can’t say much about this other than whoever those 30 people who allegedly spoke to one of these [Yahoo News] reporters – they should all be prosecuted for speaking about classified activity inside the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Neither Pompeo nor Evanina are at risk of facing any charges in Spain, however richly deserved. Judge Pedraz has made it clear that the Spanish courts have no jurisdiction to try them.  At the very least, these summonses have caused a flutter, mocking the politicised process that has characterised the vengeful, Kafkaesque effort against Assange.

The post A Spanish Court Calls: Mike Pompeo, We Want You first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Dear Times and Costly Cricket: Australia’s Sri Lankan Tour

For a country experiencing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, the picture of a touring team pampered and fussed over might cause consternation.  But the Australian cricket tour to Sri Lanka has only been met by praise from the country’s cricket officials, where logic is inverted, and the gaze of responsibility averted.  Not even a shortage of foreign currency, precipitating a dramatic fall in medicines and fuel, along with demonstrations that have left nine dead and 300 injured, prompted second thoughts.

A good deal of this crisis was helped by the coming to power of former defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa who, in turn, named his older brother, Mahinda, also a former president, prime minister.  Their 2020 election victory was thumping, decisive, and corrupting.  Graft and nepotism set in.  Quixotic decisions to cut taxes eroded state revenue.  COVID-19 began its seemingly inexorable march of infection.

Showing a developed streak of obliviousness to the developing storm around them, the Rajapaksas even went so far as to ban chemical fertilizers as part of a drive to make farmers embrace organic agriculture.  To do so during this crisis battered and bruised the country’s agrarian sector.

And what of the cricket bureaucrats?  “These are tough times for our people,” a regretful Sri Lanka Cricket Secretary Mohan De Silva told reporters in Colombo.  “We are indeed grateful to Cricket Australia and the Australian government for supporting this series despite the hardships we as a nation are facing.”

Sri Lanka Cricket, in pushing the positive message, has intimated that all income from tickets for the three Twenty20s, five one-day internationals and two Test matches will be donated to initiatives for the public welfare.  De Silva is confident that $2.5 million (AU$3.5 million) will be generated by the tour, along with incidental earnings.  “From three-wheel drivers to suppliers of food, all these stakeholders down the line will have an opportunity to earn something for one and a half months.  So, economically this will have a significant effect on this country.”

This would seem to be getting things the wrong way around.  On some level, this confusion is forgivable, given the poor returns from a game that was played to generally empty stadiums during the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Last December, a 50 percent capacity crowd was permitted to see the touring West Indians.

Assessments from the SLC should, however, be taken at face value.  In 2018, the International Cricket Council identified Sri Lanka as having one of the most corrupt cricketing cultures in the sporting world.  Over recent years, the board has been at war with itself, and with players whom they have, at various times, censured, punished and suspended.  Money has been appropriated; matches and pitches fixed.

Sri Lanka’s own 1996 World Cup winning captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, gives us a sense about an organisation that has governed the game with indulgent haphazardness and raging incompetence.  Last month, he was unrestrained in claiming that the cricket board, habitually filled with “thieves”, was “the most corrupt institution in the country.”

Australian cricketers, never the sharpest students of culture and their surrounds, have preferred to avoid any detailed examination of cricket officialdom in Sri Lanka.  But they have voiced some concern about the visit.  “It’s fair to say,” states chief executive officer of Cricket Australia, Todd Greenberg, “there is a level of discomfort around touring in conditions that contrast with those faced by the people of Sri Lanka, such as rising food prices, power cuts and fuel rationing.”

He was confident, however, that the players would not pipe up too much.  “Ultimately our players want to continue to play cricket and will take direction, guidance and advice from CA about tour arrangements and planning.”

Cricket Australia, in turn, had satisfied itself that touring the country would be safe.  “There is no change in the status of the tour,” CA stated in early May.  “Our head of security confirms that there are no concerns about the tour proceeding as scheduled from either side.”

That is all good for De Silva, who sees the Australians as standard bearers for peaceful reassurance and cash.  Having them tour Sri Lanka will send “a strong message to the world that Sri Lanka is safe.  Millions of people will be watching the telecast during the matches.”

The optimism is pure veneer.  While Sri Lanka Cricket markets itself as donor and provider, so far donating $2 million to the health sector to purchase vital medicines, initiatives such as the tour are glaringly sapping. The T20 matches, for instance, are billed as thrilling under-the-light affairs.  But to supply them with electricity during a time when Sri Lankans face rolling power cuts lasting for periods up to 15 hours a day, speaks of authoritative condescension.

A former manager of the Sri Lanka national team, Charith Senanayake, is not one to be too bothered by such problems.  “We have our own generators and we don’t depend on the government’s power,” he boasted last month.  “The political situation has no bearing on the game and the SLC is always apolitical.”

The cricket schedule of the Australians has, given the fuel shortages, already presented a problem.  SLC hoped that the longer matches, which will take place during the day and not require night lighting, will be played in the first part of the tour.  “Because of the fuel problem,” De Silva stated, “we had a discussion with Cricket Australia and were trying to persuade them to start with the two Tests because the two Test matches don’t need any [lights].”  Unfortunately, Australia, in fielding three touring teams, would have been unduly disrupted.  “We didn’t want to push too much because of the fact that the Australians have been very generous in their thinking.”

The thinking here is less generous than loose.  While the Australians will delight the crowds and offer succour for distraction, they will do little to shake the impression that both the government of the day and Sri Lanka Cricket share an awful lot in common, little of which is good.

The post Dear Times and Costly Cricket: Australia’s Sri Lankan Tour first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Platinum Jubilees and Republican Questions

The platinum jubilee will bore and cause some to yawn.  It might certainly agitate the republican spleen in the fourteen countries where Queen Elizabeth II remains a constitutional head of state.  But the question remains: How does the institution this figure represents endure, if it should at all?

A rash of countries have expressed an interest in severing ties with the monarchy.  In November last year, Barbados did so with some pomp, swearing in its first president, Sandra Mason, a former governor general.  “Today,” Mason proclaimed, “debate and discourse have become action.”

Through 2022, the royals made visits to the Caribbean that showed waning enthusiasm for the Windsors.  In Belize and Jamaica, local protesters gathered to call for a formal apology for their family’s role in encouraging that other institution, slavery.  A government committee in the Bahamas did not mince its words in calling upon the royals to issue “a full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”.

The Jamaican Advocates Network was deeply unimpressed by the visit of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, publishing a scathing open letter signed by a hundred people from doctors to religious leaders.  “We see no reason to celebrate 70 years of the ascension of your grandmother to the British throne because her leadership, and that of her predecessors, have perpetuated the greatest human rights tragedy in the history of humankind.”

The March tour by the royal couple also proved something of a public relations disaster, poor in terms of what political commentators call “the optics”.  During a visit to Trench Town in Jamaica, Kate and William were photographed shaking hands with children through wire fences, the pale hands of saviours making contact with black skin.

The couple then rode the same Land Rover used by the Queen and Prince Philip during their 1953 trip to Jamaica.  During a military parade, they stood in the open-top vehicle waving to spectators, spectacularly ignorant to the scene.  “These unfortunate images are a relic of the past and could have been taken in the 1800s,” came the scornful suggestion from civil rights campaigner Rosalea Hamilton.

In countries such as Canada and Australia, the monarchy has been battered by occasional republican waves without enduring consequence.  An Angus Reid survey published in December 2021 found that 52 percent of respondents thought that Canada should not remain a constitutional monarchy indefinitely, though a quarter did.

In Australia, the new Labor government has expressed interest in revisiting the question of becoming a republic, though it is by no means certain how far they will go.  Memories still remain of 1999, when the issue was put to a referendum. The republican movement, self-sabotaging and outmanoeuvred, suffered a stunning defeat.

The party’s 2021 national platform did stump its support for the idea and promised to “work toward establishing an Australian republic with an Australian head of state”.  Speaking on the occasion of the jubilee, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, while paying tribute to the Queen’s “remarkable seven decades on the throne” noted that the relationship between colonial power and former colony had altered.  “No longer parent and young upstart, we stand as equals.”

One source of potential republican inspiration concerns the issue of succession.  Durable, seemingly deathless Queen Liz is popular; the next in line, is not.  According to the latest YouGov poll, Prince Charles is the sixth most popular, behind Princes Anne and the Duchess of Cambridge.  Popularity measures are also generational, with millennials coming in at 40 percent; Gen X, at 57 percent; and Baby Boomers, at 62 percent.  Even ardent royalists struggle to find appeal in the idea of Charles III.

Walter Bagehot, in his 1867 work The English Constitution, put much stock in two ruling concepts: the “efficiency” component comprising responsible government and statecraft and the “dignified” part to encourage homage.  The latter was “one to excite and preserve the reverence of the population”, the former, “to employ that homage in the work of government”.  With a popular monarch, such matters are easier to reconcile.  With a real boob on the throne, things can sour.

Under the Queen’s rule, the institution has absorbed the punches and blows of scandal and threat.  Anti-royalist sentiment in Britain has failed to become an indignant stampede of constitutional reform.  With the death of Princess Diana in 1997, the Windsors seemed to have reached their lowest point.  Scottish academic Tom Nairn, on looking at the throng of mourners in the Mall, saw the “auguries of a coming time” when the United Kingdom would be rid of those “mouldering waxworks” in Buckingham Palace.  “England is due a future – one that can smartly exorcise the ghosts of Balmoral and Windsor.”

No exorcism came, and republicans have been left twiddling.  This has not stopped the anti-monarchist group Republic from launching its “Not Another 70” campaign.  “While a vocal minority will want to celebrate the queen’s seventy year reign,” stated the organisation’s chief executive officer Graham Smith, “we must all start looking to the future.  The prospect of King Charles is not a happy one, and there is a good, democratic alternative on offer.”

As celebrations were underway, Smith was full of figures on how many people would be celebrating the occasion.  “The polling is quite clear on this, only 14 percent said they were planning to do anything and 11 percent in another poll said they were very interested in it.”  Less convincingly, he drew upon figures that showed a fall in the monarchy’s approval ratings from 75 percent to 60 percent, with one poll showing an approval for abolition “up to 27 percent.”

These views, when aired on BBC Breakfast, did not convince the anchor, Roger Johnson. “Why do you not think [the monarchy] is a good idea?  The soft power the Monarchy projects, the tourism that [it] attracts in this country?  You know the argument.”

The soft power concept, Smith shot back, was “a nebulous and meaningless argument.”  The constitution, he argued, should be based “on principles like democracy, not on what people enjoy doing on their holidays.”

Unfortunately for Smith, pageantry and entertainment comes before ideology and political purpose, and when a festival on this scale is organised, entertainment takes precedence.  Those keen to raise constitutional questions can come across as prigs.  In that sense, the organising machine of Buckingham Palace has been very canny indeed.

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