The Left must confront its unintentional anti-Semitism

While the aims of many pro-Palestinian campaigners are admirable, the left must look at the wider context of Israel and Palestine today

Peace negotiations have failed and violence on the Gaza strip has resumed once again. As this happens the left and the wider pro-Palestinian movement needs to think hard about how the next intensification of campaigning can avoid contributing to a rise in anti-semitic sentiment.

Palestine-Israel-flagsMany will read that paragraph and immediately react with hostility. A recurrent feature of the last few weeks has been the forceful claims by the pro-Palestinian left that it is not anti-semitic to criticise Israel’s actions in Gaza. Some commentators have also been conscientious in combining their critique of Israel with strong condemnations of those who have used the situation to make overtly anti-semitic attacks.

However, to believe that such arguments and qualifications means the left is now excused of any culpability is to engage in a denial for which the left itself regularly criticises others. 

Left-leaning thinkers and movements have argued for many years that racism and sexism need not be overt to exist. Racist and sexist values are so deeply ingrained into much of our thinking and behaviour that it is quite possible for someone to unintentionally exclude or denigrate black people or women even while actively proclaiming themselves an anti-racist or feminist.

Unfortunately the left is at risk of becoming the bastion of unintentional anti-semitism just as individuals and organisations across the political spectrum purvey unintentional racism and sexism. Read More »

Posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | 81 Responses

In defence of the four day working week

At the moment the four-day week is a mere pipe dream: but it should be secured as part of a wider package of progressive ideas

As long as low-income earners work five or more days a week and are still not paid enough to get by without tax credits and housing benefit, a four day week is a distant ambition.  The immediate priority should be ensuring that full-time work as it stands guarantees a fair living wage.

Migrant-domestic-workerNevertheless, a shorter working week is a radical goal that would work as part of a broad long-term package of progressive ideas. It would bring overwhelming benefits to health, productivity, employment, family life, the environment and civic society.

Organisations such as the New Economics Foundation support an ambitious 21 hour working week, but as a leading doctor recently argued, the initial goal should be around a 32 hour working week.

Much of the criticism of the four day week comes from looking in isolation at the impact of working fewer hours. A blunt four day week introduced immediately, as a standalone policy, would simply mean a 20% pay cut. Only the wealthiest would be able to take advantage.

A four day week looks much more feasible, however, when considered as part of a broader package of progressive reforms to bring down living costs and raise wages.

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Posted in Good Society | Tagged , , , | 2 Responses

Is Alex Salmond really the best man to speak for Scottish independence?

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of the Standard, where the Scots under King David battled Norman English forces. Fast forward to 2014 and Alex Salmond claims to lead the Scots. They could do better.

Perhaps it says more about the company I keep, but I would bet a great British pound coin on it that I’m not unique in having a conversation about the ‘leadership qualities’ in Alastair Darling recently.

Alex Salmond ncr1jSpeaking to a friend recently, who had just returned from Scotland recently (“the banners saying “no” far outnumber the ones saying “yes””), I pointed out that perhaps this side of Darling was missing in the years he was chancellor. “Perhaps, but being behind Gordon Brown would soon see that disappear”.

Though the more I think of it, the more convinced I am that whatever the merits of Darling’s qualities as a cool and convincing leader, he has been dealt a pretty good hand going head to head with Alex Salmond, who it must be said looks less like a leader in the past weeks and months he’s been doing battle over independence.

With Salmond you get the impression that this is all a vanity show; independence is what it says on his card but really the television appearances, the knee-jerk commitments to things that are later found rather more complicated like the issue of currencies, these are all just things to get us listening to him.

Take the recent issue around the National Health Service. Salmond has stated that he will focus the final month of the independence campaign telling Scots how their health service is in jeopardy with cuts and privatisation threatening to do irreparable damage.

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Posted in Good Society | Tagged , , , | 4 Responses

Why we need to think again about suicide since Robin Williams’ death

Richard Butchins, an award winning documentary maker and author, tells his painful story of suicide

Taking your own life is not easy. I know I’ve tried, and obviously failed. When you commit suicide you haven’t lost a battle with depression or illness or whatever it maybe. No, you have won – you have taken the final step away from an insoluble problem.

Depressed-personOne day, I’ll take my own life and that’s ok. It’s mine to take (unless I were to hurt others in the process). I am a disabled man with little if anything to look forward to in life; apart from increasing ill health and poverty in a society that’s shown itself to be virulently anti old-age.

My lover took her own life last year, she, like Robin Williams, hung herself. She left no note but I found out from reading her diaries that she felt that life had come to a full stop for her. That there was in her words “No way out”  and that she did what she did out of bravery not cowardice or desperation but a reasoned and logical, albeit a bleak logic, choice.

I have no information around Mr William’s death other than what’s already in the public domain but I suspect he knew all to well what having Parkinson’s disease entails and perhaps that factored into his choice.

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Posted in Social Justice | Tagged , , , | 7 Responses

With the threat of IS are we Chamberlain or Churchill?

Islamic State are clearly a threat to the West, argues Edisa Korugic and Robbie Travers, but the question is what do we do about it?

The problem we face today in Iraq in the form of the hydra-like monstrosity of ISIS is not a direct product of the invasion of 2003. In fact, ISIS‘ predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was an extremely weakened and marginal force in Iraq by the end of the last decade due to the Surge by Western coalition forces and the Sunni Awakening. There was no space for al-Qaeda to gain a foothold in Iraq, thus some within al-Qaeda were desperately waiting for an opportunity to regain strength.

ISIS ncrjIt was the Syrian civil war, which offered al-Qaeda a safe retreat and training ground to re-group their forces and gain battleground experience as well as weapons, money and fighters. Assad targeted alliances and groups of moderate, secular and more democratic Syrian rebels while sparing ISIS groups, which led to ISIS growing into the formidable terror army they are today.

From 2011 onwards, al-Qaeda in Iraq morphed into the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” (ISIS), culminating in a split between the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIS leaders in Syria. Al-Zawahiri, very sceptical about the ambitions of ISIS in Syria, urged the ISIS fighters to return from Syria and fight the battle in Iraq. For their part al-Qaeda disowned ISIS for their extremism and disloyalty.

What makes ISIS so dangerous is that they are a prototype for a new form of terror state, which uses a mix of sophisticated methods to subjugate the domestic population. On the one hand they try to win hearts and minds by providing humanitarian aid and security within their tightly defined rules, and on the other they talk freely of ethnic cleansing and genocide to punish those who aren’t willing to bow to their demands.

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Posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | 21 Responses

Alex Salmond’s oil predictions aren’t so slick after all

Has Alex Salmond wildly overestimated the part of oil in his independent utopia?

Further significant doubts have been cast over the economic basis of an independent Scotland.

Not as slick as originally felt.

Not as slick as originally felt.

The latest developments come during an interview given by Sir Ian Wood, who was responsible for transforming the fortunes of the Wood Group, an oil company. Sir Ian, originally from Aberdeen has also previously undertaken extensive work for the UK Government on offshore oil and gas recovery and its regulation.

Speaking exclusively to the industry publication, Energy Voice, Sir Ian has cast substantial doubts over the assumptions made in the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence about oil production.

According to the SNP administration, there remains enough North Sea oil reserves for 24 billion more barrels of the black gold. According to Sir Ian this remains a wildly optimistic scenario. He explained:

“Based on the research and conversations within my review, and across the industry, I believe, that even with a more sympathetic tax and regulation framework, the likely best outcome, without new hydrocarbon regions being discovered, is between 15billion and 16.5billion barrels.”

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Posted in Clean Politics | Tagged , , , | 3 Responses

Private rents are soaring: is it time the state stepped in?

Market fundamentalists say to leave the market, it will fix itself – but that experiment has been tried and it has failed. We need more statecraft to fix the problem.

At the start of the week a YouGov survey for the Times found that of the 52 per cent surveyed who thought the coalition deserves credit for the recovery in the economy, nearly two-thirds said it should go to the Tories, while only 35 per cent said the Lib Dems.

Houses 3But if George Osborne deserves to take the lion’s share of the praise, should he not also be subject to the flak for a poor recovery that has resulted in few people feeling the benefits of the economic upturn?

Today the flat and house share website Spare Room release data suggesting that tenants are struggling as their rents rise faster than their incomes, which ends up impacting on their overall budget. What does recovery mean if people are feeling no benefits in their pay packet each month?

The research finds that since 2009, UK rents have risen by 10 per cent while tenants’ accommodation budgets have fallen by 0.5 per cent. According to ONS data the average earnings of a UK worker is only rising by 1.7 per cent per year, and yet average rents are rising by 5 per cent annually.

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Posted in A Britain We All Call Home | Tagged , , , | 7 Responses

It’s time to turn the words into action on Christian persecution

While the UK has form condemning barbaric acts inflicted on Christians because of their faith. It is time now to turn the words into action. 

In April, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair courted controversy in delivering a speech that called for much greater efforts to tackle radical Islam.

Christian cross ncjSpeaking to Bloomberg in London, Blair declared:

“For the last 40 to 50 years, there has been a steady stream of funding, proselytising, organising and promulgating coming out of the Middle East, pushing views of religion that are narrow minded and dangerous. Unfortunately we seem blind to the enormous global impact such teaching has had and is having.

“Within the Middle East itself, the result has been horrible, with people often facing a choice between authoritarian government that is at least religiously tolerant; and the risk that in throwing off the government they don’t like, they end up with a religiously intolerant quasi-theocracy.”

The more we see and hear from the Middle East, the more difficult it can become to argue against Blair’s thought provoking speech.

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Posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | 24 Responses

The video of James Foley is an escalation: what should the UK response be?

With last year’s vote on Syria in mind there will be a lot of attention given to what the Labour response will be today – while we need caution and pause, the response from the Labour party must reflect the severity of the situation now.

The video published last night which appears to show the beheading of photojournalist James Foley provides a shocking insight into the lawlessness of parts of the Middle East right now. And while the Prime Minister David Cameron is on holiday it surely won’t be long until serious talks are had, in the UK and internationally, about what the response to the escalation of violence in Iraq and Syria (from where Foley was last heard) will look like.

FIn a very important article for Foreign Policy Magazine, Peter D. Feaver spelt out the five questions by which the world should judge President Obama’s decision to return US forces to combat.

One of the questions he asks involves the plausibility of whether inaction could meaningfully lower the desire of Islamic State (IS) to attack the US. This raises an interesting, and ongoing discussion about what we know about the wider, global aims of IS.

While Feaver says members of Obama’s team are sold “on the view that IS had and has geographically limited ambitions: establishing a new caliphate in the Middle East” – what all governments in countries with regional partners and allies in the Middle East need to be asking is whether they can be sure this is true. Limited ambitions, for now, but what about round the corner? Read More »

Posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | 14 Responses

The Caliphate Delusion: the political construct that bears no relevance in the modern world

Ghaffar Hussain, the Managing Director of Quilliam, historicises the Caliphate to show what little relevance it has in the modern world

I first came across the term Caliphate or Khilafah back in 1992 when, as a young teenager, I attended a lecture organised by a local Islamist group. The term was a reference to a global Muslim empire that would have a single ruler for life, referred to as Caliph, and implement a single interpretation of shariah. This empire would also be expansionist and seek to aggressively stretch its borders through warfare until the entire world fell under its domain.

Islamist-extremists-on-campusThe Caliphate, it was argued, was necessary because, theologically, it was an Islamic obligation and, politically, only such an entity could protect Muslims around the world, under siege as they are from non-Muslim enemies.

Furthermore, the return of the Caliphate was foretold in scripture and had existed up until 1924 until it was destroyed by European imperialists who felt threatened by Muslim unity and power. Prior to 1924, it was argued, a thriving Caliphate had ushered in a golden age of Islam in which science, art, philosophy and economic prosperity flourished as Muslims implemented a divine ruling system.

At the time it was a compelling narrative, especially since it weaved theology, geo-politics and grievances young British Muslims were experiencing at the time. It also had a feel-good factor to it because essentially it blamed all the contemporary failings of Muslim societies around the world on Western conspiracies and the lack of a Caliphate. Read More »

Posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy | Tagged , , , | 29 Responses
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