Sunday, October 6, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 4, 2013

North Korea - Aggressive or Misunderstood?

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

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

Thursday, March 21, 2013


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

1. Legality of war 

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

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

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

3. Immoral motives 

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

4. Death and suffering 

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

5. The aftermath (the suffering continues) 

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

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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


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

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

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

Friday, March 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Iraq 10 Years On

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

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

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

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