Sunday, March 28, 2010

Interview with Ha-Joon Chang, and other good stuff from New Left Project

My interview with Ha-Joon Chang, one of the world's leading development economists, is published today at New Left Project.

Chang is currently a Reader in the Political Economy of Development at the University of Cambridge, he has served as a consultant to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the European Investment Bank as well as to Oxfam and various United Nations agencies. He is the author of a number of critically acclaimed books, including ‘Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective’, and ‘Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism’.

In our in-depth interview, Chang discussed the damaging effect of neo-liberal economics on the world’s poorer countries, and Britain’s dubious record on international development.

You can read the whole interview here.

New Left Project has been going for a couple of months now, and I'm really pleased with the amount and quality of material we've produced so far. To pick a small selection of the very best, we've had:

  • the first review of Norman Finkelstein's new book, "This Time We Went Too Far: Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion", and a review of Natasha Walter's "Living Dolls: the Return of Sexism", by Nina Power;
  • interviews with Mark Curtis on British foreign policy and radical Islam, with philosopher Peter Singer on ethics and the left, and with Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune on contemporary feminism; and
  • articles from Priya Gopal on the marketisation of higher education under New Labour, and from Jamie Stern-Weiner examining the humanitarian catastrophes in Haiti and Gaza.
I think we're making good progress in becoming a significant on-line resource for the global (particularly the UK) left for analysis and discussion of contemporary issues. So pay us a visit, and follow us on Twitter if you can.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Venezuela: Inside the Revolution

My review of the documentary film "Inside the Revolution", a look at recent political trends in Venezuela, is published by The Samosa.

An exerpt:

"What is the nature of the political change that has been taking shape in Venezuela since the election of President Hugo Chavez in 1998? This has become one of the central questions in world politics over the past decade. Why? Because events in that South American country have direct relevance to the key global trends of the moment: the waning power of the United States, the fading credibility of the neo-liberal economic model, and the slow replacement of the zombified ‘Washington Consensus’.

Inside the Revolution, a film by the documentary-maker Pablo Navarrete, is a serious, insightful and thought-provoking review of Venezuelan politics over recent years. With a particular focus on the perspectives of the poorest and an admirable willingness to let them tell their own story, Navarrete analyses the roots of the transformation taking place in Venezuela, the obstacles it faces, and the prospects for the future."

You can read the whole piece here, and go here for more information on screenings of Inside the Revolution.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, October 30, 2009

Demanding a New British Foreign Policy

My article, "We Must Demand a New Foreign Policy", was published on The Guardian's website earlier this week.
The article set out to do three things:
First, to point out that at the next election the political system will not be offering us any alternative government that presents the clean break in UK foreign policy that the public desires, following the Blair-Bush years.
Second, to try and describe some of the main features of what a progressive transformation in Britain's relations with the rest of the world might look like.
Third, to encourage the public to get involved in activism that challenges current UK policy and aims to change it for the better.
You can read the article here.
Many comments were made by readers (I believe it was one of the top five most commented-upon pieces in the 24 hours it was prominent on the site, and the editors were kind enough to nominate it 'Thread of the Day'). Some of the input was good, some less so, as is always the way in these forums. One comment I thought particularly valuable was this from Paul Lambert in which he cites polling evidence backing up my point about the democratic deficit on foreign policy.
It was good to get the opportunity to publish in the Guardian and get some of these ideas out to a much wider audience than I get here (no offence to either of you, my faithful and valued readers). Hopefully this will be the shape of things to come.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

James Bond and the corporate view of human nature

Someone on a discussion forum I contribute to asked how the commercial entertainment industry serves or subverts corporate power. This (with a couple of subsequent tweaks) was my answer.


*****

The mass entertainment industry rarely offers much in the way of political subversion (though bits and pieces do get smuggled through, if you look closely), but it can provide us with insights into how the corporate world sees the views and values of ordinary people. Here's an example.

The last James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, involved MI6 agent Bond and a CIA counterpart rebelling against their respective spy agencies to counter a coup against the Bolivian government. The coup was aimed at the eventual privatisation of that country's water resources. This is closely related to real life events, as the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole points out in an excellent piece here. The current left-wing administration in Bolivia is the latest in a long line of progressive South American governments to have been covertly undermined and plotted against by local business and military elites, often with the connivance of Washington. Its a story being played out right now in Honduras. The QoS scriptwriter is obviously familiar with recent South American politics, including the Cochabamba protests against water privatisation in Bolivia, which are alluded to in the plot.

Now James Bond, for all his ostensible devil-may-care individualism is probably the least subversive of all movie characters. So why choose a cause celebre of the international left for his latest mission, and play it in such an eyebrow-raisingly sympathetic way?

The Bond film franchise is a major one, geared to making big bucks on the basis of judging its audience correctly. I would suggest that plenty of people in the entertainment industry understand that there is an awareness amongst the general public - and, more importantly, a disapproval of the fact - that western governments, corporations and intelligence agencies engage in this sort of behaviour in places like Latin America. (Quantum of Solace is far from the only film/tv show in which the state, the CIA etc are the bad guys. Even our own Dr Who and Torchwood have occasional elements of that). The producers of the Bond film calculated that a plot which played to these views would find favour with audiences and make money at the box office.

Film producers take such assessments of the mood of the masses seriously, because getting those calculations right is how they make themselves rich. Active support for the likes of Evo Morales may be in short supply in the West, but the plot selection of the Bond producers suggests that those who make their fortunes understanding the moods of mass audiences know that there is a widespread passive sympathy for causes of this kind: people are aware that right wing US governments try to overthrow or subvert progressive third world governments; and they don‘t like it.

If this assessment of the public mood is correct, then that's very encouraging news for people on the left. It suggests that if we go out there and make the case against US imperialism to the average apolitical person on the street, we may well find a surprisingly receptive audience.

You can take a similar, broader message from advertising. Very rarely does an advert simply tell you the features of the product and the price. Instead, elaborate attempts are made to associate the product in your mind with things like freedom, happiness, fulfilment, love/sex etc etc. The material product itself isn't something we're that interested in, so the advertisers have to hitch it on to something we really value. I don't care particularly which broadband/telephone package I use, but if I'm encouraged to associate BT's product with a happy home and love life then its understood that this will appeal to me far more than the material item itself. Thus are natural human needs and energies diverted down the dead end of consumerism.

Corporate bosses - when in the realms of political debate - never miss a chance to tell us that human beings are driven by greed and self-interest, requiring ever greater rewards to motivate us. See the recent justifications for the return of massive bonuses for the incompetant leaders of the discredited banking industry. But the real corporate assessment of human nature is revealed in the way that profit-making institutions try and sell their products to us. Those communications give us good reason to believe that corporations understand human beings to value freedom, love, empathy for our fellow people and other loftier concerns above shallow material enrichment.

Mass entertainment and other corporate forms of communication may not be subversive in and of themselves, but they can unwittingly provide glimpses into how our own natures contradict, and are capable of subverting, the values of the corporate system.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Gaza: what the BBC doesn't want you to see

There's a grave humanitarian crisis in Gaza. I might have mentioned it previously.

The leading aid agencies report that "Over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, and many thousands have been injured, overwhelming local hospitals. The destruction has left people without homes and many children without schooling; power, food and water supplies are insufficient to cover the population’s needs".

Unlike ITN, Channel 4 and Channel 5, the BBC and Sky will not broadcast this appeal, on behalf of those aid agencies, because that would be biased against Israel, whose war of aggression on Gaza caused the crisis.

Yes, really.

You can donate here, and join the many thousands that have already complained to the BBC here.

Here's the complaint email I wrote.

Labels: ,

Friday, January 23, 2009

BBC obstructs Gaza relief effort

Complaint sent to the BBC. Please do the same.

*********

Dear Sir or Madam

I have just read on the Guardian's website that the BBC has chosen not to air an urgent appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee to raise money for the thousands of homeless and wounded in Gaza. I am genuinely taken aback by this extraordinary decision.

With $2bn of infrastructure destroyed by the recent attacks on Gaza, 84% of people there reporting having problems accessing food, 400,000 without water, and 35,000 left in UN shelters the situation for ordinary people in Gaza is desperate, even life-threatening, as your own reporting shows.

The Guardian quotes your spokesperson as saying: "The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story".

Let me address the second of these justifications first. If two bar brawlers are taken to hospital, the doctors do not try to decide who was in the right before treating them. It is an objective fact that there are ordinary, innocent people in Gaza - people like you, me or our families - in desperate need of the basics for mere survival. Helping in the provision of aid so that an infant child can eat or receive medical care could only "compromise confidence in the BBC's impartiality" in the eyes of someone who was either heartless or insane. Is the BBC so keen not to offend such people that it is prepared to effectively obstruct the ability of aid agencies to provide relief in Gaza? Are these really the corporation's priorities?

The other justification given by your spokesperson is flatly contradicted by the DEC, an umbrella organisation for 13 of the world's leading aid agencies. It is hard to believe that the BBC really thinks it can judge the feasibility of relief-provision better than the experts in the field. That being the case, the second justification appears to be the real reason for this rare breach of the BBC's agreement with the aid agencies, while the first justification rather looks like padding. To refuse to assist in the aid effort for the people of Gaza is one thing. To palm them off with PR is something else.

The DEC's chief executive, Brendan Gormley, is quoted in the Guardian as saying that the decision could have a big impact on its appeal. "We are used to our appeal getting into every household and offering a safe and necessary way for people to respond. This time we will have to work a lot harder because we won't have the free airtime or the powerful impact of appearing on every TV and radio station."

It is shameful - chilling, in fact - that the BBC should be responsible for this. I demand that this decision is reversed immediately. Please do not provide me with a response explaining why the decision has not been reversed. Please instead do what I'm sure you know is the only decent thing. Air the appeal immediately.

David Wearing
PhD Candidate
School of Public Policy
University College London

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Does Israel attack journalists in occupied Palestine?

Is the bear a catholic? Does the pope defacate in woodland areas?

Writing the letter I had published in the Guardian yesterday was simple enough. Lorna Fitzsimons, CEO of the "Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre", had claimed that Reporters Sans Frontières contradicted John Pilger's damning assessment of the way Israel treats journalists in illegally occupied Palestine. I looked up what Reporters Sans Frontières had actually said on the subject (which confirmed, not contradicted, Pilger's article) and quoted it. This difficult bit of research took at least 15 minutes. Pathetic that this is the best Israel's apologists can manage.

Of course, I only went as far as to show that the apologist's representation of Reporters Sans Frontières' assessment was a false one. But a man with the courage, strength and indefatigability of Jamie SW can be relied upon to go that one stage further. With this excellent piece of research, drawing from press reports and applying some straightforward but perceptive reasoning, he demolishes the lie that Israel has some proud record on journalistic freedom, and exposes Fitzsimons sad effort for what it was: a cynical apologia for wanton brutality. Hats off then to Jamie, whose blog, by the way, is top drawer.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Islamophobia: the bigotry you can vent without shame

Yesterday evening, Channel 4 showed a wonderful documentary, "Dispatches: It Shouldn't Happen to a Muslim", an example of that rare and precious thing called public service broadcasting. It is my view that every last person responsible, from the tea-boy up, should be given a knighthood. At least.

Journalist Peter Oborne investigated "the rise of violence, intolerance and hatred against British Muslims....He discover[ed] that for many in the Muslim community, Britain is becoming a very frightening place. Dispatches [met] a range of British Muslims who now live in daily fear, some because their homes are constantly vandalised, others because they or family have suffered devastatingly violent attacks."

The Language of Hate

Some important and authoritative research was commissioned by the film-makers, which will serve as valuable resources for those fighting Islamophobia in the future. There's a report by the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, which found that "the bulk of [press] coverage of British Muslims - around two thirds - focuses on Muslims as a threat (in relation to terrorism), a problem (in terms of differences in values) or both (Muslim extremism in general)." "Decontextualisation, misinformation and a preferred discourse of threat, fear and danger, while not uniformly present, were strong forces in the reporting of British Muslims in the UK national press."

The Cardiff School of Journalism report is a very solid bit of social science research and well worth reading in full. Like the documentary as a whole, it provides a thorough analysis of how a dangerous bigotry is constructed and maintained in public discourse. The British press is shown to constantly present Muslims as an alien presence; a threatening "other". Rarely if ever in the coverage is it accepted that if a person lives, works, votes, pays their taxes and abides by the law in this country then they are no less British if they are a Muslim than if they are CofE or anything else. Instead, Islamic traditions are presented as a threat to a nebulous concept called "our way of life", from which British people of Islamic faith are excluded by definition. It is clear that, for the press, "Britishness" means a narrow concept of white Anglo-Saxonism; and that should be a cause for concern to a great many of us besides Muslims.

The other point about the press coverage is that so much of it is simply false, to the point where it appears that many journalists are in the business of systematically lying about the subject. It becomes plain that the assumption you should work from when you see a scare-story about Muslims in the gutter press, or even the broadsheets, ("Muslims Ban Christmas", "Mosques Beat Churches", "Gay Muslim Paedophile Asylum Seekers May Cause Cancer/Fall in House Prices") is that the story is probably false.

Furthermore, "Oborne conclude[d] that in today's climate the media say things about Islam and Muslims they would never say about other groups [and this includes supposedly liberal commentators like Polly Toynbee]. When he replace[d] the word' 'Muslim' in some recent headlines with 'Jews', 'Blacks' and 'Gays' and show[ed] them to members of the public, they [found] those headlines deeply offensive".

A particularly interesting moment came when Oborne interviewed Rabbi Pete Tobias, a expert in the anti-semitism of early twentieth century Britain. Tobias showed Oborne an Evening Standard article from 1911, a time when many Jews were arriving in the UK from Europe. The language was familiar: dangerous and backward people from the east threaten our values and way of life by swamping our communities and refusing to integrate or submit to our superior culture. Chilling to consider that, even after the twentieth century, the essential components of racist discourse are still not being recognised for what they are (see the election of the lovable clown Boris Johnson, for a separate example).

Crucially, the documentary gave many British Muslims the chance to speak for themselves, which makes a change from having other people talking about them. And their responses to the prejudice that had been thrown their way were the best and most telling of all. Asked about the Sun's political editor's comment that it is correct to spotlight Muslims because of Islamist terrorism, one Muslim cleric asked, if all rapists are men, then why don't we spotlight the entire male gender for the issue of rape? A Muslim medical student said that when Muslims like her get abused or attacked by white British people then no one asks broad questions about the defects of white British culture, but when a Muslim commits a terrorist act then every member of the Islamic faith is held guilty of hate-filled extremism until proven innocent.

This gets right to the crux of it. In reality, we do not have a problem with Islam; we have a problem with terrorists. Actually, we have a problem with terrorism and with bigotry towards Muslims, which often manifests itself in Muslims being violently terrorised.

Terrorising Muslims

The documentary makers commissioned a poll, one of the most important results of which illustrated the fact that Islamophobia does a lot worse than hurt people's feelings. Fully thirty seven percent of Muslims - over one in three - says they have been subjected to hostility or abuse since 7 July 2005 because of their religion. Oborne interviewed people who had had their houses and cars vandalised, been abused in the street, beaten and stabbed, and targeted by fire-bombings.

The information pamphlet accompanying the programme (also well worth a read), describes an incident where "[o]n Wednesday 7 May 2008 in Bolton a group of young people allegedly chased a group of Muslim men shouting racial and religious abuse. A chainsaw was allegedly held to the throat of one man. A 17-year-old girl and a 22-year-old man have been charged with affray and possession of an offensive weapon, and are awaiting trial". Elsewhere "[a] Methodist chapel being converted into an Asian community centre in Quenchwell, near Carnon suffered an Islamophobic attack in early June. In the wake of a local row about the plans to create an Asian centre at this location urine was found inside a builder’s helmet. The words “Fuck off you Asian bastards” were written on a table. On the morning of Monday 2 June a pig’s head was found nailed to the door in a clear attempt to offend Muslims. The words “God says fuck off” and a cross were daubed on the door".

"On 17 April three men were jailed for three years for a campaign of racial harassment lasting nine months against a Muslim colleague, Amjid Mehmood, who was tied to railings and force-fed bacon, which he cannot eat because of his religious beliefs. His attackers filmed the whole incident on a mobile phone. In total, nine separate incidents of racial harassment occurred over the period. A rucksack with protruding wires was put on his locker and his trousers were set on fire. During the Birmingham riots he was driven to an Afro-Caribbean area and told locals were “coming to get him.”"

Its never been a secret that the language of racism is spoken with fists and knives as much as it is written in newsprint or insinuated in the statements of politicians. But many powerful people seem happy to ignore this, while the costs are paid by ordinary and entirely innocent Britons of Islamic faith. Violence is of course the logical consequence of a public discourse in which Muslims are constantly demonised and lied about. Thus, the self-styled victims of fictional Muslim aggression become the enablers of actual aggression against Muslims. The press and politicians (like the odious Jack Straw whining about how veiled women discomfort him, or any given right-wing hack complaining about "political correctness gone mad") portray themselves as the pitiful victims of extremist Islamism. But when Muslims then suffer actual physical aggression as a result of this demonisation, politicians and the press have nothing to say.

Attitudes: differences and similarities

The poll also shows, as other polls have done, that Muslims are not significantly less tolerant than non-Muslims, which sweeps away at a stroke the fantasy of an ultra-conservative Islamist invasion. So we can expect the press to ignore that completely, since it doesn't fit with the approved story.

Speaking generally, the poll results highlight the sorts of differences in perceptions of Islamophobia that you'd probably expect between Muslims and the rest of the population, which are certainly dismaying, and a serious level of prejudice obviously exists. But I hope I'm not being panglossian in saying that this prejudice is also not as widespread as it could be, given the nature of press coverage and elite political discourse. Note for example that 78 per cent of Muslims and 70 per cent of non-Muslims agree that "there is more ... religious prejudice against Muslims in Britain today since the London bombings in July 2005". Most non-Muslims felt that Muslims were bearing the brunt of unjustified criticism (51 per cent) while 31 per cent felt that the level of criticism was justified. When you subtract the decent people who have just been misled by politicians and the press (and would probably change their minds when presented with the facts) from that third of the population, then you're left with a small minority of bigots. Which is not to say that a small minority of bigots can't be very dangerous, but it does help to put a rather frightening picture of British Islamophobia in some sort of context. In a way, it shows what polls often show, that the public are largely decent and reasonable people, and that the political class (media and politicians) is broadly to the right of the general population. Islamophobia is propagated by the political class and a potentially small minority of the public; making it dangerous, but not invincible.

The political utility of hate

Finally, I'd like to make a point that wasn't made in the documentary but which I think is essential for putting all of this in context. We should bear in mind the central, enabling role that Islamophobia plays in the War on Terror, and the potential usefulness to the political class of this species of bigotry.

The documentary aired 3 years to the day after the London tube and bus bombings. As I wrote at the time, the security services had repeatedly warned the government that Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq strongly increased the chances that attacks like this would occur. The government joined the US invasion of Iraq - a country that posed no threat to us - in spite of these warnings. It is a truism that one is responsible for the predictable consequences of ones actions, so on the afternoon of 7/7/2005 the British government had a serious problem, as indeed did the media that had played a key enabling role in taking the country to into an unpopular war. It was then extremely convenient for these elites to change the subject from Western foreign policy, the known inspiration for these brutal terrorist crimes, and instead place the focus on the Muslim community. And when you observe the people who run our country first starting a war of aggression that has by now claimed probably over a million lives, and then passing the blame for one of the predicted consequences of that war onto one of the most vulnerable communities in the UK (many of whom had actually voted New Labour, incidentally), then you get the measure of the sheer moral bankruptcy of British ruling elite.

It should also not be forgotten that the demonisation of Islam plays a broader enabling role for Western foreign policy. As I noted in this article, which I wrote in response to the controversy over the Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad:

"It is no coincidence that those who most enthusiastically peddle the fiction of a "clash of civilisations" also portray the opposing "other" as a force that seriously threatens to destroy "our way of life", and therefore advocate an aggressive US-led military strategy across the Islamic world. Manichean rhetoric eulogizing the liberal idealism of "our values" and the necessity of defending them against those who "hate our freedoms" has been the very essence of Western pro-war advocacy in recent years. Observing essentially imperial foreign policies being depicted as altruistic endeavours aimed at bringing enlightenment to backward, inferior (if exotic) cultures, or at least at defending us against them, hardly places us in unfamiliar territory. Indeed, subjugation almost invariably goes hand in hand with the deliberate dehumanisation of those who are being subjugated by those responsible for or whose acquiescence is essential to the act of subjugation".

As competition escalates for strategic control over the planet's dwindling oil reserves, the need for our esteemed leaders to present aggressive imperial policies in Western Asia within the conceptual framework of a "clash of civilisations" will only increase. Violence against innocent people on the streets of Britain will be but one lamentable but neccessary byproduct of this propaganda campaign, along with the massive violence meted out to the people of the region and the predictable terrorist backlash against our own country. Such are the calculations made by the statesmen who run the world on our behalf.

Conclusion

But while the documentary did not place British Islamophobia into this broader context, it should still be applauded for giving such serious treatment to an important subject, and for speaking out with a strong moral voice against this dangerous tide of hatred. Hopefully before too long, Islamophobia will go the way of anti-semitism and anti-black racism, becoming seen as something you at least don't say out loud, as a prelude to it and those other forms of bigotry disappearing forever. If that is to happen, then people like Peter Oborne and the Dispatches team will have played their part. If only more of their peers could say the same.

Labels: , , , ,

Israeli violence against journalists

Disgusted of London (no relation to "Aggrieved of Royal Tonbridge Wells") strikes again on today's Guardian letters page. Its the last one here; slightly edited but not in any substantive way. The full version went like this:

*********

Lorna Fitzsimons - representing something called the "Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre" (Letters, July 7) - claims that Reporters Sans Frontières contradict John Pilger's damning assessment (From triumph to torture, July 2) of the way Israel treats journalists in illegally occupied Palestine.
In fact, the NGO's latest annual report condemns "Israeli army violence against media workers in the occupied Palestinian Territories". It tells us that "[s]ixteen journalists were injured when troops fired real or rubber bullets or percussion or teargas grenades during 2007". Among them were "Al-Aqsa TV cameraman Imad Ghanem [who] was seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers ... as he filmed an army operation [in] the Gaza Strip. ...He lost the use of both legs". The report describes journalists being harassed, denied their rights and having their equipment seized by the occupying military. It also notes that the Israeli soldier who, in the judgement of St Pancras coroner's court, "murdered" British journalist James Miller in May 2003, continues to evade justice.
In what sense then does Fitzsimons believe that the assessment of Reporters Sans Frontières contradicts John Pilger's article?
David Wearing
London

Labels: ,

Monday, July 07, 2008

Chavez and the FARC: "you have been lied to"

Great article by Johann Hari in the Independent:

"Sometimes you hear a stray sentence on the news that makes you realise you have been lied to. Deliberately lied to; systematically lied to; lied to for a purpose. If you listened closely over the past few days, you could have heard one such sentence passing in the night-time of news.

As Ingrid Betancourt emerged after six-and-a-half years – sunken and shrivelled but radiant with courage – one of the first people she thanked was Hugo Chavez. What? If you follow the news coverage, you have been told that the Venezuelan President supports the Farc thugs who have been holding her hostage. He paid them $300m to keep killing and to buy uranium for a dirty bomb, in a rare break from dismantling democracy at home and dealing drugs. So how can this moment of dissonance be explained?

Yes: you have been lied to – about one of the most exciting and original experiments in economic redistribution and direct democracy anywhere on earth. And the reason is crude: crude oil. The ability of democracy and freedom to spread to poor countries may depend on whether we can unscramble these propaganda fictions."

Read the whole thing here.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Venezuela: more untruths from the Guardian

In an editorial yesterday, the Guardian said that President Chavez of Venezuela had performed a "handbrake turn" when he called on the Colombian guerrilla organisation the FARC to cease its armed campaign and release all hostages, reversing his previous position.

Problem is, this is completely false. Chavez was repeating his established position, as Marc Weisbrot of the Center for Policy Research points out here. For example, on January 13, Chavez said "I do not agree with the armed struggle, and that is one of the things that I want to talk to Marulanda [the then head of the FARC] about". The only u-turn here is going to have to be the Guardian's when it issues a correction (assuming it plans to do the right thing).

"If you're not with us then you're with the terrorists".

But even if the Guardian did correct this misrepresentation, serious problems remain with the article; problems which are very much typical of the Guardian's recent, lamentable coverage .

The gist of the editorial was as follows: Chavez has attempted to transform overnight from terrorist sympathiser to peace-maker. Its ha
rd to say why, since he's the fruitloop Caudillo of a banana republic, but we think its because he got caught red-handed by the eminently trustworthy Colombian security forces giving aid to terrorists (possibly). Anyway, maybe this episode will teach him the error of his ways, and persuade him to stop being such a beastly dictator and ripping off the poor of Venezuela, who we care deeply about.

I paraphrase, but that was about the thrust of it.

Lets look at the FARC issue first, putting aside Chavez explicit comments that FARC should lay down its arms, made several months before what the Guardian calls his "U-turn". The Venezuelans have worked hard to get FARC hostages released, and with much success. There is no proven evidence that Venezuela has given military aid to FARC. Only unsubstantiated allegations made by a US-Colombian side with a vested political interest that the Guardian bends over backwards to ignore (more of this in a moment).

Take the recent Interpol report, much-heralded by the media, that purported to back up the supposedly incriminating evidence of Venezuela-FARC collusion alleged to have been found on laptops seized when Colombian security forces carried out an illegal raid into Ecuador. Few in the media found space to report that Interpol had said:

"The accuracy and source of the user files contained in the eight seized FARC computer exhibits are and always have been outside the scope of INTERPOLs computer forensic examination."

If this was mentioned even in passing by the media, the overall tone of the reporting was as though it had never been said. And the Guardian piece of the time is a perfect example.

The "validation" carried out by Interpol was strictly on the narrow question of whether the laptops had been interfered with after the Colombians seized them. And even on that point, if you read the report in detail, the picture is far from clear.

What is known about Venezuelan support for FARC, as opposed to what is alleged by those with known vested interests, is that Caracas views FARC broadly as a legitimate resistance movement existing in the context of a civil war (during which, lest we forget, US-trained security forces and allied paramilitaries have committed grisly human rights abuses for decades). This is by no means the same as endorsing the means FARC use to pursue its objectives, which few sane people would support and which Venezuela has always explicitly rejected. Broad ideological support is clearly not the same as tactical or methodological support. But apparently we've now descended to the level of "if you're not with us then you're with the terrorists".

What we have here is a set of allegations made by a Colombian government which is bankrolled by the same White House that backed a coup against the elected Venezuelan government not six years ago. How ridiculous to see the lessons of Iraq's fake WMD forgotten so quickly. Again the political usefulness of "intelligence findings" to those offering them to the media are absolutely transparent, and yet journalists are once again ignoring these motives and acting as little more than credulous stenographers.

One of the reasons President Chavez gave for urging FARC to lay down its arms was that it was giving the US an "excuse" to intervene in the region (the US record of such interventions is well known, of course, with a historic death toll in the tens of thousands). Chavez appears to have now acted decisively to remove the US's ability to use this issue either to exert pressure on Venezuela or even to topple the elected government in Caracas, as it has tried to do in the past. These questions need to be understood within that broader context, but as is so often the case with the Guardian's dismal coverage of Venezuela, the context simply goes unmentioned.

"Hollow democracy"

Lets now turn to the Guardian's talk of Venezuela's "hollow" democracy. For the first time in Venezuelan history, a political movement rooted in the poor majority - not a party under the effective ownership of the minority wealthy class - is in government, and governs in the interests of its grassroots supporters. One of the first acts of this government was to facilitate the introduction of a new constitution in order to extend democracy in Venezuela. A constitutional assembly was elected by the population, that assembly drew up a draft constitution, and the draft was then ratified by 72 per cent of the popular vote in a second referendum.

The new draft constitution enshrined socio-economic rights, including rights for minority groups and a specific right to healthcare. It also added to the electoral toolkit the ability for an opposition to instigate a Presidential "recall referendum" at any time, giving the public the ability to remove the President before his or her term is up.

For a newspaper that has spoken often in favour of constitutional reform in the UK, you'd think these measures would be laudable. Would the liberal Guardian not be delighted if the British public were able to draft its own constitution and enshrine progressive values within it? But instead, in its assessment of Bolivarian Venezuela, the Guardian pretends these things never happened.

The leader writer says that "the central bank, the courts and the military are all politicised", but does not explain how he justifies the use of this adjective, making it hard to comment. The relevant question, ignored in the editorial, is whether the measures in question are legitimate under the democratic constitution.

When a writer makes assertions like "the central bank, the courts and the military are all politicised" we are forced to take it on trust that the adjective which is being substituted for an argument has been fairly used. It is hard to maintain such trust when in other instances the reader is blatantly mislead.

The editorial claims that "Parliament is a rubber stamp", but neglects to mention the reason that the Presidency enjoys such strong support in Parliament. The reason is that the right-wing opposition - which had previously tried to topple the government in a coup, and then engineer an oil industry management lock-out designed to cripple the national economy - boycotted the 2005 parliamentary elections in a final, desperate attempt to discredit a government that it knew it could not beat in the polls.

To use the outcome of the Venezuelan opposition's attempt to subvert and wreck democracy as evidence of Chavez - yes, Chavez - being anti-democratic, is an odious twisting of the truth worthy of that opposition itself. To see this propaganda parroted in a supposedly centre-left/liberal newspaper is truly dismaying.


"These should be the salad days of Venezuela's oil boom"

Finally, as ever, the Guardian focuses on the negatives in the Venezuelan economy while skipping lightly over the far greater positives. Inflation is indeed a concern, not least because it offsets the gains made by the poor. But the Guardian appears to suggest that inflation cancels out those gains entirely, and that the poor may even be net losers under the current government. It must know that this suggestion is absurd. Things we hear very little or nothing of from the Guardian (which I thought was concerned about third world development) include a 37.4% reduction in poverty caused by a tripling in social spending since 1998 - truly staggering numbers. And advances in the provision of healthcare and education have been equally dramatic.

Are inflation and the recent sporadic food shortages serious? Undoubtedly. In spite of this, have the lives of poor Venezuelans been transformed since 1998, making them huge net winners economically under the current government? Without question, as this detailed report demonstrates. Has the Guardian been giving you this full picture, or just stressing the bits that suit its political point of view and skimming over the bits that don't? The answer, given the Guardian's progressive reputation, is surprising. Frankly, on Venezuela, you might as well read Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.

Two countries are mentioned in the Guardian editorial: Colombia and Venezuela. While misleading its readers about Venezuela, the Guardian and its reporter on the ground found time to produce a glossy advertising brochure providing PR for the Colombian business class, a class often implicated in serious human rights abuses (see here for that PR brochure, some of which was written by the Guardian's reporter. Its now described on the website as an "advertisement feature", but in print at the time it was presented not as an advert but as a "special report" from Colombia). Perhaps the Guardian might care to reflect on the trail of misery and death left in the wake of the US and Colombian governments over the decades, compare that with Chavez's record (including no death squads, torture, dictatorships or consciously enforced impoverishment), and ask itself how a supposedly liberal newspaper got its priorities so badly wrong on Latin American politics in the past few years. With this latest editorial, the Guardian's reporting is descending into farce.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Venezuela: Complaint to the Guardian

Earlier this year, I made a formal complaint to the Guardian about what I view to be its consistently slanted and misleading coverage of Venezuelan politics. Click on the "Venezuela" label at the bottom of this post if you're unfamiliar with my views about their reporting, and you'll see what I've written previously on this.

After several months, and much prodding, the Guardian responded to me personally, and in a “Reader’s editor” article in the main paper itself. Much of the response I received either addressed points that I hadn't raised, misrepresented points I had raised, or gave answers so absurd that I began to question whether the "Reader's editor" herself believed what she was writing, or whether the exercise was designed simply to say anything to contradict me.

I wrote back, saying that I could not view my complaint as having been dealt with satisfactorily. I attached a marked-up version of
the Readers' editor’s reply to me, with my comments in bold (reproduced here, below). That was two months ago. No substantive response has been received, and the reasons for that will become obvious to you as you read further. The fact is that the Guardian has, in six months, been totally unable to deal with the concerns I've raised. All it has managed is a response which dissolves upon examination, and which it now fails to defend. Have a read, and decide for yourselves whether their defence of their reporter stands up.

******************

Dear David

I write in response to your complaint about the Guardian’s coverage of Venezuela. Your correspondence raised some interesting issues about the way news is reported and I've referred to it in tomorrow’s column on the subject of whether news reports need to be impartial (without, of course, identifying you as the complainant). As I’m sure you will appreciate it wasn’t possible, in the space available in my column, to address all of your complaints about the coverage. I will try to do so here.

My response is based on your emails to Harriet Sherwood of January 19 and February 4. In the course of considering your complaint I’ve also reviewed more than sixty articles about Venezuela published in the Guardian over the last 15 months.

In the next paragraph you describe my concerns. Let me then use this opportunity to clarify what they were.

You complain that: the correspondent fails to put his “obvious personal dislike of the Caracas government” to one side when he reports on events in Venezuela; the coverage is not balanced;

The central concern is that the coverage is misleading to the reader, and that, when noting this, one cannot help but also note the political views of the reporter, which are clear.

there are too many “sideways glances at the personality of the president”; some of the news reports mix fact and opinion;

I said from the outset that the correspondent is entitled to his views. The concern is that these views are distorting – through omission or questionable contextualisation - the factual picture that is presented to the reader; skewing it in favour of the correspondent’s point of view. This is distinct from presenting both the news and the reporter’s personal view of what is happening.

and the correspondent was wrong to call Chavez a “self-described communist”.

I do not know whether the reporter was wrong to do this or not. I’ve asked for an explanation as to why Chavez was called a “self-described communist” in January, and then, in September, as someone who did not describe himself as a communist. Both these statements could not be true simultaneously. I also continue to seek a direct quote supporting the former description.

The correspondent considers himself to be open-minded in his reporting of Venezuelan politics. His view is that the government has done some good things, as well as some bad things and some bizarre things. He points out that Chavez has had a difficult year: a referendum went against him, there have been defectors from his movement, he has closed down a television station,

This provides a very good example of what I’m referring to.

As you can see here, RCTV is not closed down.

I note that this description was also used in the “Open Door” article on Monday.

RCTV’s licence to broadcast terrestrially was not renewed upon expiry, but it continues to broadcast freely on cable and satellite. The licence was not renewed because the station actively participated in the overthrow of the elected government. Personally I disagree with the decision. But I’m not asking for reporting that adheres to my personal views – just reporting that gives a fair reflection of the facts.

Suppose there’d been a communist coup in the UK during the cold war, in which the Morning Star and Daily Mirror had played an active role. If the coup had then been thwarted, those papers would, at the very least, have been put out of business straightaway (Chavez has not even done this). Such a move would probably not have been described as a “negative” news story for the restored democratic government, except perhaps in Moscow.

In his reporting, the correspondent has either ignored or played down this context, even though it is a defining feature of the story. Clearly this misleads the reader.

and there is high inflation. In the circumstances there have, inevitably, been reports about the government, which might be classified as “negative”.

This is something of a red herring. I have not asked that the Guardian stop reporting the news. The very opposite, actually. If events reflect badly on the Venezuelan government then so be it. That’s not my concern in respect of the Guardian’s reporting.

At the heart of your complaint is the issue of whether news reports need to be impartial. Your view is that they should be “more or less neutral and balanced” and, if I understand your complaint correctly, you do not think that they should contain any opinion.

Not quite true, as I’ve explained above.

Your correspondent is perfectly entitled to opine, overtly, that RCTV’s licence should have been renewed on freedom of speech grounds (irrelevantly, I would have agreed with him). But the factual background needs to be properly represented so that the reader has the basis for their own conclusion, not in such a way that would steer them towards the view of the correspondent. Misrepresentations such as “Chavez closed down a TV station”, as noted above, will plainly have the latter effect.

Therefore, the question of whether the Guardian is obliged to report like the BBC or whether the correspondent considers himself, to use his rather odd term, “a champion of impartiality”, is not of any relevance here. Hence the Open Door article did not properly address my complaint.

You suggest the paper’s approach to reporting events in Venezuela should be the same as the BBC’s. You may be aware that the BBC (like other broadcasters) is regulated by the state and is required to present news with “due impartiality”. Newspapers do not have the same requirement imposed on them. In fact there are few restrictions on the way newspapers present news. As well as a provision about the need for accuracy the Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice has this to say: “The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.”

I address these points above. Here I would merely add one further observation.

There is a difference between what one is technically allowed to do and what one ought to do. What the British press are allowed to do does not, perhaps, represent the highest standard one might apply to journalism. I think most people would expect the Guardian to exceed that bare minimum standard by some considerable distance. As indeed it does 99.9% of the time.

Newspapers mix factual reporting and their own political views in various different ways. Where the balance is struck is one of the things that distinguishes a quality paper from the others. Of course, the Guardian would be free, in regulatory terms, to descend to the level of a mid-market tabloid if it took that commercial decision. But neither you nor I would view that favourably.

Your correspondent’s reporting may not fall foul of any regulations, but that hardly makes it acceptable by itself. All in all, this is a strange, and rather weak line of defence.

I used the BBC as a direct comparison of how the facts, in respect of the same story, can be given in full, or with a particular slant that serves to misrepresent them. Actually, if I wanted to provide a more general standard for Guardian’s reporting from Caracas to reach, I would simply point to the reporting in the rest of the paper. Actually, the Guardian’s reporting from Venezuela does not meet your own standards, in my view.

I turn now to the article published on January 18 with the headline Cheap and cheerful: Venezuelans cling to right for petrol at 42p a tank. You object to the fact that a quote: “If it gives us nothing else, at least the government lets us have our own petrol this cheap,” is not counterbalanced by information about what the Venezuelan government has done for the poor.

In particular you think the article should have mentioned that the government uses oil revenues to provide free healthcare and education and subsidised food. Those other policies had been reported previously but this story was about the petrol subsidy and it was legitimate to deal with that issue in isolation. The article should not be taken on its own as an indication of a lack of balance or fairness in the Guardian’s overall reporting.

The point about balance across the broader scope of the Guardian’s reporting on Venezuela is a fair one in principle. However, this does not preclude the need for a minimal amount of balance within the article itself. An article that talks about the poor of Venezuela being harmed by a government policy, but does not set this in the context of the poor having been huge net winners under that same government, is obviously an article that misleads the reader.

But in any case, the correspondent has given remarkably little focus in his overall coverage to the 37.4% reduction in poverty caused by a tripling in social spending since 1998. These are things we hear surprisingly little about in the Guardian, given the paper’s long-standing concern for third world development. The fact is that my criticism was raised with the overall scope of the Guardian’s reporting – which I have closely followed - very much in mind.

Chavez’s personality seems to me to be an entirely appropriate subject for discussion.

Again, I’m afraid this is a red herring. Nowhere do I say that Chavez’s personality is off-limits for discussion.

I note you object to phrases like “self-styled revolutionary” and “self-styled revolution” but I’m unclear as to why you say that these are inaccurate descriptions.

I find it strange that you’re unclear about this because I explained my concern in the 19/1/08 email to Harriet Sherwood, to which you refer.

I said:

“Those who know Venezuela describe the Caracas government as the product of a broad and deep grassroots social movement born of the iniquities of Venezuela's history. I would hope to learn something about such phenomena in the Guardian. Instead, one is given the impression that the 'Bolivarian revolution' is simply the transient and unfortunate product of one man's eccentricities.”

It is a matter of fact that the political change occurring in Venezuela is not Chavez’s “self-styled” revolution. It is the result of a set of national circumstances which produced a broad political movement that Chavez happens to be at the head of. To call it Chavez’s “self-styled” revolution – as though it is his simply his personal property, and not the product of the efforts of many thousands of people - reduces and trivialises an entire nation’s politics to the point of caricature.

In addition, it should be noted that Tony Blair has never been described, in news coverage, as a “self-styled humanitarian interventionist”, nor George Bush as a “self-styled regime-changer”. I would suggest that these are insidiously pejorative turns of phrase that infantilise and diminish the person concerned. There is a certain cheapness about the use of this sort of language.

With regard to the point about dwindling support the correspondent refers to the referendum, which Chavez lost, unexpectedly, in December.

In my email to Harriet Sherwood, I cited “a recent Latinobarómetro poll [which] gave the Venezuelan government an approval rating of 66%, ranking the country 1st in Latin America, where the average was 39%.”

Surely it is not being argued that the term “dwindling support”, on its own, suggests anything resembling an approval rating of 66%, and number one popularity in the region?

The government lost a referendum on a set of specific proposals (I’m glad it did, incidentally). It did not lose a popularity contest or a general election. Plainly the term “dwindling support” leads the reader away from the true picture of the government’s support.

As I indicated earlier, news stories do not have to be impartial and they may contain comment. What is crucial is that the facts (including the facts underlying any opinion) are accurate. It is also important that readers are able to distinguish between fact and opinion in stories. My assessment of the Guardian’s coverage of Venezuela is that, where the articles contained comment, readers were unlikely to have had trouble identifying it.

With regard to your complaint about the January 11, 2007 article, it seems to me that “dogmatic anti-globalist” and “US-bashing” are statements of fact rather than opinion.

George Bush is never described, in the Guardian’s news coverage, as a “dogmatic anti-Islamist” or as the “Iran-bashing” US President, for obvious reasons. Again, these are insidiously pejorative turns of phrase that infantilise and diminish the person concerned in a manner that is inappropriate in the context of broadsheet news reporting.

I don’t agree with you that the question posed by the correspondent is rhetorical. [continue reading to see the question I was referring to, which appeared in the January article linked to above]

I have to say that I find this astonishing.

The article compares the President Ortega of Nicaragua with Chavez, two presidents “separated by 1,314 miles, a late flight and an ideological time warp”. Chavez is “a social democrat turned US-bashing communist revolutionary” while Nicaragua’s Ortega is “a US-bashing communist revolutionary turned social democrat”. Chavez has "tightened his grip on power", "accelerating radicalisation on the principles of Trotsky's permanent revolution", moving to "clip his allies' dwindling autonomy". "Turning to look into the camera he saluted and said "Hello, Fidel", probably correctly assuming that his mentor, the ailing Cuban leader, was watching."

The question the correspondent then raises is this: “Whether Venezuela is moving ahead towards an innovative leftwing economic model, or moving backwards towards Cuban-style authoritarianism, is a question for ordinary Venezuelans to answer”.

If this is not rhetorical, then please let me know which part of the article suggests that “Venezuela is moving ahead towards an innovative leftwing economic model” and not in any way “backwards towards Cuban-style authoritarianism”.

It seems strange to take the line that the correspondent is not obliged to be a “champion of impartiality” and then to deny the most unambiguous examples of his introducing opinion into his news reporting. It does rather seem like trying to have things both ways.

In relation to the December 10 article, about Venezuela’s adjustment of its time zone, I cannot see that there is a problem with the tone.

I think the concern here is fairly straightforward. One article portrays the policy as (again) the product of one man’s quixotic eccentricities. The other [cited in my complaint] to gives a sensible, rounded explanation of why the measure was introduced. One informs, the other trivialises.

As far as your complaint that it was wrong to call Chavez a “self-described communist” is concerned, the correspondent’s position is that he did not claim you would find the evidence for this in a transcript of the president’s inaugural speech and his email to you of January 12 does not appear to suggest this.

The allegation was made in an article about the January 2007 inauguration speech. When I asked for a quote the correspondent said, “fish around and you’ll find a transcript”. It seemed reasonable to assume that he was referring to a transcript of the speech that his article was about. However, this is beside the point. The fact remains that, to this day, I have seen no direct quote of Chavez calling himself a communist, after two requests to the correspondent, and email to the foreign editor, and now a complaint to the reader’s editor. It is a claim that contradicts what is known about Chavez’s politics, it is something that Chavez has apparently never said about himself before or since, and it is used as the basis for the rhetoric the correspondent employs in a highly opinionated and critical article. It seems reasonable enough to expect the claim to be supported, so I would therefore repeat my request for the precise quote to be given.

The correspondent maintains that he heard Chavez describe himself as a communist in the run up to the election. His explanation for ceasing to use this description is that Chavez has not used it since.

Please confirm my understanding of the response here.

Chavez did not renounce his “self-declared” communism, to the correspondent’s knowledge. The correspondent simply did not hear Chavez explicitly describe himself as a communist in the period between January and September 2007.

It is on this basis [nothing happening] that we have gone from communism being Chavez’s defining political characteristic to his not being a communist at all, in the space of 8 months.

Please let me know if my understanding of this correct.

I have not dealt here with your complaints about the correspondent’s coverage of Colombia set out in your email to me of March 3 as this concerns a different allegation. If, after reading this response, you still wish to pursue it please let me know.

My concern was the overall nature of the correspondent’s reporting, and I have supported my concerns with a range of evidence. In bringing the Colombia/Ecuador/Venezuela story to your attention, I sought to add to the evidence supporting my complaint. I should therefore like it to be seen as part of that complaint.[no response to this, two months on. Nor to any of the above points].

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 29, 2008

L'entente execrable

A couple of quick thoughts about the British media's view of Carla Bruni Sarkozy, wife of the French President Nicholas Sarkozy, during their state visit to the UK this week. The President's wife has been the subject of some deeply obsequious coverage right across the board, wherein such weighty matters as her choice of shoes and general deportment have been discussed with breathless excitement and in minute detail.

One question we might ask ourselves is whether the husband of a female French president, no matter how immaculately turned out, would have received anything like this kind of attention. One suspects not. That the President's wife is widely and freely assessed for her value as an ornament, gives us a pretty chilling measure of the strength of misogyny that remains in Britain today (or at least amongst these several journalists).

Another question is this: if Sarkozy were not such a great Anglophile, who - as I wrote here - is widely welcomed in Britain and the US as the man to improve the backward French and make them more like us, would his wife still be fawned over in quite the same manner? If Sarkozy were a traditional French nationalist, publicly challenging US-UK foreign policy and the wisdom of post-Thatcherite economics, is it not likely that his wife would either have been ignored, or portrayed as snooty, prim, aloof etc. etc.?

"Britain", we are told "has fallen in love with Carla". Actually, I suspect that if you polled Britain to test this assertion, you'd find that most people don't know Carla Bruni Sarkozy is. In these articles, we can take "Britain" to mean 'journalists covering this story'. And I suspect that the real love is a broader political one, for her husband, who has finally done what every jingoistic member of our political class for the last thousand years has dreamt a Frenchman would do, and admitted they were wrong about everything, and we were right. So at a third level, the love here is self-love.

I can't imagine that the simpering court scribes we might have expected to find hovering around some medieval monarchy would have portrayed the consort of a friendly head-of-state in a substantively different way (her hair! her shoes! her exquisite poise!). And I suspect this collective display of journalistic forelock tugging is as much an expression of political/cultural preference for a neo-liberal ally as it is one of latent, thoughtless sexism.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Supporting the two-state settlement

The below is an email sent to the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland. I'll post up any substantive reply I get from him.

************************

Dear Jonathan

Hope you're well. I was a little puzzled by a couple of things you said in your article this morning about the two state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (a settlement which I'm very much in favour of, btw).

You appear to characterise Israel and the US as accepting the two-state settlement, and Hamas rejecting it.

But here you can watch Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas hardliner, repeatedly and explicitly favouring a Palestinian state on the 67 borders, and reaffirming Hamas' agreement with the position of Fatah and with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

This is by no means the first time a Hamas figure has said this. Perhaps they're lying about their true intentions. But surely we can't simply ignore them or proceed as though they haven't said what they've said.

By contrast, here, you can see what Israel and the US's vision of the two-state settlement looks like.

Note that the "Security Wall" and major settlement blocks, which Israel has repeatedly said it will keep in any final settlement, sever East Jerusalem from the West Bank, effectively decapitating any Palestinian state and leaving it stillborn. Note also that, unlike the Palestinian position, this is a clear and explicit rejection of international law.

In fact, its effectively a rejection of the two-state settlement. What it is is one-state-plus-bantustans.

I'm familiar with your writing over many years, so I know that you are concerned for the victims of this conflict, that you are keen to see justice prevail, and that, like me, you see international law as the basis for a workable settlement. However, there's a dissonance between the facts and your view of the situation which I don't think helps us to get to our agreed destination.

I'm reminded of Sharon's withdrawal of colonists from Gaza in 2005, and your characterisation of that move at the time as an olive branch that could be the beginnings of a peace deal, even as Sharon's chief adviser explicitly stated that the object of the exercise was to destroy the peace process, "prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and ... prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem".

If we're going to proceed to the settlement we both want to see, I think its important to be as clear-sighted as possible about the real positions of the various actors. Especially when these aren't matters of subjective interpretation so much as known and stated facts.

One more thing. In your article, you appeared to advocate Israel making peace with Syria as a way to help cut Hamas out of the equation. Do I have that right? Its just that Hamas is an elected representative of the Palestinians. Isn't there a moral barrier to excluding the Palestinians' elected representatives from decisions about their fate? And in practical terms, wouldn't that increase the chances of the final settlement being further from the 67 borders and international law, and closer to the one-state-plus-bantustans that the US and the Israelis advocate?

I write to you not to confront but to exchange views, so I'd be very interested in any response you might have the time to provide.

Best wishes
David Wearing

Labels: , ,

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Guardian coverage of Venezuela: time for a change

The following is an email sent to the International Editor of the Guardian.