UK police and intelligence are using children as spies

The Guardian newspaper reported, in July this year, that British police and intelligence agencies are using children (under 18s) as undercover operatives in their efforts to gather information on drug gangs, terrorist groups and sexual trafficking networks. The Home Office, the department responsible for intelligence gathering and policing, has requested that the use of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) – a fancy title for spies – be extended from one month to four months in the case of juveniles.

This practice of using children as spies came to light because the House of Lords legislative scrutiny committee – tasked with reviewing changes to existing legislation – raised concerns about the use of children in such dangerous and criminal environments. While the UK police and intelligence authorities have asked for an extension of the period in which children can be deployed as spies, there was no explanation as to how an authorising officer would assess the psychological risks to the welfare of such children.

One of the main reasons that we in the West feel revulsion for militia groups such as Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and others is their reputed willingness to use children in combat situations. Whether directly in the field as soldiers, or as backup in logistics and intelligence operations, these kinds of groups stand condemned in our sensibilities because of their ruthless capacity to subject juveniles to violent and brutalising environments. The practice of recruiting and using child soldiers is provided as evidence of the shocking brutality of our opponents – rightly so.

That is quite interesting, because Britain has its own problems with regard to the recruitment of child soldiers. The UK government has come under heavy criticism for its drive to recruit disaffected and marginalised teenagers into the ranks of the military. Exposing children to violent environments and intimidation have lasting and adverse psychological impacts.

Children are used by narco-trafficking networks in order to ostensibly fly under the radar of the law enforcement authorities. UK police are arresting ever-greater numbers of under-16s for heroin, crack and/or cocaine dealing. Such groups use violence and intimidation as a daily tactic to ensure the loyalty of their members, and intimidate outsiders and civilians into fearful submission. The British government authorities intend to return such children into these kinds of violent subcultures.

Former UK undercover police officer Neil Woods, spoke of his experiences as an undercover operative. He now runs the company Leap – Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Woods, in describing the environment of a drug trafficking network, elaborated that one tactic that these groups use to keep people in line is rape. The latter was used against the female relatives of those in the gang who were suspected of disloyalty or of being informants.

Keeping children in such environments only increases the risk of psychological harm to the juvenile CHIS. The Home Office thus far has not explained what criteria are used to evaluate the risks of maintaining a child inside such an organisation, as opposed to the value of the intelligence gathered. Lord Trefgarne, who headed the legislative scrutiny committee, has asked for information on how many juvenile informants have been deployed, and what assessments, if any have been undertaken to assess their psychological state.

Let us briefly set aside the ethical considerations in using children as undercover spies – and let us adopt a practical point of view. Can a child, however intelligent or resourceful, provide useful intelligence about a drug trafficking or sexual exploitation network? Psychologists and experts who have examined this area are – at a minimum – highly critical of the value of such information-gathering. Do children have the social and emotional intelligence to handle the changing dynamics and shifting loyalties of a drug gang? Can they handle the trauma of witnessing terrifying violence on a daily basis?

Joseph Pistone, former FBI agent and undercover operative, wrote of his experiences infiltrating Mafia networks in the United States. His book about his life as an undercover operative was dramatised in the film Donnie Brasco. A trained professional, he wrote of the daily stresses, anxieties and tension of posing as a ‘jewel thief’, all the while keeping his social antennae attuned to the fluid dynamics of rival factional loyalties. He did this for the purpose of gathering meaningful intelligence about the criminal operations of the Mafia family he infiltrated.

Pistone detailed the backstabbing, duplicity, deception and violence that were part of the daily life of being involved in a criminal enterprise. It took a toll on his family life and well-being. Can a juvenile, however excellent their academic skills, handle the unique pressures of being an undercover informant? Michelle Jones and Dustin Johnson, two scholars who work in the field of child psychology, wrote that:

Quality, accurate information that can be acted upon quickly by security forces is vital in covert operations. A child doesn’t have the cognitive abilities to recall or collect the kind of nuanced information that is likely to offer significant benefit to the investigation. So if the child is only providing low-level intelligence or information, is it really worth risking their safety to get it?

Just Security, an online forum based at New York University School of Law, published an article about the use of child spies in the UK. Authored by two practicing barristers, Shaheed Fatima QC and Hanif Mussa from Blackstone Chambers in London, the writers elaborate on what the use of juvenile undercover operatives says about British society. They quote the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Rights Watch (UK) commented on this issue, saying that:

Enlisting children as foot soldiers in the darkest corners of policing, and intentionally exposing them to terrorism, crime or sexual abuse rings — potentially without parental consent — runs directly counter to the government’s human rights obligations, which demand the interests of children be placed at the heart of decisions which affect them. It’s also an affront to the government’s own safeguarding guidance, which requires our public authorities to help children escape crime, not become more deeply embedded in it

The Guardian newspaper, in its editorial commentary back in July, made a telling observation. It noted that years of neoliberal austerity have undermined social services to the point of breakdown, leaving children, among others, particularly vulnerable:

Years of austerity have stretched services to breaking point. Youth and social services and educational provision cannot meet the demands. This, as well as broader social and economic marginalisation, is the context of the frightening rises in knife crime and gang violence.

If the economic programme of a society leaves children vulnerable and marginalised, then it is high time to ditch that economic platform for one that prioritises the needs and welfare of the society’s most precious citizens.

Israel’s nation-state law is an open declaration of apartheid

In late July 2018, the Israeli parliament – the Knesset – passed a contentious nation-state law that explicitly defines Israel as an exclusively Jewish state. This law was passed narrowly after a heated debate. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his ultra-right wing Likud coalition government, has been pushing for the approval of such a law for a long time.

This nation-state law basically entrenches Jewish ethnic supremacy as the main legal foundation of the Israeli state. It is an open declaration of apartheid, making the Arab minority in Israel second-class citizens. You may read the full text of the nation-state law here.

For instance, the law states that national self-determination in the state of Israel is exclusive to the Jewish people. The Arabic language is demoted from the status of an official state language, and supports the exclusion of Arabs from the building of Jewish communities and state institutions.

The Arab minority citizens inside Israel, the descendants of those who were left within the borders of Israel proper at the conclusion of the 1948 war and Nakba, are never mentioned in this law. Arab lawmakers in the Knesset loudly protested the passage of this law, and one was forcibly ejected from the parliament. The main head of the Joint List Alliance, the combination of Arab political parties in the parliament, denounced this law as the death of democracy. It is arguable whether Israel ever was a democracy, and we shall return to this point later.

Stating the obvious

This law, a frequent hobby horse of the Zionist right-wing parties, was hailed by PM Netanyahu as a historic milestone in Israel’s history. There is some merit in this description, because the passage of this law undermines the claim, frequently made by Israeli government figures and its Zionist supporters, that Israel is a democratic state that welcomes all its citizens regardless of ethnic background.

However, Professor Waxman from Northeastern University, states in an article that this law is merely stating the obvious – Israeli lawmakers have passed a series of laws establishing and entrenching Jewish ethno-supremacy in all areas of economic, political and social life in Israel.

From its inception, the Israeli ruling class has implemented a series of laws designed to exclude the Palestinians – and the Palestinian Arabs left behind inside Israel – and construct the edifice of an apartheid state. The 1950 Law of Return, for instance, automatically grants citizenship to any Jewish emigrant moving to Israel. Palestinians, and advocates of Palestinian refugees, have pointed out the basic contradiction in claiming to be a democratic state for all its people, but then establish the automatic supremacy of one ethno-religious group above all others.

The new nation-state law stipulates that building Jewish settlements is of ‘national value’. The construction of such settlements is encouraged with the passage of this law. Escalating Jewish settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories will only entrench the existing trend of state-segregation of Palestinian communities. As Ramzy Baroud, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle, states in his article:

Apartheid is not a single law, but a slow, agonizing build-up of an intricate legal regime that is motivated by the belief that one racial group is superior to all others.

Not only does the new law elevate Israel’s Jewish identity and erase any commitment to democracy, it also downgrades the status of all others. Palestinian Arabs, the natives of the land of historic Palestine upon which Israel was established, did not feature prominently in the new law at all.

Israel was never a democratic state

Baroud wrote that “While it would be accurate to argue that the Jewish Nations-state bill is the officiation of Apartheid in Israel, this realization should not dismiss the previous reality upon which Israel was founded 70 years ago.” This is an important observation, and should be kept in mind when examining the foundations of the Israeli state. The ruling class in Israel, and its supporters in the United States and Australia, claim that while there are faults, Israel is at its base a liberal democratic society.

A variation on this claim is that while the 1967 war, resulting in the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and the Gaza Strip, corrupted the basic essence of Israeli society, prior to that war, Israel from 1948 was constructing a standard Western liberal democracy. These claims have no foundation, and it is important to examine these in order to understand how the nation-state law was passed as ‘icing on the cake’ so to speak.

At first glance, Israel appears to be a liberal democracy. The Arab minority in Israel, comprising about 20 percent of the population, enjoy certain civic rights, can vote, form their own political parties and have consistently pushed for greater representation in Israeli state institutions. The Balfour Declaration, while pledging British government support for the construction of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, did state that the rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine should be respected. The 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence does state that the Arab residents of Palestine are welcome participants in the building of the fledgling nation.

These declarations have been consistently undermined by the actions of the Israeli ruling class and its political representatives. Since 1948, the Israeli state has been conceived of, and constructed as, an ethnocracy, a state based explicitly on Jewish national supremacy. A multi-ethnic democracy was never on the cards when constructing the new state of Israel.

The claims of Israel to be the only democracy in the Middle East are undermined by two interrelated developments; the discrimination against the Arab minority in Israel, and the foundation of Israel by Labour Zionism as an exclusively Jewish state. Kim Bullimore, writing in Red Flag magazine, wrote that:

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has used both legal discrimination and military force to ethnically cleanse and oppress the indigenous Palestinian population, imposing an apartheid system inside both the Zionist state and the Palestinian territories seized in 1967.

Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian, has written extensively on how Israel used military administrative measures against the Arab minority population inside Israel from 1948 onwards. The Palestinian Arabs, left behind after the 1948 Nakba, were subjected to a low-intensity type of warfare, banished into ghettos, and villagers driven off their land by the Israeli military governors. Ironically, the type of martial law used to deprive Palestinian Arabs of their citizenship was based on the British Mandate regulations implemented during the time of Mandatory Palestine.

For Palestinian Arabs, life in pre-1967 Israel was an experience in being subjected to the harsh regime of martial law. Subjected to military checkpoints and travel permits when travelling, the Israelis also used the tactic of home demolitions to target Arab families who resisted the Israeli authorities. This tactic is still being used by Israeli military forces today.

The Arab minority

The Arab citizens of Israel have been continuously subjected to forms of racial and ethnic discrimination in all facets of life. Adalah, the legal advocates for the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, have documented systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arabs in housing, education and employment. It is interesting to note that the kibbutzim, widely hailed as a socialist experiment, were founded on confiscated Arab lands. Rather than constructing a socialist utopia, the kibbutzim movement is an extension of the colonial project of Zionism, uprooting and excluding the Palestinian Arabs from economic life.

None of this is to suggest that the Arab minority in Israel have been passive victims, quietly acquiescing to a life of marginalisation. They have organised and fought back in various ways. However, since Netanyahu came to office in 2009, his government has done its utmost to erect further barriers to restrict the economic and political life of the Palestinian Arabs. Foreign Affairs magazine examines the plight of the Arab citizens of Israel and their struggle against the intricate legal structures of apartheid.

The International Crisis Group published a paper in 2004 that elaborated how the Palestinian Arab minority are cut off from the mainstream Israeli economic and political structures. The ongoing marginalisation of the Arab minority touches the very heart of the Israeli polity – a Zionist state or a democratic state. For the large part, the Arab citizens occupy separate, ethnically homogenous towns and villages distinct from the wealthier, and commercially successful Israeli Jewish population.

It is a historic irony that Labour Zionism, while taking great pains to portray itself as advocating a socialist vision, ended up constructing an ethnically separatist state. The socialist Zionists had to choose – either side with socialism and its definition of a multi-ethnic, egalitarian ethos, or with Zionism and its exclusivist Jewish nationalism. Interestingly, the white supremacist and Alternative Right spokesperson Richard Spencer has spoken of his admiration for Israel, and his support for the passage of the nation-law.

Spencer, and his co-thinkers, the European ultra-rightist and anti-semitic parties, have long admired the state of Israel as an example of the ethno-supremacist state they wish to see in their own countries. Netanyahu can count on numerous ultra-right friends in politically powerful positions in Europe.

The nation-state law is another, significant step in constructing an apartheid-type state in Israel. The Morning Star newspaper stated that this law indicates a further deterioration into fascistic treatment of a national minority, and undermines any claim about establishing democracy. In the wake of this law, the Middle East Monitor suggests that it is high time to restore the United Nations resolution 3379, which defined Zionism as a form of racism. This resolution, revoked in 1991, helped to bring the Palestinian question to the attention of the international community. Given the discriminatory practices of the Israeli government, its description of Zionism as a form of racism was ahead of its time.

 

The ultra-right resurgence, free speech and Brexiteer nationalism

In June this year, in central London, there was a rally of ultra-rightist and neofascist demonstrators in support of one of their own leaders, Tommy Robinson. At least 10,000 marched in the demonstration, and some estimates put the crowd numbers at 15,000. Robinson, (whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) is a long-term racist and Islamophobic activist. The details of his court case are irrelevant here, and you can easily find the particulars of his legal drama by Googling the relevant search terms.

What concerns us here is the rally itself, its international dimension, and the attempt by the far right to present Robinson as a martyr for ‘free speech.’ First of all, let us be clear about the nature of the June rally – it was arguably the largest gathering of neofascistic and ultra-rightist nationalists since the end of World War Two. Secondly, there was no mistaking the international significance of the protest. A number of European far right politicians and political activists sent greetings to the London rally. Dutch ultra-rightist Geert Wilders addressed the rally, and greetings were sent by the French National Front.

Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East and Shadow Justice minister in Britain, wrote that this march places Britain in the epicentre of attempts to resurrect the European ultra-right. Burgon wrote that openly Islamophobic parties are gaining not only votes, but powerful friends in high places in European politics. Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former campaign manager and adviser, also sent greetings to the London protest, highlighting the ability of the ultra-right to build a cross-national network.

We must be ever vigilant against the resurgence of far-right parties and their ideology. But do not mistake the English rally as a purely foreign importation. As the activists from the English group Socialist Resistance wrote, the demonstration was striking for the number of Union Jacks, St George crosses and English nationalist symbolism on display. English neofascism has domestic roots, and the ultra-nationalists who marched on that day have been reinvigorated by the anti-immigrant outpouring that characterises Brexiteer nationalism.

Brexit and the far right

The Brexit referendum in June 2016 provided a platform to rejuvenate the anti-immigrant far-right parties. While the major players of English capital wanted a Remain vote to emerge victorious (the Bank of England, the major British financial institutions, and so on) the Leave vote achieved a narrow victory on the basis of anti-immigrant opposition. Gary Younge, columnist for The Guardian, wrote that while there are perfectly valid reasons to leave the EU, the Brexit referendum was not fought on those grounds.

Younge wrote that it was anti-immigration, coupled with fantasies about resurrecting a mythical version of British Imperial greatness, formed the primary motivation for the Leave campaign. This is not to suggest that every single Leave voter is racist – by no means. The reaction of the corporate media to the Leave victory is instructive. For the first time in decades, the mainstream media discovered racism among the working class. Strange, seeing that the British financial elite have routinely deployed racism for electoral gain over decades.

Glenn Greenwald, writing in The Intercept, states that the Brexit vote is a stark repudiation of the seeming wisdom and political judgement of the ruling elites in Britain. Having offered neoliberal policies and austerity under the veneer of cosmopolitan multiculturalism, British voters responded with rejection. However, the anti-austerity message, promoted bravely by the Lexit campaign (Left Leave) was drowned out by the overwhelmingly anti-immigration message of the Leave campaign.

Before we quickly dismiss the influence of the anti-immigration platform of the Leave campaign, let us remember one important fact – former Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered on the eve of the Brexit referendum by an ultra-rightist terrorist, motivated by the white supremacist and xenophobic ideology of the British neo-fascist Right. The killer, Thomas Mair, had circulated among ultra-right circles in the years leading up to the murder of the late Jo Cox. Mair made clear his motivation in carrying out the killing by shouting the slogan of ‘Britain First’ – a statement that is a staple of the anti-immigrant far right.

Tory Brexit provided the far right with the political confidence to brazenly demonstrate their message of hate in London. Let us not forget that London has become a very multi-ethnic city. Minority communities are frequent targets of hate crimes by ultra-right terrorists. It is no coincidence that the neo-fascist march was held in central London. It was intended as an arrogant display of violent British nationalism.

Far right wants free speech – to spread its bigotry

The Tommy Robinson rally was significant not only for the number of its participants, but also for the rationale used the organisers to justify it. Tommy Robinson was upheld as a proponent of ‘free speech’. What could possibly be wrong with defending free speech? Is not the hallmark of a mature society the ability to uphold its core values, one of them being free speech?

The far right parties in Europe and America have used the mask of ‘free speech’ to disguise their hateful bigotry. This is not a new tactic – in the past, Holocaust deniers, such as David Irving, have promoted their racist and anti-semitic views by portraying their work as scholarship free from partisan political influences. This misuse of ‘free speech’ or ‘free thinking’ is a clever ruse to disguise attacks on the rights of others.

Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian newspaper, states that the far right are the “victimisers who clothe themselves in the garb of victimhood”. The use of the slogan ‘free speech’ is a political ploy to deliberately spread hatred against ethnic and oppressed minorities. While ultra-rightist parties and politicians have complained that their right of free speech is violated, they have no hesitation in denying free speech to others; specifically advocating the closure of mosques, banning the Quran, and suppressing Islamic community organisations.

Jones goes on to write that:

There is a chasm separating the right to free speech and the privilege of being given a platform to make your views known. No one has a right to a platform. If I offer you a megaphone, and then take it back off you, you can continue to say what you like, just not with my megaphone.

In this day and age of social media, digital content creation and viral marketing have exponentially increased the reach and spread of media content. Anyone with a social media platform can now write, comment and disseminate their views on a vast scale. But this is not free speech – this is simply viral content. Freedom of speech is not derived from the generosity of wealthy benefactors who generously provide a platform for ordinary people.

As Jeff Sparrow writes, freedom of speech was won through uprisings and struggles by working class people in the context of revolutions, and must be defended from being monopolised by the large multinational corporations. Free speech is an industrial issue, Sparrow writes. It is easy to have a social media platform, but when these platforms are owned and operated by an increasingly narrow financial layer of elite corporations, then it is all the more difficult for minority groups to have their voice heard.

Indeed, the assertion of the far-right that their activities defend free speech is a perverse allegation. Racist attitudes and beliefs that were once acceptable, have been driven out of the mainstream by the organised political campaigns of racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, refugees and immigrants. The misuse of the label ‘free speech’ is a tactical contrivance deployed by the far right to push back the gains made by minority communities.

Owen Jones wrote that while the ultra-right claim to be opponents of the capitalist order, they are very much the bastard children of it:

The mainstream press endlessly propagate myths, distortions, half-truths and outright lies about Muslims, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, women and benefit claimants.

It is the ongoing and steady normalisation of hate and bigotry in the corporate media that has given rise to the bastard children of the ultra-right and white supremacy. Jacobin magazine commented on this very issue, examining the relationship between the the media, government and political circles, and the growth of the far right. Since the September 11 attacks and the ‘war on terror’, railing against Islam and Muslim communities has become acceptable and normalised in the media.

Islamophobic hatred and fear of Muslims has become a standard feature of political discourse in the Western nations. We will examine this issue in greater detail in the next article – stay tuned.

For the moment, we would do well to remember that the ultra-rightist resurgence is a threat to the entire labour movement. We must reject the message of racism that they disseminate, and oppose the austerity-driven capitalist system that provides willing recruits for their ranks.

American support for Israel is based on fanatical religious extremism

The title above is not my own creation, but is derived from an article by Asa Winstanley, investigative journalist and associate editor of Electronic Intifada. In that essay, Winstanley is examining the reasons why support for Israeli policies in the halls of the US congress is resolute and unwavering. He provides a convincing account of how the American religious right, namely, the Evangelical Christian Right, are the most steadfast supporters of Zionism.

For the purpose of the current article, we will elaborate on how Winstanley’s contention fits into the context of current events in the Middle East. Christian Zionism, while being taken to a new level by both US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has deep roots in the American political system. The opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem – relocated from Tel Aviv – highlights the importance of the supportive role of the Evangelical Christian Right – the most fervent lobby for Zionism inside the US political system.

New embassy opened amidst violence against Palestinians

The opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem in May this year coincided with the killing of at least 60 unarmed Palestinian protesters at the Gaza wall. The Palestinians have been peacefully protesting this isolation for several weeks by holding rallies and protest actions at the militarised Gaza border with Egypt. Israeli forces have responded with systematic and lethal violence, killing and wounding scores of Palestinians during the Great Return March.

The juxtaposition of these killings, along with the opening of the relocated US embassy in Jerusalem, has prompted a series of questions as to why the United States is so unstinting in its support for Israel. One explanation that is put forward to explain this enthusiastic convergence between Washington and Tel Aviv is the existence and activity of an Israel lobby. It is more accurate to say Zionist lobby, but the former expression will suffice.

There is an element of truth to this description – there certainly is a powerful Israel lobby in the United States. However, there is one mistaken assumption at the heart of this observation. The main proponents of this Israel lobby are assumed to be Jewish. This belief is inaccurate. The primary warriors of Zionism in the United States are the Evangelical Christian right, the conservative religious fanatics of the Rapture-apocalyptic-welcoming camp.

Right wing Evangelical Christian Zionism

It is fair to say that the US embassy move to Jerusalem would not have been possible were it not for the unswerving support of and aggressive lobbying by the Evangelical Christian right inside the United States. The official opening of the new American embassy was attending by, among others, Pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee, two fervent supporters of the Zionist cause. They are leaders of the fanatical Christian movements in the US, who enthusiastically promote the cause of the Israelis. Why do they do this?

They view the foundation of the state of Israel, and the move by Jews worldwide to live in that state, as ongoing fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and the coming of what evangelicals see as the end-times: the Rapture.  The latter is an integral part of evangelical Christian belief, where the final apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil will take place. Pastors such as Hagee and Jeffress have long preached that those who do not conform to their vision of Christian literalism will be consigned to the fiery pits of hell – and that includes Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons – among others.

The pastors and groups that promote this ideology – such as the Christians United for Israel (CUFI) – are also the advocates of the ‘prosperity gospel’. This is the trend among evangelicals that Biblical teachings and following the literal inerrancy of the Bible will result in personal wealth creation. Pastor Hagee is one of these practitioners, who praises the pursuit of individual wealth as a goal in line with Biblical teachings. You may listen to him speaking directly about this topic if you wish.

The origins of Zionism – a political movement to create an exclusively Jewish state in the land of Palestine – has its origins not so much in Jewish tradition (important as it is) but in the teachings of Protestant millenarian Christianity. European Christendom, with its long track record of anti-Semitism, has taken numerous steps to expel the Jewish population from its midst.

Expulsions, conversions and pogroms have all played a role in pushing the Jews out of Europe. However, it was Zionism, with its religiously-based demand of ‘Righteous Return’ that has promoted Jewish emigration to Palestine.

It is no secret that European politicians, such as Arthur Balfour – author of the Balfour Declaration – were strongly Christian and anti-Semitic. By portraying the movement of European Jews into Palestine as a Biblically-sanctioned return of an ancient people to their ancestral land, the colonial-settler nature of Zionism has been effectively disguised. This is not to suggest that every single religious person holds harmful beliefs – far from it. But when religious belief is used to deliberately inflict pain and suffering on another people – in this case, the Palestinians – then we must speak out.

Deploying archaeology as a weapon

The following section of the article is probably going to upset Christian readers, and I will likely be unfriended by many on social media – so be it. My intention is not to offend anyone, but to uncover the uncomfortable realities that lay hidden behind layers of hypocrisy. When religion is used as a weapon to disguise political objectives, then the religious rationales offered to achieve political goals must be examined critically.

One of the main narratives that political Zionism has used over the years to justify its conquest and subjugation of Palestine is the notion of ‘righteous return’. According to the Israeli leaders and its supporters, the Jewish people have had a historic presence in Palestine, stemming from the Exodus of enslaved Hebrews from captivity in Egypt thousands of years ago. There is one problem with this story – the Exodus, as it is told in the Old Testament – did not happen.

Rabbi David Wolpe, writing in the BeliefNet magazine, stated that there is no archaeological evidence for a mass escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt. In fact, the Hebrews never were slaves in ancient Egypt. While that pseudohistory makes for great Hollywood epics, it has no basis in archaeology. Brian Dunning, writing in Skeptoid magazine, says that it was privileged workers who built the pyramids in Egypt, but the story of Hebrew slaves gained traction due in part to Hollywood, but also due to the efforts of Israeli leaders.

Staks Rosch, writing in the Huffington Post magazine, states that while Jews have derived, and continue to draw, spiritual solace from the Exodus story, it is not a literal or historical account. Israeli leaders since 1948, especially former Army general the late Moshe Dayan, scoured the land of Palestine for archaeological evidence, and have found none. Uri Avnery, long-term Israeli dissident, wrote that once Zionism focused on Palestine, the ancient history of that land took on modern significance.

Archaeology and ideology became intertwined, according to Avnery. The historicity of the Exodus and the Old Testament stories had to be established, as another ideological prop to support the colonisation of Palestine. Archaeologists – and Egyptologists, that branch of archaeology directly impacted by the Exodus narrative – have closely examined Palestine for any kind of shard of evidence – and have found nothing.

In face, Israel has weaponised archaeology – an expression that is obtained from an article by Kathryn Shihadah. Israeli authorities, since 1948 but especially after the 1967 war, have sought to expunge the rich archaeological history of Palestine in order to boost its own false claims of ancestral return. The archaeological artifacts of the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottoman Turkish, Persians – all these are to be scrubbed in favour of an exclusively Israeli nationalistic narrative of ‘righteous return’.

These developments are nothing new – back in 2008, Jonathan Cook wrote about how the Palestinians living in Jerusalem are being subjected to a politically-motivated campaign to drive them out. One of the ways the Israeli authorities do this is by using archaeology for modern political purposes. Building new settlements, redrawing boundaries, destroying Palestinian artifacts, and seizing antiquities – these are some of the tactics the Israeli occupation authorities are using to remove any Palestinian presence in the territories they deem to be ‘Judea’ and ‘Samaria’. These are the biblical names for the West Bank.

Belief in a particular religion is a decision that every adult makes on their own. They do so for their own reasons, and that is that. However, when a religious belief is used to airbrush out the historical connection and presence of an entire nation – in this case, the Palestinians – in order to construct an occupying authority, then it is time to protest. As Israel adds another chapter to the Nakba, it is time to reject the ideas that buttress the colonisation and occupation of Palestine.

The Windrush scandal is the poisonous fruit of Tory-Powellite racism

Over the course of April and May this year, the Windrush scandal engulfed the British government of Prime Minister Theresa May. It erupted at the same time as Britain hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), placing the prime minister and her government in a politically embarrassing position.

There are a number of relevant issues to sort out here.

Firstly, what is the Windrush political scandal? Secondly, we will examine the impact of anti-immigrant racism in Britain, particularly in light of the fact that April 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of the racist ‘rivers of blood’ speech by Tory MP Enoch Powell. Thirdly, we shall examine how the racism of the Windrush affair has its origins in British imperial practices.

The Windrush scandal refers to the racist the British government’s racist targeting of Afro-Caribbean migrants from the Commonwealth countries. At the end of World War Two, Britain faced a serious labour shortage. To make up for this shortfall, Britain invited migrants from its colonies in the Caribbean, such as Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. While these countries were still British dependencies, citizens of those nations did not require British nationality documents.

In 1948, the first boatload of approximately 500 Afro-Caribbean migrants arrived in England. The ship, the Empire Windrush, gave its name to the generation of migrants who arrived in the subsequent decades. Windrush migrants settled into the British society, worked, paid taxes, started families – and their children, came of age in the UK and have known nothing else except being British.

For instance, Renford McIntyre arrived in the UK from Jamaica in 1968. He has lived and worked in the UK for 50 years. He traveled to the UK to join his parents, both of whom worked in England. He was 14 years old. He worked various jobs, as a tool setter, delivery man, and a driver for the National Health Service (NHS).

The British government, since the 1970s, has been clamping down on the ability of Commonwealth citizens to migrate to the UK. In 2012, current Prime Minister and the-then Home Secretary Theresa May, implemented a policy of creating a hostile environment (her words) for those deemed to be illegal, or lacking sufficient documentation to prove their British citizenship. The Windrush generation fell into this category.

As a result of the targeting of so-called illegal immigrants, McIntyre lost his job, is now homeless and is denied any kind of government support. Michael Braithwaite, who arrived in Britain from Barbados in 1961, and has worked for years as a special needs teacher, is now facing deportation. He has lost his livelihood and cannot access the health services of the NHS.

The Windrush scandal exposes the institutional racism at the heart of the UK’s immigration policy. Commonwealth nations, such as Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica are theoretically equal to Britain. In actuality, they have historically provided reserves of labour and resources to be exploited by British transnational corporations.

Initially, Prime Minister May tried to shrug off the crisis – she tried blaming bureaucratic incompetence and glitches in the immigration system. It was revealed by former Home Office employees that they were ordered to destroy the landing card slips that documented the disembarkation dates of the Windrush migrants in the UK. Amber Rudd, the previous Home Secretary, resigned in the wake of the protests and outcry over this scandal.

Gary Younge, writing in The Guardian newspaper, states that the hounding of Afro-Caribbeans from the Commonwealth is a purposeful strategy adopted by the UK authorities. Persecuting migrants from former British colonies, invited by the British government to fill a labour shortage, reeks of hypocrisy. Forcing the Windrush migrants into a precarious position is not a glitch in the system, but a deliberate product of it.

In April this year, Australia hosted the Commonwealth Games, involving competitors from all the Commonwealth nations. No less a figure than His August Britannic Majesty, Prince Charles, officially opened the Games. He opined that these Friendly Games connect people of different nationalities and backgrounds, bringing them together in a spirit of robust yet amicable competition.

The Australian corporate media reported on the Commonwealth Games obviously. It also reported on the CHOGM meeting. It showed British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the gathered leaders from the Commonwealth nations, and she thanked the graciousness of the host, Queen Elizabeth, for allowing the CHOGM meeting to proceed on the grounds of her palaces.

There was no mention at all of the Windrush scandal.

The CHOGM summit was overshadowed by the evolving and ever-expanding Windrush scandal. It is instructive to examine this political issue because the mistreatment of Afro-Caribbean migrants, invited as workers by the UK government, demonstrates that black people have never been fully accepted as equals by British institutions until today.

The Windrush generation demonstrates that Britain has long had a problem with accepting black immigrants as equals in the wider society. Britain has not achieved a post-racial status, whatever the proponents of liberal democracy may care to think. It is important to note this because, April this year, saw the 50th anniversary of the ‘rivers of blood’ speech by the racist Tory MP Enoch Powell. His anti-immigration speech was broadcast in full by BBC radio in April this year to commemorate its importance.

Powell’s immediate audience was a conservative club meeting, but his intended audience was much wider. Framing the issue of immigration, in particular black immigration, as an alarming security threat, resonated among the British public and both the major political parties. Powell himself was dismissed from his post in the Shadow Cabinet. However, Powellism, as a strong tendency of anti-immigrant populism, has remained alive and well in British politics.

The Windrush scandal, by targeting Afro-Caribbean migrants, is the direct implementation of Powellite racism. Indeed, Tory Euro-scepticism, such as was seen during the Brexit vote, is also a product of the Tory-Powellite strand of British racism. The anti-European Union vote was expressed as a generalised rebuff to all immigration. Powellism, in the years since the speech, has achieved a kind of rehabilitation in the mainstream political parties.

While the immediate origins of this crisis can be traced back to 2012 with the May government’s decision to coerce Afro-Caribbean migrants into self-deportation, the underlying racism of the British state goes back much further. Nick Dearden, writing in Al Jazeera, states that Whitehall’s imperialistic policies treat black Britons as temporary labourers to be discarded once their utility has expired.

Dearden writes that:

This scandal perfectly sums up the aspirations of so-called “global Britain”: to live off of the resources and labour of others, to oversee illegally earned capital flowing into the City of London from across the developing world and to firmly shut the door on anyone who deems him/herself worthy of living in this great land.

Including a mixed-race person in the royal family is all well and good, but this is merely placing window-dressing on the underlying and fundamentally racist nature of the British state. With all due respect to the super-achieving Meghan Markle, putting a black person in and among the aristocratic class will do nothing to improve the conditions of the black immigrant community in the UK.

We would do well to remember that black Britons belong, not just in the royal family, but are part of Britain’s history and culture. In fact, let us remember the words of Andrea Stuart, writing in The Guardian – Britain owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the black Briton migrants who helped to build the country. It is time to end the imperial system, and rethink the meaning of Britishness. As Andrea Stuart writes:

In an era where young black men are disproportionately represented in the prison system, surely it is clear that the violence of Britain’s colonial past hangs over the present. All of us need to confront this wilful forgetting around British history and tell the truth: Britain was built on the back of black slaves; they toiled and died over the centuries to enrich Britain.

Exactly.

The Bleiburg memorial, Croatian fascism and the Australian connection

Earlier in May this year, a gathering in the southern Austrian town of Bleiburg was held to commemorate Croatian fascists and their supporters who were killed at the end of World War Two. Repatriated by the British army, the Croatian fascist militants, known as the Ustashe, the memorial is a rallying point not only for the Croat far-right, but for neo-Nazi groups across Europe.

The Bleiburg memorial services are held annually to mourn the deaths of thousands of Croat Ustashe soldiers, who served as auxiliaries during their brief time as rulers of Croatia. The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was a Nazi puppet state established as an outpost of Nazi and fascist control in the Balkans.

During the war, the Ustashe, a fanatically Roman Catholic and racist organisation, slaughtered thousands of ethnic Serbs, Romany, and Jews. Creating an ethnically pure Croatian state, they implemented the racial doctrines they espoused, and earned a reputation for sadism and cruelty.  The Vatican and the Croat Catholic Church fully supported the Ustashe leader, Ante Pavelic, blessing the Croat wartime regime as a bastion against Serb nationalism and Communism.

Facing a sustained offensive by the Yugoslav army in 1945, the Croatian Ustashe fled to the Austrian border, where they were housed in makeshift camps. They surrendered to the British military forces, but were forcibly repatriated to Communist Yugoslavia. There, the soldiers of the Ustashe were murdered, or sent to labour camps for their crimes.

The Bleiburg commemorations are held as a gathering point for anti-Communist Croats, and fascist activists from around Europe, to mourn the deaths of those they deem to be comrades-in-arms in the struggle against Yugoslav Communism and the regime of Marshal Tito. Since 1991, with Croatia’s independence and the breakup of Yugoslavia, the commemoration has only increased in importance. The Bleiburg repatriations are cited as evidence of British betrayal and appeasement of Yugoslav Communist deception.

Anti-fascist activists and human rights groups have condemned the Bleiburg memorial gatherings, contending that such rallies only whitewash the terrible crimes of the wartime Croat fascist group, the Ustashe, as well as falsifies the traumatic history of the Balkans in World War Two. Critically evaluating the rule of Marshal Tito and the Yugoslav Communist regime is one thing; rehabilitating Eastern European fascism is quite another.

Ronan Burtenshaw, the Europe editor for Jacobin Magazine, writes that in Eastern Europe, anti-Communist campaigns and memorials are not about building a more vibrant and pluralistic liberal democracy. They are about whitewashing the crimes of Eastern European fascism. The Bleiburg commemorations fall into this category – giving fascism a face-lift has been a preoccupation of not only European ultra-right parties, but also of the North American and Australian diaspora Croatian communities.

Exile nationalism has manifested itself as not just an anti-Communist exercise, but as a cultural and political campaign to assist the rehabilitation of 1930s fascism. It is no secret that the Croat far-right has drawn reserves of strength from the Croatian diaspora. Promoting a very supportive view of the wartime Ustashe organisation in the diaspora may seem like a purely academic exercise, but it is not. Such a view of history provides sustenance to the far-right parties back in the home country.

What does all this have to do with Australia?

In a very important way, Australia has provided support for the far-right Eastern European view of history, by giving sanctuary for Nazi-era war criminals and far-right supporters from the Balkans and Eastern European nations. Mark Aarons, Australian lawyer and commentator, has written an important book detailing how the Australian government, from the end of World War Two, provided a safe haven for Nazi collaborators, including members of the Croatian Ustashe.

This dark chapter of Australia’s postwar immigration history requires examination because the decisions taken from 1945 have had political repercussions until today. Australia likes to think of itself as a staunch promoter and defender of human rights. We supposedly abide by the highest standards of international law, and punish those who violate those laws. After all, our participation in wars overseas, whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan, or our joint efforts against North Korea, are framed as important military initiatives to punish those who would violate human rights and international law.

However, as Mark Aarons states in an article published in 2009, our concern for human rights has a definitive hypocritical streak:

Australia is not perfect, but it nevertheless ranks among the world’s best nations.

Except when it comes to those who violate human rights abroad but call Australia home. Then, we have a long history of indifference, even hypocrisy, extending back to our acceptance of hundreds of Nazi collaborators who had voluntarily carried out Hitler’s policies in World War II, rounding up and killing civilians whose only sin was to be Jewish, Romany or Slavic; homosexual or disabled; anti-Nazi Christians, democrats, socialists or communists.

In the boatloads of immigrants that arrived on Australia’s shores from 1945 onwards, there were displaced persons from Europe. Not the refugees displaced by the wartime activities of all the armies, but the Nazi collaborators from Eastern Europe who conformed to the Immigration Minister’s criteria – Arthur Calwell – of being white, Christian and politically conservative.

Calwell was motivated by a vision of Australia, populated and prosperous. However, the people that were included in his futuristic vision were white. He scoured Europe looking for reservoirs of white immigrants that would be acceptable to the political establishment back in Australia.

In this postwar drive to acquire willing immigrants, the criminal records of Eastern European collaborators were ‘bleached’, and many of the new arrivals transplanted their ultra-conservative, fanatically religious attitudes and cultural practices into Australia. One of the Nazi refugees who arrived in Australia was Lyenko Urbanchich, a Slovene Nazi collaborator. Urbanchich served as the Propaganda Minister for the wartime Slovene Nazi puppet government, a little Joseph Goebbels, if you will.

Urbanchich quickly became an important figure in the NSW Liberal Party, where his fanatical anti-Communism found a receptive audience. Bringing his fellow far-rightists into the party, he pioneered the art of branch-stacking, influencing a number of Liberal party branches in NSW. Forming his own faction, the ‘Uglies’. he became an intimidating and influential presence in Liberal party affairs, his wartime record notwithstanding. Slandering his opponents as Communists, or somehow Jewish-controlled, Urbanchich passed away in 2006. Nazi collaborators found a new home in Australia, all the while observed and protected by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

When senior Australian political figures, such as former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, send their greetings to the Croatian community on April 10 to celebrate the emergence of an independent Croat nation, they are contributing to a very sanitised version of World War Two history. April 10 1941 is the anniversary of the foundation of the Ustashe-controlled Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi-puppet state that went on to exterminate thousands of anti-Nazi Croats, Serbs, Jews and others.

Toasting the success of April 10 is not a value-free, neutral commemoration of a distant historical event in a faraway country – it is assisting the Croat far-right in weaponising the fascist past to serve current political purposes. Extolling the success of a wartime Catholic-fascist state that went about mercilessly killing non-Croat ethnic groups speaks volumes about the character of the politicians that join that celebration.

When successive Australian governments invoke the notion of human rights to justify their actions, it is difficult to take their rationalisations at face value. We must be honest with ourselves, and repudiate the selective sympathy that we have cultivated for fascist war criminals and ultra-rightist terrorists, portraying the latter categories as humble victims fleeing Communist oppression.

The Bleiburg commemorations denounce, among other things, British betrayal of the fleeing Croatian Nazis, handing over the latter to the encroaching Yugoslav Partisan armies. By finding purported sanctuary with the British army, the Ustashe militants and their supporters were hoping to escape justice for their many crimes. We are betraying the memory of the victims of fascism’s crimes by adopting the justifications and doctrines of their killers.

The Austin bombings, domestic terrorism and the radicalisation of religion

Austin serial bomber Mark Conditt terrorised the city of Austin, Texas, over approximately 19 days in March 2018. He targeted the African American community, and posted bombs to various organisations and individuals. Eventually cornered by the police, Conditt took his own life – he blew himself up, rather than surrender. The Austin police chief, after refusing to use the ‘T’ word to describe Conditt, eventually relented and applied the appropriate description to the perpetrator – a domestic terrorist.

Conditt was described as a ‘troubled’ youth with mental health problems, and this may very well have been the case. These kinds of descriptions are usually deployed as excuses, by the corporate media, in order to minimise the culpability of a perpetrator we would otherwise characterise as a terrorist. There is some discussion of why, in such cases, we are hesitant in using the label ‘terrorist’, especially in the case of a perpetrator who is white and Christian, like Mark Conditt.

Daniel Camacho, writing in The Guardian newspaper, correctly identifies the role of white privilege in this debate regarding the motivations of terrorist suspects. In the United States, white Christian racial and religious privilege provide a buttress for those who would kill and maim, particularly when their targets are from ethnic and religious minorities. As Camacho states in his article:

If a Muslim man planted bombs in predominately white neighborhoods before blowing himself up, you could bet that the White House and various media outlets would label him a terrorist and draw some connection between his religion and his violent acts. But the case of the Austin bomber reveals an enduring double standard: white Christian terrorists continue to get a free pass.

Personal and mental health problems are provided greater coverage in the case of those domestic terrorists who are white and come from a Christian background. While it is the case that the motivations for violent terrorist acts are always complicated and multifaceted, a perpetrator of non-white background is never granted any exculpatory reasons or opinions. It took sustained community outrage before the Austin police chief admitted he was ”comfortable’ with stating that Conditt was a domestic terrorist.

When a perpetrator from an Islamic background is examined, there is no shortage of coverage about the radicalisation of religion, and in particular the Islamic faith’s purported receptiveness towards a radicalised message. Islam, so we are told by the experts, possesses a unique totalitarian political tendency conducive in producing radicalised adherents. Since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the logo ‘war on terror’ has become a useful label to denote the US government’s response to radicalised Islamic groups. Indeed, since 2001 advocates for the American government have stated that the United States is at war with radical Islam.

This mindset of ‘we are at war with radical Islam’ contains a vital hypocrisy at its heart. The proponents of this view deliberately ignore the radicalisation of religion that occurs with the other monotheistic faith groups. The action of Mark Conditt and similar ultra-rightist perpetrators are dismissed as aberrations; they are sidelined as marginal figures that have misinterpreted Christian scripture. Misinterpretation may indeed be the case, but Conditt was not a marginal or atypical figure. Holy hate is as much part of the Christian tradition as it is of the Islamic.

Conditt was a member of RIOT – Righteous Invasion of Truth – a Christian survivalist group which homeschooled its members, and taught its followers gun skills along with theology. Raised on a diet of millenarian prophecy, Conditt was indoctrinated into a radicalised perspective, lashing out against marriage equality, and expressing opposition to other religious and ethnic minority groups. Conditt was not alone in his Christian supremacism. The United States has a long history of religiously-motivated terrorism, and not just the obvious example of men-in-sheets burning crosses.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) has documented the ultra-right’s radicalisation of religion. In a report called ‘Holy Hate’, the authors explain how the far-right in America have immersed themselves in the doctrines of Christian theology and end-times prophecies. The SPLC writers state that:

White supremacistssovereign citizensmilitia extremists and violent anti-abortion adherents use religious concepts and scripture to justify threats, criminal activity and violence. This discussion of religious extremism should not be confused with someone being extremely religious. It should also not be misconstrued as an assault on Christianity. Rather, it represents an exploration of the links between violent right-wing extremism and its exploitation of Christianity and other religions to gain a better understanding of how American extremists recruit, radicalize and mobilize their adherents toward violence and terrorism.

Religious conceptions stemming from the Christian faith play a vital role in the recruitment and radicalisation of ultra-rightist foot-soldiers in the United States. Christian apocalypse scenarios, the Armageddon end-times, and the ostensible inevitability of the Second Coming of Christ, are crucial concepts in the indoctrination and mobilisation of right-wing extremists. Scriptural interpretation is used to defy the law, and in many cases, change the laws of the United States to conform to Christian precepts. Hate in God’s name is not an exclusively Muslim enterprise.

Ultra-right militias and sovereign citizens groups place themselves in the Christian camp, and self-identify as Christian patriots fighting for dominion over a supposedly wayward, secular society and constitution. Patriot militia groups express their admiration for the Founding Fathers of American independence, but their veneration adopts semi-religious overtones. In fact, the concept of ‘Judeo-Christian’ values is invoked – by the ultra-right. The founding fathers were alleged to have been motivated by such beliefs and principles when drafting the constitution of the fledgling republic – in fact, there is no such thing as ‘Judeo-Christian’ beliefs.

Please do not misconstrue the above critique; we are not suggesting that Christianity is better or worse than other religions. Should we be ‘soft’ on Islamic militia groups? No, we should not. Is the above motivated by a murderous hatred of Christian persons? No, it is not. What is being suggested is that we need to have a serious discussion about the radicalisation of religion, in all its forms. Ultra-rightist groups have a history of committing terrorist acts – and they have been flying under the radar for a long time.

It is time to expose not only the crimes of domestic terrorism, but also the ideology that underlies the motivations of the ultra-right. When black American families, and their churches, are targeted by a violent ultra-rightist like Mark Conditt, it is a poor service to the victims when we find excuses for the actions of the terrorist perpetrator.