The Britain-Rwanda refugee deal, sordid 21st century imperialism and economic coercion

The UK government announced, in April this year, an arrangement with the East African nation of Rwanda, to relocate asylum seekers to the latter nation. The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel, herself born to a family of Ugandan-Indian refugees, stated that this deal with Rwanda will deter people smugglers.

Asylum seekers, after being processed in the offshore detention facilities in Rwanda, will be required to stay in that nation for five years. It is unclear what will happen to those unsuccessful refugee applicants.

Rwanda, having recovered from the ravages of warfare and genocide in the early 1990s, still remains one of the poorest nations on earth. Its human rights record is questionable, to say the least. It is not clear, beyond changing a hostel into a detention camp, how relocated asylum seekers will be housed and treated. There is though, a deeper issue which needs to be examined – the coercion of poor nations by rich imperialist countries to act as border guards, taking unwanted arrivals.

Offshore processing – a euphemism for institutionalised people trafficking – is a new way that rich nations dump the problems of unwanted migrants onto the poorer nations. While the UK-Rwanda deal is framed as a partnership, the reality is quite different. The UK’s per capita GDP is immensely larger than that of Rwanda. The poor nations face unequal conditions in the international arena. The imperialist nations are in a position to make aid and financing conditional on the forcible relocation to poorer nations of asylum seekers.

This kind of arrangement could best be described as a form of imperialism, 21st century style. The UK-Rwanda arrangement is not the first of its kind. Indeed, the inspiration for outsourcing the refugee issue comes from the Australian government’s Pacific Solution. Bribing the poorer nations of the Asia-Pacific region, successive Australian governments have detained asylum seekers in offshore camps in Nauru and Manus Island. Alexander Downer, former foreign minister and advocate of offshore processing, is one of Priti Patel’s advisers.

Implemented by the Australian Tories – the ultra conservative Liberal party – the Pacific Solution was revived, after a brief suspension, by the conservative Labour party in 2012. Offshore processing doubly victimises the asylum seekers. The latter, fleeing wars and conflicts instigated by the imperialist states, are denied their fundamental human right to seek asylum under the International Refugee Convention.

The EU, for some time now, has been using the African nation of Niger as an outsourcing migration laboratory. Niger, another impoverished nation, accepted millions of euros in aid on the condition that asylum seekers – those from outside of Europe – would be housed and their applications processed there. Rich nations have transformed international aid from a policy of development into an instrument of short term geopolitical interests.

In fact, the EU-Niger refugee arrangement is a way for the EU nations to construct a border patrol in the Sahel; rather than wait for asylum seekers to approach the heavily patrolled and militarised Mediterranean Sea, the flow of non-European refugees is stemmed and controlled by the poorer nations themselves. Outsourcing border patrols and coercive migration controls is part of a wider strategy to gain economic footholds in the poorer but resource-rich nations.

The richer nations have had decades of toxic political debate about immigration, multiculturalism and asylum seekers. Demonising refugees and alleged ‘queue-jumpers’ has influenced election campaigns and outcomes. Throughout the prime ministership of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politicians denounced African refugees as ‘infiltrators’, a ‘cancer’ in the society. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were relocated from Israel to Rwanda.

Priti Patel’s background, as the child of Ugandan Indian refugees, draws a spotlight on the issue of the 1970s Uganda Asian refugees. The latter – known as Asians back then – were persecuted by the regime of General Idi Amin. Britain, having originally backed Amin’s rise to power, condemned his government’s mistreatment of the Ugandan Asian community.

Britain, over the objections of racist and right wing politicians and pundits, accepted Ugandan Asians as refugees. It would be wrong however, to forget that the Ugandan refugee crisis was the result of cumulative and historical decisions by Imperial Britain to import and privilege one ethnic group over the majority Ugandan population. This is not to excuse the actions of the Amin regime. The purpose is to highlight the original criminal policy of the British empire; divide and rule.

The British empire implanted generations of economically driven imperial service communities; after decolonisation they become the acceptable refugees. The unrelenting hostility directed at non-European refugees contrasts sharply with the favourable and welcoming attitude towards the recent outflow of Ukrainian war refugees. Rather than pushing refugees onto someone else, there are practical solutions to the refugee outflows, addressing the wars and inequalities that produce them.

Holocaust denial has experienced a resurgence, and the fight against it must continue

Holocaust denial, based in antisemitic conspiratorial thinking, is the active attempt to create pseudoscientific materials denying the Nazi German programme to exterminate European Jewry. While old-school Holocaust denial has declined, obfuscation and distortion of the antisemitic killings in WW2 has increased, especially in Eastern Europe. This corresponds with the rise of ultranationalist and far right parties.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar, was sued by Nazi apologist and white supremacist writer David Irving in the late 1990s. Irving, a long time Holocaust denier, sued Lipstadt and Penguin Books for libel. Lipstadt wrote a comprehensive book – published back in 1993 – called Denying the Holocaust: the growing assault on truth and memory. In that book, Lipstadt traced the origins and trajectory of Holocaust denial from the ruins of WW2, through the works of white supremacists and Nazi apologists, including Irving.

The trial of Irving versus Lipstadt and Penguin Publishers, dramatised in the 2016 film Denial, was decided in 2000 in favour of Lipstadt and Penguin books. Irving was comprehensively defeated in a legal action he initiated. Holocaust denial suffered a terrible blow, but it was not defeated.

Irving was following in the footsteps of previous generations of Holocaust deniers, which Lipstadt detailed in her book. Intending to exculpate Nazi Germany and its collaborators of the main crime – the extermination of European Jewry – Holocaust deniers and ultranationalist writers of all stripes were keen on rehabilitating white supremacy.

German nationalists, American racists and white European Nazi apologists found Holocaust denial to be the ideological cement glueing together their respective parallel agendas. Deniers and antisemites cast doubt on the existence of the gas chambers, and produce pseudoscientific materials in order to gain academic respectability for their cause. For instance, the denialist 1974 pamphlet Did Six Million Really Die?, written by an English white supremacist and neo-Nazi, attacked the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, criticising the objectivity of the judges and the veracity of the evidence presented.

The Institute for Historical Review, a think tank established by Holocaust deniers and antisemites in 1978 in California, churns out racist materials with a veneer of academic credibility. While reaching a high point in the 1980s and 90s, its activities have declined somewhat since then. Hiding behind a facade of free speech and scholarly enquiry, the IHR’s mission is to promote an updated white supremacy and recycle Holocaust denial.

Numerous books have been written rebutting the nefarious claims of Holocaust deniers. Richard Evans’ book, Telling Lies About Hitler is one such book; Michael Shermer’s Denying History: Who says the Holocaust never happened and why do they say it? is another. These books, and other multimedia materials, are indispensable in combating Holocaust denial.

However, we cannot be complacent – with the growth of social media, Holocaust denial has found a new arena in which to grow. From the very first days of the internet, antisemites and racists have utilised the new technologies to disseminate their views far and wide. The old school denialism has been superseded in many ways; no longer is it necessary to submit paper manuscripts for publication. Irving and other Holocaust deniers have either grown old, reduced their activities or passed away.

Holocaust obfuscation received a boost from the early 1990s onwards, and the reasons for that can be found in the politically tectonic shifts which occurred in Eastern European nations in 1989-91. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and its allied Eastern bloc paved the way for a resurgence of pre-Communist era ultranationalism, particularly in the Baltic states. With Communist ideology now discarded, the Eastern European states harked back to the ostensibly ‘good old days’ of the 1920s-1940s.

Investigating the Soviet period, and examining Moscow’s crimes is one thing; downplaying the culpability of Baltic, Ukrainian and Eastern European ultranationalism is quite another. Baltic and Eastern European collaboration with Nazism, and the crucial role these ultrarightist ideologies played in helping to massacre Jewish populations, had to be obscured. Today’s Eastern European ultranationalist Right intends to obscure its antisemitic actions in the past.

The Baltic states, prior to their occupation by Soviet forces, enthusiastically collaborated in antisemitic purges; the Ukrainian nationalist army, while theoretically independent of Nazi Germany, recycled antisemitic conspiracy theories, blamed ‘Muscovy-Communism’ on the Jews, and massacred Jewish communities. The ‘double genocide’ theory, which explicitly ties Soviet conduct to Nazi war crimes, turns the Jews from victims into perpetrators.

These political developments have created a climate conducive to the spread of Holocaust obfuscation, intended to exculpate Baltic and Eastern European ultranationalist parties of the crimes of antisemitism and ethnic cleansing. No, David Irving is not gaining a wide audience in Eastern Europe, however, the denial of European Jewry’s suffering at the hands of Baltic and Ukrainian ultranationalism is gaining a hearing.

When Baltic Waffen SS veterans are honoured as heroes in public parades, the doctrines that motivated them to murder Jews also receive credibility. Holocaust deniers, longing for oxygen for their views, begin obtaining coverage in the mainstream. Each national ideology can remember history the way they like. But ultranationalism must not be allowed to get away with pseudoscientific attempts to minimise or escape the guilt of its crimes, or repudiate the suffering of its victims.

Let’s end the household analogy – government budgets, gaffes and electioneering

One of the most well-worn and yet incorrect analogies circulating – especially around electioneering times – is that a government budget can be managed just like a household budget. After all, we cannot afford to spend beyond our means, can we? Is not balancing the family chequebook a good idea? Unfortunately, this folksy homespun analogy is not only simplistic, but also misleading and contributes to the infantilisation of political debate in the Anglosphere nations.

In response to a query by a journalist, Australian Labour Party leader Anthony Albanese could not recall the official unemployment rate. This putative ‘gaffe’ by an aspiring prime ministerial candidate revealed the infantile character of what passes for journalism, rather than any shortcoming on Albanese’s part. This ridiculous gotcha reporting only contributes to the deterioration of political debate, and increases the apathy of the electorate towards the political process.

Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt, when asked a similar gotcha-type question, hit back with an eloquent response – let’s focus on the policies and ideas, let’s discuss how to improve the welfare of the society. If you want the latest statistics – google it.

Greg Jericho, economics columnist for the Guardian, wrote that it is more important to know the impact of your policies than recalling statistics offhand. Indeed, Jericho wrote that he frequently accesses statistics from Australian government websites, when writing his columns. Rather than rattling off stats from the top of his head, he verifies his articles through research.

The household comparison has been skilfully deployed to facilitate an austerity agenda. A household budget impacts only the occupants of that household – a government’s budget decisions impact millions of people and affects the direction of a national economy. Our economic reporting, and the way we think about government spending, has been gradually colonised by the financial/corporate sector. The effect of that is to obscure the fact that wealth is created by labour power, combined with capital spending and investment, to generate a healthy economy.

A government can levy taxes, implement and regulate a currency, invest in long-term infrastructure projects, and determine the standards of measurement used to impose a uniform currency – the dollar in Australia’s case. In fact, in the 1960s, the Australian ruling class changed currencies from the pound (tied to the English currency) to the Australian dollar – a measure no household can ever achieve. Changing currency is a tectonic shift in the nature and operation of a national economy.

The alleged suffering of multinational corporations under an uncompetitive and uncompromising tax structure is a conservative myth. In Australia, there are 722 major corporations, including 199 which reported more than one billion dollars in profits for fiscal year 2016-17 – and paid no taxes. If government deficit was such a series problem, this avoidance of corporate taxes should be urgently addressed.

The failure by the Australian government to establish a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may not seem like an economic issue. However, let’s consider the following – how much government money is lost or siphoned off due to corruption? Plugging that particular hole in the budget would certainly contribute significantly to reducing government debt.

The seeming inability of the federal government to investigate just how many billions of dollars transnational corporations have stashed away in offshore tax havens indicates a lack of political will. Reclaiming such money offers an opportunity to not only recoup truckloads of lost money, but also help compensate for the purportedly serious government deficit. These kind of political decisions are not in the interest of the financial/corporate elite; lectures about fiscal responsibility are reserved for public spending on health care and education.

The household-budget metaphor, deployed as a rhetorical device, is used to attack the suggestion of public spending, particularly as it relates to health care services, welfare, government schools, public transport and the like. Of course no government has infinite amounts of money. However, the way we think about deficit spending is influenced by those who intend to dismantle the public sector and hand over more money to private enterprise.

Former Australian prime minister and lodestar of today’s conservatives, Robert Menzies, ran budget deficits and invested government money in public infrastructure. Government spending as a share of GDP actually increased under Menzies – from 19.4% to 24.5%. No-one denounced his government as irresponsible or reckless. Menzies also kept watch on inflationary pressures, all the while maintaining a long term vision for the economy.

While noting the use of GDP growth as a metric of economic success, let’s suggest another metric to watch – lifting people out of poverty. How many millions, or hundreds, of previously unemployed and/or poor were lifted out of poverty by government policies? Surely improving the quality of life for its citizens is a major task of governments. Why don’t we report on poverty alleviation like we do on a daily basis on the stock market?

It is possible to focus on nation-building, constructing infrastructure vital to building a cohesive society, and keep an eye on deficits. This obsessive-compulsive disorder we have with reducing government deficit serves to blur our focus on economic activities that contribute to nation prosperity. Let’s have a national conversation about economic policies without recourse to trivial and infantile analogies which actually do harm to our political debate.

Religious freedom, political gain and cynical human rights imperialism

The freedom to practice the religion of one’s own choice is a basic human right. Sadly, not all countries allow this right to be practiced free from persecution. Please, do not use religious freedom, as US ruling circles do, as a cynical and perverse exercise in interfering in the internal affairs of other nations.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a body which purportedly examines the status of religious freedom in nations around the world. It issues an annual report where, among other things, it lists nations which restrict the ability of religious people to practice their beliefs. This year, it has named Vietnam as a ‘country of particular concern’, the phrase used by the USCIRF to indicate nations where religious freedom is, in its opinion, subject to restrictions.

One has to wonder at the astonishing arrogance of US authorities assigning to themselves the function of arbitrating religious freedom in nations around the world. We will examine the role of the USCIRF as an instrument of US foreign policy later. Let’s first address the accusation that Vietnam suppresses religious followers and undermines religious freedom.

There is absolutely no basis in fact that the Hanoi authorities repress religion or religious worship. The Vietnamese constitution explicitly guarantees freedom of religion as a human right. The three main religions are Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism, all of which are openly practiced. There are various minority religious groups, including Catholics and Protestants. Cao Dai, a particular religious minority highlighted by the USCIRF, is practiced openly as well.

Indeed, there was a long period in Vietnam’s history when religious groups were suppressed. No, not by the Hanoi authorities, but by the American-backed and installed regime of South Vietnam, formerly located in Saigon. The South Vietnamese leaders, with the full knowledge and support of the US, violently suppressed the Buddhist population and monks, while maintaining a position of privilege for the Catholic minority. The Buddhist crisis very nearly led to a mini-civil war within South Vietnam.

The USCIRF report highlights the fact that the Vietnamese constitution contains a clause which enables the government to invoke national security to suspend freedom of religion. The US is hardly in a position to hector other nations when it comes to the thorny issue of national security. The latter has been invoked by Washington’s ruling circles to rationalise all sorts of war crimes overseas, and domestic restrictions on civil liberties.

It is true that since 2018, the Vietnamese authorities require religious organisations to register in a national database to determine their authenticity. This measure guards against scams and hucksters who have exploited religious belief to further their own financial gain. Such scams have been prevented, and none of the religious minorities have complained about such a national registry.

There is no shortage of religious scams in the United States; organisations masquerading as religiously-motivated, accumulating masses of money from their followers, and enriching a handful of so-called pastors. The prosperity gospel, a purportedly Christian doctrine which holds that material wealth is a goal of worshipful belief, has resulted in the accumulation of tremendous wealth for the leaders of such groups.

The preachers of the prosperity gospel, while inspiring millions with the simplified doctrine that God will provide wealth, endless happiness and fulfilment, also rake in millions of dollars as well. A perversion of the original Christian doctrines, the prosperity gospel elevates a kind of individual salvation into a collective exercise in narcissism. The late bell hooks, scholar and activist, made an observation that applies to the practitioners of the fraudulent prosperity theology:

I am often struck by the dangerous narcissism fostered by spiritual rhetoric that pays so much attention to individual self-improvement and so little to the practice of love within the context of community.

The USCIRF, rather than being a politically neutral body, is specifically an extremist-dominated institution, dedicated to the spread of fundamentalist doctrine around the world. The politicians who make up this commission are advocates for a strict, Americanised Christianity, condemn equal marriage status, spread anti-LGBTI propaganda, and condemn Islam specifically as a hateful doctrine.

The putative concern for religious freedom has been deployed as a weapon of US foreign policies for decades. The covert intervention of the US in Afghanistan, for instance, was carried out by citing the alleged lack of religious freedom in the socialist-era Afghanistan of the 1980s. The US exploited religious feeling to mobilise extremist groups, in an anticommunist insurgency.

However, religion was not the main reason the Afghan mujahideen rebelled, but rather the social and economic reforms – particularly distributing land to the peasantry – which impelled the reactionary mullahs to throw in their lot with the United States. The mullahs may have had culturally regressive views, but they were fundamentally committed to restoring an economic system of feudal-like inequality.

Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. Perhaps the US should re-examine its own cynical history of abusing this claim to promote cultural interference around the world.

The British Royals Caribbean trip, ignoring history and the need to understand inequality

In March this year, the Duke and Duchess of Kent visited the Caribbean island nation of Jamaica, as part of a charm PR offensive. The neighbouring Caribbean country of Barbados cut its strings to the British monarchy, and declared itself a republic. Hoping to discourage Jamaica from removing the Queen as head of state, the royal visit was meant to drum up support for the UK monarchy.

The trip did not go well. The royal couple were met with protests, condemning the UK monarchy’s role in the commission of slavery, demanding reparations for the descendants of the enslaved. The Windrush scandal, which saw hundreds of Caribbean nationals deported from Britain, was also raised by the Jamaican protesters. Afro-Caribbeans, even those who had lived and worked in Britain for decades, were swept up in the British government’s policy of creating a hostile environment for Caribbean nationals.

The Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness, informed Prince William and the Duchess Catherine while they were in Kingston that Jamaica does indeed intend to sever ties with the UK monarchy and become a fully-fledged republic. Jamaica and Barbados are member states of the Commonwealth, the latter a loose association of former British colonies and dependencies. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Papua New Guinea are, among others, Commonwealth nations keeping the Queen as the official head of state.

With Jamaica following the example of Barbados in declaring themselves a republic, the grandiose notions of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘global Britain’ in the wake of Brexit have been undermined. Commonwealth nations are not forming the backbone of a resurgent Brexit Britain, as the UK government had hoped.

Barbados history of slavery crucial in understanding the rise of English colonialism and Britain as a maritime superpower. Slavery, while different from capitalism, was instrumental in the expansion of capitalist socioeconomic relations.

This is more than just a case of royal ties being cut in the Caribbean. A rise in Republican sentiment is all well and good; but there needs to be a thoroughgoing assessment of the impact and continuing relevance of slavery, and Britain’s role in it. Slavery is usually regarded as a historic and outmoded institution, something that has only marginal significance in the expansion of capitalism. While slavery has certainly been relegated to the distant past, and Britain did have a strong anti slavery movement, there can be no denying that the transatlantic slave trade was instrumental in the development of Britain as a capitalist power.

Professor Trevor Burnard, from the University of Hull, writes that Britain has never fully acknowledged its role as a slave-trading power. He notes that the UK monarchy as an institution was deeply embedded in, encouraged, and profited from the practice of slavery. The bustling entrepôts of Bristol, Liverpool and similar commercial cities built their wealth on the backs of slave-trading. Barbados was the place where the English first solidified their economic practice of slavery. English capitalist accumulation organised itself on the slave-driven sugar plantations in Barbados and the Caribbean.

It is no exaggeration to say that Barbados is the birthplace of Britain’s drive to construct a slave society. That template was exported and replicated across the Caribbean and mainland America. Importing African slaves as a disposable workforce, the profits from the sugar and tobacco plantations went into the coffers of the slave owners – and into the banking institutions, factories and workhouses that have become synonymous with English capitalism. While Barbadian society was organised as a ruthless, inhumane and back-breaking society for the slaves, the profits generated propelled English entrepreneurship into a global power.

There was a time when Britain paid reparations – not to the formerly enslaved, but to the former slave owners. The English government, finally relenting to the demands for the abolition of slavery, paid millions of pounds in compensation to the former slave owners, the latter claiming they deserved payment for their loss of property. The previously enslaved and their descendants received nothing. Slavery and capitalism may be rival economic formations, but they are also sibling rivals.

Kenan Malik, writing in the Guardian, observers that this latest royal trip was bound to be farcical. The notion that the UK monarchy is foremost in the minds of the Jamaicans or Barbadians is nonsensical. As Malik notes, politicians in the former British colonies, particularly in the Anglosphere, are proficient at constructing historical stories to reinforce their power in the present. The stories of repeated slave rebellions and uprisings in the Caribbean is conveniently omitted.

It is high time to consider not only the establishment of a republic, in Barbados, Jamaica and the wider Commonwealth nations, but also the abolition of the UK monarchy itself. It is an obsolete and archaic institution which should go the way of slavery.