Peter Greste’s letter from Egypt’s Mazraa Prison gives us a rare insight into stamina, courage, innocence, compassion, family and injustice. Much of what he says about the anger, the frustration, the question of why and the search for calm, must apply to the thousands locked up in Egypt and the tens of thousands of political prisoners held by dictatorships around the world. Egypt’s revolution was meant to be the beacon that led the Arab world into an era of democracy and good goverance. It has failed abysmally, begging the question for tourists and businesses as to why they even go there. There are ancient ruins in Turkey and Peru, magnificent rivers and beaches in Latin America and Africa. There are business deals to be done in Moldova and Bangladesh and contracts to sign in Chile and Malaysia. In Egypt, you know your are dealing with corrosive corruption and courts that bend with whichever dictator happens to be in power. Best stay away. Or Egypt can show it is on the path of reform by releasing Peter, his colleagues and all its political prisoners. bit.ly/1sehwLX
With much debate about the media and war reporting, four points noted by the great Sandy Gall stand well the test of time.
Journalists covering the Vietnam and Cambodian wars accepted that if they fell into the hands of the Vietcong or Khmer Rouge they would most likely be killed. Among those thought to have been executed are Sean Flynn from Time, Dana Stone, CBS and Dieter Bellendorf, NBC. Therefore, as tragic as it is, today’s brutality is neither new nor confined to Islamic terror.
The debate about Scottish independence and its currency is a sideshow. Has Singapore, Ireland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, East Timor, Eritrea, South Sudan, Taiwan, Estonia, Ukraine failed or succeeded because of currency issues? They have not. Separating nations will produce tears, challenges — often bloodshed, and the result could be good or bad. But currency is not an issue. By banging on about it the Better Together Campaign (which I support) shows how removed it is from the grass roots sentiments that move people towards independence. And its difficult to understand the Bank of England Governor Mark Carney stating that for a currency union to work there has to be common taxation and spending and that it would be incompatible with sovereignty. If that were the case the Euro would never have happened.
After China’s decision to limit democratic reform in Hong Kong, from my most recent piece — Nikkei Asia Review:-
Beijing only has to look at Iraq or Ukraine to see the pitfalls of failing to meet the aspirations of educated citizens or of introducing electoral democracy at too fast a pace. The consequences of getting it wrong in Hong Kong could be catastrophic. The territory’s democratic ambitions may well prove to be the biggest and most dangerous challenge in this phase of China’s global expansion…….Hong Kong is not a barren reef in the South or East China Seas where disputes can be tested without human cost. Its highly educated population cannot be gunned down and jailed if ambitions are restricted. Its pro-democracy movement will rightly continue to campaign, push and criticize. China must understand that it cannot risk challenging Hong Kong’s pragmatism to the point where people head for the barricades because they feel they have no other choice.
As Russia ramps up the war in Ukraine and China plays dog fights with US spy planes, the focus of global threat is on ISIS, an organised crime operation that runs on fear and extortion. It has no seat at the UN Security Council. It is not a lynchpin of international trade. It makes nothing. It has no missile silos and aircraft carriers. To deal with it, we should draw experience not from the insoluble tribal and religious tapestry of the Middle East, but the gangland neighbourhoods of London, Los Angeles and Mumbai where — predictably — power vacuums and weak government spawn this type of violence. Once that’s done, minds need to concentrate on the rise of China and hostility of Russia because if we get this wrong it will be really bad.
Like most democracies, the actions of Israel’s government reflect the the majority view of its citizens as (perhaps) do those of the elected leadership of Hamas in Gaza. Opinions of the wider world have little standing. Similar democratic choice was excercised when voters in America and Britain returned their leaders after the invasion of Iraq that appalled so much of the wider international community. Since 9/11, richer developed countries have vigorously advocated the concept of sovereign democratic choice which in recent years has contributed to the present bloodshed in Libya, Iraq, Egypt and (moving out of the Middle East) the newly independent South Sudan whose civil war has produced the worst food crisis in the world and , of course, Ukraine. There can be no summary slaying of such an entrenched myth that elections lead to freedom, but as starters, it might be an idea to eliminate two words from diplomatic vocabulary so threat and aspiration become more transparent. Those words are Terror and Democracy.
In an indication of how we’ve come to accept high levels of civilian violence, today’s attack on market in Gaza is being seen as part and parcel of the daily bloodshed there. Twenty years ago, a single mortar bomb exploded in the main square of Sarejevo killing 68 and wounding 200 people. It was the worst single atrocity in the 22-month old conflict between Bosnia’s Serbs, Muslims and Croats and led to international intervention that changed the course of the war. Yet today, the US is reportedly re-supplying Israel with mortars and grenades.
The process of granting fracking licenses may well be similar to those of off-shore dredging which a few years back I investigated to see what’s known about its impact on coastal erosion. The EU, Canada, the United States and Japan all acknowledge a link, and in the United States, the coastline is shored up after dredging takes place. The British government does not admit to a link. As my investigation continued, background briefings set up with government scientists were summarily cancelled and answers from press departments were wrapped in so many figures and purple prose to be indecipherable. Meanwhile, it turns out that there are applications to extract 68 million cubic metres from the seabed over the next 15 years from just one area of the North Sea off the coast of Great Yarmouth. The Empire State building is one million cubic metres, so that’s the equivalent of taking out a fair chunk of Manhattan then saying that this has no impact on the wave and tidal flows that cause erosion. Nor has the government produced any explanation as to why its findings contradict those elsewhere. The government “is not in a position to comment on activities that have been permitted by other countries” came the answer. I did find a contact who spoke off the record, saying that the dredging companies pay big money for scientists to write licence applications, leaving few qualified experts in government to challenge the science. There must be a danger of the same happening on fracking in which case prepare for nasty times ahead.
Before watching the next new bulletin, read some lines from Itzhak Katzenelson, the great Jewish poet from the Warsaw ghetto — and see if there’s any common ground with the Palestinians in Gaza.
The first to perish were the children, abandoned orphans, The world’s best, the bleak earth’s brightest. These children from the orphanages might have been our comfort. From these sad, mute, bleak faces our new dawn might have risen…… I saw children just brought in from the street. I hid in a corner And saw a two-year-old girl in the lap of a teacher. Thin, deathly pale and with such grave eyes.
I had a dream, a terrible dream: my people was no more, my people disappeared.
I rose screaming: Ah! Ah! What I have dreamed is happening now! Oh, God in heaven! — Shuddering I shall cry:
what for and why did my people die?