Friday, 27 November 2015

How Goes the Project for the New American Century?

The drum beat for war driving Britain into joining the bombing campaign in Syria is more about politics than any real military strategy.  Given that the UK has only eight very old Tornados based at Akotiri in Cyprus available for Iraq and Syria, extending their role into Syria is clearly a political rather than military act.
The political objective seems to have two dimensions, to show our fealty to the USA and, to split the Parliamentary Labour Party from its leader.  Sadly the PLP is well populated with Neo-Cons who buy into the Americans world view enabling the media to exaggerate any split. 

This has been convenient for the PM as it conceals why he needs Labour support. He cannot command the votes of his own party. Not all of the Parliamentary Conservative Party are Neo-Cons there are still a few genuine Conservatives left amongst them! 

Of course the flagship policy of the Neo-Cons, the one that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz promoted and was championed by Bush and Blair was “the War on Terror”. 

Iit was always morally dubious that the “war on terror” was to be being fought using terrorism.  My Chambers dictionary defines terrorism as “the systematic and organized use of violence and intimidation to force a government or community, etc to act in a certain way or accept certain demands.” 

So we find ourselves again as we did after the attacks on the Twin Towers in the position of attacking the random bombing, shooting and killing of civilians by the random bombing, shooting and killing of civilians.  Something we have been doing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen in fact anywhere in drone range.  We seem not to have learned from our own experience that people do not respond well to terrorism. 
So how is this “War on Terror” going? Well the Institute for Economics and Peace a think tank founded by Australian tech entrepreneur Steve Killelea produces a fascinating Global Terrorism Index. 

This year’s Index was released recently and the headlines are not good. It reports that by non-state actors: 
* 32,658 people were killed by terrorism in 2014 compared to 18,111 in 2013: the largest increase ever recorded with Boko Haram and ISIL jointly responsible for 51% of all claimed global fatalities in 2014
* Countries suffering over 500 deaths increased by 120% to 11 countries, 78% of all deaths and 57% of all attacks occurred in just five countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria
* Iraq continues to be the country most impacted by terrorism with 9,929 terrorist fatalities the highest ever recorded in a single country. Think about this for a moment. Almost ten thousand dead in Iraq over a decade after Saddam Hussein was captured.
* Nigeria experienced the largest increase in terrorist activity with 7,512 deaths in 2014, an increase of over 300% since 2013.

These are the deaths many more have been injured. In countries with poor health services and none existent welfare support. What is more, terrorism is spreading. The number of countries that suffered more than 500 deaths has more than doubled, increasing from five in 2013 to 11 in 2014. The new additions were Somalia, Ukraine, Yemen, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Cameroon.

Remember that these are just the numbers killed by non-state actors. State sponsored terrorism, if the word means anything, must apply to the killing of British citizens in Syria by drone. The argument that this targeted lawless assassination was self-defence is stretching that notion beyond belief. 

It is not just a huge human cost the economic cost of terrorism reached its highest ever level in 2014 at US$52.9 billion, an increase of 61% from the previous year’s total of US$32.9 billion, and a tenfold increase since 2000.

What we do seems only to make things worse. The more violence we exert the worse things get, the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria, since 2011 is the largest influx in modern times. Current estimates now range from 25,000 to 30,000 fighters, from roughly 100 countries. This flow is not falling but growing over 7,000 arriving in the first six months of this year. 

In presenting this gory data, Steve Killelea said, “Since we can see a number of clearly identifiable socio-political factors that foster terrorism, it is important to implement policies that aim to address these associated causes. This includes reducing state-sponsored violence, diffusing group grievances, and improving respect for human rights and religious freedoms, while considering cultural nuances.”
Instead of this sensible and logical course of action we are turning our society into a surveillance state destroying our civil liberties and freedoms. We need to bring the majority of Muslims onto our side yet we promote the idea of two opposed camps - Islam and the West – and fail to tackle the jihadists' propaganda of our rampant Islamophobia.

Worst of all we fail to stem the source of the most reactionary version of political Islam by doing business with and forming alliances with those states most active in the propagation of this reactionary religious ideology. Then acting like neo-colonial and self-interested powers we support the most authoritarian, corrupt and venal states and wonder why they alienate their own people. 

Jeremy Corbyn is right we have to tackle the underlying causes, there is no military solution, there has to be another way. If anyone asks you how goes the “War on Terror”?  Tell them we are losing it.

Letter to the Guardian in Full!

Dear Editor, John McDonnell makes a very important point by brandishing Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book in parliament. George Osborne is not just enabling the Chinese State to own British State assets. He is actually subsidising Chinese state enterprises to do so as well as structuring UK public sector contracts in such a way as to favour the Chinese! What’s more with recent Chinese engagement in energy he is effectively selling to China future UK tax revenues. When he finally leaves office I fully expect him to be given a Chinese pension and a grace and favour apartment in Beijing.
Yours sincerely,
Nick Matthews

Monday, 23 November 2015

Tony Blair, David Cameron and the Neo-Cons.

“Ah, Love! Could thou and I with Fate conspire

 To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire!

 Would not we shatter it to bits-and then

 Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!”

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Following Tony Blair’s non-apology, apology I thought back to when I first realised that he was mad. It was at the Labour party conference, after nine eleven, in Brighton in 2001 and the speech when he said, “This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us.”

When I heard this I thought this bloke is a megalomaniac and my legs refused to draw me into an upright position and I was left the only person in my row not joining in the standing ovation.

Upon leaving the hall I was asked by a journalist what I thought about the speech I said that it reminded of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khyyam written in the eleventh century and bought to Victorian English readers by Edward Fitzgerald, the speech had a similar rhythm to its quatrains and it contained the same moral ambiguity. Needless to say he gave me a funny look.

This speech was essentially a version of one Blair had given in Chicago in 1999, labelled the ‘Blair Doctrine’ by US commentators; it was as Gore Vidal so clearly articulated the case of “Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace”.

That speech in Chicago was a game-changer because it completely cut the ground from under the democrats in opposing George W. Bush and his later adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blair gave Bush the language he himself did not have.

Brighton was Blair at the very peak of his oratorical powers in the previous paragraph, he had said, “The starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of Northern Africa to the slums of Gaza, to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan: they too are our cause.”

Now his follower David Cameron is not so keen on welcoming those huddled masses to our shores. What should have been a job for the police to arrest Bin Laden, who it now appears, was hiding in plain sight, has turned in to a thirty years war that covers the entire area Blair so poetically described.

What amazes me about many contemporary politicians especially those who talk about “abroad” is how ignorant they are.  Something has gone badly wrong here. We used to govern a fair chunk of the world’s surface and yes it may well have been for the wrong reasons but we knew what was going on in the world.

 Now we hear politicians of all colours talking complete nonsense about international relations in a way that is symptomatic of the neo-conservative world view. International relations should not be decided upon using mere facts. We must first shape the facts and then the world to our hearts desire.

The greatest exponent of this shape shifting before Blair and the Dodgy Dossier was George W Bush’s head of Strategy Karl Rove. In an interview with Ron Suskind of the New York Times  he said that guys like Ron were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." .... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

Now initially David Cameron was not a Neo-Con he was from an earlier school of conservative political realism. He had been a reluctant supporter of the Iraq war and had been critical of Israel. On achieving the top job however it did not take long, he too became a Neo-Con, and with French President Sarkozy, leading the way in the intervention in Libya and only two years ago he would have intervened militarily against President Assad if parliamentary had not stopped him.

Mr Cameron regularly seeks advice from Blair who was one of those urging him to bomb Libya. In foreign policy Cameron can be seen as Blair’s protégé.  They are both solid supporters of the Gulf dictatorships, of Netanyahu’s Israel, and are totally hostile to democratic movements within Islam, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood. Now not a week seems to go by without some dictator crossing the Number 10 threshold.

Then there is Chilcott, Cameron has clearly protected Tony Blair. This inquiry was meant to publish its conclusions within 18 months of the British withdrawal from Iraq in 2007 and we are still waiting and what happened to the investigation into British complicity in torture and extraordinary rendition during the Blair premiership?

Listening to many Labour MP’s including sad to say Mike Gapes and John Woodcock recently they have clearly been bitten by the Neo-Con bug. To his credit Ed Miliband was trying to move Labour away from this position. By opposing intervention in Syria and by whipping Labour MP’s in support of a Palestinian state.

In a foreign policy speech before the election he made the case for the rule of law, international institutions and diplomatic engagement, and against the idea of American exceptionalism.

This work is now being carried on by Jeremy Corbyn who is now Britain’s finest advocate for human rights and we must not let him standalone against this empire of lies. On hearing Tony Blair back in 1999, that old hawk Henry Kissinger had said he “felt a little bit uneasy” about the inference that this was a good moment to solve every problem in the world.

We should all be uneasy if the world continues to be shaped by people with a wanton lack of concern for the truth, human rights, and life itself.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Y Gwyll - Hinterland

A few years ago I went on a pilgrimage to Aberystwyth. It’s a bitter sweet story. When I was 12 or 13 on a family holiday to New Quay on Cardigan Bay one day it rained as only it can in West Wales. Fleeing from our caravan we ended up in Devils Bridge just in time to miss the last little steam train back to Aber on the delightful Vale of Rheidol Light Railway.

Forty years later I finally took that ride. Happily very little had changed a beautiful little steam loco took us up the valley we had lunch in the Hafod Arms Hotel looking like a piece of Switzerland and took in the punch bowl and the famous three bridges.

Not long after what should appear on our TV screens but Hinterland a new noir detective set of all places in and around Aberystwyth and where was the very first storyline to take us but up to Devils Bridge. Needless to say I was hooked. Today I have two main obsessions, the progress of Jeremy Corbyn and catching every episode of Hinterland or Y Gwyll to give it its Welsh title.

It is much more than your usual TV detective the whole world of West Wales is a key character. The place has this astonishing marginality that I find fascinating. Its Welsh title, Y Gwyll, means the dusk, between light and dark and across this landscape we see a whole society and economy teetering on the edge.

The cinematography is stunning never has decay and decline looked so beautiful, the acting too is outstanding, there is not a single character that is not fully rounded. The key partnership between Richard Harrington as DCI Tom Mathias and Mali Harries as DI Mared Rhys is also deeply enigmatic. Richard Harrington’s character is central to each episode but the acting too of Mali Harries is excellent.

Just what are they one to the other, well you will just have to watch and find out. I first discovered Y Gwyll in its English incarnation as Hinterland. Astonishingly it was filmed twice once in Welsh and once in English.

S4C the Welsh TV channel had been here before with A View to a Kill starring Philip Madoc as DCI Noel Bain, which ran for ten years from 1994 to 2004. I greatly enjoyed that show too my first introduction to a gritty view of South Wales.

Y Gwyll however elevates the detective genre to art it out noirs the Scandinavians and often uses silence and sparse dialogue to give us a huge sense of space. This is achieved without the usual patronising back fill and over explanation of much modern crime drama.

Contemporary crime drama can give us the reach of Dickens linking those from the very top of the pile to those at the very bottom along the way exposing the ugly greed, corruption and social dislocation of globalised capitalism. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the edge lands of Ceredigion so stunningly captured in Y Gwyll.

We often say that our crime genre is running to catch up with Scandy noir with offerings like Broadchurch but that is not the case with Y Gwyll, Ed Tomas, executive producer, of Cardiff based Fiction factory had pitched the idea years before the Scandy detectives reached our screens.  

The challenge for S4C was raising the cash to do the idea justice. Fortunately with some support from the Welsh Assembly they have pulled it off to the extent that the second series was bought by Danish television unseen.

Now I think you can tell there is something I find particularly satisfying about Y Gwyll and what is more despite only understanding the odd word I prefer it in Welsh to English. The sound and rhythm of the language adds another layer to the whole marginality of the drama.

Raymond Williams the great Welsh cultural theorist wrote one truly great novel called Border Country in it he explored the boundaries between England and Wales, town and country, classes, and the generations. Showing how culture and character was shaped by landscape.

The young protagonist on returning to the family home in Pandy not far from Abergavenny says that, “He had felt empty and tired, but the familiar shape of the valley and the mountains held and replaced him.  It was one thing to carry its image in his mind, as he did, everywhere, never a day passing but he closed his eyes and saw it again, his only landscape.  But it was different to stand and look at the reality.  It was not less beautiful; every detail of the land came up with its old excitement.  But it was not still as its image had been. It was no longer a landscape or a view, but a valley that people were using.”

That is what Y Gwyll does for the landscape of Ceredigion, it makes it not just a thing of beauty to look at but turns it into a landscape that is lived in capturing brilliantly along the way all the difficulties of life lived literally right on the edge.


Friday, 6 November 2015

When we all wanted to be Nicaraguans

When I was a student, (back in the day) one of things I did at our Poly was to help set up a Film Society to show films you could not ordinarily see. Every Friday night at six pm before heading for the pub we devoured anything with sub-titles.

The films from Latin America where always among the most interesting and challenging I learned so much about so many different parts of the world by watching their cinema. I love the art of a good story teller and I always found the rhythm and grammar of their films so much more interesting than the Hollywood standard.

The films of Chile, Argentina, Brazil and of course Cuba where in our schedule. Then came the Sandinista Revolution an event which gripped our imagination, we still have the mugs and the faded tee-shirts with pictures of the man in the big hat on them, Augusto Cesar Sandino. The overthrow of the Samoza dictatorship and the David and Goliath struggle between the FSLN, known as the Sandanistas, against the Contras backed by the USA.

This was the very early eighties when Mrs Thatcher was in her pomp and we took great heart from the Nicaraguan struggle. In artistic terms it produced some great literature as well as a series of short documentaries which we showed to gain support for the solidarity campaign.

In more recent years the radical democratisation of Latin America politics has generated some stunning new movies. The smaller Central American nations have all been gripped by this new wave but face considerable problems in getting films made there are the usual problems of raising cash and getting films distributed but in many ways made worse by the lack of the necessary film making skills. The nearest film school is as you may expect in Cuba.

It was a real delight then when back in 2010 after twenty years of silence this wave hit Nicaragua when Florence Jaugey’s film La Yuma hit the screens. Amazingly this was the first feature film to be made in the country for all that time!

That film told the story of a young woman who dreamt of escaping her bleak life in the slums of Managua by becoming a boxer. There was an extraordinary performance by Alma Blanco as Yuma, her strength, astuteness and determination reflected the feelings of the adversity and inequality faced by Nicaraguans.

It was an instant success shown in many film festivals receiving the audience award at the San Francisco festival.

Florence Jaugey’s film allowed us the rare opportunity to get a glimpse of life in a country which has been through so much in recent years. Florence, originally from France, came to Nicaragua in 1984 to be the lead actress in the movie El Señor Presidente by the prolific Cuban director Manuael Octavio Gomez.

In 1989, together with her partner Frank Pineda a Nicaraguan film maker, (he was second camera on Ken Loach’s film Carla’s Song) they set up in Managua an independent film company, the Camila Films Production Company. La Yuma was well received and it has received numerous awards at Festivals across the world.

Now we have the chance to go to the UK Premier of her new film La pantalla desnuda (the naked screen). Filmed in Matagalpa, Nicaragua, this is the story of a couple who topically find their intimate relationship is made public on social media.
To say making these movies is tough is an understatement. It took Florence ten years to make La Yuma despite being an award wining short film director. Her new film has cost $500,000 scraped together from sponsors and crowd funding. They have to do all sorts of work to make ends meet including working on BBC’s Caribbean with Simon Reeve broadcast earlier in this year.
As I began many of us remember the importance of short films in the Nicaraguan revolution when INCINE, the Instituto Nicaragüense de Cine, was important and of which Frank Pineda was a founder member, making dozens of short documentaries about the revolution.
As Florence Jaugey says, “It was a time before the internet, and a way of showing to the outside world what was happening in Nicaragua – everybody wanted to film, and be Nicaraguans!”

Now you can help support this fantastic new endeavour in bringing the lives of the underdogs to the silver screen by treating yourself to an afternoon of Nicaraguan film. You can see the UK premier of La Pantalla Desnuda / “The Naked Screen” (93 mins, 2014). Directed by Florence Jaugey together with one of her prize winning shorts “Cinema Alcázar” (10 mins, 1997) about an elderly woman who lives in what used to be a cinema, together with “Running in Solidarity” (10 mins, 2015). About a young woman runs the London Marathon for the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign. Directed by George Fuller. £12.50 or £7.50 (concessions) on the day, £11 or £6.50 in advance.

020 7561 4836 or