Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Update on Libya

Saif al-Islam seems to have a different definition of 'victory' to that shared by most people. I'm surprised he hasn't retreated to Algeria along with other members of his family

Russia has been finally forced to recognise the National Transitional Council. That has got to be painful after his earlier criticisms of NATO's actions. (

Elsewhere the Germans seem to be doing a lot of hand-wrangling over their foreign minister's decision to stay out of Libya. (,1518,783368,00.html). Most papers are criticising Westerwelle of the FDP for his choice to abstain on the UN decision to allow intervention in Libya. Of the papers quoted only the Berlin daily, der Tagesspiegel, refrains from such criticism. In fact it pushes a stronger line that not only was it the right decision in the circumstances but that the NATO intervention was one sided and unjustified. It even seems to suggest that Russia, China or Germany should have vetoed the resolution. Controversial stuff!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Righteously Indignant

So Dr Who is back after that unusual and unwelcome tactic of having a break in the middle of the series.

When I saw that the opening episode was called 'Let's kill Hitler' I think I was fairly justified in assuming that they'd try and put a new spin on the age old 'If you had a time machine why wouldn't you stop the Holocaust/WW2? question'. However, they neatly sidestepped this assumption by using it as an introductory spiel (They accidently save Hitler's life but are then very rude to him and lock him in a broom cupboard) to what they really wanted to focus on.

Hence righteously indignant, I was loooking forward to seeing what they'd do with it and spotting historical inaccuracies. Whatever criticisms of the series you may have you cannot say it is unoriginal and I'm sure they could have rehashed the familiar premise in a convincing manner.

However, maybe it is a blessing in disguise. Even if they had handled it in a new way, the 'killing Hitler' story has been gone over so many times that I think everyone is sick to death with the scenario (See also: JFK assassination). In the end we got an interesting episode that had a few nice twists and got rid of some inconvenient hanging plot lines - namely was young River Song going to stay regenerate-y forever and how does she eventually turn from evil, assassin Song to friendly, flirty Song).*

* Minor gripe- introducing a new character that is shown to have played a monumental role in the main character's lives but has never been referenced before is not big and it isn't clever. Dr Who is usually good at foreshadowing plot events so especially galling in this case!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Democracy, a danger to democracy?

This is a very French way of saying, 'I told you so' over the rebel's victory in Libya.

However, he does raise a good point. The public and even Western, democratic heads of state have a remarkable tendency to make excuses for dictators. Rebels always represent an unknown force and therefore prompt a barrage of questions:

'What if they turn out to be Communists/Islamists/Radicals'?
'What if they can't run the country efficiently'?
'What if they don't want to get as friendly with us as the authoritarian despot they replace was'?
'What if they threaten regional stability'?

Basically we need to support democracy whenever and wherever it has a realistic chance of success. Anything else encourages a sort of global 'Athenian' democracy where the privileged can only enjoy freedom because they repress and enslave (or allow the repression and enslavement by others) of those whose freedom is inconvenient. This creates a deeply immoral world order based on the principle that 'might makes right'. We injustly abrogate the right to choose who should be allowed to vote for their leaders and who shouldn't.

This might seem to make the world seem a more stable place from where we are standing. However, it doesn't really give use the moral high ground if in the future someone becomes more powerful than us and decides that our democracy is inconvenient to them. In the long run we are better off championing justice and the possibility of disorder rather than injustice and an illusory stability.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Hotel Journalism

Oops, journalists are being held hostage in the Rixos Hotel by Gadaffi forces. That should teach me to joke about back-seat journalism. They are still a hell of a lot closer to the front line than I am!

Edit - Thankfully it looks like they have been released without casualties.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Beginning of the end for Gadaffi .....?

After the news of rebel advances in the West of Libya over the weekend it seems that they have launched a successful lightning raid on Tripoli. Reports are still patchy (although endearingly the article contains a reporter's-eye-view from their government-controlled hotel in Tripoli. A triumph for back-line journalism!). The rebels claim to to have taken 15-20% of the city and captured one of Gadaffi's sons which is difficult to confirm or deny. It is more certain that foreign journalists have heard firing in the city and that another of his son's compounds was attacked. The government have signalled willingness to negotiate with the Transitional Council.

Potentially this could be another false alarm. The BBC seem surprised by the speedy advance having recently reported the high level of support for Gadaffi inside the capitol and the presence of large numbers of soldiers. However, if it is true and the rebels take Tripoli or force Gadaffi into negotiations it is almost certain that Libya will go the way of democratising Tunisia and Egypt.

This is great news. After the initial successes of the 'Arab Spring' the situation seemed to have bogged down in the intransigence of entrenched dictators. Powerful conservative forces such as Saudi Arabia remain in the area and seemed set to consolidate their anti-democracy influence. Even Israel has proved ambivalent on the risings as it fears a break down of recent detente with Egypt when faced with a new, popular government. In short, I feared that the uprisings would slowly peter out despite the NATO intervention in Libya.

However a victory over Gadaffi, that hoary dinosaur of the African Middle East, could revitalise resistance to dictatorship. With the fall of the Libyan government, Bashar Al-Assid will look increasingly isolated in his violent response to demonstrations. Russia might even stop capitalizing on Western intervention with pro-tyranny propaganda as one of the reasons for their interest in the area collapses. Further impetus would be given to the remaining elites of Egypt and Tunisia in bringing about speedy and meaningful political reform.

So congratulations to the Libyan rebels. Hopefully this will be a triumph of international intervention in countries with violent and repressive governments. The disasters in Somalia, Rwanda and Yugoslavia have reinforced a deep seated pessimism about the effectiveness of UN-backed, international intervention. The stolid and worksmanlike, if not universally popular, success in Libya could help to exorcise these ever-recurring demons.

P.s. Cameron has cancelled his holidays (again!) to handle the Libyan fallout. Poor guy deserves a break.

Edit - ... and it has been confirmed that both of Gadaffi's aforementioned sons have been captured by rebels. The dictator himself has not been located, however.

Edit, Edit - Or maybe the rebels were making some of that up about capturing his sons. Face saving excuse = they must have got away.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

'Do-it-yourself' Arab Spring/Tottenham Riots coverage

Last night violence flared up again as angry youths stormed the streets of [Cairo/Hama/London]. Clad in [Burkhas/Westernised dress/Hoodies and tracksuit bottoms] the [Activists/Demonstrators/Youths] attacked security forces and smashed property in their campaign for [Democracy/Justice/Free stuff].

[Hilary Clinton/David Cameron/Raul Castro] criticized the heavy handed response of the [Syrian army/Bahraini Mukhabaret/British Met] to what many see as legitimate protest against a corrupt regime. They publicly demanded that police be taken off the streets and those who have been arrested be released.

However, others claim that the newspapers only portrays one side of the conflict and that the real aims of the uprising are far more sinister. “These rioters deserve to be hung” said [Bashar al-Assad/Gadaffi/an eighty year old from Croydon]. It has been suggested that despite claims that they are marching in support of [Democratic ideals/Religious tolerance/An end to police brutality] they have a deeper and darker agenda. “Marches in support of the government are ignored by the media.”, said one anonymous commentator, “The uprisings are portrayed as justified but in fact it is simply violence and looting carried out by [Islamists/Terrorists/Yobs].

All tongue in cheek of course. The protests about the shooting of Mark Duggan have obviously been hijacked by people who just want to cause trouble and fight the police (although this tension hasn't exactly been reduced by the government's mindless pushing of austerity measures in a time of high unemployment and economic melt down). I also think the protests in the Arab world are long overdue and have achieved real successes.

It just seems slightly hypocritical that the politicians who were praising street protesters in Syria and Egypt a month ago are now raging against the violence and disorder caused by street mobs in London and Birmingham. A little consistency please, Clegg and Cameron?

Monday, 1 August 2011


This picture makes me happy:

It was taken during the Soviet-Afghan war (1979-1989) and I suspect that the soldier is Russian from appearance and armament. Beyond that I don't know much about it but it has a bit of a Francis Ford Coppola surreality to it. If you look closely - the poppy in the end of the soldier's AK47 is an especially neat touch :)