Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Curious Case of Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada
So, it appears that Abu Qatada, a noted Islamist cleric with some rather unsavoury views on what should happen to non-Muslims, has been released again.

Cue the vicious outcry from all and sundry on how it is ridiculous that this man has not been deported. He's a baddie, they say. He should have gone ages ago.

It would appear that a little refreshment of his case would be in order. The Telegraph have produced an excellent timeline and summary of the situation - I won't repeat it in full, but I will highlight a few pieces which seem, to me, to be particularly important, and use it to answer a few myths about him.

1. He's an illegal immigrant and shouldn't be here anyway.
True - he entered Britain on a forged passport in September 1993. He immediately applied for asylum. Technically, those seeking asylum from persecution should claim it in the first friendly state they arrive in. It is perfectly possible that Qatada arrived by plane - to be honest, I can't find any reference that says how he arrived in this country. If it was any way other than by plane, then he was most likely at least in France first, in which case, why didn't he claim asylum there? However, the fact is that he was, rightly or wrongly, granted asylum in June 1994. He is therefore not an illegal immigrant, and the 'shouldn't be here anyway' argument is purely academic.

2. We're only trying to send him back where he belongs.
We are trying to deport him to Jordan, as he holds Jordanian citizenship. I doubt he would identify himself as Jordanian. He was born in Bethlehem in the West Bank in either 1959 or 1960, in what is now classed as the Palestinian Territories. At the time, it was occupied by Jordan. He is a Palestinian Muslim with Jordanian citizenship.

3. He's wanted in Jordan for crimes anyway - we should just send him there.
He isn't just wanted for crimes in Jordan - he has been tried and convicted in absentia. Yes, they held a trial for him without him actually being present to defend himself. In English Law, we refer to this concept - actually being there in person to contend your accusers - as habeas corpus. It is one of the oldest and most valued legal rights we have. The Jordanians didn't bother with it.

What concern of that is ours, I hear you say? Well, we granted him asylum, and therefore accepted some level of responsibility for him. We can't just turn him over to a foreign power without assurances that he's going to receive a fair trial.

4. They've said they're going to give him a fair trial.
They've said that, but that hasn't convinced the courts. Especially since the Jordanians have used evidence obtained by torture in trials before. This would be illegal under UK law, and given that we have assumed some responsibility for him, we can't just wash our hands of him. The condition of the Jordanian justice system is precisely the reason his deportation is being blocked.

5. But he's guilty of crimes in this country, isn't he?
He may well be, but given that he's never been charged, prosecuted, tried or convicted, we can't say for certain. He was arrested in February 2001 in connection with a plot to bomb Strasbourg Christmas Market, and was suspected of fomenting Islamist terrorism in Chechnya. However, he was not charged. He was bailed, and broke his bail conditions in December 2001. He was found and re-arrested in October 2002, and detained in Belmarsh High Security Prison. He was still not charged.

He was held in Belmarsh without charge or trial for 3 years, before finally being released on conditional bail  and subjected to a control order. He was shortly re-arrested under immigration rules, as part of the Government's attempt to deport him to Jordan. He was re-imprisoned without trial for a further 3 years. The Court of Appeal ruled that he could not be deported, as the Jordanian Government could not assure him a fair trial. He was again bailed, and then re-arrested after the Home Office told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a UK court which is held in secret, that he was at high risk of absconding.

He has been in and out of prison in the UK for over 10 years, but he has never been charged or tried in a court of law.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
6. This is just the EU telling us to keep him, isn't it?
No. In 2009, the Law Lords (then the highest legal authority in the UK) ruled that he could be deported to Jordan on the basis of the diplomatic assurances given. He appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), an international court established just after World War Two, which has a far wider jurisdiction than the EU. They awarded him compensation on the basis of his detention without charge or trial in 2009, but in 2012, the ECHR agreed with the Law Lords that he could be deported, provided that there was no risk of evidence obtained via torture being used against him.

Qatada's legal team again appealed to the ECHR (within the deadline, despite the Home Secretary Teresa May's objections to the contrary), but their appeal was rejected.

By and large, the ECHR, not the EU, agree with the decisions of the UK courts.

7. So why has he been released again?
Qatada was granted another hearing at the secret UK court of SIAC (Special Immigrations Appeal Commission) to test the diplomatic assurances provided by the Jordanian Government. He won that appeal, and has been released on bail again. Again, the UK courts (even the secret ones) remain unconvinced that he will receive a fair trial if he is deported to Jordan.

8. So why don't we just try him here? He'll receive a fair trial in the UK, surely?
That is a very fucking good question. Not only, 'why do we not try him here?', but also, 'why has he not already been tried?'

Both the previous and current UK Governments have detained Qatada without bothering to attempt to try him, and have actively tried to deport him to a foreign state in the full knowledge that he may be tortured if he goes, or that he may not receive a fair trial. And then we have protests from different people calling for changes to human rights legislation, and even for Ministers to be allowed to decide who stays in the country!

Qatada keeps being successful in his appeals because, put quite simply, what the Government is trying to do is wrong. They are trying to render a man to a foreign power which may torture him or subject him to a show trial, simply because they think he is a danger to national security, but refuse to submit those allegations to legal scrutiny. And because this man has some reprehensible views and has said some horrible things, people agree with them. And they are so desperate to be rid of him that they are considering changing the law, and thus trampling over the legal rights of everyone in the country in order to do it.

The reason all these checks and balances and hearings and appeals are taking place, the reason that human rights legislation exists, the reason for habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, the reason for all of this is not to stop the Government from dealing with horrible people. It is to protect the rest of us from horrible Governments.

Personally, I could not give a twopenny fuck what happens to Qatada. I care greatly about a Government that operates under the auspices of the law, and doesn't just decide to stamp all over individual rights when it suits their objectives. If they say he's a bad 'un, I'm inclined to agree. But my gut feeling, and the say-so of some politicians, is not a sufficient basis to condemn someone.

Try him. List your charges and give your evidence in open court. What, HM Government, are you afraid of? What are you hiding?

Monday, 12 November 2012

Rejecting Remembrance Day

Cranmer got there first, but I thought that I had to pass comment on this.

The Acting President of the University of London Union, a chap called Daniel Cooper, was invited to lay a wreath at the University's Remembrance Service, in his capacity as Union President.

He refused, and published an open letter listing his reasons why. The full text can be found on Cranmer's blog.

Time to put on the fisking gloves...

Ordinary people in the UK formed many of the first war veterans’ organisations. For example, the Labour-aligned “National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers” was set up in 1917, campaigning for better war pensions and jobs – excluding officers from membership. The left-Liberal organized “National Federation of Discharged and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers” campaigned under the slogan “justice not charity”. In response, a charity for ex-servicemen was launched in 1921, in opposition to these organisations, and the sale of poppies marked the build-up to Remembrance Day.

So? The political Left don't have a monopoly on compassion, you know?

It is named after Sir Douglas Haig, the British senior officer responsible for the massacre at the battles of the Somme and the Passchendaele.

Again, so what? Field Marshal Haig was indeed in command during the Battle of the Somme and Passchendaele, and it is fair to say he shares a proportion of the blame. However, there are a couple of points to make:
  1. He wasn't solely responsible. I'd hazard a guess that at least part of the responsibility falls on the German commander as well, not to mention the geopolitical motivations of political leaders of both the Triple Entente and the Central Powers. Just a thought, of course.
  2. It's all very well criticising Haig in hindsight, nearly 100 years after the event. In fact, when the British Legion was established, Haig was regarded as a bit of a hero. The painting of him as a heartless incompetent has been a fairly recent development.
The British Legion continued to veer further to the political right, with figures like Lord Derby taking a lead on its work.

Again, so what? Being on the political Right doesn't make you evil. The Legion's primary motivation has been, and continues to be, the care of former servicemen.

Today the colossal loss of life, misery and suffering is commemorated in a way that doesn’t fit with the reality of what took place in WW1.

You are completely misunderstanding the point. The reason we have 2 minutes' silence on the 11th of November is because that's when the war ended. We don't commemorate the war - we commemorate it's ending. There's a big difference.

Before 1914 there had been no major war for a century.

The defence presents Exhibit A: the Crimean War. Less than a century before. This is historically regarded as the first major conflict between industrialised powers; however, the Russians were still less advanced, which is why they lost. However, the suffering of the soldiers in the Crimea was very much in the public's mind - hence the institution of the Victoria Cross, and the efforts of people such as Mary Secole and Florence Nightingale.

This was the first example in history of “total war”, a break from the hitherto dominant model of state craft and diplomacy.

This was not the first example of 'total war'. Previous conflicts had been fought along similar lines, including the War of Independence, the Crusades, the 100 Years War, the Napoleonic Wars and others. Are you somehow implying that these conflicts were somehow more civilised? Complete rubbish. The only difference is one of scale - the Great War was bigger, and between industrialised powers of approximately equal technological status.

It plunged the world into a chasm of barbarism, industrialised killing and ruin beyond imagination.

Again, you are implying that the world was actually a nice place to live before all these nasty empires with their evil technology came along. I suppose it was, as long as you ignore the crushing poverty and dynastic oppression of medieval monarchies. Oh, wait...

The imperial age was not a pleasant one, to be sure, but it can't really be argued that it was significantly worse than what had gone before. Humans have made a hobby of murdering each other since the dawn of time. As I've said, the only difference is one of scale. And, in the case of the Allies, their reasons for opposing the Central Powers was they did not want to see a single police state i.e. a potential unification between the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, dominate Europe.

The poet Siegred Sasson...

That would be Siegfried Sassoon. I studied him in GCSE English Literature as well, but I can remember how to spell his name.

The war wasn’t an act of liberation, or self defence from despotism, as our leaders today preach. The British Empire feared the growing industrial and military power of imperial Germany. The war that exploded in 1914 was a war to re-divide the world. It was a scramble for colonial possessions, markets and resources amongst the major nations.

You are either accidentally or wilfully ignorant of the causes of the Great War, and are falling into the trap of the modern narrative of the war, which is a far cry from what actually happened. For a start, as I have already mentioned, it was not so much the German Empire which the British had a problem with, but the fact that they had formed a key strategic alliance with the other major power in Central Europe, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And it wasn't just us that was concerned - we were in a Triple Entente with France and Russia, in an attempt to contain an absolute monarchy and police state which looked set to dominate Europe. Admittedly, the Russian Empire operated on a similar basis, but both Britain and France were democracies. Even taking into account our imperial dominions, our system of government was still much fairer than either the Germans' or the Austro-Hungarians.

The primary claim by governments at the time, and today, is that the war would be laying claim to our freedoms, and preserving our democratic traditions. But at the same time as the war, most in the UK were not politically enfranchised or even held basic democratic rights, particularly women and working class people.

Actually, there had been significant steps forward in terms of suffrage during the 19th Century. Approximately 60% of men had the vote just before World War One. And again, although this was far from perfect, it was far better than the autocratic, absolutist model favoured by the Central Powers. Indeed, the Suffragettes movement was well underway at this point - the only reason they didn't get the vote earlier was because of the war.

As for the working classes, all male heads of household had the vote, regardless of their income, assets or social standing. Of course, there were more people per household in the working classes, so they were less franchised, but they at least had something. In Gemany, Austria or Hungary, they would have had nothing.

A wave of revolutions followed across Europe, some were limited, and others developed into full blown changes in the status quo, for example in Russia the working class took power.

The Russian Revolution happened in 1917, during the war, not after it. And it wasn't the 'working class' that took power - it was a small group of educated hardline revolutionaries, which had Tsar Nicholas and the rest of the royal family murdered, and then set about establishing one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in human history. The Soviet Union killed more people than Nazi Germany. It's not what I'd call improvement to the governmental system of the Russian Empire.

This legacy is not documented.

Yes, it is. It's just that the facts don't fit with your ideology.

The Prime Minister David Cameron wants the lessons of the war to remain with us but the dominant narrative on show is one-sided and distorted. It mourns the dead and regrets their loss. But at the same time it exalts their “necessary sacrifice”. The war was terrible, the argument goes, but the price was worth paying.

You seem to be implying that Remembrance Day is solely to commemorate the First World War. As I have stated before, this is not true. Remembrance Day was instituted to commemorate the end of the First World War, but in its modern context, we use it to honour the deaths of everyone who has given their lives in defence of what freedom we have, whenever that sacrifice was made. Certainly, in the context of World War Two, when we were facing a scale of State-sponsored murder the likes of which mankind had never seen before, it was worth paying.

Cameron deems Friday’s remembrance should be a “to capture our national spirit” and display “national pride”, this is the same sentiment as the purported challenge to accepted national values trumpeted by war politicians in the lead up to 1914 . Today the military and monarchy stand tall at the front of the day of remembrance.

Personally, I am proud of the role that Britain has played throughout the ages in the cause of freedom. This is the nation that brought common law, democracy, industrialisation (which has caused a massive increase in life expectancy and quality of life) and good governance to billions of people across the globe. This is the nation that abolished slavery, that confronted political hegemony, that defied fascism. Our military and monarchy are symbols of our nation and everything we represent. Truly, ours is the greatest nation upon the face of the earth.

Mourning the butchery of thousands of ordinary people through an act of remembrance side by side with the inheritors of an economic system which created the war is not something I wish to take part in. It is an insult to those sent to die, victims of the self interested advancement of the British Empire.

Ah, now we come to it. It is not the act of remembrance you oppose, it is the participation of people with different political principles to you. Well, then, I suggest you grow the fuck up, you child. And as for the 'economic system which created the war', economic systems don't create wars. I don't see anything in capitalism about advocating the murder of other people, only free trade with them. People create wars. And in terms of your implied alternative economic model, that's totally perfect, isn't it? Soviet Russia, Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Uganda, North Korea, Nazi Germany (yes, the Nazis were National Socialists)... your implied alternative has killed more people than capitalism and laissez-faire imperialism put together.

We should instead remember the internationalists and socialists. We should remember the figures like Karl Kraus, one of many poets and satirists, who denounced the war. We should remember the soldiers that downed tools to build relationships with each other.

Of course we should remember those who opposed the war - they did so rightly, and if only the cause of democracy had been further advanced in both the Central and Entente Powers, the war would probably not have happened. However, it took the war to further that cause. It is the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers that allow us to have a tolerant, liberal society today. It is their deaths that, indeed, allow you to form and express such ridiculous opinions. And yet, despite this sacrifice being the primary reason for your freedom, you choose to reject an act of remembrance of that, simply because you disagree with the political motivations of their leaders at the time, and the people who also participate in this act.

You are a petty, obnoxious, ignorant, prejudiced imbecile, to put such petty divisions before an act of such solemn meaning. Grow up.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The US Election

President Barack Obama
So, the most important election in the world is currently underway. Citizens of the United States of America are choosing who will occupy the most influential and powerful office in the world for the next 4 years.

Someone recently asked me, 'why do we pay so much attention to the American elections, and they practically ignore ours?' Because, quite simply, theirs is much more important. POTUS is far more influential and powerful than PMOTUK. We might not have a say in who he (or she) is, but we are certainly influenced by them.

It's been a tight race. Some have called it for Romney. I'd say that's a bit optimistic - whilst, on the balance of policies, I agree with Romney more than I agree with Obama, as this goes to pixel, the latter holds a narrow lead in the key swing states. It's likely to go to Obama.

However, I find some of the coverage of the election a bit nauseating. Especially one such article in the Guardian, which states:

'Racial prejudice, covert or otherwise, also partly explains why a majority of white males will vote against Obama.'

Really? A majority of white males will vote against Obama just because he's black? Now, I have been a critic of how Obama has been treated because of his skin colour. No other President in US history has ever been required to publish their birth certificate to prove that they are 'naturally-born'. However, the astonishing assertion that 'a majority of white males' will vote against Obama simply because he's black is ludicrous. That is implying that the majority of white males cannot make a rational decision based on the fact that, say:
  • Obama's a spendthrift who can't keep Government debt under control, and has had a tendency to play 'financial chicken' with the Republicans and the markets;
  • His priority during a time of profound economic crisis has been forcing through a divisive and expensive healthcare scheme;
  • He has presided over a period of political gridlock, and has comprehensively failed to deliver the 'change' to the Washington establishment that he promised;
  • Many Americans fundamentally disagree with Obama's big-state corporatist model of government, having the limitation of government constitutionally programmed into them.
I, personally, as a white male, don't give a flying fuck what colour someone's skin is. It has about as much relevance as their eye colour, hair colour or whether they wear glasses or not. If I could have voted for Obama in 2008, I would have done, not because of his skin colour, but because of his policies. And now, if I could vote for him, I wouldn't, not because of his skin colour, but because of his record in office. And I suspect that the 'majority of white males' in America may well come to a similar conclusion.

Only the Guardian could imply that entire demographic is being racist. Of course, implying that an entire demographic is guilty of one particular characteristic is stereotyping, and therefore, you know... racist. And of course, black people voting for Obama simply because he's black isn't racist at all, is it?

He's got black skin. I suggest we all get the fuck over it, accept that it does not matter, and concentrate on his policies and record in office.

Monday, 5 November 2012

The Living Wage

A £7.20 per hour minimum wage?
So, I see that, at last, Labour's 'blank sheet' finally has something written on it. They finally have a policy. This policy is the 'Living Wage' - a proposal to increase the minimum wage to a whopping £7.20 an hour.

Fantastic, I hear people say. Brilliant. What better way to support the lowest paid than to give them more money? No one should be working on less than that, anyway!

There are two reasons why this policy is crap. The first one is that it will force employers to pay everyone working for them £7.20 an hour. If they consider that someone working for them is not worth £7.20 an hour, they will sack them. Good one, Labour. You will successfully put lots of poor people out of work, thereby making them even poorer.

It also means that people cannot sell their own labour at a rate the market will pay. If people out of work have skills which the labour market deems are worth less than £7.20 an hour, they won't be able to get a job. They will be imprisoned in poverty, dependent on State handouts, because the Government has price-fixed their only asset, i.e. their ability to work. It sucks.

Next reason that it sucks is the tax system. Currently, the Income Tax personal allowance is £8,105. Which means that, if you are earning £7.20 an hour, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, you will get paid the grand sum of £14,976. The first £8,105 of this is tax-free - the rest will be taxed at 20%. So you will owe the Government £1,374.20.

Still, that's not so bad, I hear you say. True - it wouldn't be, but it's not the end of the story. Enter the second Income Tax - National Insurance.

The personal allowance for National Insurance is £107 per week, or £5,564 per year. A lot lower than the threshold for Income Tax. So your excess over that will also be subject to National Insurance at 12%. You will therefore owe the Government a further £1,129.44. This gives Labour's total proposed tax bill to someone on minimum wage at £2,503.64.

So the net wage that such a person would receive, after the thieving Government have taken their slice, is £12,472.36. Which equates to £6.00 an hour. The current minimum wage is £6.19 for people aged 21 and over.

So, therefore, the difference between Labour's 'Living Wage' and the current minimum wage is the tax paid. Labour's position is therefore: 'we are too fucking stingy to cut tax on the poorest people in society, we'd much rather spend that money on our self-aggrandisement projects. Therefore, as a sop, we'll make their employers fork out for it instead, which will act as an extra cost to businesses during a time when many of them are already struggling. Not to mention that, by virtue of this plan targeting the lower-paid, it will also affect smaller companies much more.'

How about just exercising some fucking restraint in public spending so that you don't have to rob poor people? Fuck's sake.