- Headlines for June 21, 2018
- Trump Admin to Indefinitely Detain Migrant Families Together; No Plan to Reunite Separated Children
- GEO Group & Private Prisons Stand to Profit as Trump Pushes Indefinite Family Detention
- Report from McAllen, Texas: No One Knows What Will Happen Now to Separated Migrant Children
- Lawsuit Claims Detained Migrant Children Have Been Forcibly Injected With Powerful Psychiatric Drugs
- Yemenis Accuse UAE Officers of Sexual Torture Inside Secret Prisons
- Headlines for June 20, 2018
- Seymour Hersh: Media Today Must Cover Yemen & Trump Policy, Not Get Distracted by Tweets
- Remembering the My Lai Massacre: Seymour Hersh on Uncovering the Horrors of Mass Murder in Vietnam
- Investigative Reporter Sy Hersh: Working with Gene McCarthy's Presidential Bid Shaped My Life Path
- Sy Hersh: I Knew Richard Nixon Beat His Wife in 1974, But Did Not Report the Story
- Sy Hersh: Henry Kissinger Must "Count Burned and Maimed Cambodian & Vietnamese Babies" in His Sleep
- Seymour Hersh on Torture at Abu Ghraib & Secret U.S. Assassination Programs
After three years of destruction and bombardment, the war in Yemen has reached what many believe will be an even more deadly stage.
Despite the efforts of the United Nations and other international organisations to avert it, this week saw the start of the Saudi-led coalition’s assault on the port town of Hodeida. Aid agencies warn that the humanitarian toll could be truly horrendous, with Save the Children estimating that 300,000 children are at risk of injury or death as a result of the fighting.
Hodeida has been a particular focus of the ongoing civil war, with over 70% of Yemen’s food and aid shipments passing through the town. The years of war, and the breakdown of vital infrastructure, have made it an even more critical lifeline for people across the country.
Its importance was made clear last year when Saudi forces ignored pressure from the international community and imposed a strict blockade on the port. Lifesaving goods were stopped from entering, and, despite some easing over recent months, food and fuel deliveries are still far beneath the levels that Yemen needs.
Even prior to the bombing, the people of Yemen were enduring what the United Nations Secretary General has called the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” UN figures show that 22.2 million people are in need of assistance.
Schools, hospitals and vital infrastructure have been destroyed across the country, leading to mass starvation and the spread of deadly diseases. Even this week, MSF reported that one of its cholera treatment centres being destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition.
It is a man-made crisis, and one that has been exacerbated by the complicity and support of arms companies and politicians across the world.
The UK government bears a particular responsibility, with UK fighter jets and bombs having played a central role in the bombardment. Since the conflict began the UK has licensed over £4.6 billion worth of arms to the Saudi regime. It is almost certain that these weapons are being used right now in Hodeida.
The arms sales have been complemented by unbending and uncritical political support. The depravity of the relationship was on full display in February, when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) visited London.
Over the course of three days he was given the full red carpet treatment with fawning appreciation and tributes of Downing Street and Buckingam Palace. He took part in photo opportunities and enjoyed the prestige and legitimacy that goes with a state visit.
We were all told what a progressive force he supposedly is, with far less being said about the appalling human rights abuses that are carried out against Saudi people every day, or the war he has overseen.
Unsurprisingly, his visit ended with celebrations and cheering for BAE Systems and the other arms companies that have profited from the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. As MBS flew out it was announced that the UK and the Saudi military were one step closer to a multi-billion pound arms deal.
The rampant hypocrisy and callous doublespeak of the government’s appalling position was made even clearer this week, when the Middle East Minister, Alistair Burt, stressed that “only a political solution can bring long-term stability to Yemen – there is no military solution.” It sounds like a fine sentiment, but one that is totally at odds with a foreign policy that has only fuelled and prolonged the war.
If Burt and his colleagues really believe that there is no military solution then why have they done so much to strengthen and support the Saudi military? Why have they continued to allow UK weapons to be exported and used in a military campaign which by their own admission cannot succeed?
Every major humanitarian organisation with people in Yemen has warned that the humanitarian situation is one of the most desperate in the world, and that it could be about to get a lot worse. The history books will show that Ministers like Burt, and governments like the UK, have enabled the suffering. Now they must do everything they can to stop it.
“Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football,” Albert Camus famously wrote, and perhaps he was onto something.
As the World Cup kicks off in Russia, there are surely lessons to be gleaned from the beautiful game.
From the sublime fluidity of the Brazil’s team-goal against Italy in 1970 to the ridiculous mendacity of Maradona’s Hand of God in 1986: from the pathos of Gascoigne’s tears at Italia ’90 to the visceral shock of Zidane’s head-butt in 2006, we could do worse than use football to reflect on our individual and collective responsibilities to one another.
Football teaches us about team work and camaraderie, about courage and fair play but most importantly, it teaches us that some things are more important than winning. Indeed, the lessons of football extend beyond our individual and collective behaviour and — at the risk of stretching an analogy way too far — I invite you to imagine that the world is like a football stadium.
Just as FIFA sets the rules of the game on the pitch, so countries, through organisations such as the United Nations, have set out the rules of the game on the world stage. Through documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which marks its 70th anniversary this year, we have created a framework of international law designed to promote and protect our rights.
Human rights are about respect, fairness, justice and equality. Just as footballers should be free to express themselves on the football pitch, so all people should have the right to express their views and practice their religion.
In the same way that footballers should be able to move around the pitch so long as they don’t stray off-side, so people should enjoy freedom of assembly. Just as footballers should not be shown the red card for no reason, so no one should be arbitrarily arrested, abused or detained without a fair trial.
As with the rules of football, human rights are well established and internationally agreed. In the same way that football teams are required to respect the rules of the game, so nations are expected to uphold international human rights laws.
Just as referees are there to ensure that the rules of the game are not broken, so organizations such as Amnesty International, are there to blow the whistle on countries that violate human rights. If there is a breach, bodies such as the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court are there to ensure there is no impunity.
In the same way that video technology is now being used to help football referees, so sophisticated digital tools are helping human rights organizations to identify rights abuses and end impunity.
The ubiquity of mobile phones and increased access to the Internet has facilitated sharing videos or images that can serve as evidence of war crimes, violations of human rights and abuse. In addition, satellite technology helps expose crimes in isolated places which might have remained hidden in the past.
Amid the seemingly unrelenting tide of horror that fills our headlines it is legitimate to ask why so many countries refuse to play by the rules. Imagine the chaos in Russia if one team ignored the rules of the game and were allowed to get away with it. Other teams would be encouraged to do the same. Players would be handling the ball and fouling each other all over the pitch, ignoring the whistles of the referee and the incandescent rage of the crowd.
Some government leaders have attempted to justify human rights violations with talk of national security and the need to keep their citizens safe. But the truth is, there can be no genuine security without human rights.
Other leaders, including the likes of Presidents Trump, al-Sisi, Duterte, Maduro, Putin, and Xi, do not even attempt to justify undermining the rights of their citizens. This cannot be allowed to go on.
It is time for collective action. It will take commitment, vision and cooperation but it is important to recognize that we are not powerless. A football team at the World Cup that egregiously and repeatedly breaches FIFA rules would face fines, points deductions or even suspension.
In the same way, it is time for the world to come together and show rights abusing governments the red card.
It’s been a strange year for Tommy Robinson, aka Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, the founder of the English Defense League. In February, he was cited as a key influence on the Finsbury Mosque attacker, Darren Osbourne. At the end of March, he was banned from Twitter. In April, he led a ‘free speech’ demonstration in London that was attended by a few thousand people, mostly from the Football Lads Alliance. Now, in the space of two weeks, this anti-Muslim ideologue, hatemonger and self-promoting grifter has become a hero-martyr and the focus of an international cult following.
This improbable transformation began two weeks ago, on 27 May, when Robinson was arrested outside Leeds Crown Court, during one of three separate trials involving the same group of mostly Pakistani-heritage men in northern cities accused of the sexual exploitation of mostly white women and young girls.
Robinson’s appearance was part of an ongoing attempt to monetize himself as an independent ‘reporter’ – a vocation that has often focused on the issue of sexual grooming cases. For Robinson, these revolting and deeply disturbing crimes are only of interest insofar as their perpetrators are Muslims and their victims are white.
Like his ideological peers, Robinson has presented these crimes as a product of Islam, and another sign that British society is in thrall to a barbaric and alien Islamic culture/religion, supported by a politically-correct liberal establishment. To promote this agenda, this ‘citizen-journalist’ has taken to hanging around outside ongoing trials of grooming cases, in order to frame them for his audiences as ‘Muslim’ crimes.
Of course, this is not reportage in any conventional sense of the term. Robinson does not follow the court proceedings themselves. In fact, his activities have actually threatened to capsize difficult and complex trials by breaching reporting restrictions. In one case, in Canterbury last year, he waited outside the courtroom, haranguing the defendants as they came and went from the court. As a result, he was charged with contempt of court and given a suspended sentence – and a warning that his behaviour ran the risk of undermining ongoing trials.
Despite this, Robinson spent more than an hour livestreaming from outside Leeds Crown Court on 27 May, doing exactly what he was told not to do. In his video, Robinson can be seen haranguing defendants who he himself admits have not yet been found guilty, for no other obvious purpose except to promote himself and transmit his disgust to the 250,000 people who watched.
Nothing Robinson did that day made any contribution whatsoever to furthering the cause of justice. His interest was purely parasitical. After more than an hour of this vigilante-journalism, Robinson was arrested for breach of the peace, and subsequently charged with contempt of court. That same day, he was given ten months in prison, and a further three months for breaching his previous sentence.
For the next two days, a strange situation ensued in which the UK press, still obeying reporting restrictions on the trial, did not report Robinson’s arrest even though the news had already gone viral. Within hours, right-wing websites and TV channels on both sides of the Atlantic were reporting on Robinson’s ‘disappearance’, describing him as a ‘political prisoner.’
A petition calling for Robinson’s release garnered 500,000 signatures within a week. On Twitter, he was variously compared to Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. Internet memes showed him with his mouth taped. A widely-circulated painting showed Sadiq Khan attaching a noose around Robinson’s neck. Poems were written in his honour, including a ‘grandma’s poem’ that proclaimed ‘Our government won’t beat us/we will never bend the knee/to the evil plans of Islam/We Britons will be free.’
The tone of this coverage was summed up by a headline in A pro-Trump website Canada Free Press: ‘”Great” Britain Imprisons Man for Speaking Out Against Child Rape'”. Standing outside the British embassy in the Hague, the sinister peroxide imp Gert Wilders compared the UK to North Korea and Saudi Arabia, and warned that “the lights of freedom are going out” all over Europe.
On 29 May, reporting restrictions on Robinson’s arrest were lifted, thanks to a request by a courageous local reporter named Stephanie Finnegan. By that time, demonstrations calling for his release had been held in the UK, the United States, Europe and Australia. On Saturday, June 9th, between 10,000 and 15,000 people took part in a ‘Free Tommy’ demonstration in Trafalgar Square, where they heard speeches from Gert Wilders, Breitbart’s Raheem Kassam, far-right firebrand Anne-Marie Waters, UKIP leader Gerard Batten, and others. As expected, these protests degenerated into a drunken riot, in which hundreds of protesters attacked and chased away the unprepared police.
Incredibly, the ‘#Free Tommy’ campaign has become a catalyst for the largest and most dangerous far-right mobilisation in the UK in decades. It’s a national movement, galvanised and emboldened by Brexit ‘taking our country back’ rightwing ‘resistance’ narratives, and surfing on a toxic wave of ethnonationalism, xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment. Robinson has also become a free speech icon for an international rightwing network that reaches across Europe and into Trump’s America, whose members share a common loathing of Islam, globalism, multiculturalism, immigration and George Soros.
Not surprisingly, the Free Tommy campaign has attracted huge interest in conservative/far-right circles in the US, where Robinson’s arrest has been interpreted as further evidence of the ‘death of Europe’ and a validation of Trumpism. Robinson’s arrest has been heavily covered by all the usual suspects such as Fox News, FrontPage, Jihad Watch, the Gatestone Institute, and Alex Jones’s InfoWars.
It is easy — but nevertheless essential — to point out the idiocy, the ignorance, and truly epic lying and dishonesty that has brought about this bizarre outcome. No one can be surprised that Alex Jones, a commentator who cannot breathe without lying, has claimed that Robinson is being ‘tortured’ in prison because he revealed ‘secret courts in England with massive numbers of Muslims being convicted for running giant child kidnapping and sexual exploitation gangs.’
The (marginally) more mainstream Fox News also claimed that Robinson was arrested for ‘daring to talk about sexual abuse rings run by Muslim immigrants to the UK.’ Douglas Murray — a longtime fan of Robinson’s — appeared on the network to describe his arrest as an example of how “people in power always try to stamp down on dissent.”
Few of these commentators paid any attention to the actual legal reasons for Robinson’s arrest, or acknowledged the fact that reporting restrictions are intended to protect the victims and ensure a fair trial. This jaw-dropping indifference to facts is not simply a cultural product of the 21st century ‘post-truth’ era. Robinson’s supporters lie about him because it suits them.
In effect, Robinson has become a fictional character in a paranoid fantasy that springs directly from the diseased imagination of the 21st century far-right: the humble English Yeoman who finally stands up to what Alex Jones has called a “foreign cancerous political cult” and leads a rebellion against the ‘elite’ that is supposedly enabling and facilitating the UK’s transformation into an Islamic colony.
Variations on this hysterical narrative have been coursing endlessly through social media these last two weeks, often fused with the ferocious hatred against Muslims and Islam — or against anyone who presents facts or arguments that contradict the narrative. When Stephanie Finnegan posted a thread explaining the facts behind Robinson’s arrest, she was viciously abused, and — naturally — threatened with rape.
For all their interest in ‘the truth’, Robinson’’s supporters are only interested in the truth that suits them. On the one hand there is nothing new about that. The far right has always trafficked in lies, paranoia and fantasy. But the range and breadth of the #Free Tommy movement suggests that such qualities have a much wider constituency that is now making serious inroads towards the mainstream.
These developments coincide with the most serious peacetime crisis in modern British history. A cowardly and incompetent political class has brought the country to political chaos, emboldening racists and xenophobes across the country, creating festering and vicious political divisions in which tabloid newspapers call judges and politicians ‘traitors’.
Austerity has left a trail of poverty, bitterness and resentment across the country – much of which is directed at immigrants or people perceived to be immigrants. Islamic State and other jihadist groups routinely carry out mass murder with the precise aim of generating the kind of hatred that the #Free Tommy movement has fastened onto.
All these factors combine to pose a grave and unique threat to the future of British democracy, to social cohesion, tolerance and coexistence, and to the multi-ethnic society that Robinson and his supporters detest. Faced with the very real prospect of a collapsing post-Brexit economy, and the ongoing prospect of more jihadist atrocities, the #FreeTommy movement may yet acquire an audience that the BNP and the National Front could only dream of, when Robinson gets out of jail and starts to receive some serious money from the same people who helped finance Trump and Brexit.
In this Weimar-like atmosphere, the Robinson cult may herald a wider transformation, in which the fringe moves to the mainstream, facts and truth are demolished, and the most grotesque fantasies become credible. This outcome is a failure of successive governments, but it’s also a failure of the left — in the broadest sense of the term — to develop counter-movements and counter-narratives to the toxic fantasies of cultural invasion and exclusionary identities propagated by Robinson’s many supporters.
That needs to change, and quickly. “Pity the nation that has need of heroes”, wrote Brecht, and few heroes are more pitiful, more undeserving and more unlikely than Tommy Robinson, and his canonisation tells us as much about the debased political and social climate in this country as it does about the movement that spawned him.
- Headlines for June 13, 2018
- A Humanitarian Catastrophe: U.S.-Backed Forces Attack Key Yemeni Port Imperiling Millions
- "Relic of Jim Crow Era": Ari Berman on Supreme Court's Decision to Uphold Ohio's Voter Purge
- Special Report: In the Streets with the New Poor People's Campaign Against Racism and Poverty
- Religious Leaders Shackled, Held in Jail Overnight, After Praying in Protest Outside Supreme Court
- Headlines for June 12, 2018
- Trump Vows to End "Provocative" War Games on Korean Peninsula After Historic Summit with Kim Jong-un
- A New Day for the Korean Peninsula: Christine Ahn Hails Denuclearization Pledge & New Peace Process
- Prof. Bruce Cumings: U.S. Bombing in Korea More Destructive Than Damage to Germany, Japan in WWII
- Rep. Ro Khanna: If U.S.-North Korea Summit Happened Under Obama, Democrats Would Be Cheering
- Headlines for June 11, 2018
- 123 Deaths a Day: Inside the Public Health Crisis of Rising Suicide Rates in the United States
- "What Truth Sounds Like": Michael Eric Dyson on New Book About RFK, James Baldwin & Race in America
- Michael Eric Dyson on NFL Protests, Malcolm Jenkins & Listening to Black Americans on Issues of Race
- Headlines for June 08, 2018
- As EPA Scandals Mount, Scott Pruitt Is Radically Reshaping Agency to Aid Polluters and Big Business
- Israeli Military Pushes Misleading Video in Attempt to Smear Slain Palestinian Medic Razan al-Najjar
- After Trip to Gaza, Anthony Bourdain Accused World of Robbing Palestinians of Their Basic Humanity
- Kathy Kelly on Afghanistan: Destitution, Unemployment & Hunger Must Be Addressed to Achieve Peace
- Headlines for June 07, 2018
- Trump Frees Alice Johnson; What About Thousands Still Serving Life for Nonviolent Drug Offenses?
- Students Push to Oust Nicaraguan President Ortega as Death Toll Rises Amid Bloody Police Crackdown
- The Country Is Crying: Nicaraguan Mother Demands Justice After Police Kill Her Son at Protest
- Mexican Court Orders Truth Commission to Oversee New Investigation of 43 Disappeared Students