Tag Archives: violence

Ross Kemp: Middle East

If you were disturbed last night by a noise you couldn’t identify, it was probably the wailing and gnashing of teeth of those who would consider themselves proper, serious journalists, having just watched the Ross Kemp documentary on Israel. The programme was screened over two weeks, with last week’s showing the situation in Gaza and last night’s that in Israel. Like those journalists, I confess, I was prepared to be cynical.

Within minutes of the start of the first programme, Kemp was having his bag searched by a member of Hamas at the border, before embarking on a trip to watch terrorists set roadside bombs, which the voiceover assured us were later removed without causing injury. So far, this ticked all the adrenaline-junkie boxes. However, his savoir-faire was further ruffled, and the journalistic corps given additional cause for heart failure, when he interviewed a young lawyer who had decided to become a suicide bomber. Complete with crudely-made face mask and explosive belt, he was a picture out of any bus traveller’s worst nightmare. Even the normally gung-ho Kemp looked stunned. Resolute of stare and sure of voice, the young man set out his reasons for choosing this terrible destiny.

This, for me, was where the documentary jumped light years ahead of Kemp’s usual bullets and glory soirees into dangerous territory.

War brings war

the terrorist told him, taking Israel’s strikes on Gaza in early 2009 as his justification for action. This tied in with a comment from the UN Director of Operations for Gaza, who warned:

if you treat people as hostile, they will become hostile

I was once a 24-year-old lawyer and I knew plenty of others, from all faiths and classes. None, I am certain, had ever contemplated suicide attacks on civilians, unless perhaps on a specific group of recruitment specialists keeping us out of the Magic Circle firms and away from the six-figure salaries therein. When you are young and idealistic, the urge to be a lawyer usually stems from, according to my own unscientific straw-polling anyway, a desire to change a bad situation for the better, to seek to help your fellow humans order their affairs, as well as to bring resolution and be an arbitrator of disputes. The lust for money and terrible taste in ties comes later, while deciding to blow yourself and others up shouldn’t feature at all. If even the lawyers are now militants, we have a serious problem.

It seemed as if Kemp agreed. However, he didn’t go to Israel for the second part of the programme looking to tag them as the perpetrators. Instead, he spoke to people who had lost family at the hands of terrorists and also elicited opinion across a spectrum of Israelis, from those who want to ‘seize every hill’ to others who prefer hanging out in Tel Aviv and shopping. Kemp did an excellent job in resisting the temptation to glamorise or ignore the futility inherent in the conflict. As Palestinian teenagers rained down rocks on Israeli troops and they slung back tear gas, unfortunately our brave lad caught downwind of it, he turned to camera without any of the drama common to news stories on similar confrontations, to ask: ‘what’s the point?’ It was difficult to disagree with the man as his eyes streamed. It was also difficult to disagree with his conclusion to the programme, that:

the majority on both sides must speak with one voice to negotiate a lasting peace

However, it was near impossible to think other than well, nice one, but how does that get us anywhere? In Israel, as in many other conflicts, a refrain has been: it’s a minority causing the problems; ordinary people are the key to peace. How helpful is it? Viewers hoping for an easy checklist of actions to bring peace were surely disappointed. However, Northern Ireland offers one example of two opposing peoples facing down the crazies to bring peace, with a new shopping centre and ‘Titanic Quarter’ where once was bombs and savagery. The inhabitants of Tel Aviv would no doubt approve. So it appears that in Israel, as in Northern Ireland, all that Western governments can do is get out of the way and not do anything to make peace less inevitable. Atrocities must be condemned evenly. Projects like these supported. Hopefully one day Ross Kemp will have to seek out alternative locations in which to get an eye and lungful of tear gas.
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Fighting fire with fire

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that police acted in self-defence in Genoa but the family of killed protestor Carlo Giuliani have been awarded damages because of the Italian state’s failure to hold a proper inquiry into the planning and management of the police operation at the summit, the BBC reports today.

It is a curious decision, to say the least.  Most of the law of self defence hinges on what can be considered reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. The BBC repeats the police line that Mr Giuliani was attempting to throw a fire extinguisher at the vehicle when he was shot in the face by armed police.  If you were to shoot a burglar in the face as he attempted to throw something at you, you might find the law less understanding than it was in this case.  Activists present in Genoa published their own record of the incident which they say casts doubt on this interpretation of events (warning: sensitive viewers may not wish to view all of the photographs on this site).  Depending on your perspective, you might argue that he was holding the extinguisher to cover his face rather than to throw it.  Perhaps the police officer had a foam allergy.

0720shot03

What is clear is that on both sides, the atmosphere was highly charged in Genoa.  Writer Paul Kingsnorth, interviewed about the demonstrations said,

I’ve never before seen the level of police violence I saw in Genoa, and I’ve seen quite a lot

Police agents infiltrated the ranks of demonstrators, other ‘so-called activists’ were seen trashing, burning and looting property.  He also noted,

there was an enormous level of violence on both sides

and what this lead to was an incredibly disproportionate response:

Genoa became a one day police state. The state took draconian actions to protect itself. It suspended the Schengen agreement (on open borders in Europe). It built massive fences around the central ‘red zone’. It had armed anti-terrorist groups everywhere.

Consider what this actually meant. Here are the leaders of the world, the eight supposed leading democracies having to resort to military measures to protect themselves against half a million of their own people. You can see that something is wrong here, and it’s not enough to talk about violent activists. It is clear that there is a great gap between the leaders and the led, and that’s something that radicalised a lot of people – including me.

This same attitude was in evidence at the London G20 protests earlier this year, in which another man was killed.  In the days before, both sides were feeling the tension, with reports circulating of explosives being seized and the police responding with a breezy ‘we’re up for it!’  It was akin to watching gangs of football hooligans, also now back in the news again.  No longer content to allow a fracas to occur naturally, today they prefer to arrange these things on the internet or by text message: ‘CU on Threadneedle ST, there’s gonna b bloodshed.’  And lo and behold, there was.

So there should be little surprise that half of the people interviewed by YouGov for Christian Aid believe that the police are too heavy handed, or that just under a fifth of respondents have been put off protesting by police tactics.  No one should be surprised, but there should be a sense of disquiet.  Lawful protest about issues that matter to us is a cornerstone of the democracy we are trying to export around the world but one that is increasingly being stifled at home.

Climate change, illegal wars, banker bonuses, global poverty and other significant issues tend to be obscured at the ballot box but brought into sharp relief when a huge groups of people get together to shout about it.  Yet from Wat Tyler to Peterloo to more recent times, the powers that be have reacted to us flexing our democratic muscles with violence.

It is perhaps understandable that the forces of law and order reserve their harshest ire for protests by anarchists, missing the original translation from the Greek and focussing on the perceived chaos and disorder instead.  Or perhaps understandable: as one correct translation is ‘without government’, government forces are unlikely to stand by while you try to will them out of existence.

The roots of the word ‘anarchy’ are an archos, no leaders, which is not really about the kind of chaos that most people imagine when anarchy is mentioned.  I think anarchy is about taking personal responsibility for yourself.  I believe that fascism is about abandoning your personal responsibility to the group or to society.

You say, ‘In unity there is strength,’ which inevitably will become, ‘in uniformity there is strength.’  It’s better if all those sticks are the same size and length, because then they’ll make a tidier bundle, which consequently leads to the kind of fascism we had in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

-Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell)

So the police today are nervous because another protest is to take place and they have not been advised of the location.  The protestors are nervous because they are not up for intimidation tactics like having their details taken illegally and kettling.  This writer is hoping that both sides can calm the frayed nerves and take responsibility for their actions so that no other names are added to that litany that includes Carlo Giuliani and Ian Tomlinson.


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Bastards

You can look back to the thirties and forties and think how much easier it was then, when the bad guys wore the hooked cross so lusted over by the toffs and the good guys were the ones who were against those guys, by whatever means were available to them.

Yet a look beneath the surface shows a time that was as conflicted as our own.  For instance, Orwell thought he could tell the difference between friend and foe when he headed to the front in  Spain – by the time he made the return journey in an ambulance he had been taught by events not to assume that his own ‘side’ were any less dangerous than the nominal enemy across the valley.  Naturally sympathetic to the causes of the left after his experiences in the pits around Wigan and the kitchens of Paris, he came to despise both the be sandalled socialists and the jackbooted communists who suppressed with enthusiastic ruthlessness the anarchist militias he fought with against the fascists.  He was no respecter of the adage that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, recognising that the enemy of your enemy is just the next arsehole on the list to be dealt with once you have finished kicking the main pig.

‘He may be a bastard, but he’s OUR bastard’

is not a thought that ever crossed Orwell’s mind, or so I think.  Nor would he have enjoyed the sight of tracksuit wearing secret police on our streets, imported from China like knock off Gucci handbags.  Or the vision of the Labour party walking around on two legs trying to convince us that they are the autocratic masters, while the Tories trot around on four, snuggling up to hoodies, trees, Shami Chakrabati and anything else that looks like it needs a hug.

What the people of this land should realise is that if we stop shooting, knifing, cheating and dragging each other onto the Jeremy Kyle show for a good shout, stop paying any attention whatsoever to Kerry Katona and the latest skid in her car crash of a life and instead, say, started taking out Cabinet Ministers in hand-to-hand combat, we would pathetically quickly gain the upper hand.  Those Kevlar vests they wear still leave a few major arteries open to the imagination.  Imagine Harriet Harman taking a Hummer trip around her constituency because she cannot be protected from us any other way.  Imagine Ed Balls fleeing from the kids’ playground because those same kids are chasing him off their turf, intent on pounding him with baseball bats.  I wonder if you can?

Let’s make them fear us for a change, Britain.
Let’s give them sleepless nights instead

Don’t lie there worrying about your mortgage payments; ponder which one of Brown’s bull-shitting bastards you would like to take out first.  Let them see that power brings consequences other than a shed-load of free John Lewis furnishings, great responsibility other than making sure your kids have a job for life.  Well, you can keep the £4,000 a-roll wallpaper, Lord Chancellor, but with it comes a free Battle Royale style death match involving both Houses on Canvey Island. Last wo/man standing gets to rule.  Perhaps it would also follow that seeing their backbench colleagues brutally massacred by feral teens would make them less keen on creating carnage in other people’s backyards?

Instead of Gladiators, let’s see Brown and Cameron really battle it out: just how bad do you want it, fella?  Dave, want to see a wind turbine on every roof so much that you will gouge out Gordon’s other eye to triumph?  Come on, Ken, now that there’s nothing to lose, let’s see how much of a class warrior you really are. I hear the argument that the landed gentry fight dirty and have been doing so for generations, but have always felt that in a street fight Red Ken would be naturally adept at the no-holds-barred style – after all, you can’t be that close to Stalin and Castro without picking up a few tricks.  Boris pleading, claiming to be a lover not a fighter, while the newt-fancier stomps on the usurper’s crown jewels might be the best, most crowd pleasing way to decide a future Mayoral contest since Dick Whittington started talking to his cat.

I for one am sick of a no-choice vote deciding between competing mediocrities

I think it is possible that you, my fellow electors, are with me on this.  Dwindling turnouts cannot only be blamed on a clash with a crucial episode of Eastenders.  What is the point of getting off the couch to mark an X if all it serves to do is duck out of taking responsibility for another few years?  Where is the incentive when 862,415 Irish voters can say they don’t want something and their rulers decide that actually, in fact, they do?  Whaaat? is never happy advocating violence and I am sure there will be a lengthy editorial disclaimer somewhere about leaving minister’s arteries alone (Eh?  Oh, yes.  Very bad.  Absolutely – Ed) but perhaps, just this once, it is time to act with aggression.  Our marching taught them nothing.  They need to be shown that they can no longer rely on the passivity of our implied goodwill.

Four hundred years after the last one, Britain needs to reclaim the brand of civil war she has been exporting in recent years and set it free to run amok on her own streets.  Violence is a game we are playing from Basra to Kandahar – why should Basingstoke and Kensington miss out?  Except that we are not going to turn brother against brother, putting fellow victims up against the wall: it is going to be strictly US v. THEM – the ones who presume to rule us based on flimsy margins, taken out by an electorate that have taken enough.  They have squandered the peace our grandparents bought for them and in return given us nothing but penury, cronyism and state interference.

We have been complacent for too long; it is time to discover if there is sand underneath the cobble stones after all…

First published September 2008 in issue two of whaaat?

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