Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Saturday, 4 December 2010
A new film from investigative journalist John Pilger underlines why the work of the internet whistleblower Wikileaks is so important.
In the film, the War You Don’t see, Pilger looks at the public relations exercises undertaken to make sure that the public never get to know what really goes on in war. Journalists have unfortunately become complicit in this process.
The film opens with footage of an appalling slaughter by US forces in Iraq, where people were gunned down, but this then switches to World War I with sights of some of the grisly sights from that conflict. Pilger recalls the conversation between the editor of the Manchester Guardian of the time CP Scott and Prime Minister Lloyd George, who declared that “if the people really knew the truth about the war it would be stopped tomorrow but they don’t know and can’t know.”
This mantra has pretty much guided every conflict involving the British Government in the intervening years since 1918. The subtlety of the process required to make the unacceptable acceptable to the public has grown over the years with the increasing power of the public relations industry over that of independent journalism. Too many have all too easily traded the role of inquisitor for that of sipher of official truths.
One of the best examples of how the media has sold its independence short is the practice known as embedding. Some 700 reporters were embedded with American and British forces when they attacked Iraq. This results in, as the former BBC correspondent Rageh Omaar admits, the type of collusion that saw the fall of Basra reported 17 times before it actually happened. This approach, as lawyer Phil Shiner points out, also made the reporting of human rights abuses committed by US and British forces unlikely in the mainstream media.
The contrast comes with the few independent journalists who went into Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing out appalling stories of brutality and murder. The mainstream networks were not interested, not even by way of balance to the one sided nature of their own coverage.
Pilger pushes the question of balance, why are the accounts so one sided in favour of the war making establishment? Where are the dissident voices?
Perhaps the time that the whole balance issue is most clearly exposed comes with the coverage of Israel. Pilger grills the BBC particularly as to why Israel’s “chief propagandist” Mark Ragev got a free run at the top of a news with no countervailing balancing viewpoints. This meant that stories like the shooting of those on the aid convoy into Gaza earlier this year by Israeli soldiers is told almost entirely from the Israeli perspective.
The Israeli approach to public relations is aggressive and blunt. They make life so difficult for any journalist trying in whatever way to show the other side that they either end up towing the official (Israeli) line or steering clear of the subject altogether. The Glasgow Media Group’s Greg Philo tells how a senior producer told how they “wait in fear for the phone call from the Israelis” after doing a piece on that country.
The work of Wikileaks and the independent journalists becomes all the more important in this context. The unpalatable truth that emerges from the film is that the public have been led into disasterous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without ever being given the truth of the situations concerned. Truths like the growing number of civilian casualties. So while 10 per cent of victims in the First World War were civilians, this figure had risen to 90 per cent by the Iraqi conflict.
The unanimity of the mainstream media in shutting out almost everything except the official version of events is truly frightening. It can only be hoped that the revelations of Wikileaks and this film help spark a process that leads to more of the truth getting out there as to what really is going on and in whose vested interests the various wars are being pursued.
There is a wider point for journalists on the need to question official truths. Too many journalists are all too willing to follow officially set guidelines on whatever the leading crisis of the day is set to be, whether it be war, financial crisis or climate change. It is vital for journalism and democracy that independent voices can be heard and that those that govern us are made accountable for what they do.
*The War You Don’t See is on ITV at 10.35pm on 14th December
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Friday, 29 October 2010
Thursday, 28 October 2010
It faces a potential shortfall in funding threatening 15 jobs in the organisation at home and abroad.
Progressio has a proud record stretching back over 70 years to its founding in the 1940s by Cardinal Hinsley.
Originally called the Sword of the Spirit, it was renamed the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) in 1965 before its most recent metamorphosis into Progressio four years ago.
A major strength of the organisation has been its ability over the years to read the signs of the times. It provided aid via sending out skilled workers overseas but also developed an education and advocacy role at home. The latter function brought international injustices to the attention of politicians, opinion formers and media.
The development of the education and advocacy role, under the leadership of Mildred Nevile, saw the organisation again well ahead of its time, doing something that would later be copied and effectively taken over by the big agencies like Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD.
Attending the then CIIR conferences in the 1980s and 1990s there was a feeling that they really had their finger on the pulse of coming developments. It was the place to be if you wanted to be ahead of the game.
One notable initiative saw renowned US political thinker Noam Chomsky invited to address a conference in the early 1990s.
There were also important initiatives on the drugs trade and the importance of trade unions as central structures in building community. It was borrowing from the south to inform the north.
Important relationships were built with those in struggle across the world from Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the ANC in South Africa. CIIR had strong links with those involved in liberation theologians like Gustavo Guttierez, Jon Sobrino and Albert Nolan.
In the latter 1990s, the organisation did seem to start losing its way, getting bogged down in managerialism and seemingly non-plused by the spirit of the new Labour government.
Inward looking structural reorganisations took up too much time and emotional energy. The organisation also came to rely more heavily on government funding.
At the close of the century there was the problem of the changing role of the organisation, with the big agencies increasingly doing their own advocacy and education work and the link with the Church growing ever more tenuous.
Things though have steadily improved over the past decade under the leadership of Christine Allen. Progressio, as it then became called, seemed to rediscover the ability to read the signs of the times. It began speaking out on controversial issues like the use of condoms in Africa. It saw the crucial nature of the environmental argument and started to take a lead on some of the more controversial aspects like the need to stop terminator gene technology.
One of the pleasing things about Progressio is that it practices what it preaches. The latest annual report indicated that it had cut its carbon footprint by 25 per cent as a result of reducing flying and other measures. So it is walking the walk as well as talking the talk.
It has also moved to restore links with the Church, with its campaigns officer focusing on this work.
Progressio has ofcourse been mistaken over the years to allow its dependency on funding grow to the 60 per cent level it now finds itself. Relying on government funding in such a way is always precarious and also opens the organisation up to accusations of co-option. The non-governmental label gets tainted.
It must though be hoped that the present crisis is but a wake up call regarding matters such as funding. Progressio does seem to be heading in the direction, importantly regaining much of its prophetic role. What must also be hoped is that the Church reacts with generosity to its present perceived plight. For many years now Progressio has been the poor relation to CAFOD, particularly in terms of the funding it receives from the Church – an almost exclusive CAFOD preserve. There does though have to be room in the Church’s remit for two such vital organisations reaching out across the world. It must be hoped that the Catholic in the pew and their representatives in the hierarchy realise what an important organisation they have in Progressio and react with the requisite generosity in order that it can continue doing its vital work.
Prime Minister David Cameron has boasted that this will be the greenest government ever but the reality as opposed to the rhetoric tells a somewhat different tale. Two recent examples illustrate the point. First, the decision to provide very limited funding to the new Green Bank, to fund sustainable technology initiatives. The £1 billion provided, contrasts to the £6 billion originally suggested - a real drop in the ocean compared to the hundreds of billions spent on bailing out the banking system. The second example concerns the decision to remove caps on rail fares thereby enabling them to rise inexorably. This will have the effect of driving people back onto the roads, so increasing carbon emissions. A possible answer if the Coalition government wants to cut the transport budget with regard to rail is to reduce the amount that the private train operating companies are taking to reward their shareholders, better still take the railway fully back into public ownership. The depressing fact that such actions portray is that the penny has clearly not dropped with this government that climate change is real and the time to combat it limited. It is difficult not to think that the disproportionately large media play given to the little band of climate skeptics has done much damage in this respect. The incident concerning the East Anglia emails furore did much damage to the climate change argument. They suggested a disingenuous attitude to the subject. There seems to have been little attention drawn to the timing of this story coming as it did immediately before the UN summit on climate change in Copehagen last December. The overall effect has been to create the impression that climate change is a subject still up for debate – the contention being it may be true, it may not. This portrayal of a debate resulted in more people doubting the existence of climate change. This is a futile argument, there is no doubt about the existence of global warming. First there are the authoritative and voluminous reports of the likes of Sir Nicholas Stern for the last government and the UN climate change panel. Second, the experience of nature around us. In London, there is the example of rising water levels with the River Thames. The Thames Barrier put up in the early 1980s to stop London flooding was pulled up 10 times in its first 10 years of existence. Over the past 10 years it has been raised more than 64 times.It is high time that the Church in this country spoke out more loudly on the need to combat climate change. The leadership of the Church in England, Wales and Scotland should take a lesson from the Pope, who has not only spoken out regularly on the need to act but also moved to make the Vatican State carbon neutral. This has included fitting 2,500 solar panels to the roofs.The hierarchy in this country should act in similar vein pointing out that addressing climate change is not an either or for government. The churches and schools should also be practicing what they preach, moving far more quickly to a zero carbon existence. Carbon neutral technologies like solar panels need to be fitted to all Church buildings.Combating climate change must be the highest priority and factored into any economic decision making. As agencies like CAFOD have warned the increasing rate of climate change is having an incredible impoverishing effect throughout the world.This is another area where the Church needs to be heard. The Church in this country has not made enough of a preferential option for the poor when it comes to the cuts agenda. Standing with the poor should mean articulating the need for budgetary savings to fall far more heavily in terms of taxes on the rich rather than cuts being made to public services. There is a nagging feeling that some Church leaders seem to be colluding in this "we're all in it together" rhetoric that says everyone has to suffer. Let's not forget who caused this crisis - the bankers - so they should be paying a proportionately higher amount of the costs. This is the type of moral leadership we need from the Church, not being afraid to be unpopular but having the courage to speak out on the needs for economic, environmental and social justice.
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Sunday, 10 October 2010
This amounts to 1 per cent of GDP worldwide or equivalent to the 18th largest country in the world.
The report commissioned by Alzheimers Disease International predicted that the number of sufferers would grow to 66 million in the next 20 years and up to 115 million by 2050.
In Britain there are 820,000 people who have dementia, around half of these suffer with Alzheimers. This figure is expected to double by 2050.
The dementia business seems dominated by statistics, what though must never be lost sight of is the terrible suffering it causes.
Our family had to deal with dementia when my Dad became a sufferer.
He steadily grew worse over the years. It must be frightening to deal with as the disease takes over your life. Reading Dad’s diaries after he died, it was apparent how his thought processes were breaking down as detailed chronicling of each day declined to where it was one or two points and then nothing. One particularly sad entry, showed a desperate loneliness as he revealed it was getting difficult to remember things he’d done that morning.
It is the process of seeing your loved one transform into someone who cannot remember your name that can be so debilitating for all concerned.
Dementia and the care needed with the illness is something that is fortunately beginning to gain more attention. In our case, there was little help for many years.
When the bean counters are throwing the numbers around, there should be a little more focus on some of the damage being done to those unpaid carers, on whom the burden often falls.
In our case that was mainly my mother, who for 18 months, prior to Dad going into a home was the main carer. She was 80 years old at the time, in need of care herself if anything, not dealing 24 hours a day with a husband in the advanced stages of dementia.
Dad was always a strong willed person, in control. This was a positive thing for most of his life but once dementia hit, this type of drive became negative. He would try to climb out of windows in the middle of the night. If he got out he would wander round the town.
That 18 months of caring for my Dad took its toll on Mum. The stress no doubt contributed to her loss of eyesight, hearing and other ailments.
And it is people like my Mum who end up bearing the burden of the dementia time bomb. Government does not want to pay for the condition. There is a period with dementia where you are virtually left in limbo. For us it was during that period when my mother was in the main caring for Dad.
While you don’t want the health service taking on big brother powers to take away loved ones, sometimes people need help. The system is too willing to let individuals go through their own private hell as they struggle to provide the care required.
Dad finally went into a home in October 2005, the first of three before he died in August 2008.
Homes though are another world that the dementia sufferer and carers have to endure. The whole sector has pretty much been farmed out to the private sector. There is a lack of regulation in an area that patently needs regulating. Dementia sufferers are in many cases as vulnerable as babies. The scope for abuse is immense, as was evidenced last year by a government report that found homes over using drugs to sedate dementia patients. Otherwise known as “the chemical cosh.” Government has moved to provide specialist training and more regulation but the danger of abuse remains constant.
The worry is that those who own the homes see them in the main as profit centres. The staff are often on low wages, for a job that if being done properly requires a high level of expertise.
A good home will seek to stimulate the dementia sufferers. They will be kept in a safe and caring environment. The worst homes are really warehouses of dementia sufferers waiting for death.
Dementia has gained a greater profile over recent years. This is no doubt due to a number of factors, first the growing number of sufferers and subsequent impact on those involved in caring and other duties.
Around 25 million people, or 42 per cent of the population, are affected by dementia through knowing a close friend or family member with the condition.
Second, in our celebrity dominated world, the instances of the famous like Cliff Richard, Fiona Philipps and John Suchet having relatives effected has led to greater publicity.
So there has been improvement in terms of the growing public awareness of the condition. There is still though much that needs to be done. The level of funding for research to find an answer to the disease is lamentably low compared to other conditions like cancer and heart disease. While cancer attracts £600 million a year in research funding, dementia gets just £50 million.
The attitude among medical practitioners to dementia needs to change. A doctor on a documentary presented by Fiona Philipps commented that you would not send a cancer patient away and say come back when the conditions worsens, which is what happens with many dementia cases.
There have been breakthroughs like the rember drug but there is the question of the cost and availability.There also needs to be a real focus on care. It should not be left to the relatives of the dementia sufferer to pick up the care duties unaided. There should be more help in the home and proper regulation of care homes. All of these matters need to be addressed in order that our society can deal more humanely with the victims of dementia
A cleverly constructed film, it deals with inequality on a number of levels. So there is the basic dispute itself between the management and women workers, who insist they should not be getting half what the men are for doing the same grade of job.
This leads to other frictions such as in the male dominated trade union. The senior officers end up trying to collude with Fords management against the women.
Then as the dispute goes on it stops the work for the men as well, so they are laid off. This causes tensions between the men and women. This tension is reflected in the marriage between two of the central figures Rita and Eddie O’Grady.
It is all resolved by the end, with the women winning a famous victory. They get substantially what they were seeking from Ford and with the intervention of then employment secretary Barbara Castle the equal pay act comes into effect two years later.
If there were a sequel film though it would have to focus on what has happened - or not happened - to bring about equal pay in the 40 years since the equal pay act became law.
Women are still discriminated against in the workplace, the difference being – as with many forms of discrimination – that it has become more covert.
As a result of the Dagenham strike, the women initially got 92 per cent pay parity with men. Today, despite equalities legislation and the culture change the gap is 17 per cent in full time jobs and 38 per cent for part time. Women tend to be disproportionately represented in the lower paid and part time end of the jobs market. At the other end, things are little better with women making up just 2 per cent of Chief Executive Officers. A mere 17 per cent of directorships are held by women.
At Parliamentary level things have gone backwards in some cases. So in the Scottish Parliament, the number of women members has fallen from 39.5 per cent in 2005 to 37.4 per cent in 2010. There was similar decline in the Welsh Assembly going from 50 per cent to 46.7 per cent in the same period. By way of comparison, some 27.7 per cent members of the Afghanistan and 25.5 per cent of the Iraqi Parliament are women.
At the present rate of progress it will take another 200 years before women get parity with men at Westminster.
In the trade union world things have faired little better.
While the unions have been at the forefront of the push for greater equality in the workplace, they themselves remain unrepresentative of women in the most part.
Women do hold senior union positions, like Frances O’Grady, the deputy general secretary of the TUC, but on the whole women are not represented proportionately at the top tables compared to the level of membership they make up.
So there is still much to be done if equality is ever to be attained in the workplace. The cuts agenda being pursued by the Coalition Government threatens to hit women disproportionately hard. Given the idealogical desire of the Coalition Government to seemingly dismantle the public sector, where 70 per cent of jobs are held by women, the effects likely to result are obvious.
The discrimination against women means that they already dominate areas of low and part time pay mean that they will suffer the brunt of the cuts. Families too will be hit hardest.
The Made in Dagenham film has come out at a timely moment, just prior to the details of the cuts being revealed. The film reminds everyone of the injustice of a system that treats women as second class citizens.
The victory of the women marked a high point in defeating sex discrimination in the workplace but the 40 years since has only seen slow progress towards true equality. The danger must be that if the cuts agenda being proposed by the Coalition Government goes through in full, it could prove yet another step back for women’s equality. The struggle for equal pay goes on but there is still a long way to go.
Putting up rail fares to price people into their cars and cutting investment in industries involved in producing wind turbines suggests this government is heading in exactly the opposite direction. The need to cut carbon emissions and seriously address climate change cannot wait, it has to happen now. No economic decision - including cuts - should be taken without considering its implications for the planet, to do otherwise will result in us all reaping a terrible price in the long term.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Friday, 24 September 2010
The President has moved to dismantle 300 illegal camps and squats, claiming they are "sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime".
A recently a leaked memo from the French interior ministry indicated there may have been deliberate targeting of the Roma in contravention of the French constitution and international law.
Some 5,000 Roma (gypsies) have so far been deported this year back to Romania and Bulgaria.
The French government reaction came after violence flared in July between police and Roma in the Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan.
There has been shock amongst many of the population in France and internationally at the severe actions taken by the President, though support from others. Some 100,000 people recently rallied against the policy.
Internationally, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding has also warned France of the possibility that infringement proceedings for discriminatory application of the Free Movement Directive may be launched. "I personally have been appalled by a situation which gave the impression that people are being removed from a member state of the European Union just because they belong to a certain ethnic minority. This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War." said Ms Reding.
There have though also been robust actions taken in Italy to demolish travelling community camps.
Hostility to the travelling community in Britain and Ireland has been more muted. The most open hostility came last year when 115 Romanian Roma were driven from Belfast.
Yvonne McNamara, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, likens the upcoming eviction of Britain’s biggest camp, Dale Farm in Essex to actions taken in other parts of Europe. “No provision has been put in place for the families being evicted from the area,” said Ms McNamara.
Roma and Irish Travellers are protected by the Race Relations Act 1976 in Britain, yet this does not stop discrimination of an open and institutional nature being widely practiced against this minority. In its worst form, this resulted in the murder of 15-year old Irish Traveller boy Johnny Delaney in Ellesmere Port in 2003.
Traveller children regularly experience discrimination at school with the ITM reporting nine out of ten children experiencing racial abuse, while nearly a third have been bullied or physically attacked.
The story of Irish Traveller Kathleen Stoke’s youngest son is instructive. All four of her children were bullied at school. Her youngest son fought back and was expelled. “When he went to another school, my second eldest advised him not to say that he was a traveller,” said Kathleen, who lives in Dagenham. “He hasn’t, so now he is just seen as being Irish and is not bullied.”
Chester based GP, Joseph O’Neill has told of the worst health conditions that exist among the travelling community with asthma, bronchitis and chest pain all more commonplace. In the area of mental health, self reported mental illness was 19 per cent compared to nine per cent in the general population. The travelling community has the highest level of maternal deaths among ethnic minority groups, with a miscarriage rate of 29 per cent compared to 16 per cent for the general population.
The worse health conditions no doubt contribute to a life expectancy that is 10 years less than for the settled population.
The major touchstone subject that causes most animosity regarding the travelling community in Britain is lack of site provision.
The level of opposition to traveller encampments struck home recently when nine acres of agricultural land in Essex was bought by 16 local householders for £180,000. Agricultural land costs on average around £5,000 an acre, so in this case the locals were so concerned about the possibility of travellers moving in that they paid four times the going rate to stop that eventuality. The Essex example is not unique.
The vociferous opposition to travellers moving into an area, no doubt has much to do with the hysteria whipped up in the media. The image of people who create a mess wherever they go and commit crime does not make them popular.
The reality is usually somewhat different. It is ironic that the very qualities that the most vitriolic newspapers like the Daily Mail and Daily Express claim to uphold are most prevalent in the travelling community. Most gypsies and travellers marry at a young age. They have stable relationships, with teenage pregnancy outside marriage is rare. Family life is sacrosanct.
That said maybe the travelling community and their advocates need to do more to break down some of the negative stereotypes that cause such blatant racial hostility.
One aspect that seems to cause particular resentment is the creation of unauthorised sites on land owned by travellers. This involves a piece of land being bought ostensibly to keep horses. Electricity and water supplies come in for the animals. Then overnight caravans move in. Application is made for retrospective planning permission and a site has been created. As evidenced in a recent Parliamentary debate, this type of development is creating real friction between the travelling and settled communities across the country.
The travelling community ofcourse claim this only happens due to lack of site provision.
The lack of provision has been contentuous ever since 1994 when the Conservative Government repealed the Caravans Act 1968 which put a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide sites. As a result, travellers was put into a state of perpetual motion, continually being moved on from one place to another.
The last Labour Government did move to address the issue, pushing local authorities to identify areas under the regional spatial strategy that could be used for sites. The government then provided a fund to develop the sites.
The Coalition Government has done away with this strategy, returning in main to the public order approach. The one sop is offering some financial incentives to local authorities to provide sites There is a clear hostility across Europe to the travelling community, often born out of ignorance. Developments in France and elsewhere indicate a further step backwards toward intolerance toward this much maligned minority.
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Now, they receive a state pension, fuel allowances, free travel passes and other benefits. The debate continues that the young are resentful of all this. They increasingly charge the baby boomers with destroying the planet, contributing to the national debt and having the best of all worlds. The younger generations claim they will be lucky to ever own their home outright, have huge loans to service if they want to go onto higher education and job prospects are not good. Life will also be different in a world dogged by climate change. All of this and they also have to pay for the upkeep of the elderly.There is a quite rabid debate developing. It gives no credit to the massive contribution made by the elderly to society. The taxes paid over the years. The free childcare provided courtesy of many elderly people for their grandchildren. The massive amount of voluntary work done. At the worst end of this debate, some seem to be suggesting that elderly people should even pay some sort of super tax for being old. This type of development really would destroy any notion of the society in which we live being civilised.Some facts about the elderly population could prove helpful at this juncture. In 2009, there were 12 million pensioners living in the UK, 7.5 million women and 4.5 million men. This represents 19 per cent of the total population. By 2050, the number of people of state pensionable age is forecast to be 16 million, which will represent 21 per cent of the population.Average life expectancy in England stands at 77.7 years for men and 81.8 years for women. There are though wide differentials according to where a person lives. So a man in Blackpool will live on average to 73.2 years compared to his counterpart in Kensington and Chelsea, who lives on average 10.5 years more. Some 2.5m pensioners are living below the official poverty line in 2007/8 defined as 60 per cent median population income (equivalent to £158 a week before housing costs). Some 61 per cent of pensioner couples struggle by on £15,000 or less. 45 per cent of single pensioners have an income of £10,000 or less. The state pension is £95.25 a week.Some 3.5 million older people live alone. One in five over 80s suffer with dementia, with this ratio closing to one in three for over 90s.These statistics give a snapshot of what it is like to be old in Britain today.
The lack of sympathy for the elderly population is reflected in recent moves to increase the pensionable age from 65 to 68 over the coming years. This is justified on the basis of people living longer and society not being able to afford the cost. There is also the growing concern over the closing ratio of pensioners to those in work, with the figures moving toward 2:1. Recently, for the first time the number of people over 65 exceeded those under 16. The cost issue is largely a misnomer. The National Pension Fund which takes in money contributed via natioanl insurance to provide for the state pension is £52 billion in surplas. This figure is set to rise to over £100 billion in the coming years. The increase was helped by the change in 1980 linking pension rises to the prices as opposed to the earning index. This is soon to change back but according to the National Pensioners Convention (NPC) had the link not changed the state pension today would be £158.60 not £95.25.So overall, it can hardly be said that elderly people have an easy life. Fortunately, many are increasingly finding a collective voice through organisations like the NPC. Grey power has for many years played a significant role in the political scene in America but in Britain the response has been more muted.
As the attacks continue though, from extending the retirement age to cutting pensions and benefits, grey power here has the potential to be a very potent political force, with pensioners representing 19 per cent of the population. What is more, they are far more likely to vote than other younger groups. It is time that the pensioners voice was heard louder and more clearly. The way forward though is for young and old to join together in solidarity, because the one certainty in life is that one day most of us will grow old.
Friday, 10 September 2010
The constant highlighting of the cost of the state visit - Catholics do pay taxes too by the way - has been blown up out of all proportion. There are millions of Catholics who do contribute quite a lot to the welfare of this society.
Take the case of Kerry Norridge who will speak at the vigil in Hyde Park with the Pope. Brought up in a stable family in Oxford, he fell into the drug culture during his teenage years and was a heroine addict by the age of 20.
Kerry cut off from his family and did various jobs, like selling the Big Issue, just to pay for the drugs. “I was running away, never dealing with> the issue. It got dark and lonely and I felt very isolated,” said Kerry.
A fellow hostel dweller encouraged him to go to Narcotics Anonymous and it was from there that the long road to recovery began.
Following rehabilitation he went to the Cardinal Hume Centre (CHC), where he stayed in one of the hostels and got help with employment and life skills. “This was a fantastic move for me, they are positively focused at getting people into a meaningful life,” said Kerry, who is now living independently in a flat in north London and doing a drama course to become an actor.
It is this type of work done by the CHC that is the kind of Catholic social action that the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens never mention when attacking the Church.
The work that goes on quietely in the back streets, based on the Benedictine ethos that all are welcome and no one will be judged. The CHC give their help unconditionally so as to get people back on their feet and back into mainstream society.
As well as homeless hostels the centre has an employment team, family centre, immigration advice service, English classes and adult education.
There are many Catholic orientated organisations doing the work of social justice across Britain. In the area of homelessness there is Housing Justice and the De Paul Trust.
Both work with the homeless and advocate for this group of vulnerable people. Alison Gelder, chief executive at Housing Justice, and Cathy Corcoran, her counterpart at the CHC, both warned recently of the level of suffering that will be caused by the Coalition Government’s plans to cut housing benefit.
The De Paul Trust is also involved in work with prisoners, where the Prison Advice and Care Trust (PACT) also fulfil an important advocacy role.
PACT have developed a mentoring system that helps prisoners to have a better chance of not re-offending when they get out of prison. The support of family and friends has proved crucial in keeping prisoners away from crime once released.
Overseas there is the work of CAFOD and Progressio. CAFOD has become one of the most effective humanitarian agencies in the land, responding quickly to disasters like the Pakistan floods and Tsunami in South East Asia. The success of CAFOD comes from its ability to plug in directly to the generosity of the Catholic community, with most of its funding coming from that source.
CAFOD also run excellent projects across the world giving people and communities the chance to live dignified lives. Many of these projects> follow a similar ethos to CHC, only in an overseas context.
Progressio has been a visionery organisation over the years, often reading the signs of the times well ahead of others, who boast far greater resources. Most recently this has involved pointing out the injustices of some of the actions taken by big corporations seeking to get control of seed> stocks and the food chain via GM production.
Then there are the faith schools. Whilst fundamentalist secularists campaign> against these institutions many non-believers in the real world clamour to get their children in due to the ethos and good academic records.
These are just a few examples of the Catholic Church engaged and involved in a very practical way at home and abroad. It is a massive contribution to the> welfare of society. It is important that this work is recognised and not lost amid the desire of some fundamentalist secularists to portray the Church as sex obsessed and irrelevant
Wednesday, 1 September 2010
Friday, 20 August 2010
Prior to the election, Conservative Party leader David Cameron made no secret of his admiration, pledging to create a National Centre for Community Organising and fund the training to be carried out by “independent third parties such as London Citizens UK, who have proven track records in training community organisers and activists.”
Now in power the plan to fund the training of community organisers appears set to move ahead with Neil Jameson, the executive director of London Citizens and Citizens UK, an early visitor at a Downing Street reception. “We have been talking to the Coalition Government about the work we do,” said Jameson, who was keen to emphasis that the organisation would not be giving up any of its independence if it took up the state’s shilling.
Jameson explained that Citizens UK, the parent body of London Citizens, would be offering professional training in community organising at a cost to government. At present this training comes free to those who form part of its 150 strong membership organisations. This training has also been offered on a subsidised basis to the likes of the Oxfam, the Salvation Army and Church organisations.
The concern of many is that the organisation could be compromised or co-opted if it gets too closely embroiled with government.
Community organising as practiced by London Citizens has taken off in the capital over recent years. The work began in the early 1990s, drawing on the community organising model of Saul Alinsky in 1930s Chicago.
Community organising is about bringing people together and empowering them to achieved change in their own lives through political activism. It seeks to build relationships with those who hold the power and by direct civil action if the initial approaches fail. The most famous US son of the movement is President Barack Obama who trained as an organiser when younger.
The first organisation in the UK was The East London Communities Organisation (telco). Set up in 1996, it proved successful in bringing together different faith groups, schools, trade unions and other community based bodies.
South London Citizens and West London Citizens followed Telco. It is planned that North London Citizens will come into being over the next 12 months. Outside the capital the organisation was less successful, setting up in Liverpool, North Wales, the Black Country, Sheffield and Bristol. None of these survived, withering due to lack of funding to support sufficient organisers in the regions. “I guess we grew too quickly in the early 1990s,”said Jameson. “The first generation of organisers were on their own in the city where they worked. If the organisation does not encourage political action then it ceases to exist.”
The organisation has since retrenched in London looking to build its strength before once again expanding outside the capital. “Ideally we would like £120,000 in the bank before organisers relocate. Then they would work their butts off to achieve the aims,” said Jameson, who confirms plans to extend out to Cardiff and Milton Keynes over the next 12 months.
In London, the organisation seems to have gone from strength to strength. Membership organisations pay annual fees ranging between £600 and £1800 depending on size. For this the leaders of the membership organisation receive training and become involved in campaigns at local and national level. LC also gets funding from a number of trusts.
Among the national campaigns have been the living wage and Strangers into Citizens. The living wage campaign started in east London with research funded by Unison looking at the amount required per hour to live above the poverty line.
The campaign involved direct meetings with the heads of the likes of HSBC Bank and then direct actions at branch level. Successes followed with Barclays Bank becoming a particular advocate of the living wage for its lower paid workers in the cleaning sector. NHS trusts were also targeted, resulting in cleaners and security guards winning better wages. Finally, London Mayor Ken Livingstone took up the cause, creating a living wage unit in his office that set the living wage level for all of those employed by the Greater London Authority. Boris Johnson continued the work when he took over as Mayor, most recently setting the rate at £7.60 an hour. The campaign claims to have put £20 million in the pockets of the lowest paid families since 2001.
Johnson also became a flag waver for another leading campaign to regularise undocumented workers. He supported the Strangers into Citizens campaign that is seeking an earned amnesty for people who have been undocumented and worked here for a number of years. The Liberal Democrats also picked up the sentiments of this campaign during the election with their call for an amnesty for undocumented workers.
At more local level community organising means working with the police and others for safer streets, cheaper housing and better environment.
The power of community organising in bringing politicians to account is best seen at the assemblies. These are huge stage-managed affairs, attracting a couple of thousand people. Two of the most recent held at Westminster Central Hall were for the national party leaders prior to the general election and before that for London Mayoral candidates. The candidates were asked pre-arranged questions, put by selected leaders from the platform. It is about publically holding the politicians to account. There is no debate and no questions from the floor. The assemblies provide a great photo opportunity for the media of democracy at work but in reality are controlled with iron discipline. Member organisations commit to bring a number of people with them and are held to that pledge.
One member of a housing charity recalled that when they turned up with six rather than the pledged 10 people it was “a bit like being put on the naughty step.”
”There is a Stalinistic feel,” he said. Some member organisations also challenge the democracy of London Citizens. One deputy head teacher of a primary school recalled back in 2004, the first assembly that brought together Telco and South London Citizens. The packed meeting were to vote on seven areas to work on. The top four would go ahead for implementation. Seventh in the voting was the London Olympics, yet within a couple of months the hierarchy of London Citizens seemed somehow to have elevated the Olympics to top spot.
One Catholic priest thinks the organisation addresses middle class issues, not necessarily those of the community where they exist. He feels they adopt campaigns and then shuffle them according to political expediency. "They don't stick with issues, only those they can win and get kudos for," said the priest, who also saw the danger of co-option in taking government money to train community organisers. “There will be questions as to who will be boss, if the government is paying they will decide, not the community.”
Jameson though remains steadfast on this point, insisting community organising is about civil society. “We want to work with those on the side of civil society rather than the state,” said Jameson.
There is though clearly concern about co-option by government, if too much funding is accepted. Funding always comes with strings attached. Perhaps one sign of growing disquiet is the declining role of trade unions in London Citizens. At one point there were 20 branches from Unison, PCS and the Unite, today this has reduced to eight. Union branches also used to be well represented at assemblies, now there are few to be seen – replaced it would seem by school children.
Could the reduction have anything to do with the fact that in the case of the public sector some see the London Citizens getting into bed with a government that is committed to putting a good number of their members out of work?
Jameson though has a different explanation, saying that the unions saw things in a very single issue way. So there would be a campaign at a hospital for the living wage, “once this was achieved, they said thanks and we’re off.”
Whatever the cause there is certainly some soul searching going amongst those involved in community organising. This form of political organisation has made great strides, engaging faith communities in real action that has achieved change like the living wage. Large numbers have been mobilised. The danger now is that in taking government money, much of this work could be compromised. The growing concerns about internal democracy may also be causing some to question the work of community organising. Whatever the truth, it must be hoped that the astute leadership of London Citizens are aware of the dangers and do not risk destroying what has so far been a positive experiment in real grass root citizens activism.
Wednesday, 18 August 2010
The Palestinian couple, with the help of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), have rebuilt the house three times. The last occasion was in 2001, when the house was designated as a peace centre.
Salim takes up the story of the struggle, he, his wife Arabiya and their six children have had to establish a home in Anata, East Jerusalem. “ I went by the book, applying three times for a building permit between 1990 and 1994. First, I was told I was outside the zone and planning area for the village,” said Salim, who revealed how the Israeli authorities continually push to keep Palestinians in the designated village areas so that the rest of the land is open for Israeli settlers.
The second time he applied, he was denied the permit because the authorities said the land sloped. “I could have flattened the area out very quickly with one of the bulldozers that they use to knock down our houses,” said Salim.
The third denial was because the authorities said there were two signatures missing on the application for a permit. A solicitor tried over several months to get details of the names but without success.
Every time Salim applied for the permit, it cost US$5,000. In the end Salim just got on and built his house. Things were ok for a while but then on 9 July 1998, there was a big commotion outside. “They had brought 300 soldiers to demolish our house. We were given 15 minutes to get out before the bulldozers moved in,” recalled Salim. “I protested and got kicked to the ground. My wife and children stayed inside the house and were attacked with teargas.”
The house was flattened. “We had planted 52 trees around the home. We had chickens and ducks,” said Salim. “The trees were cut down, the animals killed. We were left with nothing.”
The Red Cross gave the family a tent and the ICAHD came along. The family decided with the ICAHD to rebuild the house. The shell was up inside a month but then the army arrived again. “The soldiers came at 4 am in the morning with machine guns and bulldozers. The house was demolished for a second time and the tent taken. We were told we had to have permission for the tent from the Israeli authorities,” said Salim.
Israelis and Palestinians came together again to rebuild the house. It was completed on 9 July 1999. Two months passed and no demolition. The Shawamreh family moved in to the house. Then on 4 April 2001, they woke to find it once again surrounded by soldiers with two bulldozers. “The area was surrounded, the furniture thrown into the street and the house demolished,” said Salim.
The house was then rebuilt again. It was agreed with the ICAHD that it would be used as a peace centre. It was completed in July 2003 and has remained standing since that time, though a demolition order was placed on the propery in June 2009.
Arabiya recalled the problems that the children endured as a result of the demolition. “The children regressed at school. They had psychological problems, waking up in the night crying and screaming,” said Arabiya. The children who were young at the time of the demolitons were most severely effected, with her younger children doing better later at school. “I wish there could be peace and we could live normally,” said Arabiya.
The Israeli authorities have overseen the demolition of 24,000 homes, making 160,000 people homeless, since 1967. “Only 8 per cent of the demolitions are anything to do with security,” said Linda Ramsden, the director of ICAHD UK. “It is about dispossessing the Palestinian people, putting them into Bantustans.”
Linda explained how the ICAHD formed in 1997 from the peace movement in Israel. It was made up of those Israelis appalled at the way its government was treating the Palestinians. They went to the Palestinians and asked how they could help. The rebuilding of houses was agreed upon as the best thing they could do.
Linda explained how in the early days, the ICAHD would get notice of a house demolition and people would go to chain onto the building. “Now though the Israeli forces cordon off the street so we can’t get near to the houses, though we try to block the way,” said Linda, who revealed how this slowed the demolitons down and helped bring the actions to the attention of the international community.
The ICAHD has managed to rebuild 162 houses in the West Bank and east Jerusalem area over the past 13 years. Just 12 of these houses have been demolished by the Israeli authorities.
There have been casualties on the way with US citizen Rachel Corrie among those killed while undertaking the work.
The houses are rebuilt all of the time but the ICAHD has a focus on a summer camp that takes place over two weeks in July each year. At this time people come in from across the world to help with the work. Last year, some 43 Spanish people took part with the Spanish government paying for the whole project. This year there are people coming from the UK, US, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland for the camp. “The summer camps offer the opportunity to join with Israelis and Palestinians in rebuilding a house over two weeks. Then the house is handed over to the family,” said Linda.
Salim explains the house rebuilding programme very much in terms of political resistance. “We tell the families that maybe they will get their home, maybe not. They and us maybe arrested. The promise is that we will not leave them. If we have to rebuild the house ten times we will,” said Salim, who says the Israeli authorities think twice before attacking the area if they know there are people from other countries there supporting and doing the work. Salim recalled how the Israeli criticised the Spanish government over the housebuilding last year. “They have also tried to close down ICAHD and stop people sending money,” said Salim, who wants people in the UK to help the Palestinians to get justice. “We need to get this occupation off our backs. We would ask people to boycott Israeli goods because they are coming from the settlements. They are coming from stolen land, from the blood of the people,” said Salim.
* For more information see ICAHD UK, PO BOX 371 Leatherhead KT22 2EUTel: 05602 409976 firstname.lastname@example.org www.icahduk.org
Saturday, 7 August 2010
Fortunately, there are things happening to address oil dependency. The transition town initiative has built a model that people can use to reduce oil dependency.
There are now more than 180 such intitiatives across the country, including places as diverse as Totnes, Lewes and Exeter. The idea involves a small group of people coming together to discuss ways in which the local area can become more self sufficient and less dependent on oil. It is about building resilience, ready for the day when oil really does become scarce.
For the transition initiative to work, more people must become involved. This can be done initially by showing films, raising awareness about issues like climate crisis and peak oil. Then there must be a move to action.In Exeter, there have been a number of initiatives taken including buying four acres of land for a community farm. Anyone is welcome to come and take part. A couple of farms outside Exeter have also got involved, agreeing to solely supply organic products for the local community. The next move is to raise £190,000 that will enable the purchase of a property that will become a not-for profit co-operative store providng local organically produced food for the people. There are other initiatives to teach people how to produce their own crops and cook. Many of what were once the basic skills of life have been lost in a supermarket led fast food world, where sticking ready prepared meals in the oven has become the norm. Among the farming community there is increasing sympathy for transition style initiatives. One Cornish farmer, Victor Barry, has been farming organically for years. This has meant using horses to plough his fields, thereby cutting the carbon footprint to nil.The transition initiatives also take in other elements of local life like transport and energy systems. Some towns have gone as far as bringing in their own energy generating means like wind turbines, others have sort co-operation with energy companies to work more sustainably.So there is much going on but more needs to happen if the country is to ween itself off oil and save the planet - why delay?
Thursday, 29 July 2010
A question that sprang to mind was just how is the work of social justice in the Church being conducted at present? Attending the NJPN conferences it is difficult not to see it as an ageing movement, still made up of the children of the 1960s and 70s. This generation has faithfully struggled to live out the teachings of Vatican II but where are the new people, where’s the renewal?How many parishes actually operate justice and peace groups now? The commitment at diocesan level is certainly pretty sketchy with few diocese having workers and some lacking commissions. There is a definite belief amongst the hierarchy that while doing social justice is a constituent part of practicing the faith, but in terms of resourcing it is an added extra that can be done without. CAFOD has been a big backer of justice and peace over the years, providing funding for workers and the NJPN. Recently though CAFOD has seemed less enthusiastic in its support, whilst continuing to utilise the very valuable network that NJPN offers. A more recent player to emerge on the scene has been the Citizens Organising Foundation (COF) with its community organising via groups like London Citizens. This has proved a good way of getting whole parishes and schools signed up to the work of social justice. The living wage, regularisation of undocumented workers and debt reduction have all been valuable campaigns. Many J&P activists are active members of this organisation which is planning to expand out across the UK.What is lacking though is any real formation of people engaged in the work of social justice. The days when CAFOD actively pushed the pastoral cycle with its experience, analysis reflection, action and celebration aspects seem long gone.
The pastoral cycle was widely used by Christian communities pursuing justice based on liberation theology in Latin America. There was real formation in terms of social justice and the political sphere in which it operates, centred on a firm foundation of Church teaching.
Now unfortunately such formation work has given way to rather superficial campaigns that often involve deluging government ministers with postcards imploring them to act. Whilst this has a place, it should be an end in itself. It needs underpinning with justice theology and should be seen as a starting point to go on to something else.Community organising is no better at providing a process for the formation of people. It targets people in parishes with control of the purse strings. Once signed up, a few people are selected for leadership sessions but the organisation as a whole operates in a very disciplined hierarchial way. Member schools and parishes are summoned to fill out big halls for assemblies that are incredibly stage managed affairs, with no questions from the floor allowed. Community organising is more of a method than a process.
It was process and formation of people in the work of social justice that used to be so prevalent in justice and peace. This seems to have been lost. It is almost like running around like headless chickens wanting "to do" all of the time without any reflection or analysis. There is a feeling if we do enough - whether that is buying fair trade products, marching, protesting or acting ethically - then the world will become a better place. Whilst at one level this is no doubt true, at another the question of why the world is not a better place arises, and what motivates people to wish that it would.
The challenge for J&P is to get that process of formation back, that ability to analyse what is going on in the world and work out a process as to how to inculcate transformative kingdom values into that world.
There is an urgent need for these formation processes to begin again at a number of levels. There is the challenge of getting more people involved. Then there is the challenge of how people are moved on once they become engaged. Many want quick fixes, rather than putting in the time, looking at the structural causes of the problems and acting. Work for social justice is a lifelong commitment not a quick fix.
It is high time that the Church recognised this commitment and devoted some proper resources to the formation of communities steeped in social justice. At present this vital work is being too easily sidelined
Wednesday, 28 July 2010
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
The announcement was made to coincide with a decision to extend 28 day pre-charge detention for the six month period. A debate on renewal under the Prevention of Terrorism Act had to be undertaken by 25 July 2010.
The review will also include control orders and reform of Section 44 stop and search under the Terrorism Act 2000. The outcome of the review will be a real test of the coalition government’s colours regarding human rights. It follows on a Labour Government which was one of the most authoritarian in recent history.
To find the antecedents of 28 day pre-charge detention requires going back to the Guildford and Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. The first Prevention of Terrorism Act was introduced following the Birmingham pub bombings. Described by then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins as "draconian" this piece of legislation brought in seven day pre-charge detention. One of the first people detained under its provision was Paul Hill of the Guildford Four, so it had a good record for entrapping the innocent from the off.
It was subsequently used over the years to detain hundreds of thousands of people at the ports, airports and beyond. The detention period could be anything from an hour to seven days. Some 86 per cent of people were released without charge. The way in which the PTA was used effectively made a suspect community of the Irish. It also had the effect of stopping people getting overtly involved in the politics of the North.
The PTA came up for renewal each year. In the early 1980s the Labour Party changed to opposing the renewal, only to later abstain when Tony Blair took over as shadow home secretary in the early 1990s.
The next major change for pre-charge detention came in 2000 with the passing into law of the Terrorism Act. At a time of unprecedented peace, pre-charge detention was extended to 14 days. The timing of this move coming as it just as the peace process was underway in the North and 9/11 had yet to happen, proved to many that anti-terror law had little to do with preventing terrorism and everything to do with cutting back on human rights.
After 9/11, the government made an even more audacious grab for liberties bringing in the Anti-terror crime and security act which allowed for the indefinite detention of foreign nationals if they were felt to pose a threat to national security and could not be deported.
In 2004, the law lords ruled this legislation to be unlawful, resulting in proposals to bring in control orders and 90 day pre-charge detention.
A mighty battle raged over the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act resulting in the creation of the control order regime and agreement to 28 day pre-charge detention. The Blair government was defeated over 90 day pre-charge detention. There was a further attempt to up pre-charge detention in October 2008 under Prime Minister Gordon Brown failed due to a combination of opposition and the overwhelming effect of the financial crisis.
Human rights organisation Liberty point out that no one has been held for longer than 14 days since October 2008.
Liberty also point out that Britain has the highest level of pre-charge detention in the western world, with the US and Spain having two days, Italy four days and Spain five days. "Six months in Whitehall passes a lot quicker than 28 days in a police cell without knowing why. The Coalition has bound itself together with the language of civil liberties. Now it must reduce the longest pre-charge detention period of any western democracy," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty.
How the Coalition government deals with the issue of control orders will be another test of its mettle on civil liberties. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats both opposed them in opposition. Then Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman described control orders as “pure kafka” and “an affront to British justice.”
Liberty describe control orders as allowing “suspects to be indefinitely tagged, confined to their homes and banned from communicating with others without police interview, charge or trial.
“The effect of this legislation is that some people have been subject to detention and community punishment for over seven years on the basis of the Home Secretary’s suspicions and secret evidence which the suspect will never see.”
Concerns over backtracking by the new administration have surfaced with the revelation that two new control orders have been imposed on the Pakistani students Abid Naseer and Ahmed Faraz Khan. These two men won their appeal against being deported to Pakistan after no charges were brought against them relating to an alleged terror plot. Though the appeal was won the adjudicating body the Special Immigration Appeals Commission effectively branded them terrorists.
Three other control orders have been renewed bringing the total in force to 12. It will be interesting once the review is complete to see if control orders are banned and the paraphanalia of secret evidence the surrounds their imposition outlawed. Liberty are also submitting to the review that phone tap evidence should be admissible in court so making it easier to bring cases to court. The Coalition Government’s review offers hope of a rolling back of the anti-terror legislation and a restoration of liberty. However, a more cynical individual might suggest many of the most pernicious elements of these laws like control orders and 28 day pre-charge detention will simply be repackaged under new names or made “more accountable.” It would certainly be a rare thing to see a government giving back real liberty, after so many others having chipped away at this edifice for so long.
Wednesday, 30 June 2010
The best example of this phenonoma at work is what have become known as the dominant narratives of the moment. Over recent times, the first of these was the war on terror. This followed the attacks on America of 11 September 2001. There was an unprecedented reaction from the American administration, strongly supported by Britain.
The rhetoric of war was quickly deployed as the terrorist threat was hyped up. A “war” followed against Afghanistan, later to be followed by another on Iraq. Both assaults were justified by the need to defeat this evil known as terrorism but nicely coinciding with US and British strategic economic interests in the regions concerned.
The hyping of this unprecedented threat led at home and abroad to the shredding of human rights. Detention without trial, whether by the US military in Guantanamo Bay or British police and intelligence services in Belmarsh Prison, became commonplace. The practice of extraordinary rendition was deployed – effectively kidknapping people and taking them to countries where torture could be used to get the information required.
There was the routine abuse of prisoners in holding centres like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
Other liberties like the right to protest were also curtailed. A variety of authoritarian paraphanalia was developed, from control orders to ID cards, all legitimised on the back of the need to defeat terrorism.
During all of these post 9/11 developments, most in the media simply accepted the official version of events. The consensus that the threat posed by a group known as Al Qaeda – little of which was known prior to 9/11 – was as great as that of Nazi Germany under Hitler was taken without question.
The whole war on terror narrative was so easily sold. There should have been more questions about Al Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks and the destruction of human rights. The only winners have been the arms and oil companies.
The war on terror had a long duration as the dominant narrative, that only came to an end with the banking crisis. This crisis rocked the world and became the new narrative. This time there were references to the 1930s and the worst crisis ever. Again few questions that needed to be were asked. The media world accepted the disaster narrative and it fanned out. All economic news was bad news. It became an easy story to take some negative statistics, stand in front of a few shops that had closed down and predict gloom and doom. When there was good news, like more jobs being created by a supermarket chain, this became an add on to the main bad news story.
The narrative on this occasion was tinged by a need on the part of those who largely own and control the media for a change of government. The continually preached armageddon scenario was bad news for the Labour government which had adopted a Keynsian approach, pumping money in to stimulate demand and trying to get people spending again. Yet the news was all bad, suggesting things would get worse.
The economic crisis has now morphed into the present narrative which concerns the need for cuts in order to reduce the national debt, incurred mainly by the banking bail out. This has been sold again in apocalyptic terms. The war images have been run out yet again. The Dunkirk spirit called upon, as everyone must tighten their belts. The caveat here ofcourse is that some like the pensioners and public sector are being asked to tighten their belts that bit tighter that the bankers who created the crisis in the first place.
The media has been operating as an echo chamber for the narrative of national austerity. Few are again questioning the line. The present debt is nothing like that incurred during the post World War II period when the country was literally bankrupt. Yet at that time the NHS and the welfare state were created. Few ask why the very same institutions in the City of London who created the crisis in the first place are now effectively setting the terms as to who should be picking up the bill.
As can be seen from these examples there is no one cause that can be singled out for the basis of a narrative. It is a combination of factors including governments, business interests - particularly arms, oil and banking - and concentration of media into fewer and fewer hands. All of these factors contribute to creating narratives that are favourably generally to a rich elite and against the interests of the mass of people. The development is bad for democracy.
The question for journalists is why do we accept these narratives so easily without asking even the most basic of questions. The ease with which each of these narratives has been sold to journalists amounts to a type of self-censorship. The faculties of a questioning mind, inquisitiveness and a desire for truth seem to have been suspended indefinitely. It is not all bad news ofcourse, there are honourable exceptions to these dominant narratives. Brave work such as that conducted by journalists Stephen Grey to expose extraordinary rendition and the advocacy and writing of lawyer Clive Stafford Smith on Guantanamo Bay. But these are few and far between. The majority have gone along with the official truths, put out to keep the people down by engendering fear and to the benefit of vested interests. It is sad day for journalism and democracy when so many media operations have become not much more than covert wings of the propaganda world of public relations. Somehow journalists need to win back their independence and inquisitiveness. A healthy democracy demands more than the parroting of official truths
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
I was sitting in the front room of John Kelly, the brother of Michael, 17 when gunned down by the paratroopers on 30 January 1972.
John and the whole Kelly family wanted justice for Michael. It was 22 years since that horrific day but the family remained almost in a time warp unable to grieve or move on because justice had been denied them. Michael’s picture hung on the wall, a memory of a life destroyed.
Later I met with other relatives of the Bloody Sunday victims at the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry. They all had similar stories to tell of loved ones lost and the need to attain truth and justice before they could move on.
The declared aims of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign at the time were that the British government admit that all those killed were innocent, that the Widgery Inquiry report be repudiated and that those responsible for the murders be brought to justice.
The relatives though were a long way from attaining those aims. Lieutenant Colonel Derek Wilford, the officers commanding 1 Para on Bloody Sunday, had recently bragged that “quite honestly I owned the Bogside in military terms. I occupied it.” The one admission that the campaign had attained came in a letter from then Prime Minister John Major to SDLP leader John Hume that the victims “should be regarded as innocent of allegations that they were shot whilst handling firearms or explosives.”
The marches continued through the London streets every January to mark the atrocity of Bloody Sunday with similar events taking place in Derry every year. The relatives continued to represent their case to ministers in the North and London. Media interest ebbed and flowed. Channel 4 News did some good revelatory investigations. Derry based journalist Eamonn McCann produced his excellent book Bloody Sunday in Derry. Then came Don Mullan’s Eyewitness Bloody Sunday and the films followed. The pressure was building at the same time as the peace process was gaining momentum. It was made clear to Tony Blair by the Irish government that Bloody Sunday remained a road block on the path to peace process.
For many in the North, Bloody Sunday had become symbolic of the whole Troubles period. The protest had been organised by the civil rights movement against internment. It drew on the peaceful protest of other similar movements in America and beyond. The brutal actions of the army on that day in murdering 14 civilians effectively marked the end of peaceful protest. As has been well documented, in the days that followed Bloody Sunday young men were queuing up to join the IRA. The conflict was to last another 25 years, claiming 3,500 lives.
The big breakthrough for the relatives came when in 1998 as part of the choreography for the Good Friday Agreement, Prime Minister Tony Blair set up the Bloody Sunday inquiry to be led by Lord Mark Saville.
The inquiry initially took evidence in Derry, then moved to London because the soldiers were concerned for their safety in the North. John Kelly and the other relatives attended Westminster Central Hall over the period of a year, when the inquiry took the soldier’s evidence and that of a number of politicians, including Edward Heath, the Prime Minister at the time of Bloody Sunday.
The relatives at this time struggled, juggling jobs and home life as they shuttled between London and Belfast to hear the testimonies of those who killed their loved ones. The Irish community in London did much to support the relatives at this time.
I met John Kelly again at Westminster Central Hall when he heard testimony from Solider F who shot dead Michael. It was a difficult day but John felt better for at last having heard and seen the man who killed his brother.
That was all some years ago. The relatives have been kept waiting a long time to learn the findings of Lord Saville and his fellow judges. At last on 15 June the report was published. The blame was laid fully at the door of the British army. Soldiers were judged to have shot down innocent civilians. Some were said to have lied to the inquiry. The Widgery Inquiry, set up after Bloody Sunday, and widely regarded as a whitewash was totally repudiated. The British government accepted responsibility for the killing of its own citizens by its employees. Prime Minister David Cameron apologised, expressing his deep sorrow and declaring the killings to be “unjustified and unjustifiable.” Effectively, the demands of the Bloody Sunday Justice campaign had been achieved. The one question remaining was whether those responsible for the killings had been brought to justice. Some relatives want to see the soldiers concerned in the dock, prosecuted for the crime of murder. For others the findings of Lord Saville have so comprehensively put the blame on the army and repudiated the victims that they feel enough is enough.It has been a long hard struggle for the relatives of those who died on Bloody Sunday but at last they have achieved justice and truth. The question is where next? It has been suggested that some sort of truth and reconciliation process maybe needed on a wider scale. This no doubt would help the healing process but needs to be handled very carefully, with different groups all too willing to adopt their own hierarchies of suffering. Only time will tell, but for the meantime all credit has to go to the relatives who campaigned so long for justice – their success is something that people in struggle everywhere should share.