29 July, 2007

Thesis Latest!

One chapter finished!

(by "finished" I mean that I have written a chapter, that it has not been proofread, that it is a rambling piece of ye liveliest awfulnesse, and that it has loads of XXXXs where citations ought to be; but sure Rome was not built in a day)

28 July, 2007

An East European Oddity

I have read a fascinating blog article on Latveria, one of the more unusual Eastern European countries: Latveria's Future. Alone among its immediate neighbours, Latveria escaped involvement in the Second World War and incorporation into the Soviet Bloc alliance system, though it did nevertheless succumb to authoritarian rule. It enjoyed a brief transition to democracy in the early 1990s, but authoritarian forces were able to stage a comeback; it is now something of an anomaly, the only self-declared non-democracy in Europe outside the former Soviet Union. The article discusses how the rolling forces of globalisation are starting to impact on this isolationist country and its eccentric ruler.

UPDATE: my old friend and quaffing partner Nicholas Whyte offers his own thoughts on the Latverian question, based on his own visits to the country and suchlike: Latveria and the EU

20 July, 2007

"The Battle of Algiers"

I saw well-known film The Battle of Algiers again recently. This is a piece of political cinema about the Algerian war against the French, focusing on events in Algiers. It is in two parts – firstly the FLN rebels begin their campaign, effectively taking over the old city of Algiers and striking outside it against French military, police, and civilian targets. The second part shows the French response – the Paratroopers are deployed to crush the rebellion with the most uncompromising of methods. It is often said of fictional things that the villains are more interesting than the heroes; that is certainly true of this one, as the commander of the paras is by far the most charismatic and fascinating character in the film, and probably the one who gets the most individual screen time. This is not to denigrate the FLN characters, but merely to emphasise how the colonel gets all the best lines.

People often talk about how there are parallels between the Algerian war's uncompromising savagery and current events in Palestine and Iraq. As a result this film has enjoyed a new lease of life, reputedly being watched by Pentagon officials and US military types as a counter-insurgency training film (presumably they forget that the French lost in Algeria). If you have ever been to Hebron or, particularly, Jerusalem, the film will have resonances for you, if only for the look of the streets and their almost chthonic feeling.

I wonder sometimes, though, whether people learn the wrong lessons from the film. I particular think this of the left, or of people broadly supportive of Palestinian militancy and the various insurgencies in Iraq. The Battle of Algiers is very sympathetic to the FLN's armed struggle, not merely when it is directed against the security apparatus of the French, but also when French civilians are being targeted. The film presents the blowing up of caf├ęs, airline offices, and teen hangouts as unfortunate and distressing, but also necessary as a means to terrorise the French into granting independence to the Algerians. Yet, as someone on ILX points out, the FLN's violent campaign is revealed by the film to be a complete failure. It provokes a massive response by the authorities, who break the FLN as a military force, killing or arresting their activists. What finally breaks French will is not more terrorism, but an outbreak of mass agitation against colonial rule. I feel that this is something that people in Palestine could reflect on.

The discourse around the Palestinian struggle is often based on the idea that the imbalance of forces between Israel and Palestine is such that asymmetric war against Israeli civilians is the Palestinians' only option. This analysis never steps back to pondering whether killing Israeli civilians actually advances the cause of Palestinian freedom? I think not – if anything it retards it, providing a smoke screen for the Israelis to justify greater repression and land theft in the name of security. In any case, the Israelis, like the French, have succeeded in more or less totally defeating the Palestinian militants. The ability of Palestinians to strike at Israeli targets is now extremely limited, apart from those targets within rocket range of the Gaza strip. I cannot but think that like with Algeria, it is necessary for the Palestinians to try something else.

There is a poignant bit in the film where two FLN activists are talking. One says to the other "The real struggle begins when we achieve independence". Given Algeria's miserable post independence history, it is hard not to think "Jesus, you FLN guys really fucked that one up".

09 July, 2007

The Palestinian Prime Minister

The BBC reported today that Israel's foreign minister has met the Palestinian Prime Minister. The odd thing about this is that she has met a Mr Salam Fayyad, and not Mr Ismail Haniyeh. Mr Haniyeh was chosen as the Palestinian Authority by the Palestinian parliament after elections last year. The Basic Law of the Palestinian Authority states that the parliament elects the prime minister, who remains responsible to it. While the president can sack the prime minister, any new prime minister must be appointed by the parliament. Until this happens, the sacked prime minister remains in office in a caretaker capacity.

If you want to know more about the constitutional prerogatives of various office holders in the Palestinian Authority, check out this document: What Can Abu Mazin Do?

Hamas: agents of freedom?

As you know, Hamas fighters recently cleared the Gaza Strip of security officials loyal to Fatah boss Mohammed Dahlan. Since then a degree of law and order seems to have been imposed on this troubled territory. It is early days yet, and it is always possible that the less friendly face of Hamas might soon be seen by residents of the strip. Hamas nevertheless have scored a number of propaganda coups lately. Firstly, they organised the release of Alan Johnston by the fringe militant/criminal group holding him. And today they managed to rescue a prisoner who has been held by criminals for nearly two years. Sabrina the Lioness was abudcted from Gaza Zoo by criminals who were apparently charged people 50p a time to be photgraphed beside her. Sabrina is apparently very happy to be reunited with her brother Sakher in the zoo.

The Israelis are getting in on this rescuing animals lark. Two golden eagles were busted out of a pet shop in Hebron by paratroopers last week.

02 July, 2007


Mordechai Vanunu used to work in the Dimona nuclear plant in Israel. Then he quit his job and travelled to Europe, where he sold a story to the Sunday Times about how Dimona was a nuclear bomb factory. The Israeli secret services kidnapped him from Italy and transported him back to Israel, where he was thrown in jail. He was eventually to serve some eighteen years, much of it in solitary. I am not aware of the Italian authorities taking much interest in tracking down his kidnappers.

Vanunu was released in 2004, but under draconian conditions. He was not allowed to talk to foreigners, not allowed to approach foreign embassies, and not allowed to leave the state of Israel. He did not talk to me when I was staying in the guest house where he lived in 2005, but he apparently has been having some chats with some non-Israelis, and has now been thrown back in jail for another six months.

Vanunu apparently knows astonishing secrets on whose suppression the state of Israel depends for its security. It is fascinating to speculate as to what these might be, given that his initial disclosures (backed up by his kidnapping) revealed Israel to be nuclear power.


Vanunu sentenced to new jail term

Israel jails Vanunu over foreign contacts

Mordechai Vanunu's own website (he probably does not update it himself, as accessing the Internet is another thing he is not allowed to do)