The song was featured in a video (on YouTube and Facebook) for the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched last week, just after Donald Trump’s unfortunate election victory, which, sadly, makes it seems less, rather than more likely that Guantánamo will be closed unless, before he leaves office in January, President Obama can fulfill the promise to close the prison that he first made on his second day in office.
As the last verse of the song states:
Obama promised to close the prison for good
On his second day in office
But Republicans resisted his plans
And he lacked the political will to do it
But as the years drag on and on
And the men still held get older and iller
Endless imprisonment without charge or trial
Is what it always was — a form of torture
This coming Sunday, November 20, I’ll be talking about “Demonising the ‘Other’: Tackling the rise of racism and xenophobia” at a fascinating one-day festival, the Festival of Ideas for Change, organised by the Brockley Society and the St. John’s Society. The festival is taking place in the Mural Hall at Prendergast Hilly Fields College in Brockley, London SE4 (the address is Adelaide Avenue, SE4 1LE, but the Mural Hall is actually in the main building at the top of Hilly Fields). Entrance is free, but you do need to book here, via TicketSource.
I’m one of 17 speakers during the day, and we’ll each be speaking for ten minutes in four different sessions — ‘Participation and democracy’ at 10.30am, ‘A fairer world’ at 12 noon, ‘An inclusive society’ at 2pm (at which I’ll be speaking), and ‘Building a new economy’ at 3.30pm, and there will be questions and discussion after each session.
This is something of a first for me, and I’m looking forward to it. Regular readers will know, of course, that for over ten years I have focused most of my work on Guantánamo and related issues, although I have always made room for involvement in and commentary about other issues, particularly involving the takeover of politics by largely interchangeable parties devoted only to the enrichment of the rich, and to putting the greed of banks and corporations above the needs of the people. Over the last six years, a major focus of my non-Guantánamo work has related to the cynical age of austerity implemented since 2010 by the Tories, targeting the unemployed, the disabled and immigrants. Read the rest of this entry »
Like June 23, 2016, November 8, 2016 will go down in the history books as a day when dreams of progress and tolerance and hope were brutally dashed. On June 23, in the UK, a slim majority of voters who could be bothered to turn out to vote in the EU referendum gave a kicking to the British establishment and endorsed racism and xenophobia, damaging the economy for no discernibly important reason whatsoever, making us a laughing stock around the world, and resetting the UK’s default position on tolerance to one in which foreigners can be openly abused, and anyone foreign-born, or appearing to be foreign-born, can be treated as “the other.”
In the US, as Jonathan Freedland wrote for the Guardian today, “We thought the United States would step back from the abyss. We believed … that Americans would not, in the end, hand the most powerful office on earth to an unstable bigot, sexual predator and compulsive liar.”
And yet, that is exactly what happened, and the parallels with the UK are, unfortunately, illuminating. Voters gave a kicking to the establishment, represented by Hillary Clinton, and white voters turned to Trump, the showman who, like Nigel Farage, pretended to be a “man of the people,” even though that was patently untrue. Read the rest of this entry »
Great, great, great news from the High Court, as three of the most senior judges in the UK — the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Sales — have ruled that “Parliament alone has the power to trigger Brexit by notifying Brussels of the UK’s intention to leave the European Union,” as the Guardian reported it, adding that the ruling was “likely to slow the pace of Britain’s departure from the EU and is a huge setback for Theresa May, who had insisted the government alone would decide when to trigger the process.”
Despite Theresa May’s wishful thinking, the Lord Chief Justice reminded her — and her ministers — that “the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that Parliament is sovereign,” something that those us with better knowledge of British democracy than our most senior ministers have been pointing out for the last four months.
Lord Thomas said, specifically, “The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court, the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers.” Read the rest of this entry »
On the face of it, only a little, but beneath the surface all is not right with the Brexit camp, as Britain — or perhaps, particularly, England — has settled into some horrible racist reality that ought to alarm all decent human beings. This week, as child refugees with relatives in the UK were finally allowed into the country after months languishing in the refugee camp in Calais (the so-called “Jungle”) because the government, up to that point, had done nothing, the response of our disgusting right-wing tabloid newspapers — the Mail, the Sun, the Express, the Star — was to claim that they were not children (I was reminded of Donald Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Richard Myers claiming that the children held at Guantánamo were not children).
Then the disgusting ordinary racists of Britain got involved — the seemingly countless numbers of people empowered since the referendum result to be even more openly racist than previously, and, of course, those who, for many years now, have been exulting in their power to write whatever filth they want on social media, up to and including death threats, and mostly to get away with it.
Two particular targets of the online trolls were the singer Lily Allen, who had been reduced to tears after visiting the Calais refugee camp, and had apologised “on behalf of England”, and footballing hero and Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker, who so appalled by the media witch hunt and support for it that he tweeted, “The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?” and then faced calls for him be sacked, which he fought back against admirably, His best response, I thought, was, “Getting a bit of a spanking today, but things could be worse: Imagine, just for a second, being a refugee having to flee from your home.” Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting Yemi Hailemariam, the partner of Andy Tsege (Andargachew Tsege), a prominent opponent of the Ethiopian government, who, as I explained when Yemi subsequently stood for a photo for the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, “was kidnapped” in Yemen “and rendered to Ethiopia on the command of the Ethiopian government” in June 2014, as his lawyers at Reprieve explained, adding that he was “held in secret detention and in solitary confinement for over a year, without access to any form of due process. He has been paraded on Ethiopian TV looking ill and gaunt. He was given an in absentia death sentence in 2009. He could be executed at any time.” Andy is pictured above, with Yemi and their three children.
I noted the above when I posted Yemi’s photo, back in May, at a time when the British government, with Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, had refused to act decisively on Andy’s behalf. Since then, of course, David Cameron has resigned following the EU referendum debacle, Theresa May has become our new and unelected Prime Minister, and Hammond has become home secretary, with May surprising everyone by appointing Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, a man with a history of racist comments about countries and people he is now supposed to be presenting himself to as a responsible and statesman-like figure.
No one who has seen the footage of John Kerry wincing as Johnson was grilled by journalists at one of his first outings as foreign secretary (a joint US-UK press conference) can be in any doubt that Johnson is ill-suited to the role, but he is now responsible for Britain’s position with regard to Andy Tsege, and answerable to the more than 130,000 people who have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for Andy to be freed. Read the rest of this entry »
This Sunday, October 16, my band The Four Fathers will be playing our first gig since summer, when we had a run of gigs in south east London — and a spot at Molly’s Bar at the WOMAD world music festival in Wiltshire.
We’re playing at the Arts Cafe, in Manor Park, in Lewisham, London SE13, a community cafe run by Fred Schmid (a jazz saxophonist) and his partner Banu, following up on a gig there in July. The Facebook page is here. It’s a wonderful space, beside the River Quaggy, which burbles past on its way to the centre of Lewisham, where it meets the Ravensbourne and feeds into the Thames at Deptford.
No one has definitively defined our sound yet, but we think it would be fair to describe it as a mix of pastoral rock and punky roots reggae. Certainly, no one who knows my work would be surprised that, as the lead singer and main songwriter, I bring my indignation about injustice from my work as a journalist and human rights activist into my music. Read the rest of this entry »
It was always worrying that Theresa May, on being handed the leadership of the Conservative Party, unelected by either the Party or, more crucially, the British public, was immediately positioned as a safe pair of hands by the corrupt mainstream media, an illusion that was widely embraced by ordinary members of the general public. Immediately, it became apparent that a strong-looking woman in charge of the Tory party — and suddenly the ghost of Margaret Thatcher was back amongst us — appeals not just to Tory boarding school inadequates, but also to the British people in general, as a result, I believe, of the deep damage caused to the British psyche by centuries of class division and Puritanism.
Metaphysically, Theresa May was the only senior official left standing after the brutal denouement of the EU referendum — with David Cameron gone, George Osborne doomed, Boris Johnson disgraced for having campaigned to win something he didn’t even believe in, and Michael Gove just plain creepy — but that didn’t mean she should have been anointed to lead, after the last irritant, Andrea Lettsom, was disposed of.
As I hope I made clear in my article, As Theresa May Becomes Prime Minister, A Look Back at Her Authoritarianism, Islamophobia and Harshness on Immigration, she is not a safe pair of hands at all, but an alarming authoritarian, with a track record on counter-terrorism that is dangerously Islamophobic — remember her obsession with deporting Abu Qatada, rather than putting him on trial if he had committed a crime (see here and here), remember how she crowed about extraditing a Muslim British citizen with Asperger’s to the US, but refused to extradite a white British citizen with Asperger’s (see my Al-Jazeera article here), and remember how she stripped British citizens in Syria of their citizenship so that they could be killed in US drone attacks (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday it was 100 days since a slim majority of the British people who could be bothered to vote in the EU referendum decided that they wanted us to leave the EU after 43 years’ membership, a generally ill-considered decision that I wrote about at length at the time — see my articles UK Votes to Leave the EU: A Triumph of Racism and Massively Counter-Productive Political Vandalism, Life in the UK After the EU Referendum: Waking Up Repeatedly at a Funeral That Never Ends, Not Giving Up: Photos from the March for Europe in London, Saturday July 2, 2016 and As the Leaderless UK Begins Sinking, MPs, Media and British Citizens Don’t Seem to Care.
As the Tories’ annual conference gets underway, Brexit hangs over it like a black cloud, however much our unelected Prime Minister Theresa May wishes that were not the case. The beneficiary of the collapse of David Cameron’s government after the referendum — and the discrediting of the Tories’ main cheerleaders for the Leave campaign, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove — May has done very little since coming to power, beyond expressing a largely unpopular desire to fill the nation with grammar schools.
On Brexit, as a generally unenthusiastic member of the Remain camp, she has tried to wash her hands of the referendum’s toxicity, appointing three stooges to preside over our departure from the EU — Boris Johnson brought back, embarrassingly, as foreign secretary, plus David Davis, allegedly in charge of negotiating our departure from the EU, and the crook Liam Fox, who resigned because of inappropriate behavior in 2011, when he was the defence secretary, after breaking the ministerial code by repeating allowing his friend Adam Werrity, a lobbyist, into meetings with military figures, diplomats and defence contractors. For more on the failures of Boris Johnson, David Davis and, particularly, Liam Fox, see this withering criticism by the Tories’ former business minister Anna Soubry. Read the rest of this entry »
It was with some shock that, two weeks ago, I read the following headline in the Guardian: “Government blocks plan to force out London estate residents.”
The article was about the Aylesbury Estate in Walworth, south east London, one of the largest estates in western Europe, built between 1967 and 1977. Labour-held Southwark Council is in the process of destroying the estate, replacing it with new, privately-funded housing in which genuinely affordable flats will be almost non-existent, and ensuring that many of the estate’s residents are socially cleansed out of London — or at least have to move to less desirable boroughs than Southwark.
At the Aylesbury, the council is working with Notting Hill Housing, a former social homebuilder that has enthusiastically embraced the drive towards building private housing and offering unhelpful — and not genuinely affordable — part-rent, part-buy options for former social renters that has been prompted by government cuts.
Astonishingly, this is the same Southwark Council that engaged in social cleansing at Walworth’s other huge estate, the Heygate, for which they were soundly criticised. The estate was sold for a pittance to the Australian developers Lendlease, who are currently building a monstrous new private estate, Elephant Park, which features no genuinely affordable social housing. The Heygate’s tenants, meanwhile, have ended up scattered across south east London, Kent and beyond, as the graph below shows. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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