Monday, 20 October 2014

Manufacturing Terrorism

Domestic Terror: Police constables and detectives outside the Wellington Trades Hall, 27 March 1984. After 33 years of vilification directed at trade unionists, at least one of their enemies finally made the leap from words to deeds, and an innocent caretaker, Ernie Abbott, lost his life.

“IF ANYONE BELIEVES there is absolutely no risk of a form of domestic terrorism here then they're actually deluded.” So says John Key, our Prime Minister, and of course he’s right. New Zealand has already been the victim of at least one fatal domestic terrorist bombing. The carefully planned and professionally executed attack resulted in the death of an elderly Wellingtonian. Sadly, the perpetrator (or perpetrators) of this terrorist outrage have yet to be brought to justice.
The Wellington Trades Hall Bombing of 27 March 1984 had only one victim, the building’s caretaker, Ernie Abbott. He was killed by three sticks of gelignite concealed in a suitcase and triggered by a movement-sensitive mercury switch. It is generally conceded in trade union circles that the bomb’s intended target was not the unfortunate caretaker but the impending meeting of the Wellington Trades Council Executive. Ernie Abbott (as is so often the case with terrorist attacks) was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
What differentiates the Wellington Trades Hall Bombing from more recent acts of terrorism around the world is that the bomber’s motives were ideological – not religious.
A deep hatred (and that is not too strong a word) for organised labour lies at the very core of the National Party’s ideology. Unions are despised and feared by National Party members because their unabashed collectivism challenges directly the individualist ideal so vital to the conservative’s self-image. It took the first National Government just fourteen months to engineer a run-of-the-mill dispute between the Waterside Workers’ Union and the ship-owners into a brutal and divisive industrial confrontation lasting five months, during which nearly all of the accepted notions of democracy and civil liberty were cast aside.
And if you think such animosity is a thing of the past, then just look at the recently re-elected National Government’s legislative agenda. At the very top you will find the long-delayed “reforms” of the Employment Relations Act. By the time Michael Woodhouse finishes the job begun by his predecessor, Simon Bridges, the already fragile capacity of trade unions to service their members will be reduced still further.
It is precisely within such officially-sanctioned (and all-too-often officially created) climates of fear, loathing, denigration and discrimination that domestic terrorism grows and acquires strength. In the 33 years that separated the 1951 Waterfront Dispute from the Wellington Trades Hall Bombing, at least one right-wing extremist was impelled beyond the political conviction that trade unions had no right to exist, to the homicidal belief that trade unionists – or, at least, their “misleaders” – had no right to live.

Cold Case: In spite of intensive enquiries, the identity of the Wellington Trades Hall Bombers has never been discovered. The file remains open.
Which is why the best defence against domestic terrorism is always political and religious tolerance and officially reiterated respect for the rights and liberties of the citizen. The very worst thing that any government can do to restrict the growth of terrorism is to either openly declare, or slyly imply, to a majority of the population that it is under threat from a dangerous and alien minority: the proverbial “enemy within”.
The designation of any minority population – the New Zealand Muslim community, for example – as a potential “breeding ground” for terrorists, immediately sets up a pernicious and potentially deadly dynamic.
Members of the majority culture may feel encouraged to take “action” against the potential “terrorists”. This has already happened in Australia where, following the massive police “anti-terrorist” raids of Muslim addresses in New South Wales and Queensland, Muslim women and girls have been verbally abused and physically attacked for wearing traditional attire.
In response to such persecution, the citizens living in these targeted communities may feel obligated to defend themselves against the majority culture. In such fraught circumstances, extremists of all kinds – local and foreign – will inevitably receive a more sympathetic hearing.
Finally, if Government’s response to the threat of terrorism is to increase dramatically the surveillance and interrogative powers of the State, then the officials so empowered, protected from both media scrutiny and judicial sanction, may themselves begin to behave in ways indistinguishable from the terrorists they are supposed to be protecting it from.
Holding people in solitary confinement for days or weeks without access to family or friends. Subjecting detainees to traumatic forms of interrogation. Is this not, itself, a form of terrorism?

State-Sponsored Terrorism: On 10 July 1985 French agents blew a hole in The Rainbow Warrior, killing Greenpeace's Portuguese photographer, Fernando Pereira.
Let’s not forget, New Zealand’s other fatal bombing, of the Rainbow Warrior, was perpetrated by state terrorists.
This essay was originally published by The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 17 October 2014.

Friday, 17 October 2014

What A Real Labour Party Member Sounds Like.


HARRY SMITH, 92 years old, describes the world in which he was raised. A world of poverty in which the ravages of ill health simply could not be resisted by ordinary working-class families. Harry lost his sister to tuberculosis and heard his neighbour succumb, with agonised cries, to cancer. "My life", he told the British Labour Party Conference, "is your history, and we should keep it that way."

In 1945, at the age of 22, Harry cast his first vote for Labour to secure the National Health Service which formed the centrepiece of the Party's manifesto. Seventy-one years later, he implores the members of the contemporary Labour Party to hold fast to the crowning achievement of their predecessors.

To Britain's present Prime Minister Harry Smith had only this to say: "Mr Cameron keep your mitts off my NHS!"

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

What A Genuinely Progressive Leader Sounds Like

I FOUND THIS extraordinary recording while searching for something quite unrelated on Google. It contains excerpts from Franklin Delano Roosevelt's speech to Democratic Party supporters gathered in their thousands at New York's Madison Square Garden during the presidential election campaign of 1936.

Under the rubric of Roosevelt's "New Deal", the United States was passing through what was undoubtedly the most radical period of economic and social reform in its history. After four years in the White House, Roosevelt, as is plain from this recording, was at the peak of his powers as a reforming (as opposed to his later role as America's wartime) president.

Of most interest - at least to me - is the way Roosevelt confronts head-on his enemies in the ruling-class. "They are unanimous in their hatred for me," he bellows defiantly, "and I welcome their hatred!" It is difficult to imagine any American (or New Zealand!) politician uttering such a statement in the Twenty-First Century. Nor was Roosevelt willing to step back one inch from his programme of reform: "Of course we will continue ...", he repeatedly assures his followers ("Yes we can!"?) and then proceeds to reiterate every radical plank in the Democratic Party's platform.

Yes, times have changed. And, yes, we might approach social and economic crises on the scale of those of the early 1930s differently in 2014. But the need for, and the inspirational effect of raw political courage and an unswerving commitment to the needs of ordinary people: that does not change.

Video courtesy of YouTube.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Discordant Chimes Of Freedom: Why Labour Has Yet To Be Forgiven.

Whose Tune? The state of New Zealand politics in 2014 is a reflection of the decades-long discordant clash of the two great manifestations of humanity's will to be free: freedom from and freedom to. (The painting, Divine Light Series No. 45: The Suspended Broken Square, is by the Chinese artist, Zhang Yu.)
WHY DOES THE ELECTORATE routinely punish Labour and the Greens for their alleged “political correctness” but not National? It just doesn’t seem fair.
Consider, for example, the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 – the so-called “anti-smacking legislation” – which was passed by the House of Representatives with broad bi-partisan support (113 votes to 7) on 16 May 2007.
John Key had actually come to Helen Clark’s parliamentary rescue over this progressive (but highly controversial) measure by throwing most of National’s votes behind it. He’d even stood alongside the Prime Minister when the deal ensuring Sue Bradford’s private members bill would be passed by a substantial majority was announced.
And yet, in spite of his overt support for Bradford’s bill, neither Key nor his National Party suffered any significant electoral damage in the 2008 election.
The same could NOT be said of Clark and Labour. In fact, their support for the anti-smacking legislation is generally regarded as one of the more important factors contributing to the Labour-led Government’s loss.
Clearly Labour’s support for measures like the anti-smacking bill is viewed in a way that is very different from the way most voters view National’s politically correct gestures. In the end, I believe that it boils down to motive. It’s not so much what a political party supports as why.
When Labour was unambiguously the party of the working-class, the question of political motivation was reasonably clear. Labour backed the workers’ trade unions and was dutifully funded by them in return. Labour similarly strove, whenever it was given the chance, to improve the Welfare State it had created in the 1930s and 40s. It built state houses for working families and used the large state-owned enterprises – NZ Railways, the Post Office, and the Ministry of Works – to soak up unskilled labour which would otherwise be unemployed. Labour was also the party most closely associated with nation-building – not simply in the form of its massive public works projects, but also in the way of fostering and funding a distinct New Zealand identity and culture. The State Literary Fund and the NZ Symphony Orchestra were Labour Party creations.
In the 1950s and 60s Labour’s ranks were swelled by young, idealistic men who had come back from the Second World War determined to make all the suffering and destruction mean something. Politicians like Martyn Finlay, Phil Amos and Bob Tizard wanted to soften a society that could still be very harsh and unforgiving. To the radical economic reforms of the pre-war period they sought to add a strong measure of liberal social reform.
This younger generations’ liberal ideas were not universally welcomed in Labour’s ranks, where the influence of the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches remained very strong. On matters pertaining to Christian forgiveness and the sanctity of human life, such as Capital Punishment, the liberals and the more traditional elements of the party marched together. On matters pertaining to human sexuality and the role of women in society, however, there was considerably less agreement.
In the 1970s and 80s Labour’s ranks were swelled by yet another cohort of young idealists. Their formative political memories were not of economic depression and world war but of uninterrupted prosperity, national liberation movements, Cold War paranoia, mutual and assured nuclear destruction and the obscenity that was Vietnam.
The economic equality Labour had fought so hard to secure was experienced by the numerically vast Baby Boom generation as a near-obsessional concern with economic security. In political terms this quest for security took on a decidedly authoritarian cast. The so-called “RSA Generation” expected and exacted strict conformity to their notion of the good society.
The Baby Boomers were having none of it. Many of them – especially the many thousands swelling the university rolls – emphatically rejected their parents’ social and political docility. What they wanted was freedom. Not the freedom their parents had sought: freedom from. The freedom they were seeking was much more radical. It was the kind of freedom which had, throughout the course of human history, been reserved almost exclusively for the rich and the powerful: freedom to.
But freedom from was Labour’s defining rallying cry. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from ignorance and disease: these were the freedoms Labour offered. Freedom to was National’s rallying cry.
No one understood this better than Norman Kirk. In his address to the 1974 annual conference of Labour Party, made just four months before his death, he spelt out the difference between the two types of freedom:
Margaret Hayward, Big Norm’s private secretary, summarised his remarks in her Diary of the Kirk Years:

The Prophet: Norman Kirk at the Labour Party's 1974 annual conference.
“And the permissive society – it was just another way of saying ‘I can do what I like’. That would include not just the right to use marijuana but the right to exploit, to speculate, to put monetary gain above social duty.
“Some customs and laws might well become irrelevant through the passage of time, but the permissive society, carried to its logical end, meant that there was no law. ‘And if there is no law, the freedom of the permissive society is a trap and a prison for the weak in society.’ ”
Labour’s baby-boomers didn’t listen. Hadn’t the party already solved all the problems associated with freedom from? Wasn’t the country fully-employed, comfortably housed, kept healthy, and offered educational opportunities all the way to varsity at the State’s expense? Yes (in 1974) it was. So, Labour needed to shift its gaze from yesterday’s problems – the problems of scarcity – and focus, instead, on the problems of today and tomorrow – the problems of abundance. What the rising generation of voters wanted was the freedom to become something altogether different; something new; something better!
Except that material deprivation wasn’t the only problem that needed the Left’s attention.  For female, Maori and homosexual New Zealanders the problem was how to win their freedom from a daunting nexus of legal and social discrimination. Or, to turn the problem around: how to win the freedom to be themselves. The debate had been growing in both volume and intensity since the late-1960s. By the early 1980s, freedom from and freedom to had begun to merge.
And then, in 1981, all this progressive philosophical wrangling was suddenly confronted by an altogether unexpected New Zealand – one with very different ideas on the meaning of freedom. Presented with the Left’s demand that New Zealand do everything it could to secure Black South Africa’s freedom from racial oppression, this other New Zealand claimed the freedom to go about its lawful business without let or hindrance. Against the Left’s freedom to protest against injustice, the Right asserted the Rugby fans’ freedom to watch a sporting fixture in peace – free from moral and physical intimidation.
Faced with the inconvenient truth that freedom meant different things to different people, the Left predictably (and as events in South Africa, at least, would later prove, justifiably) determined that their definitions were superior.
That a huge number of working-class people had rejected the Left’s account of freedom did not give the latter pause. In spite of everything Labour had done for them, these workers had failed dismally the ethical test History had set for them. It was a judgement which, as the global rejection of freedom from in favour of freedom to gathered pace, was about to cost working people dearly.
In the Fourth Labour Government the Baby Boomer Left’s sense of moral superiority and its conviction that the time was ripe to escape the constricting hug of freedom from and embrace the exhilarating possibilities of freedom to came together in Roger Douglas’s fatal cocktail of ruthless and largely unmandated economic and social “reform”. Kirk’s prophecy of ten years earlier, that “the permissive society” – freedom to – “would include not just the right to use marijuana but the right to exploit, to speculate, to put monetary gain above social duty” was borne out – with a vengeance!
It was something that just about everybody actively engaged in the 1981 Springbok Tour protests remembers: the way pro- and anti-tour people could identify one another, often at considerable distances, with almost 100 percent accuracy. There was something about the way they dressed, the cut of their hair, their gait, the way they took in (or ignored) the world around them, that positively screamed-out their position on the Tour. It was a very useful survival skill for the outnumbered anti-tour protesters, but it no doubt proved useful to the pro-tour people as well.
I wonder, now, 33 years later, whether something similar still lingers in the New Zealand community. Whether the same subtle signals are still being broadcast and received by the antagonistic groupings within our divided society. Whether people look at Labour’s and National’s representatives and make exactly the same instant judgements that we made all those years ago. Is he or she one of us – or them?

Instantly Recognisable: Supporters and opponents of the 1981 Springbok Tour could spot each other from 100 metres.
I wonder, too, 30 years after the election of the Fourth Labour Government, how many Labour MPs realise how many New Zealanders are, once again, in the political marketplace for freedom from?
National will always get a pass from working people for promoting freedom to – it’s what they do and, frankly, it’s a freedom that a great many working people themselves hunger for. Labour, however, will always be judged more rigorously. It cannot get away with saying “I can do what I like.” To be Labour is to be forever associated with what Norman Kirk called our “social duty”.
In the bitter words that some unknown but desperate person spray-painted on the wall of the Christchurch Trades Hall in the late-1980s for the unions, the Labour Party and the Left in general to read:
“You were supposed to help.”
This essay was originally published by The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 15 October 2014.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Between The Sea And The Stars


THIS HAUNTING SONG Gortoz A Ran (I Am Waiting) written and sung here by the incomparable Denez Prigent and Lisa Gerrard, was chosen as the theme song for Ridley Scott’s 2001 movie Black Hawk Down.
As the West contemplates yet another foray into the broken world of Middle Eastern conflict, it is timely, surely, to contemplate the bitter lessons of Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The song’s lyrics, translated from the original Breton, are printed below.
I was waiting, waiting for a long time
In the dark shadow of grey towers
In the dark shadow of grey towers
In the dark shadow of rain towers
You will see me waiting forever
You will see me waiting forever
One day it will come back
Over the lands, over the seas
The blue wind will return
And take back with it my wounded heart
I will be pulled away by its breath
Far away in the stream, wherever it wishes
Wherever it wishes, far away from this world
Between the sea and the stars

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

If Kobane Falls?

Under Fire: The fate of the Syrian border-town of Kobane has assumed an international significance. Its capture by the forces of the Islamic State would be a serious blow to the West's collective resolve to degrade and ultimately destroy this new and extremely dangerous radical Islamist project.
IF KOBANE FALLS – or should that be when Kobane falls – a number of terrible things will happen. Any Kurdish soldiers found alive in the Syrian border town will be killed. For propaganda purposes some will be beheaded, their deaths recorded, and the video clips uploaded to the Internet. Young Shi’ite women will be rounded up and sent deeper into the Islamic State (IS) where many will find themselves being offered to IS soldiers as “brides”. Any professional women (doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers) found in Kobane will face instant execution by the Islamic State pour encourager les autres. All facilities for the secular education of women will be closed.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – the strategic and geographical coherence of the Islamic State will be greatly enhanced and their victorious forces re-deployed to apply what is likely to prove decisive additional psychological and military pressure on Iraqi forces battling the Islamic State’s advance into Anbar province.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – the resolve of those Western nations pledged to degrade and destroy its aggressive military potential will be further weakened. Turkey, a NATO ally of the US and UK forces already engaged in Iraq and Syria, will face furious international condemnation for refusing to deploy the overwhelming strength of its armed forces in defence of Kobane’s Kurdish defenders.
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – many people in the West will observe that if the Syrian people’s nearest neighbour is prepared to sit on its hands and watch while thousands of soldiers and civilians are slaughtered or sent into sexual slavery, then why should nations thousands of kilometres from the fighting be expected to expend blood and treasure on their rescue?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – New Zealand’s Prime Minister, John Key, and his Cabinet will be faced with some extremely difficult decisions. They must weigh very carefully the costs and benefits of committing elements of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to the international coalition currently battling the Islamic State. If they decide upon a military commitment (most probably in the form of personnel belonging to the NZDF’s elite Special Air Service) then how long should it be for, and under what circumstances might it be curtailed? Should New Zealand remain engaged if the seemingly unstoppable advance of the Islamic State prompts the armies of Turkey and Iran to intervene? With the boundaries of the entire Middle East being re-drawn, what business would New Zealand soldiers’ boots have on any part of its disputed ground?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – what are young Sunni Muslim men and women living in New Zealand and other Western countries likely to make of yet another Islamic State victory? Will they (as we hope) recoil in horror at the brutal battlefield behaviour of their co-religionists? Or will at least some of them attempt the ethical calculus required to determine whether the beheading of a Western aid worker is more or less reprehensible than the “collateral damage” inflicted by an American Predator drone unleashing its Hellfire missiles on a Yemeni or Waziri village? And will those same young Muslims not wonder why Saudi Arabia, in which 57 people have been beheaded in the last year alone, has not merited the same expressions of international outrage as the Islamic State?
If Kobane falls – or should that be when Kobane falls – wouldn’t it be a good time to ponder the reasonably obvious fact that in the eyes of many young Sunni Muslims the Islamic State is not the dwelling place of monsters, but the one location in the Muslim world where corruption is ruthlessly rooted-out; where the administration of the law is given over to ordinary people pledged to uphold and enforce the traditions of their faith; where the State is not the enemy of ordinary people but their friend, extending to them not the iron fist of tyranny but the solicitous hand recommended by the Prophet; and where, to be a woman is not to be paraded as a lump of sexual meat, but as a precious vessel to be cherished and protected. Isn’t it time we in the West asked ourselves: just how likely is it that young Muslim men and women are leaving their families and their friends, travelling thousands of miles and hazarding their freedom, their lives, their very souls – for monsters? Internationally acclaimed expert on the funding of terrorism, Loretta Napoleoni, has already asked herself this question. Her conclusion: “It’s not.”
The question New Zealanders should now be asking themselves is whether the fight against the Islamic State is their fight? Ethically, militarily, diplomatically and politically – what  should we do if Kobane falls?
Or should that be when Kobane falls?
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 14 October 2014.

Friday, 10 October 2014

On The Edge Of Darkness?


I AM INDEBTED to Gordon Campbell for drawing my attention to this excellent video of Eric Clapton performing live his haunting theme to the classic 1985 BBC political thriller, Edge of Darkness. Like Gordon, I cannot help regarding it as eerily appropriate to the times.

Video courtesy of YouTube

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.