Copyright © LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

Copyright ©  LeftCentral. All Rights Reserved

Wadjda – a Film Review

Lincoln Green 

Image © Arria Belli

[The review contains plot details.]

The child’s perspective provides the film director with an opportunity to observe and implicitly comment on a situation with an unencultured and potentially critical eye.  This device has been used in films such as Offside (2006, dir. Jafar Panahi ) where an Iranian girl attempts to watch a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Bahrain, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro) where fantasy plays alongside the horrors of war in 1944 fascist Spain, and numerous others.

In Wadjda (2012) the female writer and director Haifaa Al Mansour employs this technique to comment on cultural norms, particularly those affecting women, in present day Saudi Arabia.  The film is the first official Saudi Arabian submission to the Oscars and the first feature length film made by a Saudi female.  To avoid problems when filming with mixed genders Al Mansour had to direct some outdoor scenes via radio when concealed in the back of a van.   Read more of this post

Review of Simon Schama – The Story of the Jews Episode 5: Return

LeftCentral Review

This final episode deals with the creation of the state of Israel, it begins on Yom HaShoah. We hear a siren wail; symbolically life comes to a stop, busy traffic, hospitals, colleges all the bustle of daily life grinds to a halt. People desist from chatter, as they are filmed standing in complete silence, attempting to remember an event which as Simon Schama says, is beyond words. He then explains that the state of Israel contains 50% of the world’s Jewish population, six million people, each survivor representing a defeat for the Nazi programme of total extermination. The Holocaust, argues Schama, finally made the moral case for the creation of Israel. Not only because of what the Nazis did but what everyone else failed to do. Read more of this post

Pointing The Finger – by Julian Petley and Robin Richardson

LeftCentral Book Review 

Image©Nevit Dilmen

 

…It takes the form of an attack on multiculturalism for which Muslims are held responsible and which is a coded word for them. It cuts across political and ideological divides, and is shared alike, albeit in different degrees by conservatives, fascists, liberals, socialists and communists` (Bhikhu Parekh quoted in Pointing The Finger…)

In April 1964 Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X) left Detroit for Mecca, in the midst of an acrimonious split with the `Nation Of Islam`. Malcolm at this time was the USA`s foremost bogey-man, the unacceptable face of the civil rights movement. His position caricatured in the 1950s as `the hate that hate produced` – a view fitting the `orientalism` framework described by Edward Said. Whatever the merits of this documentary about the NOI, it does appear clear that Malcolm`s visit to Mecca changed him, his pilgrimage making him aware of the ethnic diversity of Islam. Recording in his diary, `it seems every nation and form of culture on earth is represented here…`. This revelation, as Manning Marble outlines encouraged Malcolm to alter his view on race. Malcolm reflecting at the time that, ‘I began to perceive that `white man`, as commonly used, means complexion only secondarily, primarily it describes attributes and actions`. Thus a metamorphosis resulted from advances in Malcolm`s `religious literacy` combined with his genius `critical literacy` (concepts outlined and explained in Pointing The Finger). Read more of this post

Hitting New Lows: Blair’s response to Archbishop Tutu

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © Skoll World Forum

In response to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s call for him to stand trial in The Hague over the Iraq War, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of the “morality of removing him [Saddam]” and reminded us that: “we have just had the memorials both of the Halabja massacre, where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons.” He contrasted the horror of that massacre with present-day Iraq’s improved economic situation and reduced child mortality rates. Make no mistake; Blair was once again trying to argue that the Iraq War was actually a humanitarian intervention.

Attempting to justify the Iraq War on humanitarian grounds is nothing new. The principal architects of the invasion – Bush, Cheney, Straw and of course Blair – have been playing that particular card ever since  the official rationale for war (you know, the security threat that Saddam’s possession of WMDs and terrorist links posed) were found to be completely lacking in foundation. The humanitarian argument swayed many critics of the war especially after they struggled to answer the questions typically posed by the pro-war camp: didn’t Saddam Hussein deserve everything he got? Wasn’t he wicked? Didn’t the Iraqi people deserve to be free from him?

No one can doubt that Saddam was a monster, a tyrant and a criminal who needed to be brought to justice, but the full scale invasion of Iraq was no police action to capture a criminal. No police action involves endless bombings, the targeting of residential areas, the tolerance of looting and the deaths of thousands of civilians. There is no moral code under which such bloodshed and destruction could be acceptable in the pursuit of bringing a single criminal to justice.  Read more of this post

Why we should mix Politics with Sport

Georgia Lewis 

Image © Morning Calm News

This week, mass laughter has been the overwhelming reaction to the South Korean flag appearing on screen just as the North Korean women’s football team was about to take to the pitch. Cock-ups like this are funny, and are as inevitable at events on the scale of the Olympics as the overreactions from the aggrieved parties. But should North Korea even be allowed to participate in the Games at all?

It is a challenging question because, on one hand, it is a great opportunity for North Korean athletes to see a bit more of the wider world and it can help bridge gaps between the rest of the world and one of the planet’s most secretive nations. Then again, with their constant threats to world peace and internal human rights abuses, should they be banned to send a strong message to the government that it should not treat its own people so appallingly and expect to be part of the global community? But if we exclude North Korea from the Games, do we also exclude China? Bahrain? Saudi Arabia? The US, even? Hell, should my own country, Australia, be excluded as a protest against the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, including children? Pretty soon, we’d end up with a very small Olympics indeed. The modern Olympic movement has grown since 1896, when just 14 countries competed, to become a global event – regardless of what you might think of the billions of taxpayer pounds spent on the games, the principle of bringing the countries of the world together is not all bad.

But to try and separate politics from any sport, let alone the Olympics is naive in the extreme. And again, this isn’t always a bad thing. Jesse Owens’ magnificent achievement at the 1936 Berlin Games made a mockery of Hitler’s ludicrous and lethal Aryan master race ideology. The image from the 1968 Games in Mexico City of Men’s 200m gold medallist Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos with their heads down and fists raised in the black power salute is one of the most powerful protest images of all time. In 1980, the Moscow Games was marred by a 61-nation boycott led by the US over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan – a boycott that looks rather bizarre in light of the polarising US presence in the Middle East to this day.  Read more of this post

Afghanistan: Will it Survive After the USA Withdrawal?

Alex Clackson 

Image © DVIDSHUB

As the United States plans to leave Afghanistan in 2014, two main questions arise. Firstly, have the USA managed to achieve any substantial goals in increasing security and stability and in the last ten years and secondly will Afghanistan be able to survive after the occupation of the country comes to an end in 2014?

Unfortunately the answer to both questions is no. While the Taliban and other terrorist organization activity is low at the moment, it is only a matter of time before they make a return after the USA has pulled out from Afghanistan. The question here though is political, not military. It is a question of depriving the Taliban of their most powerful weapon, which is the claim that they are defending Afghanistan and their enemies are non-Muslim foreigners. A swift withdrawal of Coalition forces from the front line would be a very painful test for the Afghan military, though they would be free to choose their battles. The central problem with President Obama’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan has always been his deadline. The Taliban claim that we have the watches, but they have the time. And the President has already compromised our war effort(s) by setting deadlines for troop withdrawals that are unconnected to the end state his strategy seeks to achieve.

But the reason why Afghanistan may be heading toward anarchy is not simply due to the Afghan National Army’s lack of military preparedness to fight an insurgency without foreign support. Rather, some of the most challenging problems that the government must face once the U.S. leaves will be economic. Today, the United States and its allies provide the government of Afghanistan with the vast majority of its operating budget. American taxpayers have not only built up schools, hospitals, government ministries, and the Afghan National Army and police force; they have also paid the salaries of those who man these institutions. Further, U.S. military and foreign assistance operations in Afghanistan support many thousands of soldiers, foreign aid workers, and contractors, who pump millions of dollars into the local economy.  Read more of this post

Tony Blair is a War Criminal

Nicholas Pentney 

Image © World Economic Forum

Tony Blair’s recent testimony at the Leveson Inquiry was interrupted when an angry protester breached security and branded the former PM a War Criminal. David Lawley Wakelin, a film-maker, managed to storm the supposedly secure hearing by using the judge’s corridor and then proceeded to let Blair have it in full view of the inquiry team and press. This was not the first time Blair has been confronted by someone in this manner. In September 2010, activist Kate O’Sullivan attempted to make a citizens’ arrest upon the former PM for war crimes whilst he was signing copies of his autobiography in a Dublin book shop.

After such incidents, the media devote their attention to the breach of security that allowed those involved to get so close to Blair. The accusations themselves seldom receive as much attention and the accusers like Wakelin are dismissed as “crazed” or as “lone idiots.” In reality however, Wakelin and O’Sullivan are neither crazy nor idiotic but rather spot on – Tony Blair is a War Criminal. He may lack the comical get-up of Sacha Baron Cohen’s character in The Dictator but nevertheless, he can be accurately described as a War Criminal for committing the “supreme international crime” of aggression.

The US/UK invasion of Iraq was a war of aggression. It violated the principle of Nuremberg and the UN Charter. Aggression is the very crime that the Nazis were convicted and subsequently hung for at Nuremberg. Robert Jackson, the chief counsel for the prosecution at Nuremberg clearly defined aggression: “Declaration of war upon another State/ Invasion by its armed forces, with or without a declaration of war, of the territory of another State/Attack by its land, naval or air forces, with or without a declaration of war, on the territory, vessels or aircraft of another State.”  Jackson also made it clear that there were to be no exceptions barring one: “No political, military, economic or other considerations may serve as an excuse or justification for such actions, but exercise of the right of legitimate self-defence, that is to say, resistance to an act of aggression, or action to assist a State which has been subjected to aggression, shall not constitute a war of aggression.”  Read more of this post

Are Israel’s days numbered?

Alex Clackson 

Image © Maxnathans

The saga between Israel and Palestine has been ongoing for many decades now, resembling a long dark corridor with no end in sight. For many years, through the financial and military support from the United States, Israel has been able to develop and prevent any moral or physical assault from Palestine and its allies. However, over the last few years we have seen a slow, but sure change in opinion. Through non-mainstream media and organizations like BDS (a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel) and finally individual human rights activists, the world is waking up to the realisation that Israel is not the perfect liberal state among the “dangerous” Arab nations as it wants to be seen. As Norman Finkelstein has said in his most recent book, “Even the American Jews are turning their backs on Israel.” It is becoming clearer that the only life support system the Israeli machine can rely on is the American Israel lobby.

Despite the fast changing opinion on the Jewish state, Israel continues to act in a way which further pushes it away from the support Israel is so used to receiving from the Western powers. The Palestinian’s quest for a state of their own has been as futile as ever, as the Israelis continue to build on land that is supposed to form the basis of Palestine. Nearly three years ago Mr. Netanyahu said he accepted the principle of two states, Jewish and Palestinian, existing side by side in peace and security. But he has since shown precious little appetite for putting that principle into practice. Despite admonitions from the State Department, Netanyahu’s government has continued to approve and/or legalize settlement constructions in Jerusalem and the West Bank following the expiration of a freeze on settlement construction in September, 2010.

Even the Israeli politicians are starting to understand the thin thread the Jewish state is walking on.  In an interview published in the Times of Israel, Dan Meridor, the Israeli minister delivered harsh words to his colleagues who have overseen the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Meridor warned that the current calm in relations with the Palestinians might be producing “an illusion” among Israelis “that this is sustainable in the long term. It is not. It is an anomaly. We need to change it.”

In addition, the deputy prime minister of Israel has urged the government to freeze further settlements “across the line of the [settlement] blocs or the fence or whatever you call it,” a reference to the Israeli West Bank barrier which is partially built along the 1949 armistice line, or “Green Line.”  Read more of this post

Obama vs. Romney: the world is watching

Daniel Crump 

Image © Rivarix

Matters of foreign policy do not tend to be first on the list of a voter’s priorities coming up to an election, especially in times of economic turmoil. When US voters go to the polls in November they will be asking themselves when unemployment is going to fall, whether the health care system will continue to be of benefit to them and how much money they will have in their pockets once they retire. Perhaps, then, the sensible move on the part of the contenders is to downplay talk of foreign issues and concentrate on the economy.

However, history has taught us that many a presidency has come to be defined by a set of decisions related to manoeuvrings on the world stage. Kennedy’s record was arguably saved from the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs by his firmness during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What respect George Bush Sr. may have lost in failing to capture Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, he made up for with his role in German Unification in the early 90’s.

Are we asking the right question?

In the run up to November’s vote, it is perhaps unhelpful to ask whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would best serve the US’s interests on the world stage. The question people ought to be asking is whether a first term president is preferable to one in his second term. This is the case for two main reasons. Firstly, a President’s first term in office has always been more about dealing with the footprint left by the previous administration than about imposing his own foreign policy vision. Secondly, foreign policy is by nature reactionary. No matter how concise a doctrine exists at the outset, there are certain events that one can simply not prepare for.

To argue the first case, we need only go back four years when Obama officially inherited two wars from George Bush Jr. It was clear, despite his commendable desire to ease tensions with Iran, that his Middle Eastern policy was going to be dictated by how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan played out. It is certainly no secret that Iranian involvement in the Iraq War was one of the biggest obstacles the President was going to have to overcome if peace between Tehran and Washington was reachable. U.S officials insist that the training of Militant Shiite groups in Iraq by Iranian forces has been a huge challenge for the US army. Iran is said to view Iraq as a potential buffer zone from any future invasion, most likely by the US’s main ally, Israel. Similarly, George Bush’s unavoidable presence in Afghanistan was always going to make Obama’s relationship with Islamabad one on permanent knife edge.  Read more of this post