Archives for July 2011

Cameron: 26 and counting…

So, the Prime Minister had 26 ‘meetings’ with News International executives in the first year of his premiership – that takes some doing. What it illustrates all too clearly is the degree of influence Rupert Murdoch has enjoyed and the power he’s been able to exact over the Prime Minister that he can ‘persuade’ him to make the time in his busy schedule to fit in 26 meetings with his executives.

Mr Cameron may bluff and bluster all he likes, but he’s been up close and personal with Rupert Murdoch ever since he agreed to do his bidding over Ofcom and BSkyB in 2009, in exchange for his support in the 2010 election. Since then he’s been beholden to Murdoch, and like a good little boy he’s tried to keep his side of the bargain. Had the phone hacking scandal not been supercharged by the Dowler revelation, the BSkyB bid would have been waved through. And not a cheep would we have heard from our doughty (sic) MPs who had been cowed by threats from the News International mafia.

In Parliament the Prime Minister has protested that nothing ‘inappropriate’ concerning BSkyB was discussed at any of the meetings with News International.  This is such a glaring terminological inexactitude one can only surmise that Mr Cameron thinks we are all idiots or that we’ve just fallen off the Christmas tree. It’s a racing certainty that most of the meetings were about BSkyB and that subject alone. Let’s not forget that buying the remaining shares in BSkyB  has been top of Rupert Murdoch’s wish list for years. 

The Prime Minister is now in a bit of a bind. Having woven a web of ‘half –truths’ about the ‘deal’ he and the Conservatives made with Murdoch in 2009, about Coulson, about what he knew and when he knew it, about BSkyB and about the content of his meetings with News International, he has massively increased his vulnerability factor. It only takes a disgruntled Coulson, Brooks or Llewellyn, or for some random forgotten factoid to surface without warning, and he is undone.

As with other scandals, this one is following a familiar pattern. The more the participants talk, the more they protest their innocence, the bigger the hole becomes.  Because of his actions – and inactions – Mr Cameron is in that hole whether he likes it or not. Depending on the ‘events’ of the coming months, the grandees of the ‘nasty party’ may very well decide that come the next election, that’s where he should stay.


Nationalists pose a bigger threat than Al Qaeda


Contrary to popular belief, most terrorist attacks in Europe are the work of extremist nationalists.

 With the death toll nearing 100, Anders Behring Breivik has been arrested and charged with Norway’s worst act of terrorism. His lawyer has indicated that Breivik had planned the attack for some time and would explain in court on Monday why he thought his act of terrorism was necessary.

After a predictable and revealing knee-jerk response by security experts interpreting the massacre at a Labour Party summer camp on Utoya island and a car bomb attack on a government building in Oslo as the work of Muslims inspired or directed by al-Qaeda, it transpires that the real culprit in the case was more likely to be motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. 

Significantly, early reports reveal Breivik’s admiration for bigoted groups such as the English Defence League and Stop the Islamification of Europe, which campaign against Muslims and the building of mosques. Similarly, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in Holland appears to win Breivik’s approval because it seeks to protect Western culture from a growing threat of so-called “Islamification”. 

While we must await the outcome of police investigations and court proceedings before reaching any firm conclusions about Breivik’s motivation, it will nevertheless be instructive to begin an analysis of a violent extremist nationalist milieu in Europe and the US, and its dramatic shift towards anti-Muslim and Islamophobic thought since 9/11. To be sure, this will certainly be more relevant than an analysis of al-Qaeda terrorism.

At the outset, however, Breivik may have to explain to outsiders why he did not choose to bomb a mosque instead. Surely, for the violent nationalist confluence he represents, that would have been a direct hit on the enemy. Instead, by choosing to attack a government building and a Labour Party summer school, Breivik is drawing attention to what many fringe nationalists see as the political failure of mainstream and left-wing politicians to confront the Muslim threat. So-called appeasers of the “Islamification of Europe” have become as hated as Muslim activists and therefore face the same kind of attacks. 

Terrorism is propaganda, not just violence

In addition, Breivik can claim to have followed a long tradition of terrorism target selection that is intended to send a strong message to politicians in an attempt to persuade them to change policy. As leading terrorism scholar Alex Schmid reminds us, terrorism is a form of communication that “cannot be understood only in terms of violence”. Rather, he suggests, “it has to be understood primarily in terms of propaganda” in order to penetrate the terrorist’s strategic purpose. 

Breivik appears to understand Schmid’s analysis that terrorism is a combination of violence and propaganda. “By using violence against one victim,” a terrorist “seeks to coerce and persuade others”, Schmid explains. “The immediate victim is merely instrumental, the skin on a drum beaten to achieve a calculated impact on a wider audience.” This is certainly the kind of rationalisation that perpetrators of political violence have adopted in many contexts in pursuit of diverse political causes for decades. 

Many extremist nationalists in Norway, the rest of Europe, and North America will be appalled by Breivik’s resort to terrorism and in particular his target selection. However, Breivik is likely to argue that he has sent a powerful and coercive message to all politicians in the West that will help put the campaign against the “Islamification of Europe” at the top of their agenda.  

Crucial, therefore, for Breivik that he should explain his purpose as publicly as possible so that it is not misunderstood or misinterpreted. He is therefore very likely to want the widest possible audience to know why he has chosen to adopt the established tactic of terrorism so as to win an opportunity to deliver a political message. His innocent victims, he might think, are necessary collateral damage in a war that has to be won. 

Breivik may hope that others will take inspiration from his act and seek to emulate him. Terrorism may be repulsive to many who share Breivik’s bigoted anti-Muslim views, but it is a tactic that only requires a small number of adherents to achieve its purpose, whatever the cause. So if even only a handful follow his route, Breivik will count that as a success. 

Whether he was acting alone or in concert with others, Breivik stands apart from a significant number of other violent nationalists in the West who share his hostility towards Muslims – but whose plans to commit acts of terrorism have so far failed to reach such deadly fruition. Breivik, by contrast, has demonstrated the skills that are necessary to plan and execute acts of terrorism of any kind, especially crucial when bombs and firearms are involved.

Nationalist terror plots in the UK

In the UK, for example, there have been important convictions in recent years of violent nationalists before they have been able to carry out terrorist attacks.

Robert Cottage, a former British National Party candidate, was jailed in July 2007 for possessing explosive chemicals in his home. The cache was “described by police at the time of his arrest as the largest amount of chemical explosive of its type ever found in this country”.

Martyn Gilleard, a Nazi sympathiser, was jailed in June 2008 after police found nail bombs, bullets, swords, axes and knives in his apartment, as well as a note in which he had written: “I am so sick and tired of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back … the time has come to stop the talk and start to act.”

Then there is Nathan Worrell, a “neo-Nazi described by police as a ‘dangerous individual’, who hoarded bomb-making materials in his home, and was found guilty in December 2008 of possessing material for terrorist purposes and for racially aggravated harassment”.

And one Neil MacGregor pleaded guilty to “threatening to blow up Glasgow Central Mosque and behead a Muslim every week until every mosque in Scotland was closed”.

As Mehdi Hasan, editor of the New Statesman, has pointed out, figures compiled by Europol, the European police agency, suggest that the threat of Islamist terrorism is minimal compared with “ethno-nationalist” and “separatist” terrorism. According to Europol, in 2006, one out of 498 documented terrorist attacks across Europe could be classed as “Islamist”; in 2007, the figure rose to just four out of 583 – less than one per cent of the total. By contrast, 517 attacks across the continent were claimed by – or attributed to – nationalist or separatist terrorist groups, such as ETA in Spain.

More recently, on January 15, 2010, Terence Gavan, a former soldier and British National Party member, was convicted of manufacturing nail bombs and a staggering array of explosives, firearms and weapons. It was, Mr Justice Calvert-Smith said, the largest find of its kind in the UK in modern history. The fact that David Copeland used nail bombs to deadly effect in London in 1999 makes this an especially disturbing case. Gavan had previously pleaded guilty to 22 charges at Woolwich Crown Court:

“Police discovered 12 firearms and 54 improvised explosive devices, which included nail bombs and a booby-trapped cigarette packet, at the home Gavan shared with his mother. He told detectives he had ‘a fascination with things that go bang’, the Old Bailey heard. After the case, head of the North East Counter Terrorism Unit David Buxton said Gavan posed a significant risk to public safety. ‘Gavan was an extremely dangerous and unpredictable individual,’ he said. ‘The sheer volume of home-made firearms and grenades found in his bedroom exposed his obsession with weapons and explosives … Gavan used his extensive knowledge to manufacture and accumulate devices capable of causing significant injury or harm.”

Unlike Lewington, Gavan is reported as having specifically Muslim targets in mind. In particular, he is reported to have planned to “target an address he had seen on a television programme that he believed was linked to the July 7 bomb attacks in London”. In one hand-written note he explained: “The patriot must always be ready to defend his country against enemies and their governments.” Again, like Lewington, he would have posed a threat to Muslim communities throughout the UK, especially those areas such as Bradford and East London most popularly associated with large Muslim populations. 

Finally, it is only necessary to recall the circumstances of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 to be reminded of extremist nationalists’ bomb-making capacity and target selection. Timothy McVeigh was able to utilise skills and contacts he acquired in his US military service to build and detonate a bomb that killed 168 victims, injured 680 others, destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, shattered glass in an additional 258 nearby buildings, and caused at least $652m worth of damage.

With minimal help, McVeigh was able to inflict more harm and damage with one bomb than four suicide bombers in London operating under an al-Qaeda flag in London ten years later.

Significantly, McVeigh attacked a federal government building for reasons that will make perfect sense to a number of violent extremist nationalists – most especially Anders Behring Breivik.

Dr Robert Lambert is Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter and Lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews


When the pie was opened the birds began to sing…

It’s the end of term, time for happy hols. Dave’s gone home to pack his bags…bucket and spade, sun glasses, scandals… 

Unfortunately for Mrs C. and the kids, Dave may not be the best of company this year – too much on his mind. This holiday’s going to be punctuated by frequent chirrups from his mobile phone followed by a grump that the kids won’t understand.  And on top of that, everyone he wants to talk to is going to be in some totally inaccessible place where mobile phone reception is as intermittent as the showers that seem to have followed him all the way from dear old Blighty…happy days!

And, as if by magic, even before Dave and the family have set off for the airport, the wires are already buzzing about ‘smoking gun’ emails that his dear friend Coulson apparently exchanged with Goodman about making payments to the police.  It looks increasingly as if the ‘profound apology’ he promised us if Coulson is found to have lied to him might be one of the first things he has to do when he returns. Oh calamity! What will that be followed by: a vote of no confidence? Pass the sun cream.

There comes a time in every scandal when that strongest of human instincts, survival, starts to have an ever increasing influence on the behaviour of the players. Fear, betrayal and revenge begin to motivate the exposed and the vulnerable. As lies are exposed and the birds begin to sing – as they surely will – reputations will be lost and careers ruined.  If you thought the worst of Hackgate was over, you’re mistaken. It’s just getting up steam.

So, if the sun doesn’t shine on your summer holiday or you get bored shovelling sand, just make sure you’ve  smuggled your laptop in your hand luggage or be first in line at the paper shop every morning. There’s going to be plenty to entertain your schadenfreudian instincts in the next three weeks. Enjoy!


The subversion of freedom of expression in Israel and the US


Both the US Congress and Israel’s Knesset have passed profoundly anti-democratic measures in recent months.

 “The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public.” (Human Rights Watch, “When Speech Offends“, February-March 2006)

Contrary to Fox News and Benjamin Netanyahu, democracy is neither alive nor well in the United States and Israel. Indeed, it is dying a slow, agonising death as each nation writhes in pain in adjoining beds, unaware that the intravenous feeding tubes controlled by their respective Knessets drip poison into their life-sustaining veins. Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, in the voice of Carlo Strenger, carries the warning:

The flood of anti-democratic laws that were proposed, and partially implemented, by the current Knesset, elected in February 2009, constitute one of the darkest chapters in Israeli history. The opening salvo was provided by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with its Nakba law, that forbids the public commemoration of the expulsion of approximately 750,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war.Since then, a growing number of attempts were made to curtail freedom of expression and to make life for human rights groups more difficult. The latest instance is the boycott law that (is) was passed (this) last Monday by the Knesset, even though its legal advisor believes it to be a problematic infringement on freedom of speech.

Curiously, the US does not have a newspaper as brave and open to civil discourse as Haaretz. Instead, we rely on the New York Times, infamous for promoting the Iraq war on its front page, thus benefiting the war industry and its corporations that control Congress. Yet Congress, like its twin in Israel, has adopted similar anti-democratic resolutions that curtail freedom of speech and action not only of American citizens, but also of the representatives of the United Nations.

Role of the United Nations

House Resolution 268, entitled “Reaffirming the United States commitment to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations”, was introduced on May 13, 2011 and passed by an overwhelming margin of 407-6.

The resolution specifically threatens the member states of the UN by condemning any “unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state” as well as the “unbalanced United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.” To accomplish this end, the resolution announces that “the Administration will veto any resolution for Palestinian statehood that comes before the United Nations Security Council”, opposes recognition of a Palestinian state by other nations, and in other international forums and, in a Mafia-like manner, threatens the Palestinians with “serious implications” for assistance programmes should they not obey.

Resolution 268 condemns in advance any deliberation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by any nation, in any forum, that does not await an “agreement negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians”. Curiously enough, this same resolution states that the United States “will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas”, a statement that prevents at the outset negotiations with the Palestinians, since Hamas represents over 1.5m Palestinians, thus belying the very purpose of the resolution, to bring peace between Israel and the Palestinians. How deceptively clever.

The resolution also demands that Hamas and the people they represent accept unconditionally the position of the US and Israel that it renounce violence, recognise Israel and agree to follow the previous obligations of the PLO. There is no recognition of Israel’s violence against Hamas or Gaza, nor recognition under international law that the Palestinians have rights to resist the occupation of a foreign nation.

Nor does the resolution impose on Israel a comparable stipulation to recognise the right of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. That would require that Israel recognise Palestine’s existence, its borders, and the land that Israel must return to its rightful owners. The resolution makes no mention of the conditions imposed by Israel that made implementation of the Oslo Accords possible, nor does it mention Israel’s rejection of the stipulations made by the Quartet – the European Union, Russia, the UN and the US – thus placing full blame for the failed “peace negotiations” on the Palestinians.

Resolution 268 dictates to the people of the world that their voices will not be heard, their desires not considered, and their empathy for a besieged people made irrelevant; only the will of the Israeli administration and the Obama administration will stand. In a calculated fashion, the resolution was passed while the Quartet met in Washington. The acid that destroys democracy drips on.

But Resolution 268 is only the most recent example of the erosion of our rights in the United States. It follows one of the most glaringly illegal and potentially destructive interventions in international affairs taken by a purportedly democratic state and fully supported by our own Knesset.

Israel’s law

Israel’s prevention of freedom of speech and action by the international group of peace activists desiring to express their solidarity with the imprisoned Palestinians in the second flotilla to Gaza, by coercing the economically crippled Greek government to refuse representatives from many countries to leave the Greek ports, graphically demonstrates that a government like Israel can and will enforce its will on any nation, thereby denying the rights of free people everywhere. This, despite the fact that the peace activists had complied with every legal demand.

As Human Rights Watch wrote in 2006:

The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental one, necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public. Freedom of expression is particularly necessary with respect to provocative or offensive speech, because once governmental censorship is permitted in such cases, the temptation is enormous for government officials to find speech that is critical of them to be unduly provocative or offensive as well.The freedom to express even controversial points of view is also important for societies to address key political, social, and cultural issues, since taboos often mask matters of considerable public concern that are best addressed through honest and unfettered debate among those holding diverse points of view.

The full implications of Israel’s takeover of the Greek government (with its conscious awareness that any action it took would be supported by our Congress) and hence its disregard for the will of the Greek citizen has been little regarded by our free press.

Yet perhaps nothing is so ominous as this blatant, hostile action by one foreign nation against another. What mindset permits Israel to impose its will on citizens of other nations? What provocation could possibly justify intervention of such magnitude? If Israel had evidence that the flotilla and its organisers were physical threats against the state of Israel, could they not bring that evidence before the UN and international courts to prevent the boats from sailing to Gaza? Why then the need to deny freedom of speech to citizens of many nations and commandeer another nation’s government? Doesn’t a democracy pride itself on rule of law?

Why, then, abandon law in favour of might? Again, in the words of Human Rights Watch: “The right to freedom of expression is…necessary to protect the exercise of all other human rights in democratic societies because it is essential for holding governments accountable to the public”.

The death of democracy

No nation on this planet, no member state of the United Nations, no individual citizen nor groups of citizens can change what Israel and the United States did to Greece and to freedom of speech. They move with impunity as they impose their wills on nations that disagree with their policies. Neither is ruled by their people; they are owned by an elite few who have surreptitiously over time taken control of our freedoms. Neither government is held accountable to the public.

Indeed, it is that very accountability that they do not want and cannot allow to happen, which is why both governments fear the “Arab spring”. Given the absolute control of our Congress by Israel, as the vote on Resolution 268 exemplifies, the US has to raise the fear of terrorism in its citizenry to ensure compliance with the anti-democratic behaviour and policies it pursues. Israel does the same. Carlo Strenger puts it this way:

What stands behind this frenzy of attempts to shut down criticism? The answer, I believe, is fear, stupidity, confusion – and now also a power-trip.The result of Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s systematic fanning of Israelis’ existential fears is tangible: polls show that Israelis are deeply pessimistic about peace; they largely do not trust Palestinians, and in the younger generation belief in democratic values is being eroded.

But this pessimism and siege-mentality is not only to be found in ordinary Israeli voters, but also in the political class … They have profound misconceptions about the Free World’s attitude towards Israel, and very little real understanding of the paradigm shift towards human rights as the core language of international discourse. They buy into Netanyahu’s adage that Israel’s existence is being delegitimised, rather than realising that Israel’s settlement policy is unacceptable politically and morally to the whole world.

The US umbilical cord that sustains Israel’s policies of occupation, settlements and oppression damns it before the world as people begin to find other ways to break the controls that US power provides for Israel. The flotilla activists effectively used moral sensibility to identify the illegality and inhumanity of Israel’s siege of Gaza.

And while Israel successfully torpedoed the flotilla in Greek ports through a massive political propaganda campaign of manufactured lies, coercion and threats of lawsuits against shipping companies and insurance carriers, it also successfully torpedoed truth, turning even more of the world against a state that thrives on distortion, deception and devastation.

What both Israelis and Americans must realise, as these anti-democratic actions by both nations attest, is that democracy in both nations has been subverted in favour of those who command our representatives to actions that betray the essence of democracy and the will of the people. Democracy has been turned over to those who undermine the moral foundations on which it was built: equality for all, justice for all, dignity and respect for all; with government serving the people, not a corporate board. When the representatives of the state determine what people must accept, what they can and cannot do or say; when the power of two nations subverts the will and actions of all other nations, then democracy is dead. 

William A. Cook, Ph.D., is a professor of English at the University of La Verne and the author of Tracking Deception: Bush Mid-East Policy; The Rape of Palestine; and The Plight of the Palestinians.


The Wizard of Oz…not what we expected

When Dorothy pulled back the curtain she revealed a frail old man putting on a very convincing act. When Rupert Murdoch sat in front of the select committee yesterday, we saw a frail old man also putting on a very convincing act.  “This is the most humble day of my life”, he spluttered, and we sort of believed him. His apparent dodderyness and the long pauses which followed each question gave the impression that his synapses were having trouble finding a working brain cell: he even nodded off momentarily. As the inquisition progressed, he began to attract sympathy not opprobrium…and then splat! The delivery of the Gillette foam pie completed the metamorphosis. Rupert Murdoch had been transformed from demon into victim. The day was his.

 Rupert Murdoch is a showman, and a very clever one at that. Be in no doubt that the manner of his appearance will have been painstakingly rehearsed and choreographed. Potential questions dissected and every response considered. He will have been absolutely clear about the outcome he wanted to achieve, and what he needed to do to achieve it. As we witnessed yesterday, it all went to plan: to this consummate performer, it was a walk in the park.  He came, he saw and he conquered, job done. And the foam pie incident? It was a gift from heaven. It was so perfect it could almost have been part of the act – but it couldn’t possibly have been…or could it?

Today the spotlight has shifted. All the talk is of Wendi’s right hook, bent policemen and a wounded prime minister in denial. Murdoch now has time to get his house in order. For him the cloud has passed.

But what of our beloved politicians, once cowed and frit to utter a word against Murdoch’s evil empire, and now bellowing their self-righteous indignation to the rafters? Few of them realise it, but their humiliation is complete. Thanks to ‘events’ their betrayal of the electorate has been laid bare. It’s now a matter of record and clear for all to see. Having courted Murdoch and his newspapers and allowed his influence and interests to debase our democracy, will they now respect the institutions of state and govern through Parliament and not through the media, or are they hopelessly and forever hooked? We’ll have to wait and see.


Murdoch empire sinking beneath the sands


A phone-hacking scandal is exposing shady ties between the UK’s political elite and a right-wing media baron.

“Look on my works, ye mighty; and despair!” So said the base of the statue of Ozymandias of Egypt – Ramasses the Great, Pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt – discovered deep under the desert sands in Shelley’s epic poem Ozymandias.

The poet’s point being of course that though undoubtedly great, in his day, ultimately Ozymandias and his empire went the way of all flesh, and all empires. So it seems is going the empire of Rupert Murdoch, once the greatest media conglomerate the world has ever known.

Absolute carnage is currently being caused in British public life by the fall-out from the illegal phone hacking carried out by Murdoch’s servants. In a story transfixing the country, there are often developments several times daily including arrests of powerful people and resignations from some of the best known public figures in the land.

Like all good scandals follow the money is the maxim. And the question made famous by Watergate – “What did he know and when did he know it?” is the one on everybody’s lips. The “he” in question is, increasingly, the prime minister himself.

David Cameron is slowly sinking into the Murdoch quicksands for several reasons. His relations with Murdoch’s top-brass, now under investigation, have turned out to be almost comically close. He was a “riding partner” of Rebekah Brooks, Murdoch’s British CEO, who was arrested by police on Sunday.

Since becoming prime minister just fifteen months ago, Cameron has had 26 meetings with Murdoch’s executives. Cameron’s wife was likely the only person to get more meetings with the PM than Murdoch’s executives.

Cameron, against the advice of his deputy prime minister, employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director. Coulson, who has been at the centre of the hacking probe, was arrested on July 8, while his deputy was detained last week.

This has snowballed, causing the resignation of Britain’s top two policemen and several other senior Murdoch executives.

Two months after Coulson was finally pushed out of his official position as communications director, and was under criminal investigation for phone hacking, Cameron invited him to spend the weekend at Chequers, the British prime minister’s country home.

Such is the turmoil in London that respected commentators – on Monday for example Professor Roy Greenslade, the pre-eminent media pundit – are calling on Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg to table a motion of no confidence in the PM.

Last week, that would have been a joke. Today it doesn’t seem so funny, or unlikely.

I declare an interest. I was one of the first people to be informed by Scotland Yard – London’s Metropolitan Police – that my phone was being hacked by a private investigator working for Mr Murdoch. They visited me in my office in parliament and told me this, so I began a legal action which is set to come before the courts in December.

It didn’t surprise me all that much in the light of my role as a leader of Britain’s anti-war movement, a champion of the Palestinian cause for over 35 years, and a defender of Muslims both at home and abroad. Even Mr Murdoch wouldn’t dispute the fact that these are causes far from his own heart. This throws up a contradiction now coming more clearly into focus.  

Prince Walid bin Talal bin Abdelaziz Al-Saud, the second biggest shareholder in News Corporation after Murdoch, recently gave an interview, on his yacht, to the BBC flagship programme Newsnight. The Saudi prince declared himself “a good friend” of Rupert Murdoch and his son James Murdoch (probably the next executive to be charged by the police in the scandal).

He defended both men briskly, but in doing so drew attention to the fact that he is the second biggest shareholder in the Murdoch empire, and that the Murdochs were major shareholders in his own Rotana media empire in the Middle East.

An unholy alliance, surely? Mr Murdoch is the co-owner, with Prince Walid, of Fox News – one of the most virulently anti-Muslim television stations in the world. The station gives a megaphone to the likes of Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin. In the US, Fox’s role was to throw gallons of petrol on the flames Islamophobia which were leading to the burning of the Holy Quran by vigilantes.

Then there is the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy. The planned building was, of course, not at Ground Zero. It was not a mosque but an Islamic centre. The centre was partially funded by Prince Walid, the co-owner with Murdoch of Islamophobic media fire-raisers including Fox News and the New York Post.

Prince Walid it will be recalled was roundly insulted by the government of New York City when they returned the cheque he donated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. A glutton for punishment no doubt.

Murdoch’s newspapers in Britain are little better than their US-counterparts and include photographs and sexualised images which would never see the light of day in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. As a whole it is safe to say that Murdoch’s nearly 200 newspapers – and his television stations in so far as he can compel the latter which are more tightly regulated – are bastions of fanatically pro-Israel, anti-Muslim bigotry.

Yet they are co-owned by a member of the Saudi Royal family who not only approves of these practices, but regards the mogul Murdoch as his “good friend”.

Murdoch’s plans to take 100 per cent ownership of British Sky Broadcasting now lie in ruins like Ozymandias’s broken statue. Aged 80, he may, at the pace we are moving, be ousted by his own shareholders before long.

His dream of a Sky Arabia, however, remains a clear and present danger. Like the tobacco manufacturers, the more they are run out of towns in the west the more they concentrate on selling their addictive poison in the east. NewsCorp, with Prince Walid, may be sailing your way. Beware of pirates ye Arabs.

George Galloway is a British politician, author, journalist and broadcaster who was a Member of Parliament in the UK from 1987 to 2010.


Brooks: a conspiracy theory too far…or?

Last Friday the Metropolitan Police contacted Rebekah Brooks and arranged a meeting so that she could  ‘assist them with their ongoing investigations’. When she arrived on Sunday morning she was promptly arrested.

The arrest of Ms Brooks now means that it’s highly unlikely she’ll be able to give evidence in front of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, alongside Rupert and James Murdoch. If she does, it could seriously compromise police investigations into both hacking and police corruption.

The question many people want to know the answer to is why did the police have to arrest Ms Brooks? They could have questioned her without arresting her and then arrested her after the select committee hearing on Tuesday  – if they felt the need to do so.

Arguably the police have had enough evidence to arrest Ms Brooks for some considerable time…since 2006 – okay let’s be charitable, 2009. Was there some damning new evidence that suddenly came to light that made her arrest necessary? Very unlikely.

The question that needs to be answered is, who gave the instruction for her to be arrested? It must have been taken at the highest level – maybe even by ex Commissioner Stephenson? But what could have been the motivation for her arrest – it can only be pressure being exerted by an ‘interested’ party, can it not?

The most ‘interested party’ in this instance is David Cameron, isn’t it? Rebekah Brooks was friends with David Cameron, and a friend and former colleague of Andy Coulson at the time the phone hacking scandal broke. Brooks is very likely to know what Cameron won’t tell us: what he knew and when he knew it. She is also bound to know the details of the deal the Conservative party made with Rupert Murdoch for his support prior to the general election: all very dangerous stuff.

Ms Brooks’s previous performance in front of a select committee in 2003 was pretty disastrous.  There must have been a serious concern that she could spill the beans on Tuesday – either deliberately or by accident.  The need for her to be ‘neutralised’ must have been very compelling indeed. The fact that she (very probably) was is a sign of desperation and panic.

Once a scandal breaks, frightened and threatened people take very silly decisions. The silencing of Rebekah Brooks is very good example. The trail to the decision to arrest her on Sunday is still hot. It will be followed up and the truth will come out. A prime minister and a government stand to lose all.


Wednesday… a bad news day for Cameron?

David Cameron professed, rather petulantly last week, that he never received the message from Alan Rusbridger warning him not to employ Coulson as his Director of Communications. Neither did he get the message from Ian Katz, deputy editor of The Guardian, who told Cameron’s closest aide Steve Hilton that Coulson had hired Jonathan Rees, an excon private investigator who had served seven years for planting evidence. And at the time Coulson employed him he was facing a murder charge – for planting again, but this time it was an axe in the back of his partner’s head. (He was later acquitted)

Now you would have thought if this sort of information passed across the desk of the stupidest of ‘close aides’ they would have taken it straight to the boss. But no, Dave knew nothing about it. Why? Because apparently Dave doesn’t like bad news. One can only assume that none of his close aides wanted to be the messenger he shot.

The only other explanations are that a) Dave is telling fibs or b) that Coulson intercepted the information. If the latter is the case, Cameron would be spitting tacks and hanging Coulson out to dry, but he’s not. He actually went as far as to invite him to Chequers two weeks after he’d been sacked, and according to Cameron, they are ‘still friends’. Either David Cameron is a liar or he’s stupid…maybe he’s both.

On Tuesday Cameron’s old pal Rupert Murdoch is up in front of Inquisitor Whittingdale, to confess his sins and express his regrets. Will Murdoch trash Cameron? Probably not, alienating people just for the sake of it is not what he does, and anyway he’s already thinking about how he can resurrect the BSkyB deal in a couple of year’s time. If on the other hand he believes that Cameron is going to yield to the shrill demands of the opposition and do News International real and lasting harm, he may well be tempted to leave some vital questions conveniently unanswered and plant a few signposts pointing in the direction of Number 10.

And then there’s Rebekah. Last time she was in front of this committee she goofed…lied actually. Cameron has been trashing his old riding partner and neighbour for days, which can’t have endeared him to her. Is she going to drop a bombshell, perhaps inadvertently – which she’s done before – or is she going to be clever enough to leave a ticking time bomb for her erstwhile friend by revealing exactly what he knew and when he knew? We shall see. Tuesday’s going to be a nail biting day for Cameron. Wednesday could be a whole new chapter in his political life.


Hackgate – the movie

Hackgate the movie…


Israel to attack Iran in the Autumn?


The Israeli security establishment is increasingly worried by Netanyahu’s bellicose stance towards Iran.

A long time CIA officer who spent 21 years in the Middle East is predicting that Israel will bomb Iran in the fall, dragging the United States into another major war and endangering US military and civilian personnel (and other interests) throughout the Middle East and beyond.

Earlier this week, Robert Baer appeared on the provocative KPFK Los Angeles show Background Briefing, hosted by Ian Masters. It was there that he predicted that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likely to ignite a war with Iran in the very near future.

Robert Baer has had a storied career, including a stint in Iraq in the 1990s where he organized opposition to Saddam Hussein. (He was recalled after being accused of trying to organize Saddam’s assassination.) Upon his retirement, he received a top decoration for meritorious service.

Baer is no ordinary CIA operative. George Clooney won an Oscar for playing a character based on Baer in the film Syriana (Baer also wrote the book).

He obviously won’t name many of his sources in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere, but the few he has named are all Israeli security figures who have publically warned that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are hell-bent on war.

Most former Mossad chiefs wary of Netanyahu

Baer was especially impressed by the unprecedented warning about Netanyahu’s plans by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Dagan left the Israeli intelligence agency in September 2010. Two months ago, he predicted that Israel would attack and said that doing so would be “the stupidest thing” he could imagine. According to Haaretz:

When asked about what would happen in the aftermath of an Israeli attack Dagan said that: “It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.”

The Iranians have the capability to fire rockets at Israel for a period of months, and Hizbollah could fire tens of thousands of grad rockets and hundreds of long-range missiles, he said.

According to Ben Caspit of the Israeli daily Maariv, Dagan’s blasts at Israel’s political leadership are significant not only because Mossad chiefs, in office or retired, traditionally have kept their lips sealed, but also because Dagan is very conservative on security matters.

Caspit writes that Dagan is “one of the most rightwing militant people ever born here. … When this man says that the leadership has no vision and is irresponsible, we should stop sleeping soundly at night”.

Dagan describes the current Israeli government as “dangerous and irresponsible” and views speaking out against Netanyahu as his patriotic duty.

And his abhorrence of Netanyahu is not uncommon in the Israeli security establishment. AccordingtoThink Progress, citing the Forward newspaper, 12 of the 18 living ex-chiefs of Israel’s two security agencies (Mossad and Shin Bet), are “either actively opposing Netanyahu’s stances or have spoken out against them”. Of the remaining six, two are current ministers in Netanyahu government, leaving a grand total of four out of 18 who independently support the prime minister.

In short, while Congress dutifully gives Netanyahu 29 standing ovations, the Israelis who know the most about both Netanyahu and Israel’s strategic situation think he is a dangerous disaster.

But according to Baer, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

There is almost “near certainty” that Netanyahu is “planning an attack [on Iran] … and it will probably be in September before the vote on a Palestinian state. And he’s also hoping to draw the United States into the conflict”, Baer explained.

The Israeli air force would attack “Natanz and other nuclear facilities to degrade their capabilities. The Iranians will strike back where they can: Basra, Baghdad”, he said, and even Afghanistan. Then the United States would jump into the fight with attacks on Iranian targets. “Our special forces are already looking at Iranian targets in Iraq and across the border [in Iran] which we would strike. What we’re facing here is an escalation, rather than a planned out-and-out war. It’s a nightmare scenario. We don’t have enough troops in the Middle East to fight a war like that.” Baer added, “I think we are looking into the abyss”.

US may be dragged into another war

Masters asked Baer why the US military is not mobilizing to stop this war from happening. Baer responded that the military is opposed, as is former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who used his influence to thwart an Israeli attack during the Bush and Obama administrations. But he’s gone now and “there is a warning order inside the Pentagon” to prepare for war.

It should be noted that the Iranian regime is quite capable of triggering a war with the United States through some combination of colossal stupidity and sheer hatred. In fact, as Baer explained, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard would welcome a war. They are “paranoid”. They are “worried about … what’s happening to their country economically, in terms of the oil embargo and other sanctions”. And they are worried about a population that increasingly despises the regime.

They need an external enemy. Because we are leaving Iraq, it’s Israel. But in order to make this threat believable, they would love an attack on their nuclear facilities, love to go to war in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Iraq and hit us where they could. Their defense is asymmetrical. We can take out all of their armored units. It’s of little difference to them, same with their surface-to-air missile sites. It would make little difference because they would use terrorism. They would do serious damage to our fleet in the Gulf.

Given all that, is it possible that the United States would allow Israel to attack when the president knows we would be forced to join the war on Israel’s side?

“The president is up for re-election next year,” Blair pointed out, and Israel is “truly out of control”.

What happens when you see 100 F-16’s approaching Iraq and there is a call to the White House [from Netanyahu] that says “We’re going in, we’re at war with Iran”? What does the President of the United States do? He has little influence over Bibi Netanyahu. … We can’t stop him. And he knows it.

It’s a pretty frightening scenario, made infinitely more so by the fact that top Israelis (who have heard Netanyahu’s thinking from Netanyahu himself) also see the future the same way. Those Israelis deserve a world of credit for sounding the warning bell loudly enough that we would hear it and do something about it – although it’s impossible to know if the people who matter are paying attention.

Actually, only one person matters: the US president. If Israel bombed Iran tomorrow, Congress would forget all about their partisan differences and run, not walk, to the House and Senate floors to endorse the attack and call for unstinting support for Israel. That is what Congress always does, and will always do so long as the lobby (and the donors it directs) are the key players in making our Middle East policies.

And who knows what Obama would do? So far, he has not exactly distinguished himself when it comes to standing up to Netanyahu.

But an Israeli attack on Iran would be different. It would endanger countless Americans (in the region and here at home, too). It would kill off any economic recovery by causing oil prices to skyrocket. It would engulf us in another Middle East war. And it would threaten the existence of the state of Israel.

This is something the president needs to focus on instead of being forced to nickel and dime with the likes of Representative Eric Cantor and Senator Mitch McConnell. How incredible that these two, and their right-wing allies, have our government tied in knots in their incessant effort to elevate themselves by destroying the President of the United States. It is sickening.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network.