Category Archives: Uncategorized

Routledge published my translation of Crevel’s ‘The Great Shop Window Dummy Seeks And Finds Her Own Skin’

Brandt Shop Window dummyThis is a very strange one…  echoes of Hans Bellmer, Marquis de Sade… apparently inspired by  Bill Brandt’s photos of mannequins in Parisien shop windows.  Not easy to translate but well done to the University of Edinburgh’s Art in Translation project and thanks to Routledge that they have preserved this for posterity in English. Click the link to view the full text and introduction by Ulrich Lehmann:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17561310.2015.1038904

Scottish Herald’s Excellent review of Islamic State: Digital Caliphate

 

REVIEW: Abdel Bari Atwan: Islamic State – The Digital Caliphate (Saqi Books)

12:06am Saturday 8th August 2015

By Rosemary Goring

Back in 2004 a treatise was published on the internet by a jihadi ideologue writing under the pseudonym “Abu Bakr Naji”. In Arabic it is called Idarat al-Tawahush, or Management Of Savagery. A few years later it was translated by William McCants, a fellow in the Centre for Middle East Policy at the US Brookings Institution, but not before it found itself being widely distributed on jihadist online forums.

Writing in his latest book Islamic State – The Digital Caliphate, the distinguished Palestinian author and journalist Abdel Bari Atwan devotes a chapter to explaining the significance Management Of Savagery has in driving the ideology behind the group that today calls itself Islamic State (IS). Atwan outlines how Naji’s essay discusses the role of extreme violence in the three-stage process of re-establishing the caliphate.

A “stage of vexation and exhaustion” is followed by “the administration of savagery” and, finally, “the establishment of the Islamic State”. If the first stage, “vexation and exhaustion”, refers to the wearing down militarily of the superpowers then the second stage, “administration of savagery”, sees the jihadist army dismiss anything that stands in its way. These two stages lead to the creation of the jihadists’ primary goals and ultimately the existence of the Islamic State.

Picking up a newspaper or turning on the television news it is difficult today to avoid headline stories about the latest activities of IS. It was just over a year ago on extremist websites that a short audio recording was released by IS in which its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a new caliphate. Today whether one accepts or rejects that such a caliphate exists, there is no getting away from the fact that IS now controls a swathe of territory across Iraq and Syria of well over 125,000 square miles, inhabited by some six million people. Many of these people of course would wish to be anywhere other than at the mercy of IS diktats.

As the latest dangerous manifestation of the global jihadist movement set in train by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri towards the end of the 1990s, it would be hard to refute the fact that IS has gone some considerable way to seeing through its three-stage evolution towards the creation of its caliphate. Along the way its management of savagery certainly has never been in doubt. Countless beheadings, crucifixions, the burning alive or throwing of people from high buildings have all too graphically confirmed this to a world that looks on aghast.

But if savagery represents one significant strand in IS strategy, so too by contrast does its sophisticated use of digital technology in delivering its message to the same horrified world. This is what lies at the narrative core of Atwan’s latest offering on the labyrinthine mechanisms that shape events in the Middle East and Islamic world.

Like Atwan’s other works the research that backs up his discourse is impeccable and authoritative. When marshalled to make a point it is presented with a clipped clarity that reminds the reader of his verbal delivery during broadcast appearances on programmes like the BBC’s Dateline London. This is an author who writes as he speaks, robustly and with a sense of surety about the material at his disposal. This is all the more welcome for the lay reader who understandably is often daunted by the factionalism, acronyms and alphabet soup that frequently accompany accounts of extremist groups in this region. To that end, for example, Atwan drops in very useful ‘mini guides’ along the way, such as a summarised Map of the Syrian Opposition, reminding readers of key groups and players.

Far and away the main thrust of this book and its greatest intrigue, though, lie in its insights into the remarkable and powerful use of digital technology IS have deployed alongside an ideology that embraces medieval barbarism. In an odd way the incongruity of this reminds me of something I encountered some years ago during a visit to Cambodia. There in the country’s capital, Phnom Penh, I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was once a notorious torture and interrogation prison run by the extremist communist Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge, like IS, was notoriously barbaric in their implementation of ‘Year Zero’, their version of a ‘caliphate’ where people were compelled to accept a culture, traditions and belief systems that, in the case of the Khmer Rouge, eschewed the trappings of modern life, be it cars, refrigerators or the wearing of spectacles. In a bizarre twist to this, many of those who became victims at Tuol Sleng for breaching this diktat were recorded on film by their Khmer Rouge captors who saw no irony in using modern state-of-the-art cameras.

This paradox is also evident in the case of IS as outlined by Atwan’s book. Put simply, the clash between advanced 21st-century technology and the Salafist- jihadist interpretation of Islam espousing the values of life in the 7th century, ceased to be a topic of debate when IS realised the internet’s capacity for spreading or reinforcing their message.

The author makes the case that IS would never have become the force it is or achieved its territorial ambitions without not only ‘managing’ savagery but mastering the internet as well. IS in effect is a ‘brand’, one reinforced by cadres not merely carrying Kalashnikovs. As Atwan says, its ranks are “tech-savvy… with most of the digital caliphate’s business conducted online, from recruitment and propaganda to battlefield strategy and instruction”.

Right now there is no shortage of books looking at the evolution, structure, ideology and threat the Islamic State group poses. While some are clearly the work of thorough research, they seem primarily aimed at the academic market or students of terrorism or security studies. Once again Atwan has written a book that is both accessible to the lay reader while casting new and invaluable insights into a complex group that is shaping the current Middle East and the foreign policies of governments beyond. Any reader who wants to know what makes the Islamic State group tick would do well to start here.

Islamic State – The Digital Caliphate by Abdel Bari Atwan is published by Saqi Books, £16.99. The author will be at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on August 23

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New Heathcote Williams Book

 

Cover internet use

I’ve been working with the legendary writer, dramatist, poet, actor, artist Heathcote Williams on his new investigative poem, Badshah Khan: Islamic Peace Warrior which Thin Man Press will be publishing on 2 June.

The book is very much in contrast to the work that has kept me busy the past seven months – a weighty tome about the Islamic State (see separate post).

Badshah Khan, a Pashtun Muslim from the North-West frontier country on the Afghan-Pakistan border, was a great friend of Mahatma Gandhi and assembled an unarmed, 100,000 strong Islamic Peace Army. He lived to be 98 years-old despite being in prison for much of his life and being regularly tortured, first by the British and then by the Pakistani authorities (after partition). He died in the 1980s.

The style of Williams’s work is particularly interesting; a mesmeric flow of measured, carefully considered words… the first part of the polemic is about the regional antics of the old Empire (Britain) while the second moves onto the ‘new Empire’, the US, and the damage it has inflicted on the Middle East and Asia.

And at this time in history, with Islamophobia poisoning the hearts of Westerners, the barbarism of the Islamic State dominating world headlines and war raging across the region, it is life affirming and reassuring to read about this Pashtun giant of a man and his big-hearted love for his fellow man and his gentleness in the face of violence and evil. A gentleness and peacefulness that is shared by millions of Muslims and which is the true face of Islam.

Heathcote  was fantastic to work with, considering every editorial suggestion with patience and a rare objectivity (a lot of writers have a hissy fit if you dare question even a choice of word). He was kind enough to claim that I was the best editor he’s ever worked with – I am sure that’s not the case but my heart swelled with pride for a moment back there!

Islamic State: Digital Caliphate

Islamic State front coverI have spent the past seven months working with Abdel Bari Atwan on this in depth study of the Islamic State, its origins, ideology, ambitions and how it can be combated. It was difficult project which took its toll emotionally, especially the chapter on ‘The Management of Savagery’ and the use of ultra-violence throughout history as psychological warfare. But we have produced a definitive and objective study of this new phenomenon and the real and present danger it poses not only to the Islamic world but to our own shores.

The BBC’s Gavin Esler was kind enough to describe our book thus:

‘This is a brave and important book. It lifts the lid on how Islamic State and al-Qa‘ida combine an ideology of 1,000 years ago with the use of 21st century information technology to spread their messages. In the propaganda and cyber war, they are winning converts from all over the world. If you want to understand what motivates those prepared to behead hostages and post the results on the internet, and why a minority of Western educated Muslims find these repulsive actions so attractive, then this book is a must-read. If we refuse to understand why some are attracted to the ideals Islamic State, then the chances of defeating it solely on the battlefield are slim.’ Gavin Esler

It will be published by Saqi on 9 May 2015

What I’ve been up to recently

Since July I have been incredibly busy researching and ghosting a book on the Islamic State and – in complete contrast – working with Peter Doherty and his editor, Nina Antonia, on his new book ‘From Albion to Shagri-La’ which is published by Thin Man Press. I also wrote a load of OpEds on Middle Eastern politics and have a lovely new commission from the University of Edinburgh to translate three remarkable pieces about fashion – including a bafflingly surreal essay by Rene Crevel called ‘The Great Shop Window Dummy Seeks and Finds Her Skin’! I’ve been to Paris twice this Autumn and met some great new people there including the extremely talented 21 year-old poet/musician Thomas Baigneres whose poetry collection I will be translating at some point.

Thin Man Press is going well – we published Southwark Mysteries playwright John Constable’s first collection of poetry, ‘Spark in the Dark’, and a wonderful prose poem by A.A. Walker, ‘Licentia’.

In November we revived the music-spoken word performance piece based on my translation of Louis Aragon’s ‘A Wave of Dreams’ for the Black Sheds festival in Hastings; it was very well   received and Hastings Council Arts department have invited us back to host a ‘Stade Saturday’ event in July… watch this space.

Finally, the wonderful Tymon Dogg has finished, and had mastered, his new album ‘Made of Light’ which is brilliant. We’re looking for a suitable record lablel  so if you’ve got any ideas, let us know!

Commentary/Book Review ‘The Battle For Justice In Palestine’

http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine-2047860046

The two-state solution is beyond repair and the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs

Ali Abunimah opens his new book, The Battle For Justice In Palestine with the startling claim, “The Palestinians Are Winning”. His central thesis is that the world is wising up to Israel, and that the two-state solution is dead after decades of wasted negotiation. A one-state solution – the only choice left, he feels – is to the Palestinians’ advantage.

This is a timely study, given the failure of the latest round of peace talks, but how realistic is this optimism?

Abunimah, who lives in the US, makes an original start by challenging America’s claim to global moral leadership – America being Israel’s protector and main international advocate.

The writer argues that racism remains endemic in the US where it is has been re-directed into the criminalisation and incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black people under the banner of “the war on drugs”; now Muslims have also become a target of this xenophobia in the course of the “war on terror”. Paradoxically, the situation has worsened under Barack Obama and, with seven millions in jail, “America imprisons more of its racial and ethnic minorities than any other country in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, this pattern is mirrored in Israel where Palestinians are routinely detained without charge and kangaroo courts have a conviction rate of 99.75 percent. When it comes to cases against Israeli soldiers for violent attacks on Palestinians, however, 94 percent are dropped.

Like “decent white folks” near an American Black or Latino ghetto, Israel is often portrayed as “living in a tough neighbourhood” where the ‘Arabs’ are a constant menace to their peace and security. Abunimah challenges this myth, together with the notion that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, describing instead a society as deeply racist and unequal as its American sponsor.

Abunimah revisits the territory of several other books with an exposé of Israel’s colonialism and apartheid machinery, but does so as part of his thesis that the two-state solution is no longer possible. A racist ghetto-isation of the Palestinians into a shrinking (due to illegal settlement building) West Bank and Gaza, and the refusal to allow those in the diaspora the right to return, cannot accommodate their legitimate (and legal) right to self-determination.

In an interesting analysis, Abunimah suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted the failure of Zionism with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish State”.  “The Zionist project,” Abunimah infers, “can never enjoy legitimacy or stability without the active consent of the Palestinian people.”

The colonialist, apartheid nature of the state of Israel is recognised more widely than ever before, by people, if not governments. Abunimah insists that lasting solutions can only evolve from the grass roots. The growth of the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are crucial developments. The writer urges new, outside the box thinking on the Palestinian question and revisits the recent histories of South Africa and Northern Ireland, describing in (perhaps too intricate) detail the processes by which each achieved a previously unthinkable reconciliation.

Abunimah suggests that the current Palestinian leadership is no longer fit for purpose when Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, can declare, “We do not support the boycott of Israel” – a view which is at odds with the dreams of millions of Palestinians – and technocrats, like former Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, seek to impose an American/IMF agenda.

The wrong leadership at the crucial moment, the writer argues, leads to a new state being “born in chains”.

Abunimah predicts a vigorous battle against the one-state solution by Israel. Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute has warned that the nation’s international popularity and credibility is on the wane and that the BDS movement presents an “existential threat” to the Zionist state. The harbinger of its demise, according to the institute, would be the “collapse of the two-state solution”.

Israel’s muscular Hasbara (propaganda) machine has responded with hyperbolic campaigns including one that compares BDS to “Nazism” and Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject to Mein Kampf.

Abunimah goes into great detail (arguably too much) about the so-called “David Project” run by Hasbara on American university campuses which targets pro-Palestinian students and academics and which he compares to Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s. The writer might, perhaps, have identified similar actions on campuses in other countries. We have certainly witnessed them in the UK.

Abunimah also relates Israel’s attempts to redeem its PR image by “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” in order to appeal to Western values. The former sees Israel marketing itself as a “gay paradise” while claiming, as Netanyahu did before Congress, that in Gaza, “Homosexuality is punishable by death”. (Not so, by the way). In one of the book’s rare moments of humour, Abunimah describes a hoax YouTube video in which an Israeli actor pretends to be a pro-Palestinian activist chased away from joining the Gaza flotilla “because he is gay”.

Greenwashing has seen even the Jewish National Fund, the very source of the Zionist project, posing as an “environmental movement”; Abunimah suggests that the “greening” policy is cynically used to grab land from Palestinian villagers and Bedouins and exposes Israel’s actual, appalling, environmental record: the OECD’s Better Life Index ranked Israel 35th (worst) out of 36 for water quality and 27th for air pollution.  Abunimah also identifies a form of “environmental racism” whereby sewage from Israel’s illegal hilltop settlements pollutes Arab farmland and water sources beneath; Israel’s “dirty industries” such as pesticide and chemical plants were relocated to the Arab West Bank after Israeli citizens complained about pollution.

Abunimah interestingly demonstrates how Israel harnesses racism in other cultures to its own advantage, rebranding it “shared values”. For example, it conflates America’s current panic about Mexicans with Islamic terrorism: a (former Israeli soldier) congressman recently made the entirely ludicrous claim that, “Al-Qaeda has camps with the drug cartels on the other side of the border.” Americans who originally hailed from India are courted for support because they too “have much to fear from the Islamic world”.

None of this has indefinite currency, however. With sympathy for and understanding of the plight of the Palestinians at unprecedented levels, Abunimah urges his fellow countrymen to step up to the mark and agitate for a new solution – one state for Arabs and Jews founded on a racial equality and economic justice.

Examining the practicalities in some detail, Abunimah comes up with some controversial suggestions, including that even the illegal settlers could be absorbed into a new state founded on “unmitigated equality”, provided they relinquished their colonial characteristics and settler privileges.

Abunimah devotes his final chapter to revisiting the whole question of self-determination and poses a thorny new question. Given that, under international law, this is a right accorded to peoples who have been liberated from occupation or colonization, can Jews in Palestine/Israel legitimately claim it for themselves?

So, does Abunimah convince that “the Palestinians are winning”?

This reader is persuaded that the two-state solution is beyond repair and that the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs and settlement building.

A one-state outcome, founded on equality, justice, and peace between Arabs and Jews seems to be to be a solution in which everybody – not just the Palestinians – wins.

There is much that is new in Abunimah’s challenging and thought-provoking book. The only criticism this reader would offer is that there is arguably too much tangential detail and some of the reportage is too America-centric which somewhat lessens its potential international impact.

 – Susan de Muth is a London-based journalist specialising in Middle Eastern politics, literary translation, the environment, the Arts and Music.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Palestinians at a rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba Day in Gaza city on 15 May (AA)

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine#sthash.guv74Bl0.dpuf

The two-state solution is beyond repair and the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs

Ali Abunimah opens his new book, The Battle For Justice In Palestine with the startling claim, “The Palestinians Are Winning”. His central thesis is that the world is wising up to Israel, and that the two-state solution is dead after decades of wasted negotiation. A one-state solution – the only choice left, he feels – is to the Palestinians’ advantage.

This is a timely study, given the failure of the latest round of peace talks, but how realistic is this optimism?

Abunimah, who lives in the US, makes an original start by challenging America’s claim to global moral leadership – America being Israel’s protector and main international advocate.

The writer argues that racism remains endemic in the US where it is has been re-directed into the criminalisation and incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black people under the banner of “the war on drugs”; now Muslims have also become a target of this xenophobia in the course of the “war on terror”. Paradoxically, the situation has worsened under Barack Obama and, with seven millions in jail, “America imprisons more of its racial and ethnic minorities than any other country in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, this pattern is mirrored in Israel where Palestinians are routinely detained without charge and kangaroo courts have a conviction rate of 99.75 percent. When it comes to cases against Israeli soldiers for violent attacks on Palestinians, however, 94 percent are dropped.

Like “decent white folks” near an American Black or Latino ghetto, Israel is often portrayed as “living in a tough neighbourhood” where the ‘Arabs’ are a constant menace to their peace and security. Abunimah challenges this myth, together with the notion that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, describing instead a society as deeply racist and unequal as its American sponsor.

Abunimah revisits the territory of several other books with an exposé of Israel’s colonialism and apartheid machinery, but does so as part of his thesis that the two-state solution is no longer possible. A racist ghetto-isation of the Palestinians into a shrinking (due to illegal settlement building) West Bank and Gaza, and the refusal to allow those in the diaspora the right to return, cannot accommodate their legitimate (and legal) right to self-determination.

In an interesting analysis, Abunimah suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted the failure of Zionism with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish State”.  “The Zionist project,” Abunimah infers, “can never enjoy legitimacy or stability without the active consent of the Palestinian people.”

The colonialist, apartheid nature of the state of Israel is recognised more widely than ever before, by people, if not governments. Abunimah insists that lasting solutions can only evolve from the grass roots. The growth of the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are crucial developments. The writer urges new, outside the box thinking on the Palestinian question and revisits the recent histories of South Africa and Northern Ireland, describing in (perhaps too intricate) detail the processes by which each achieved a previously unthinkable reconciliation.

Abunimah suggests that the current Palestinian leadership is no longer fit for purpose when Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, can declare, “We do not support the boycott of Israel” – a view which is at odds with the dreams of millions of Palestinians – and technocrats, like former Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, seek to impose an American/IMF agenda.

The wrong leadership at the crucial moment, the writer argues, leads to a new state being “born in chains”.

Abunimah predicts a vigorous battle against the one-state solution by Israel. Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute has warned that the nation’s international popularity and credibility is on the wane and that the BDS movement presents an “existential threat” to the Zionist state. The harbinger of its demise, according to the institute, would be the “collapse of the two-state solution”.

Israel’s muscular Hasbara (propaganda) machine has responded with hyperbolic campaigns including one that compares BDS to “Nazism” and Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject to Mein Kampf.

Abunimah goes into great detail (arguably too much) about the so-called “David Project” run by Hasbara on American university campuses which targets pro-Palestinian students and academics and which he compares to Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s. The writer might, perhaps, have identified similar actions on campuses in other countries. We have certainly witnessed them in the UK.

Abunimah also relates Israel’s attempts to redeem its PR image by “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” in order to appeal to Western values. The former sees Israel marketing itself as a “gay paradise” while claiming, as Netanyahu did before Congress, that in Gaza, “Homosexuality is punishable by death”. (Not so, by the way). In one of the book’s rare moments of humour, Abunimah describes a hoax YouTube video in which an Israeli actor pretends to be a pro-Palestinian activist chased away from joining the Gaza flotilla “because he is gay”.

Greenwashing has seen even the Jewish National Fund, the very source of the Zionist project, posing as an “environmental movement”; Abunimah suggests that the “greening” policy is cynically used to grab land from Palestinian villagers and Bedouins and exposes Israel’s actual, appalling, environmental record: the OECD’s Better Life Index ranked Israel 35th (worst) out of 36 for water quality and 27th for air pollution.  Abunimah also identifies a form of “environmental racism” whereby sewage from Israel’s illegal hilltop settlements pollutes Arab farmland and water sources beneath; Israel’s “dirty industries” such as pesticide and chemical plants were relocated to the Arab West Bank after Israeli citizens complained about pollution.

Abunimah interestingly demonstrates how Israel harnesses racism in other cultures to its own advantage, rebranding it “shared values”. For example, it conflates America’s current panic about Mexicans with Islamic terrorism: a (former Israeli soldier) congressman recently made the entirely ludicrous claim that, “Al-Qaeda has camps with the drug cartels on the other side of the border.” Americans who originally hailed from India are courted for support because they too “have much to fear from the Islamic world”.

None of this has indefinite currency, however. With sympathy for and understanding of the plight of the Palestinians at unprecedented levels, Abunimah urges his fellow countrymen to step up to the mark and agitate for a new solution – one state for Arabs and Jews founded on a racial equality and economic justice.

Examining the practicalities in some detail, Abunimah comes up with some controversial suggestions, including that even the illegal settlers could be absorbed into a new state founded on “unmitigated equality”, provided they relinquished their colonial characteristics and settler privileges.

Abunimah devotes his final chapter to revisiting the whole question of self-determination and poses a thorny new question. Given that, under international law, this is a right accorded to peoples who have been liberated from occupation or colonization, can Jews in Palestine/Israel legitimately claim it for themselves?

So, does Abunimah convince that “the Palestinians are winning”?

This reader is persuaded that the two-state solution is beyond repair and that the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs and settlement building.

A one-state outcome, founded on equality, justice, and peace between Arabs and Jews seems to be to be a solution in which everybody – not just the Palestinians – wins.

There is much that is new in Abunimah’s challenging and thought-provoking book. The only criticism this reader would offer is that there is arguably too much tangential detail and some of the reportage is too America-centric which somewhat lessens its potential international impact.

 – Susan de Muth is a London-based journalist specialising in Middle Eastern politics, literary translation, the environment, the Arts and Music.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Palestinians at a rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba Day in Gaza city on 15 May (AA)

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine#sthash.guv74Bl0.dpuf

The two-state solution is beyond repair and the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs

Ali Abunimah opens his new book, The Battle For Justice In Palestine with the startling claim, “The Palestinians Are Winning”. His central thesis is that the world is wising up to Israel, and that the two-state solution is dead after decades of wasted negotiation. A one-state solution – the only choice left, he feels – is to the Palestinians’ advantage.

This is a timely study, given the failure of the latest round of peace talks, but how realistic is this optimism?

Abunimah, who lives in the US, makes an original start by challenging America’s claim to global moral leadership – America being Israel’s protector and main international advocate.

The writer argues that racism remains endemic in the US where it is has been re-directed into the criminalisation and incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black people under the banner of “the war on drugs”; now Muslims have also become a target of this xenophobia in the course of the “war on terror”. Paradoxically, the situation has worsened under Barack Obama and, with seven millions in jail, “America imprisons more of its racial and ethnic minorities than any other country in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, this pattern is mirrored in Israel where Palestinians are routinely detained without charge and kangaroo courts have a conviction rate of 99.75 percent. When it comes to cases against Israeli soldiers for violent attacks on Palestinians, however, 94 percent are dropped.

Like “decent white folks” near an American Black or Latino ghetto, Israel is often portrayed as “living in a tough neighbourhood” where the ‘Arabs’ are a constant menace to their peace and security. Abunimah challenges this myth, together with the notion that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, describing instead a society as deeply racist and unequal as its American sponsor.

Abunimah revisits the territory of several other books with an exposé of Israel’s colonialism and apartheid machinery, but does so as part of his thesis that the two-state solution is no longer possible. A racist ghetto-isation of the Palestinians into a shrinking (due to illegal settlement building) West Bank and Gaza, and the refusal to allow those in the diaspora the right to return, cannot accommodate their legitimate (and legal) right to self-determination.

In an interesting analysis, Abunimah suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted the failure of Zionism with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish State”.  “The Zionist project,” Abunimah infers, “can never enjoy legitimacy or stability without the active consent of the Palestinian people.”

The colonialist, apartheid nature of the state of Israel is recognised more widely than ever before, by people, if not governments. Abunimah insists that lasting solutions can only evolve from the grass roots. The growth of the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are crucial developments. The writer urges new, outside the box thinking on the Palestinian question and revisits the recent histories of South Africa and Northern Ireland, describing in (perhaps too intricate) detail the processes by which each achieved a previously unthinkable reconciliation.

Abunimah suggests that the current Palestinian leadership is no longer fit for purpose when Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, can declare, “We do not support the boycott of Israel” – a view which is at odds with the dreams of millions of Palestinians – and technocrats, like former Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, seek to impose an American/IMF agenda.

The wrong leadership at the crucial moment, the writer argues, leads to a new state being “born in chains”.

Abunimah predicts a vigorous battle against the one-state solution by Israel. Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute has warned that the nation’s international popularity and credibility is on the wane and that the BDS movement presents an “existential threat” to the Zionist state. The harbinger of its demise, according to the institute, would be the “collapse of the two-state solution”.

Israel’s muscular Hasbara (propaganda) machine has responded with hyperbolic campaigns including one that compares BDS to “Nazism” and Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject to Mein Kampf.

Abunimah goes into great detail (arguably too much) about the so-called “David Project” run by Hasbara on American university campuses which targets pro-Palestinian students and academics and which he compares to Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s. The writer might, perhaps, have identified similar actions on campuses in other countries. We have certainly witnessed them in the UK.

Abunimah also relates Israel’s attempts to redeem its PR image by “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” in order to appeal to Western values. The former sees Israel marketing itself as a “gay paradise” while claiming, as Netanyahu did before Congress, that in Gaza, “Homosexuality is punishable by death”. (Not so, by the way). In one of the book’s rare moments of humour, Abunimah describes a hoax YouTube video in which an Israeli actor pretends to be a pro-Palestinian activist chased away from joining the Gaza flotilla “because he is gay”.

Greenwashing has seen even the Jewish National Fund, the very source of the Zionist project, posing as an “environmental movement”; Abunimah suggests that the “greening” policy is cynically used to grab land from Palestinian villagers and Bedouins and exposes Israel’s actual, appalling, environmental record: the OECD’s Better Life Index ranked Israel 35th (worst) out of 36 for water quality and 27th for air pollution.  Abunimah also identifies a form of “environmental racism” whereby sewage from Israel’s illegal hilltop settlements pollutes Arab farmland and water sources beneath; Israel’s “dirty industries” such as pesticide and chemical plants were relocated to the Arab West Bank after Israeli citizens complained about pollution.

Abunimah interestingly demonstrates how Israel harnesses racism in other cultures to its own advantage, rebranding it “shared values”. For example, it conflates America’s current panic about Mexicans with Islamic terrorism: a (former Israeli soldier) congressman recently made the entirely ludicrous claim that, “Al-Qaeda has camps with the drug cartels on the other side of the border.” Americans who originally hailed from India are courted for support because they too “have much to fear from the Islamic world”.

None of this has indefinite currency, however. With sympathy for and understanding of the plight of the Palestinians at unprecedented levels, Abunimah urges his fellow countrymen to step up to the mark and agitate for a new solution – one state for Arabs and Jews founded on a racial equality and economic justice.

Examining the practicalities in some detail, Abunimah comes up with some controversial suggestions, including that even the illegal settlers could be absorbed into a new state founded on “unmitigated equality”, provided they relinquished their colonial characteristics and settler privileges.

Abunimah devotes his final chapter to revisiting the whole question of self-determination and poses a thorny new question. Given that, under international law, this is a right accorded to peoples who have been liberated from occupation or colonization, can Jews in Palestine/Israel legitimately claim it for themselves?

So, does Abunimah convince that “the Palestinians are winning”?

This reader is persuaded that the two-state solution is beyond repair and that the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs and settlement building.

A one-state outcome, founded on equality, justice, and peace between Arabs and Jews seems to be to be a solution in which everybody – not just the Palestinians – wins.

There is much that is new in Abunimah’s challenging and thought-provoking book. The only criticism this reader would offer is that there is arguably too much tangential detail and some of the reportage is too America-centric which somewhat lessens its potential international impact.

 – Susan de Muth is a London-based journalist specialising in Middle Eastern politics, literary translation, the environment, the Arts and Music.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Palestinians at a rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba Day in Gaza city on 15 May (AA)

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine#sthash.guv74Bl0.dpuf

The two-state solution is beyond repair and the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs

Ali Abunimah opens his new book, The Battle For Justice In Palestine with the startling claim, “The Palestinians Are Winning”. His central thesis is that the world is wising up to Israel, and that the two-state solution is dead after decades of wasted negotiation. A one-state solution – the only choice left, he feels – is to the Palestinians’ advantage.

This is a timely study, given the failure of the latest round of peace talks, but how realistic is this optimism?

Abunimah, who lives in the US, makes an original start by challenging America’s claim to global moral leadership – America being Israel’s protector and main international advocate.

The writer argues that racism remains endemic in the US where it is has been re-directed into the criminalisation and incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black people under the banner of “the war on drugs”; now Muslims have also become a target of this xenophobia in the course of the “war on terror”. Paradoxically, the situation has worsened under Barack Obama and, with seven millions in jail, “America imprisons more of its racial and ethnic minorities than any other country in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, this pattern is mirrored in Israel where Palestinians are routinely detained without charge and kangaroo courts have a conviction rate of 99.75 percent. When it comes to cases against Israeli soldiers for violent attacks on Palestinians, however, 94 percent are dropped.

Like “decent white folks” near an American Black or Latino ghetto, Israel is often portrayed as “living in a tough neighbourhood” where the ‘Arabs’ are a constant menace to their peace and security. Abunimah challenges this myth, together with the notion that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, describing instead a society as deeply racist and unequal as its American sponsor.

Abunimah revisits the territory of several other books with an exposé of Israel’s colonialism and apartheid machinery, but does so as part of his thesis that the two-state solution is no longer possible. A racist ghetto-isation of the Palestinians into a shrinking (due to illegal settlement building) West Bank and Gaza, and the refusal to allow those in the diaspora the right to return, cannot accommodate their legitimate (and legal) right to self-determination.

In an interesting analysis, Abunimah suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted the failure of Zionism with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish State”.  “The Zionist project,” Abunimah infers, “can never enjoy legitimacy or stability without the active consent of the Palestinian people.”

The colonialist, apartheid nature of the state of Israel is recognised more widely than ever before, by people, if not governments. Abunimah insists that lasting solutions can only evolve from the grass roots. The growth of the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are crucial developments. The writer urges new, outside the box thinking on the Palestinian question and revisits the recent histories of South Africa and Northern Ireland, describing in (perhaps too intricate) detail the processes by which each achieved a previously unthinkable reconciliation.

Abunimah suggests that the current Palestinian leadership is no longer fit for purpose when Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, can declare, “We do not support the boycott of Israel” – a view which is at odds with the dreams of millions of Palestinians – and technocrats, like former Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, seek to impose an American/IMF agenda.

The wrong leadership at the crucial moment, the writer argues, leads to a new state being “born in chains”.

Abunimah predicts a vigorous battle against the one-state solution by Israel. Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute has warned that the nation’s international popularity and credibility is on the wane and that the BDS movement presents an “existential threat” to the Zionist state. The harbinger of its demise, according to the institute, would be the “collapse of the two-state solution”.

Israel’s muscular Hasbara (propaganda) machine has responded with hyperbolic campaigns including one that compares BDS to “Nazism” and Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject to Mein Kampf.

Abunimah goes into great detail (arguably too much) about the so-called “David Project” run by Hasbara on American university campuses which targets pro-Palestinian students and academics and which he compares to Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s. The writer might, perhaps, have identified similar actions on campuses in other countries. We have certainly witnessed them in the UK.

Abunimah also relates Israel’s attempts to redeem its PR image by “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” in order to appeal to Western values. The former sees Israel marketing itself as a “gay paradise” while claiming, as Netanyahu did before Congress, that in Gaza, “Homosexuality is punishable by death”. (Not so, by the way). In one of the book’s rare moments of humour, Abunimah describes a hoax YouTube video in which an Israeli actor pretends to be a pro-Palestinian activist chased away from joining the Gaza flotilla “because he is gay”.

Greenwashing has seen even the Jewish National Fund, the very source of the Zionist project, posing as an “environmental movement”; Abunimah suggests that the “greening” policy is cynically used to grab land from Palestinian villagers and Bedouins and exposes Israel’s actual, appalling, environmental record: the OECD’s Better Life Index ranked Israel 35th (worst) out of 36 for water quality and 27th for air pollution.  Abunimah also identifies a form of “environmental racism” whereby sewage from Israel’s illegal hilltop settlements pollutes Arab farmland and water sources beneath; Israel’s “dirty industries” such as pesticide and chemical plants were relocated to the Arab West Bank after Israeli citizens complained about pollution.

Abunimah interestingly demonstrates how Israel harnesses racism in other cultures to its own advantage, rebranding it “shared values”. For example, it conflates America’s current panic about Mexicans with Islamic terrorism: a (former Israeli soldier) congressman recently made the entirely ludicrous claim that, “Al-Qaeda has camps with the drug cartels on the other side of the border.” Americans who originally hailed from India are courted for support because they too “have much to fear from the Islamic world”.

None of this has indefinite currency, however. With sympathy for and understanding of the plight of the Palestinians at unprecedented levels, Abunimah urges his fellow countrymen to step up to the mark and agitate for a new solution – one state for Arabs and Jews founded on a racial equality and economic justice.

Examining the practicalities in some detail, Abunimah comes up with some controversial suggestions, including that even the illegal settlers could be absorbed into a new state founded on “unmitigated equality”, provided they relinquished their colonial characteristics and settler privileges.

Abunimah devotes his final chapter to revisiting the whole question of self-determination and poses a thorny new question. Given that, under international law, this is a right accorded to peoples who have been liberated from occupation or colonization, can Jews in Palestine/Israel legitimately claim it for themselves?

So, does Abunimah convince that “the Palestinians are winning”?

This reader is persuaded that the two-state solution is beyond repair and that the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs and settlement building.

A one-state outcome, founded on equality, justice, and peace between Arabs and Jews seems to be to be a solution in which everybody – not just the Palestinians – wins.

There is much that is new in Abunimah’s challenging and thought-provoking book. The only criticism this reader would offer is that there is arguably too much tangential detail and some of the reportage is too America-centric which somewhat lessens its potential international impact.

 – Susan de Muth is a London-based journalist specialising in Middle Eastern politics, literary translation, the environment, the Arts and Music.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Palestinians at a rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba Day in Gaza city on 15 May (AA)

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine#sthash.guv74Bl0.dpuf

The two-state solution is beyond repair and the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs

Ali Abunimah opens his new book, The Battle For Justice In Palestine with the startling claim, “The Palestinians Are Winning”. His central thesis is that the world is wising up to Israel, and that the two-state solution is dead after decades of wasted negotiation. A one-state solution – the only choice left, he feels – is to the Palestinians’ advantage.

This is a timely study, given the failure of the latest round of peace talks, but how realistic is this optimism?

Abunimah, who lives in the US, makes an original start by challenging America’s claim to global moral leadership – America being Israel’s protector and main international advocate.

The writer argues that racism remains endemic in the US where it is has been re-directed into the criminalisation and incarceration of disproportionate numbers of black people under the banner of “the war on drugs”; now Muslims have also become a target of this xenophobia in the course of the “war on terror”. Paradoxically, the situation has worsened under Barack Obama and, with seven millions in jail, “America imprisons more of its racial and ethnic minorities than any other country in the world.”

Unsurprisingly, this pattern is mirrored in Israel where Palestinians are routinely detained without charge and kangaroo courts have a conviction rate of 99.75 percent. When it comes to cases against Israeli soldiers for violent attacks on Palestinians, however, 94 percent are dropped.

Like “decent white folks” near an American Black or Latino ghetto, Israel is often portrayed as “living in a tough neighbourhood” where the ‘Arabs’ are a constant menace to their peace and security. Abunimah challenges this myth, together with the notion that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”, describing instead a society as deeply racist and unequal as its American sponsor.

Abunimah revisits the territory of several other books with an exposé of Israel’s colonialism and apartheid machinery, but does so as part of his thesis that the two-state solution is no longer possible. A racist ghetto-isation of the Palestinians into a shrinking (due to illegal settlement building) West Bank and Gaza, and the refusal to allow those in the diaspora the right to return, cannot accommodate their legitimate (and legal) right to self-determination.

In an interesting analysis, Abunimah suggests that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has admitted the failure of Zionism with his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as “a Jewish State”.  “The Zionist project,” Abunimah infers, “can never enjoy legitimacy or stability without the active consent of the Palestinian people.”

The colonialist, apartheid nature of the state of Israel is recognised more widely than ever before, by people, if not governments. Abunimah insists that lasting solutions can only evolve from the grass roots. The growth of the international Palestinian solidarity movement and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement are crucial developments. The writer urges new, outside the box thinking on the Palestinian question and revisits the recent histories of South Africa and Northern Ireland, describing in (perhaps too intricate) detail the processes by which each achieved a previously unthinkable reconciliation.

Abunimah suggests that the current Palestinian leadership is no longer fit for purpose when Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, can declare, “We do not support the boycott of Israel” – a view which is at odds with the dreams of millions of Palestinians – and technocrats, like former Prime Minister Salman Fayyad, seek to impose an American/IMF agenda.

The wrong leadership at the crucial moment, the writer argues, leads to a new state being “born in chains”.

Abunimah predicts a vigorous battle against the one-state solution by Israel. Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute has warned that the nation’s international popularity and credibility is on the wane and that the BDS movement presents an “existential threat” to the Zionist state. The harbinger of its demise, according to the institute, would be the “collapse of the two-state solution”.

Israel’s muscular Hasbara (propaganda) machine has responded with hyperbolic campaigns including one that compares BDS to “Nazism” and Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject to Mein Kampf.

Abunimah goes into great detail (arguably too much) about the so-called “David Project” run by Hasbara on American university campuses which targets pro-Palestinian students and academics and which he compares to Senator McCarthy’s witch-hunt of communists in the 1950s. The writer might, perhaps, have identified similar actions on campuses in other countries. We have certainly witnessed them in the UK.

Abunimah also relates Israel’s attempts to redeem its PR image by “pinkwashing” and “greenwashing” in order to appeal to Western values. The former sees Israel marketing itself as a “gay paradise” while claiming, as Netanyahu did before Congress, that in Gaza, “Homosexuality is punishable by death”. (Not so, by the way). In one of the book’s rare moments of humour, Abunimah describes a hoax YouTube video in which an Israeli actor pretends to be a pro-Palestinian activist chased away from joining the Gaza flotilla “because he is gay”.

Greenwashing has seen even the Jewish National Fund, the very source of the Zionist project, posing as an “environmental movement”; Abunimah suggests that the “greening” policy is cynically used to grab land from Palestinian villagers and Bedouins and exposes Israel’s actual, appalling, environmental record: the OECD’s Better Life Index ranked Israel 35th (worst) out of 36 for water quality and 27th for air pollution.  Abunimah also identifies a form of “environmental racism” whereby sewage from Israel’s illegal hilltop settlements pollutes Arab farmland and water sources beneath; Israel’s “dirty industries” such as pesticide and chemical plants were relocated to the Arab West Bank after Israeli citizens complained about pollution.

Abunimah interestingly demonstrates how Israel harnesses racism in other cultures to its own advantage, rebranding it “shared values”. For example, it conflates America’s current panic about Mexicans with Islamic terrorism: a (former Israeli soldier) congressman recently made the entirely ludicrous claim that, “Al-Qaeda has camps with the drug cartels on the other side of the border.” Americans who originally hailed from India are courted for support because they too “have much to fear from the Islamic world”.

None of this has indefinite currency, however. With sympathy for and understanding of the plight of the Palestinians at unprecedented levels, Abunimah urges his fellow countrymen to step up to the mark and agitate for a new solution – one state for Arabs and Jews founded on a racial equality and economic justice.

Examining the practicalities in some detail, Abunimah comes up with some controversial suggestions, including that even the illegal settlers could be absorbed into a new state founded on “unmitigated equality”, provided they relinquished their colonial characteristics and settler privileges.

Abunimah devotes his final chapter to revisiting the whole question of self-determination and poses a thorny new question. Given that, under international law, this is a right accorded to peoples who have been liberated from occupation or colonization, can Jews in Palestine/Israel legitimately claim it for themselves?

So, does Abunimah convince that “the Palestinians are winning”?

This reader is persuaded that the two-state solution is beyond repair and that the peace process now benefits only Israel, serving as a smoke screen for more land grabs and settlement building.

A one-state outcome, founded on equality, justice, and peace between Arabs and Jews seems to be to be a solution in which everybody – not just the Palestinians – wins.

There is much that is new in Abunimah’s challenging and thought-provoking book. The only criticism this reader would offer is that there is arguably too much tangential detail and some of the reportage is too America-centric which somewhat lessens its potential international impact.

 – Susan de Muth is a London-based journalist specialising in Middle Eastern politics, literary translation, the environment, the Arts and Music.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo credit: Palestinians at a rally marking the 66th anniversary of the Nakba Day in Gaza city on 15 May (AA)

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/battle-justice-palestine#sthash.guv74Bl0.dpuf

My review of ‘Deception in High Places’ by Nicholas Gilby

Deception cover

In ‘Deception in High Places’ (Pluto Press) Nicholas Gilby traces the history of corruption in the Arms Trade – with particular emphasis on Britain’s fifty-year relationship with Saudi Arabia – and seeks to prove that ministers of state and other top officials knew about, approved, and colluded to conceal, millions of pounds worth of bribes over the decades.

The book is largely the result of Gilby’s nine-year forensic trawl through government records, many of them previously unseen and obtained through Freedom of Information battles with the Foreign and Commonwealth office.

Gilby’s history culminates with contemporary scandals surrounding Al Yamamah – the biggest ever arms deal in history. These are the subject of ongoing, in-depth scrutiny elsewhere – the Guardian, Private Eye and Exaro for example – but uniquely interesting in Gilby’s book are the seven out of his nine chapters which chronicle the evolution of ‘grand corruption’ and its widespread acceptance at the heart of the British establishment.

At times a little dry, more colourful interludes derive from private papers and letters Gilby has also uncovered. He takes an almost Rabelaisian delight in detailing the lavish ‘sweeteners’, worth millions of pounds, that BAE heaped upon Saudi Prince Turki bin Nasser and his family under the cryptically entitled ‘Al Yamamah benefits programme’.

[can omit: ‘Benefits’ included the 1995 hire of a large freighter jet to transport Princess Noura’s Rolls Royce and furniture from America to Saudi Arabia, purchasing and running a professional film unit and studio to record a family wedding, and a £55,000 restaurant visit to Maxime de Paris.]

Gilby starts his narrative in 1964, when there were ‘only six British businessmen in Saudi Arabia’. Pioneering arms agent, Geoffrey Edwards, was one of these and he worked hard to procure large sales for the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). From the outset, governments were involved and ‘sweeteners’ or ‘douceurs’ worth millions in today’s money were part of the deal.

When BAC found itself competing with American firms for a huge 1965 Saudi Arms deal via Edwards and Lockheed’s new agent, Adnan Khashoggi , a joint deal was brokered by the Pentagon; documents show that Harold Wilson’s government knew that 7.5 percent of the British firm’s £1.5 billion share was designated for ‘special commissions’ to top Saudis including the Minister of Defence.

Since 1968, the British Government has had a dedicated arms marketing department within the Ministry of Defence, using its network of Ambassadors and Military attachés to identify opportunities and promote UK manufacturers. Gilby shows how these officials were aware of the bribery involved in procuring contracts. Willie Morris, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s, perfected the art of the ‘deniable fiddle’, kept a file on corruption and had a list of ‘who pays whom in the Kingdom’.

This enduring template for systemic bribery, established fifty years ago, is more easily excavated than those which followed in an increasingly crowded and complicated market.

Gilby implies a deeply entrenched, amoral attitude to arms deals throughout the establishment, and collusion between its various branches to achieve desired outcomes: in the 1970s, ‘special commissions’ paid to British subjects were routinely reported to the Inland Revenue because such payments were ‘tax-deductible’; companies also told the Bank of England about them in order to comply with Exchange Control regulations, and the Bank asked the Treasury to agree any commission over 10% of the contract value.

When Edwards sued the British company Associated Electrical Industries for unpaid commissions in 1974, diplomats briefed the company on editing and codifying potentially incriminating documents which might ‘damage Britain’s commercial interests’ and provoke a public outcry for anti-corruption legislation.

Another would-be litigant, Shapoor Reporter, who lubricated many arms deals with Iran, dropped his case against the Ministry of Defence when the Inland Revenue suddenly developed an interest in his bank accounts.

Gilby highlights a cynical disregard, among successive British governments, for how the arms being brokered might be used; as well as the Saudis and Iranians, other famously oppressive clients included Indonesia’s President Suharto.

Gilby details the history of anti-corruption legislation and shows how even well-intentioned laws were cynically manipulated by both sides to enhance their own positions. The Saudis were the first to institute a ban on bribery in 1968, shortly followed by the Lebanese and Iranians. Nevertheless, members of each government carried on asking for, and receiving, bribes; as Gilby acerbically comments: ‘the Shah’s anti-corruption campaign… wanted to limit all pay-offs to himself and his family’.

US President Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was gleefully received in Whitehall where huge commissions on two new government-to-government arms deals with Saudi Arabia were being approved. Britain now had the advantage over the Americans since the Pentagon could no longer compete on ‘sweeteners’.

Gilby documents the British government’s resistance, throughout the 1970s, to UN and OECD-led calls for international agreements against corruption. Although British officials attended working groups, they were briefed to delay or disrupt progress. A Ministerial Group on Improper Trade Practises expressed relief when a major loophole in the first draft agreement was spotted, advising: ‘a company will be able to evade the agreement entirely, merely by employing non-nationals to carry out corruption for it abroad.’

An evaluation of the impact of America’s anti-bribery legislation found that 30 percent of exporters had lost business because of it. This prompted Margaret Thatcher’s Trade Secretary John Nott to announce, in 1979, that he would not be party to ‘any move which would seriously impede British exporters to the Middle East’. It would be twenty years before Britain finally signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UK’s own Bribery Act did not come into force until July 2011.

Margaret Thatcher instructed Defence Secretary Francis Pym to ‘exploit all possible opportunities to extend overseas markets for defence sales’ and the seeds for Al Yamamah were sown. Subsequent British governments of all hues have diligently tended to this lucrative, ongoing, source of contracts and the establishment has backed them up.

In December 2006, the Blair government pressured the SFO to drop its corruption investigations into Al Yamamah. Ministers feared that revelations about the huge bribes involved would anger the Saudis and prompt them to pull out of the next stage. Just one month later, a large new order was placed and later in the year, King Abdullah arrived in London on a State visit which culminated in a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

In 2012, the SFO launched another investigation into a Saudi-British deal after an executive at defence giant, GPT, whistle-blew about suspicious payments being channelled via Ministry of Defence intermediary Sangcom. Gilby’s conclusion that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ is born out by the recent news that this enquiry, too, has apparently been discreetly dropped.

If the book has a flaw, it is its failure to place the arms deals it discusses into a wider political context – it is particularly woolly in the section on Lebanon, for example – but it nods to the Arab Spring and the combustive effect on those revolutions of deception in high places.

Ending with a call for greater transparency and more robust, enforceable, anti-corruption legislation, Gilby produces some well-reasoned answers to the most commonly offered justifications for bribery. If ‘everybody does it’ and it’s part of ‘their’ culture, he argues, why would the Saudi regime have issued anti-corruption decrees in 1968, 1975 and 1978, and gone to such extreme lengths to keep their activities secret?

‘Deception in High Places’ is an intriguing and worthwhile read for researchers, campaigners, students of politics and international law, and anyone interested in the darker recesses of governmental politics and human morality.

This review was first published 14 April 2014 in Middle East Eye on-line newspaper

 

 

BOOK REVIEW: Deception in High Places by Nicholas Gilby

In ‘Deception in High Places’, Nicholas Gilby traces the history of corruption in the Arms Trade – with particular emphasis on Britain’s 50-year relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Susan Demuth's picture

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade by Nicholas Gilby. Hardcover: 256 pages. Publisher: Pluto Press (20 May 2014). Language: English, ISBN-10: 074533427X

This book is largely the result of a nine-year forensic trawl through government records, many of them previously unseen and obtained through Freedom of Information battles with the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Gilby seeks to prove that UK ministers of state and other top officials knew about, approved, and colluded to conceal, millions of pounds worth of arms-related bribes from over the decades.

Gilby’s history culminates with contemporary scandals surrounding Al Yamamah – the biggest ever arms deal in history. These are the subject of ongoing, in-depth scrutiny elsewhere – the Guardian, Private Eye and Exaro for example – but uniquely interesting in Gilby’s book are the seven out of his nine chapters which chronicle the evolution of “grand corruption” and its widespread acceptance at the heart of the British establishment.

At times a little dry, more colourful interludes derive from private papers and letters Gilby has also uncovered. He takes an almost Rabelaisian delight in detailing the lavish “sweeteners”, worth millions of pounds,  that BAE heaped upon Saudi Prince Turki bin Nasser and his family under the cryptically entitled “Al Yamamah benefits programme”.

 

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade

“Benefits” included the 1995 hire of a large freighter jet to transport Princess Noura’s Rolls Royce and furniture from America to Saudi Arabia, purchasing and running a professional film unit and studio to record a family wedding, and a £55,000 restaurant visit to Maxime de Paris.

Gilby starts his narrative in 1964, when there were “only six British businessmen in Saudi Arabia”. Pioneering arms agent, Geoffrey Edwards, was one of these and he worked hard to procure large sales for the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). From the outset, governments were involved and ‘sweeteners’ or ‘douceurs’ worth millions in today’s money were part of the deal.

When BAC found itself competing with American firms for a huge 1965 Saudi Arms deal via Edwards and Lockheed’s new agent, Adnan Khashoggi , a joint deal was brokered by the Pentagon; documents show that Harold Wilson’s government knew that 7.5 percent of the British firm’s £1.5 billion share was designated for ‘special commissions’ to top Saudis including the Minister of Defence.

Since 1968, the British government has had a dedicated arms marketing department within the Ministry of Defence, using its network of ambassadors and military attaches to identify opportunities and promote UK manufacturers. Gilby shows how these officials were aware of the bribery involved in procuring contracts. Willie Morris, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s, perfected the art of the “deniable fiddle”, kept a file on corruption and had a list of ‘who pays whom in the Kingdom’.

This enduring template for systemic bribery, established 50 years ago, is more easily excavated than those which followed in an increasingly crowded and complicated market.

Gilby implies a deeply entrenched, amoral attitude to arms deals throughout the establishment, and collusion between its various branches to achieve desired outcomes: in the 1970s, “special commissions” paid to British subjects were routinely reported to the Inland Revenue because such payments were “tax-deductible”; companies also told the Bank of England about them in order to comply with Exchange Control regulations, and the bank asked the Treasury to agree any commission over 10% of the contract value.

When Edwards sued the British company Associated Electrical Industries for unpaid commissions in 1974, diplomats briefed the company on editing and codifying potentially incriminating documents which might “damage Britain’s commercial interests” and provoke a public outcry for anti-corruption legislation.

Another would-be litigant, Shapoor Reporter, who lubricated many arms deals with Iran, dropped his case against the Ministry of Defence when the Inland Revenue suddenly developed an interest in his bank accounts.

Gilby highlights a cynical disregard, among successive British governments, for how the arms being brokered might be used; as well as the Saudis and Iranians, other famously oppressive clients included Indonesia’s president Suharto.

Gilby details the history of anti-corruption legislation and shows how even well-intentioned laws were cynically manipulated by both sides to enhance their own positions. The Saudis were the first to institute a ban on bribery in 1968, shortly followed by the Lebanese and Iranians. Nevertheless, members of each government carried on asking for, and receiving, bribes; as Gilby acerbically comments: “the Shah’s anti-corruption campaign… wanted to limit all pay-offs to himself and his family”.

US president Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was gleefully received in Whitehall where huge commissions on two new government-to-government arms deals with Saudi Arabia were being approved. Britain now had the advantage over the Americans since the Pentagon could no longer compete on “sweeteners”.

Gilby documents the British government’s resistance, throughout the 1970s, to UN and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-led calls for international agreements against corruption. Although British officials attended working groups, they were briefed to delay or disrupt progress. A Ministerial Group on Improper Trade Practises expressed relief when a major loophole in the first draft agreement was spotted, advising: “a company will be able to evade the agreement entirely, merely by employing non-nationals to carry out corruption for it abroad”.

An evaluation of the impact of America’s anti-bribery legislation found that 30 percent of exporters had lost business because of it. This prompted Margaret Thatcher’s trade secretary John Nott to announce, in 1979, that he would not be party to “any move which would seriously impede British exporters to the Middle East”. It would be 20 years before Britain finally signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UK’s own Bribery Act did not come into force until July 2011.

Margaret Thatcher instructed Defence Secretary Francis Pym to ‘exploit all possible opportunities to extend overseas markets for defence sales’ and the seeds for Al Yamamah were sown. Subsequent British governments of all hues have diligently tended to this lucrative, ongoing, source of contracts and the establishment has backed them up.

In December 2006, the Blair government pressured the SFO to drop its corruption investigations into Al Yamamah. Ministers feared that revelations about the huge bribes involved would anger the Saudis and prompt them to pull out of the next stage.  Just one month later, a large new order was placed and later in the year, King Abdullah arrived in London on a State visit which culminated in a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

In 2012, the SFO launched another investigation into a Saudi-British deal after an executive at defence giant, GPT, whistle-blew about suspicious payments being channelled via Ministry of Defence intermediary Sangcom. Gilby’s conclusion that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ is born out by the recent news that this enquiry, too, has apparently been discreetly dropped.

If the book has a flaw, it is its failure to place the arms deals it discusses into a wider political context – it is particularly woolly in the section on Lebanon, for example – but it nods to the Arab Spring and the combustive effect on those revolutions of deception in high places.

Ending with a call for greater transparency and more robust, enforceable, anti-corruption legislation, Gilby produces some well-reasoned answers to the most commonly offered justifications for bribery. If ‘everybody does it’ and it’s part of ‘their’ culture, he argues, why would the Saudi regime have issued anti-corruption decrees in 1968, 1975 and 1978, and gone to such extreme lengths to keep their activities secret?

Deception in High Places is an intriguing and worthwhile read for researchers, campaigners, students of politics and international law, and anyone interested in the darker recesses of governmental politics and human morality.

 

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/culture/book-review-deception-high-places-nicholas-gilby#sthash.cUrcHrAd.dpuf

BOOK REVIEW: Deception in High Places by Nicholas Gilby

In ‘Deception in High Places’, Nicholas Gilby traces the history of corruption in the Arms Trade – with particular emphasis on Britain’s 50-year relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Susan Demuth's picture

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade by Nicholas Gilby. Hardcover: 256 pages. Publisher: Pluto Press (20 May 2014). Language: English, ISBN-10: 074533427X

This book is largely the result of a nine-year forensic trawl through government records, many of them previously unseen and obtained through Freedom of Information battles with the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Gilby seeks to prove that UK ministers of state and other top officials knew about, approved, and colluded to conceal, millions of pounds worth of arms-related bribes from over the decades.

Gilby’s history culminates with contemporary scandals surrounding Al Yamamah – the biggest ever arms deal in history. These are the subject of ongoing, in-depth scrutiny elsewhere – the Guardian, Private Eye and Exaro for example – but uniquely interesting in Gilby’s book are the seven out of his nine chapters which chronicle the evolution of “grand corruption” and its widespread acceptance at the heart of the British establishment.

At times a little dry, more colourful interludes derive from private papers and letters Gilby has also uncovered. He takes an almost Rabelaisian delight in detailing the lavish “sweeteners”, worth millions of pounds,  that BAE heaped upon Saudi Prince Turki bin Nasser and his family under the cryptically entitled “Al Yamamah benefits programme”.

 

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade

“Benefits” included the 1995 hire of a large freighter jet to transport Princess Noura’s Rolls Royce and furniture from America to Saudi Arabia, purchasing and running a professional film unit and studio to record a family wedding, and a £55,000 restaurant visit to Maxime de Paris.

Gilby starts his narrative in 1964, when there were “only six British businessmen in Saudi Arabia”. Pioneering arms agent, Geoffrey Edwards, was one of these and he worked hard to procure large sales for the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). From the outset, governments were involved and ‘sweeteners’ or ‘douceurs’ worth millions in today’s money were part of the deal.

When BAC found itself competing with American firms for a huge 1965 Saudi Arms deal via Edwards and Lockheed’s new agent, Adnan Khashoggi , a joint deal was brokered by the Pentagon; documents show that Harold Wilson’s government knew that 7.5 percent of the British firm’s £1.5 billion share was designated for ‘special commissions’ to top Saudis including the Minister of Defence.

Since 1968, the British government has had a dedicated arms marketing department within the Ministry of Defence, using its network of ambassadors and military attaches to identify opportunities and promote UK manufacturers. Gilby shows how these officials were aware of the bribery involved in procuring contracts. Willie Morris, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s, perfected the art of the “deniable fiddle”, kept a file on corruption and had a list of ‘who pays whom in the Kingdom’.

This enduring template for systemic bribery, established 50 years ago, is more easily excavated than those which followed in an increasingly crowded and complicated market.

Gilby implies a deeply entrenched, amoral attitude to arms deals throughout the establishment, and collusion between its various branches to achieve desired outcomes: in the 1970s, “special commissions” paid to British subjects were routinely reported to the Inland Revenue because such payments were “tax-deductible”; companies also told the Bank of England about them in order to comply with Exchange Control regulations, and the bank asked the Treasury to agree any commission over 10% of the contract value.

When Edwards sued the British company Associated Electrical Industries for unpaid commissions in 1974, diplomats briefed the company on editing and codifying potentially incriminating documents which might “damage Britain’s commercial interests” and provoke a public outcry for anti-corruption legislation.

Another would-be litigant, Shapoor Reporter, who lubricated many arms deals with Iran, dropped his case against the Ministry of Defence when the Inland Revenue suddenly developed an interest in his bank accounts.

Gilby highlights a cynical disregard, among successive British governments, for how the arms being brokered might be used; as well as the Saudis and Iranians, other famously oppressive clients included Indonesia’s president Suharto.

Gilby details the history of anti-corruption legislation and shows how even well-intentioned laws were cynically manipulated by both sides to enhance their own positions. The Saudis were the first to institute a ban on bribery in 1968, shortly followed by the Lebanese and Iranians. Nevertheless, members of each government carried on asking for, and receiving, bribes; as Gilby acerbically comments: “the Shah’s anti-corruption campaign… wanted to limit all pay-offs to himself and his family”.

US president Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was gleefully received in Whitehall where huge commissions on two new government-to-government arms deals with Saudi Arabia were being approved. Britain now had the advantage over the Americans since the Pentagon could no longer compete on “sweeteners”.

Gilby documents the British government’s resistance, throughout the 1970s, to UN and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-led calls for international agreements against corruption. Although British officials attended working groups, they were briefed to delay or disrupt progress. A Ministerial Group on Improper Trade Practises expressed relief when a major loophole in the first draft agreement was spotted, advising: “a company will be able to evade the agreement entirely, merely by employing non-nationals to carry out corruption for it abroad”.

An evaluation of the impact of America’s anti-bribery legislation found that 30 percent of exporters had lost business because of it. This prompted Margaret Thatcher’s trade secretary John Nott to announce, in 1979, that he would not be party to “any move which would seriously impede British exporters to the Middle East”. It would be 20 years before Britain finally signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UK’s own Bribery Act did not come into force until July 2011.

Margaret Thatcher instructed Defence Secretary Francis Pym to ‘exploit all possible opportunities to extend overseas markets for defence sales’ and the seeds for Al Yamamah were sown. Subsequent British governments of all hues have diligently tended to this lucrative, ongoing, source of contracts and the establishment has backed them up.

In December 2006, the Blair government pressured the SFO to drop its corruption investigations into Al Yamamah. Ministers feared that revelations about the huge bribes involved would anger the Saudis and prompt them to pull out of the next stage.  Just one month later, a large new order was placed and later in the year, King Abdullah arrived in London on a State visit which culminated in a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

In 2012, the SFO launched another investigation into a Saudi-British deal after an executive at defence giant, GPT, whistle-blew about suspicious payments being channelled via Ministry of Defence intermediary Sangcom. Gilby’s conclusion that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ is born out by the recent news that this enquiry, too, has apparently been discreetly dropped.

If the book has a flaw, it is its failure to place the arms deals it discusses into a wider political context – it is particularly woolly in the section on Lebanon, for example – but it nods to the Arab Spring and the combustive effect on those revolutions of deception in high places.

Ending with a call for greater transparency and more robust, enforceable, anti-corruption legislation, Gilby produces some well-reasoned answers to the most commonly offered justifications for bribery. If ‘everybody does it’ and it’s part of ‘their’ culture, he argues, why would the Saudi regime have issued anti-corruption decrees in 1968, 1975 and 1978, and gone to such extreme lengths to keep their activities secret?

Deception in High Places is an intriguing and worthwhile read for researchers, campaigners, students of politics and international law, and anyone interested in the darker recesses of governmental politics and human morality.

 

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/culture/book-review-deception-high-places-nicholas-gilby#sthash.cUrcHrAd.dpuf

BOOK REVIEW: Deception in High Places by Nicholas Gilby

In ‘Deception in High Places’, Nicholas Gilby traces the history of corruption in the Arms Trade – with particular emphasis on Britain’s 50-year relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Susan Demuth's picture

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade by Nicholas Gilby. Hardcover: 256 pages. Publisher: Pluto Press (20 May 2014). Language: English, ISBN-10: 074533427X

This book is largely the result of a nine-year forensic trawl through government records, many of them previously unseen and obtained through Freedom of Information battles with the Foreign and Commonwealth office. Gilby seeks to prove that UK ministers of state and other top officials knew about, approved, and colluded to conceal, millions of pounds worth of arms-related bribes from over the decades.

Gilby’s history culminates with contemporary scandals surrounding Al Yamamah – the biggest ever arms deal in history. These are the subject of ongoing, in-depth scrutiny elsewhere – the Guardian, Private Eye and Exaro for example – but uniquely interesting in Gilby’s book are the seven out of his nine chapters which chronicle the evolution of “grand corruption” and its widespread acceptance at the heart of the British establishment.

At times a little dry, more colourful interludes derive from private papers and letters Gilby has also uncovered. He takes an almost Rabelaisian delight in detailing the lavish “sweeteners”, worth millions of pounds,  that BAE heaped upon Saudi Prince Turki bin Nasser and his family under the cryptically entitled “Al Yamamah benefits programme”.

 

Deception in High Places: A History of Bribery in Britain’s Arms Trade

“Benefits” included the 1995 hire of a large freighter jet to transport Princess Noura’s Rolls Royce and furniture from America to Saudi Arabia, purchasing and running a professional film unit and studio to record a family wedding, and a £55,000 restaurant visit to Maxime de Paris.

Gilby starts his narrative in 1964, when there were “only six British businessmen in Saudi Arabia”. Pioneering arms agent, Geoffrey Edwards, was one of these and he worked hard to procure large sales for the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC). From the outset, governments were involved and ‘sweeteners’ or ‘douceurs’ worth millions in today’s money were part of the deal.

When BAC found itself competing with American firms for a huge 1965 Saudi Arms deal via Edwards and Lockheed’s new agent, Adnan Khashoggi , a joint deal was brokered by the Pentagon; documents show that Harold Wilson’s government knew that 7.5 percent of the British firm’s £1.5 billion share was designated for ‘special commissions’ to top Saudis including the Minister of Defence.

Since 1968, the British government has had a dedicated arms marketing department within the Ministry of Defence, using its network of ambassadors and military attaches to identify opportunities and promote UK manufacturers. Gilby shows how these officials were aware of the bribery involved in procuring contracts. Willie Morris, UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s, perfected the art of the “deniable fiddle”, kept a file on corruption and had a list of ‘who pays whom in the Kingdom’.

This enduring template for systemic bribery, established 50 years ago, is more easily excavated than those which followed in an increasingly crowded and complicated market.

Gilby implies a deeply entrenched, amoral attitude to arms deals throughout the establishment, and collusion between its various branches to achieve desired outcomes: in the 1970s, “special commissions” paid to British subjects were routinely reported to the Inland Revenue because such payments were “tax-deductible”; companies also told the Bank of England about them in order to comply with Exchange Control regulations, and the bank asked the Treasury to agree any commission over 10% of the contract value.

When Edwards sued the British company Associated Electrical Industries for unpaid commissions in 1974, diplomats briefed the company on editing and codifying potentially incriminating documents which might “damage Britain’s commercial interests” and provoke a public outcry for anti-corruption legislation.

Another would-be litigant, Shapoor Reporter, who lubricated many arms deals with Iran, dropped his case against the Ministry of Defence when the Inland Revenue suddenly developed an interest in his bank accounts.

Gilby highlights a cynical disregard, among successive British governments, for how the arms being brokered might be used; as well as the Saudis and Iranians, other famously oppressive clients included Indonesia’s president Suharto.

Gilby details the history of anti-corruption legislation and shows how even well-intentioned laws were cynically manipulated by both sides to enhance their own positions. The Saudis were the first to institute a ban on bribery in 1968, shortly followed by the Lebanese and Iranians. Nevertheless, members of each government carried on asking for, and receiving, bribes; as Gilby acerbically comments: “the Shah’s anti-corruption campaign… wanted to limit all pay-offs to himself and his family”.

US president Jimmy Carter’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 was gleefully received in Whitehall where huge commissions on two new government-to-government arms deals with Saudi Arabia were being approved. Britain now had the advantage over the Americans since the Pentagon could no longer compete on “sweeteners”.

Gilby documents the British government’s resistance, throughout the 1970s, to UN and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-led calls for international agreements against corruption. Although British officials attended working groups, they were briefed to delay or disrupt progress. A Ministerial Group on Improper Trade Practises expressed relief when a major loophole in the first draft agreement was spotted, advising: “a company will be able to evade the agreement entirely, merely by employing non-nationals to carry out corruption for it abroad”.

An evaluation of the impact of America’s anti-bribery legislation found that 30 percent of exporters had lost business because of it. This prompted Margaret Thatcher’s trade secretary John Nott to announce, in 1979, that he would not be party to “any move which would seriously impede British exporters to the Middle East”. It would be 20 years before Britain finally signed the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the UK’s own Bribery Act did not come into force until July 2011.

Margaret Thatcher instructed Defence Secretary Francis Pym to ‘exploit all possible opportunities to extend overseas markets for defence sales’ and the seeds for Al Yamamah were sown. Subsequent British governments of all hues have diligently tended to this lucrative, ongoing, source of contracts and the establishment has backed them up.

In December 2006, the Blair government pressured the SFO to drop its corruption investigations into Al Yamamah. Ministers feared that revelations about the huge bribes involved would anger the Saudis and prompt them to pull out of the next stage.  Just one month later, a large new order was placed and later in the year, King Abdullah arrived in London on a State visit which culminated in a banquet at Buckingham Palace.

In 2012, the SFO launched another investigation into a Saudi-British deal after an executive at defence giant, GPT, whistle-blew about suspicious payments being channelled via Ministry of Defence intermediary Sangcom. Gilby’s conclusion that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ is born out by the recent news that this enquiry, too, has apparently been discreetly dropped.

If the book has a flaw, it is its failure to place the arms deals it discusses into a wider political context – it is particularly woolly in the section on Lebanon, for example – but it nods to the Arab Spring and the combustive effect on those revolutions of deception in high places.

Ending with a call for greater transparency and more robust, enforceable, anti-corruption legislation, Gilby produces some well-reasoned answers to the most commonly offered justifications for bribery. If ‘everybody does it’ and it’s part of ‘their’ culture, he argues, why would the Saudi regime have issued anti-corruption decrees in 1968, 1975 and 1978, and gone to such extreme lengths to keep their activities secret?

Deception in High Places is an intriguing and worthwhile read for researchers, campaigners, students of politics and international law, and anyone interested in the darker recesses of governmental politics and human morality.

 

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/culture/book-review-deception-high-places-nicholas-gilby#sthash.cUrcHrAd.dpuf

‘The Hangover 3’: 2013 Number 1 Hit in ‘Alcohol-dry’ UAE!

Hangover-3-ReviewThis year the most popular film in the ‘alcohol- dry’ UAE is ‘The Hangover III’ with 195,000 admissions. The film trilogy features three hapless dudes constantly waking up bleary-eyed and hideous after another night’s debauchery. Strange, no?

The runners-up were After Earth (141,000 admissions),White House Down (200,000), Snitch (105,000), The Smurfs 2 (222,000), The Lone Ranger (110,000).

Led by the UAE, the Gulf states have now become one of the world’s hungriest consumers of all that Hollywood cares to throw at them.

According to Ryan Kavanaugh, CEO of Relativity Media, speaking at last month’s American Film Market (AFM) finance conference: “We have seen massive one thousand percent growth in the Middle East in the last three years.”

Relativity has announced it is extending its Middle East distribution partnership with Q Media which owns just about everything to do with film including the massive Grand Cinemas chain and Gulf Film. Q Media ‘works closely’ with the Doha Film Institute.

The problem for genuine Arab film making artists is that the major beneficiaries of this remain the Hollywood studios and the larger US independents such as Relativity and Lionsgate (which has just supplied Gulf Film with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire).

Other than a handful of buffoonish comedies from Egypt, such as this year’s Tattah and Samir Abu El Nil, most Arab indie films have to pin their hopes on Video on Demand (VoD) as their primary viewing platform, as do many specialised and art-house titles from the US or Europe.

Bollywood remains popular due to the region’s large migrant populations.

You could say that the market is now pretty much sewn-up by the Sheikhs and Hollywood. Trebles all round!…

Excellent review of my translation of ‘Guarding bin Laden’

Book review: ‘Guarding Bin Laden’

The Al Qaida leader is portrayed as a person — with his failings — than as a man who inspired only awe

    • Reviewed by Faryal Leghari Deputy Opinion Editor
    • Published: 21:30 August 1, 2013
    • Gulf News

 

  • Image Credit: Supplied
  • Nasser Al Bahri’s tale of parting ways with Al Qaida and starting afresh also holds important lessons

Guarding Bin Laden: My life in Al Qaida

By his former bodyguard Nasser Al Bahri,(with Georges Malbrunot)

English translation by Susan de Muth,

Thin Man Press, 238 pages, $14.95

 

Terror sells and any publication centred around Al Qaida naturally makes a more compelling case. Despite the interest it generates by default, the terror group’s ability to grasp readers’ attention may have been watered down over the past decade by the deluge of publications that have maintained a steady flow. So it was with a preconceived “been there done that” mindset that I picked up the translated version of the memoirs of Nasser Al Bahri, who served as Osama Bin Laden’s personal bodyguard from 1997 to 2000.

So much for pre-judgments. Guarding Bin Laden is much more than what may be called an “interesting narrative” — it is an exposé of the inner workings of Al Qaida and offers readers a rare glimpse into the mindset of the central leadership of the organisation.

I expect it to lure a wide readership, not just of students and researchers interested in learning about how the world’s most powerful terrorist entity works. Moreover, it shatters many misconceptions — of indoctrination and training of recruits and of the relationship of Bin Laden with members of his organisation, including other members of Al Qaida’s core or central committee. It is equally fascinating to learn about how the core group under Bin Laden took decisions, whether it was launching terror attacks, allowing allegiance to local groups and resistance militias to become part of Al Qaida or formulating policies of not attacking civilians or launching attacks in countries deemed friendly or useful, to the organisation.

While the death of Bin Laden in May 2011 would have ideally proven a death knell for Al Qaida, it has sustained itself by proliferating and launching new fronts worldwide. No doubt the capture and killings of many Al Qaida core leaders and of course Shaikh Bin Laden, the founder and chief of Al Qaida, has dealt it a blow, but it has managed to continue working towards realising its objectives.

The doctrine of Al Qaida that Al Bahri lays down in simple terms is “reaction” — to the American invasion of Muslims lands and to them killing Muslims. It is the duty then of Arabs, according to the mandate of Al Qaida, to mobilise people and wage a struggle against the injustices perpetrated by the Americans. Though Al Bahri’s account is only up to 2010, before Bin Laden was killed in Abottabad, in northern Pakistan, by US Navy Seals, it lays down the parameters for us, external observers, to understand the methodology and functioning of the group.

Post 9/11 Al Qaida may have figured as the primary opponent of the United States and other world powers that joined forces to wage a war against a movement that was both amorphous and self-perpetuating. While a decade and more of counter-terrorism operations have seen a visible diminishing of Al Qaida’s ability to launch global attacks, it remains a potent threat, having entrenched itself in resistance movements whose driving force is standing up to Western influence and intervention, direct or indirect, in Muslim lands.

The scope of Al Bahri’s memoirs therefore extends far beyond the proscribed time-frame the book encompasses. Its relevance is timeless.

The details of Al Bahri’s journey from a zealous young man seeking martyrdom to the time he becomes Bin Laden’s personal bodyguard sketch a vivid, turbulent picture, changing at every instance. What many young people in the Muslim world may empathise with is the lure of the call for jihad that is portrayed poignantly in Al Bahri’s quest to seek the ultimate goal — of dying while fighting to help oppressed fellow Muslims, whether in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Chechnya or Somalia.

For the jihadist, the locale is not what matters; neither are the fights he engages in— a matter of identifying to a personal cause, but it is the overriding element of sacrificing one’s self for the sake of other Muslims who are suffering at the hands of infidel occupiers and oppressors, which is the ultimate sacrifice.

Al Bahri’s account of his endeavours as a teenager in Saudi Arabia to go on Jihad is what sets the pace of the book. And it is what takes him to Afghanistan where he meets Bin Laden and gets to know him personally. But before Al Bahri delves into his account of interacting with the Al Qaida leader, giving us a glimpse into the daily goings on at the headquarters in Tarnak Farm, in Afghanistan, other interesting questions are thrown in the course of the narrative.

What is particularly interesting is the discussions of the conduct of the Saudi royal family and the manipulation of events by the religious hierarchy in the kingdom. The wealth and power and its exploitation and abuse by the ruling family in contradiction to what Islam teaches is often referred to in the talks Al Bahri as a young man has with other compatriots.

Even when he narrates a discussion with his father who dissuades him from leaving for jihad by throwing to him a simple argument, it is easy to discern the lesson that discussion may have left somewhere on his impressionable mind, a message he managed to bury in his subconscious under his growing zeal to go at all costs.

His father is the voice of reason, a religious man who prays regularly but one who is not swayed by the siren call of the jihadists. Interestingly, Al Bahri gives us a rare glimpse into what it must have felt to be part of the frenzy gripping hundreds and thousands of young men like him, whose ultimate goal is to be part of the jihad brigades. The air is electric with zeal, enthusiasm and a belief in one’s devotion to the cause of self sacrifice. The environment in Saudi Arabia at the time and the crackdown on Al Qaida members later by the Saudi authorities is vividly captured here. More so is the way money is arranged and utilised to send the jihadists around the world.

Al Bahri’s initial mention of Bin Laden is in Saudi Arabia. At the time Bin Laden would be seen driving around Jeddah with his children or attending religious discussions. In stark contrast is the time we encounter Bin Laden again at Tarnak camp in Afghanistan, a man who then commanded Al Qaida’s empire with tentacles reaching far and wide. Surprisingly Bin Laden’s persona brought to us in this account is not of a man who inspires fear or awe. Al Bahri himself resists the Bayt on the shaikh’s hands until a much later time when he finally cedes and follows him without question, becoming an integral part of the organisation.

Al Bahri’s role is cut out for him. It is here that we learn about Bin Laden’s personal preferences, his spartan nature, his wisdom and his qualities as a leader — especially when he allowed his subordinates to question and openly engage in debate, unlike other central figures in Al Qaida. Al Bahri’s comparison of Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri is particularly interesting as is the internal power struggle between the Egyptian Al Qaida members led by Zawahiri and Saif Al Adel and the Yemenis and other Arab Al Qaida members.

There are more glimpses into Bin Laden’s personal life and his relations with his family members, which provide interesting insights into the man who comes across as a soft spoken, amiable yet contradictory personality. Contradictory, because even as he inspired blind obedience and allegiance among thousands, he, as Al Bahri shows us, was given to weaknesses — significantly of being influenced by his cohorts, of not investigating for himself certain cases and arriving at judgments based on what others led him to believe.

By pledging bayt to Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban, Bin Laden, in Al Bahri’s words, had diminished Al Qaida’s stature and role by decentralising his organisation and subsuming it with the Taliban. It may have been because of the fact that Al Qaida, numbering a few thousand at the time in Afghanistan, did not have much choice and colluded for the sake of expediency, since it had not prepared another base (purported to be either Somalia or Yemen) to move lock, stock and barrel.

Al Bahri’s decision to part ways with Al Qaida and the journey this break from Bin Laden takes him on is in itself interesting. The account of his struggle to carve out a new but ordinary life, having lived like a jihadi most of his life, his subsequent arrest, captivity and rehabilitation mark another phase in the turbulent narrative that also offers useful insights for the rehabilitation of those that have been radicalised.

The self critique though subdued is enough answer to those questions that arise by default pertaining to jihad, the reasons for radicalisation, hatred of the West, particularly America because of its policy towards Muslims, why Al Qaida’s target has been the US primarily and not Israel, the dichotomy within the organisation’s core command as far as targeting of civilians and other Muslim governments, among many others.

The flow of the narrative is not marred in the translation, neither are the other characters introduced to us by Al Bahri lacking in depth.

The success of any publication lies in the impact it has on the reader. It is not that “Guarding Bin Laden” is without faults, these are few and far between, not significant enough to deter even a second or third read.

 

Feng Shui Expert Derek Walters: Never Sleep with Your Feet to the Door

Never sleep with your feet to the door: Susan de Muth in bed with Derek Walters

SUSAN DE MUTH

Wednesday, 9 February 1994
On the eve of the Chinese New Year, Derek Walters, one of the West’s leading Chinese astrologers and an expert in Feng Shui, describes his nocturnal habits. Mr Walters lives in Manchester with Leo, a ginger tom.

I was born in 1936, which makes me a Rat. Rats in Chinese astrology are characterised by their high level of nocturnal activity. I tend to come alive around midnight, which is when I do my most inspired work, either writing or devising astrological computer programs.

My computer is in front of a large window and I can see the stars as I work. I have an ancient Chinese astronomical map which I refer to and it’s marvellous to see the same things in the sky that were recorded 2,000 years ago. As I look up into the night sky I am often struck by the awesome thought that there is nothing much between me and the edge of the universe.

Chinese astronomy identifies different groupings from those we are familiar with: Orion, for example, is seen as two distinct constellations. And in astrological terms, every star in the universe has significance. The Pole Star is the emperor, and the stars around it are his court. The smallest, furthest, dimmest stars represent people like you and me.

I usually have a break from work at about 1am and take Leo for a walk. People don’t realise that cats have a lot of affection and want to relate to you: they love going for walks just like dogs. Generally, lo and behold, at least half a dozen other cats will join the procession, taking their own ways – under cars and through bushes. I talk to them as we go, and they sometimes reply. What do they say? ‘Miaow,’ of course.

Leo responds to music. Every night before I start work I play the piano, which I experience as a kind of meditation. The cat sits on top of the telephone, closes his eyes, and listens to a Bach fugue with great pleasure.

I love cats. Before I had Leo I had cat substitutes, and these now inhabit my bedroom. I’ve got about 50 ornamental cats, as well as two beautiful Chinese silk embroideries of cats on the wall. On my bed is an old tartan travelling rug which I took with me on my many voyages during the Fifties and Sixties.

My most enduring nocturnal memories are from those times. I went all over the Balkans and took the Orient Express to Moscow. There is nothing quite like standing on a dark platform in Transylvania waiting for a steam train, or pulling into Istanbul at dawn. I always travelled at night and went sightseeing in the daytime.

I don’t particularly remember sleeping during those journeys. I’d always find my fellow passengers, often from five or six different countries, too interesting. However, I recall that I once made myself a little bed and slept up a tree on an island off the coast of what was then Yugoslavia. I went to a lot of places that aren’t on the map any more.

Those journeys I made in my twenties are still the most constant theme of my dreams, even though I have travelled to many more exotic and faraway places since then. I don’t feel any regret for those times. They’re just memories. It’s like looking at old photographs. I find it interesting to fall asleep wondering where I’ll go back to this time.

I like to get my sleep these days – put my batteries on charge for a good eight hours. I’ve found the best way to go off is to do the Times crossword in bed. I have carefully planned my bedroom according to Feng Shui principles.

Feng Shui is the ancient Chinese art of arranging things for maximum peace, harmony and good fortune. I would never sleep under beams, for example – they give you pains where they cross your body. Nor would I place my bed with the feet pointing to the door – that makes you liable to nightmares and ill health: the Chinese take out their dead feet first]

The direction your bedroom faces is very important. As a child, an eastern prospect will give you the energy of sunrise; as an old person, facing west will give you the tranquillity of the setting sun. My bedroom faces north, which is perfect for a middle-aged Rat still set on following his life direction.

Derek Walters will be offering personal astrological consultations for the Year of the Dog from 10-13 February at Neal Street East, 5 Neal Street, London WC2. Details: 071-240 0135.

(Photograph omitted)