Friday, 26 February 2010

UK's far right on the march


February 27, 2010

ON PLATFORM one at Bolton train station in England a mob of about 100 men punch the air in unison as a chant - "Muslim bombers, off our streets!'' - goes up. Their voices echo loudly, and as more men suddenly appear, startled passengers move aside. The protesters wave St George's Cross flags - the red and white English national emblem - and raise placards. Some wear balaclavas, others black-hooded tops. There is an air of menace.

These are some of the most violent soccer hooligans in Britain and today they have joined in an unprecedented show of strength. Standing shoulder to shoulder are notorious gangs such as Cardiff City's Soul Crew, Bolton Wanderers' Cuckoo Boys and Luton Town's Men In Gear: a remarkable gathering given that on a match day these men would be fighting each other. Today they are not here for football; it is politics that has drawn them. Their destination is Manchester to support a protest by the newly formed English Defence League.

The police are here in force, too. "Take that mask off," barks a sergeant to one young man. The man does so immediately but retorts: "Why are they allowed to wear burqas in public but we're not allowed to cover our faces?" The sergeant snaps back: ''Just do what you're told."

Says a man with a West Country accent standing next to me: "It's always the fu--in' same these days. One rule for them and another for us. I'm sick of this fu--in' country." He draws on a cigarette before flicking it to the ground in disgust. He starts to complain again, but when the public address system announces the arrival of the train to Manchester Piccadilly, he raises his hands above his head and starts another football favourite: "Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves …"

His companions join in singing, and as the train comes to a halt beside the platform the crowd surges forward. The carriages are almost full, so the men pack into aisles followed by police speaking into radios. A group of young men drinking beer at a table eye the protesters warily, but one protester wearing a baseball cap notices their fear and reassures them. "It's all right lads, nothing to worry about. We're protesting against radical Islam. Come and join us," he says, and as the train draws nearer to Manchester, the singing starts again. "Eng-e-land, Eng-e-land, Eng-e-land …" the men sing rowdily.

The English Defence League is in town.

The league seemed to spring from nowhere last year, but since its formation the far right movement has held 20 large protests in Britain's cities. Although it claims to be a peaceful group, violence has erupted at most league demonstrations, with its supporters fighting on the streets against Muslim youths and a group called Unite Against Fascism, an umbrella organisation consisting of mainly students and trade unionists and formed in 2003 to oppose the far right. Nearly 200 people have been arrested, weapons have been seized and city centres have been brought to a standstill.

Britain has not witnessed such street violence for many years, and although both sides blame each other for the trouble, there are fears that the league - despite its official multiracial stance - has become a ready-made army for neo-Nazis who for years have operated underground.

All mainstream political parties in Britain have criticised the league. Communities Secretary John Denham compared the group to Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists, which ran amok in the 1930s.

Now, with tinderbox northern towns such as Bradford and Oldham - both of which witnessed race riots in 2001 - among the league's stated targets for this year, a countrywide police team set up to combat domestic extremism, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, has been investigating the movement.

I had met members of the league for the first time in a derelict building in Luton, near London, three weeks before the Manchester rally. They had agreed to talk on the condition that I did not identify them. Eleven men turned up. All wore balaclavas and most had black league hoodies with ''Luton Division'' on the back. A man using the pseudonym Tommy Robinson did most of the talking and explained the movement's background.

"For more than a decade now, there's been tension in Luton between Muslim youths and whites. We all get on fine - black, white, Indian, Chinese - everyone does, in fact, apart from some Muslim youths who've become extremely radicalised since the first Gulf War. Preachers of hate such as Anjem Choudary have been recruiting for radical Islamist groups in Luton for years. Our government does nothing, so we decided we'd start protesting against radical Islam, and it grew from there," he said.

With Islam Europe's fastest-growing religion - Muslim populations are projected to expand rapidly in coming decades - the group's fear that traditional British culture is under threat have been exacerbated.

Robinson could barely conceal his anger as he described radical Muslims protesting as the Royal Anglican regiment paraded through the town on its return from Afghanistan last May. Following the incident, he and others set up a group called United People of Luton. After linking up with a Birmingham-based group called British Citizens Against Muslim Extremists and a group calling itself Casuals United, they realised there was potential for a national movement. Robinson said members wore balaclavas to protect their identities because league members had been targeted by Muslim extremists.

But although the league publicly espouses peaceful protest, there is growing concern over its secrecy and quasi-paramilitary appearance - as well as some of its membership. According to the international anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, far-right British National Party activists and other fascist extremists are at the core of the league. The respected publication's allegations have been backed by a former league member called Paul Ray who claimed that the group had been hijacked by the anti-immigration British National Party (which last week extended a warm welcome to Australian anti-immigration campaigner and one-time politician Pauline Hanson, after she announced plans to live in England).

Then there is Casuals United. The group came to the fore about the time the English Defence League was formed. An unprecedented alliance of football hooligans, it was the brainchild of Jeff Marsh, a member of Cardiff City's Soul Crew who has been convicted three times for violent offences. This included a two-year jail sentence for stabbing Manchester United fans. Marsh has now taken a back seat, so the public face of Casuals United is fellow Welshman and Soul Crew member Mickey Smith. Casuals United makes full use of modern communications and uses social networking websites such as Facebook to organise the 50 or so gangs that are recruiting members around Britain.

The league and Casuals United claim to be separate, but the link becomes clear after I meet Joel Titus. Titus, 18, an Arsenal fan with a club tattoo on his right calf who runs the league's youth division. He refuses to speak about the the group's relationship with Casuals United. But a text I later receive from him before a protest in London reads: "Right lads, the 'unofficial' meet for the 31st (London) is going to be 12 o'clock at The Hole In the Wall pub just outside Waterloo station. I will be there just before that. Remember lads, were [sic] going as Casuals United and if you could obtain a poppy to wear, it would make us look good, even if we are kicking off. lol. Cheers lads. Joel 'Arsenal' Titus."

In London that day, fighting erupted though not between the league and its original targets, radical preacher Anjem Choudary and his extremist followers in the now-outlawed Islamist group Islam4UK - their planned march was cancelled over fears of violence. The league's ruckus was with neo-Nazi group Combat 18. An account on neo-Nazi website Stormfront said 400 nationalists turned up in London to demonstrate against Islam4UK's march to Downing Street and that fighting began afterwards when members of the English Defence League started singing anti-German songs in a pub. "We ended up kicking off with about 50 to 60 EDL, who were throwing fire extinguishers, pint glasses, bottles, and various other things," a neo-Nazi posted.

Other neo-Nazi groups, including the British People's Party and the British Freedom Fighters, have also participated in league protests, despite their opposition to the league's multiracial position.

The league's credentials as a peaceful protest group are further undermined by postings by its own supporters on Facebook. Ahead of a rally in Leeds, comments were made about Muslims, including one by a supporter called Aiden Hirst: "Kill every single 1 of the f---ers."

Threats are not just aimed at Muslims. Photographs and addresses of critics are also passed between league members online, and journalists have been sent death threats in the form of ''EDL fatwas''.

The high command of the league is much more astute than Titus or Smith and distances itself from violence. In a Covent Garden pub I meet a computer expert from London called Alan Lake who runs a website called Four Freedoms. Last summer he contacted the league and offered to fund and advise the movement.

His aim, he says, is to unite the "thinkers" and those prepared to take to the streets. He describes this marriage as "the perfect storm coming together", adding that street violence is not desirable but perhaps inevitable. "There are issues when you are dealing with football thugs - but what can we do?"

He strongly criticises fascist organisations, however, and says that one of his conditions for backing the movement is that it does not associate with far-right groups. "There are different groups infiltrating and trying to cause rifts by one means or another, or trying to waylay the organisation to different agendas. The intention is to exclude those groups and individuals."

But while some league leaders may oppose fascism, there are others who seem to have no problem with extremism. At a recent league protest in Swansea, Wales, skinheads chanted British National Party slogans and raised Nazi salutes. In Northern Ireland, according to Searchlight , loyalists have started an Ulster Defence League, backed by the former paramilitary group the Ulster Defence Association, while in Scotland, the hooligan Inter City Firm attached to Rangers football club helped set up a Scottish Defence League, which planned a rally in Edinburgh last week. But thousands of supporters of rival anti-fascist groups outnumbered the Scottish Defence League. Hundreds of police were used to provide a buffer between the two groups.

The English city of Stoke witnessed a big English Defence League protest in January when about 1500 supporters and 600 police officers turned out - by far the largest gathering to date. Violence erupted again and 17 people were arrested and four policemen injured. Football hooligans from Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers fought each other, despite being fellow league supporters. A video on YouTube showed vehicles being attacked and a police officer being kicked by a mob after he fell to the ground.

The fear of many is that the perfect storm is coming together for the far right.

At the league protest I attended in Manchester, 48 people were arrested during street violence, including supporters of Unite Against Fascism, which has also attracted a minority intent on violence. In the aftermath, the Bolton Interfaith Council, echoing the concerns of many, issued a stark warning that race relations were under threat in Britain.

Billy Briggs is a Britain-based freelance writer.

Neo-Nazi skinheads jailed in Russia for racist killings

More than 70 people were killed by skinhead gangs in Russia in 2009


By Artyom Liss
BBC News, Moscow

A court in Moscow has sentenced nine members of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang to prison terms of up to 23 years.

The gang members, most in their late teens, were found guilty of a string of brutal and very public murders.

The skinheads targeted people of Central Asian origin and posted videos of their attacks on the Internet.

Russia has seen a surge of racially-motivated attacks in recent years. In 2009 alone, neo-Nazis are believed to have killed more than 70 people.

'Wrong accent'

The nine neo-Nazis called themselves "The White Wolves".

They sought out Central Asian migrants, and attacked them in Moscow's back streets.

They clubbed some of their victims to death with wooden planks and killed others by repeatedly stabbing them with knives and screwdrivers.

In one case, a glazier from Kyrgyzstan was stabbed 73 times, as the gang members shouted "Russia for the Russians!" and filmed the murder on their mobile phones.

The jury heard the gang was responsible for at least 11 killings, possibly even more.

And so - after five months of deliberations - came the prison terms: Twenty-three years for the gang leader and up to nine years for the others - the maximum prison term allowed in Russia for underage criminals.

Human rights activists have welcomed the sentencing.

They admit that the police are now cracking down on skinhead gangs.

But even so, last year alone, dozens were killed, and hundreds injured simply for not looking Slavic, and for speaking with a foreign accent.


Thursday, 25 February 2010

From mod to emo: why pop tribes are still making a scene

Tribal gathering... emo teens sticking together. Photograph: Jenny Matthews / Alamy/Alamy

Like-minded music fans have been herding together for half a century – but are die-hard pop tribes now a thing of the past? Do today's youth cults still have that gang mentality?

Jude Rogers, Thursday 25 February 2010

There was a time when our perceptions of pop were defined not just by the records we listened to, but by the many and varied tribes of young people who followed each of the particular kinds of music, by their clothes, their behaviour – or at least how their behaviour was reported in the press or portrayed on film. Mods would peer coolly over their scooters, braking off for the occasional fight with passing rockers. Punks would spit at gigs and terrorise grannies. Ravers with ski masks and bottles of Vicks would cruise the M25 looking for a soundsystem set up in a field. That seems to be fading: when was a new kind of music spawned by and indelibly associated with a particular youth cult? Does the lack of hugely visible new teenage tribes matter for the health of pop culture?

Not if you talk to the "scene girls". In a brightly-lit living room in Borstal, Kent, Eve O'Brien, Louisa Burnes and Victoria Gibson, 15, jump up and down in front of the Kerrang! channel on TV. Each of them wears one item of neon blue and has a choppy, layered haircut. They talk excitedly for an hour about bands they all worship, including Paramore, 3OH!3, and All Time Low.

"Scene people are happy emos," O'Brien explains. "Scene isn't a fashion thing – we don't like girls that wear tops down to here, but that's because it isn't good for them. We like loud guitars, we don't like Radio 1, we don't like people who only like music without meaning." But if you have values, she says, it's OK to like unexpected things. "Louisa even likes the Jonas Brothers!" Her friends pull her into a giggly heap of skinny jeans on the sofa, and her voice squeaks out. "But that's OK, Louisa! It's OK!"

Only the most jaded observer would claim that young people no longer form allegiances, networks and gangs, even if you can no longer tell what music a ­teenager likes by looking at their clothes. Pop tribes still exist in 2010, but their forms are looser and broader than in the heyday of subcultures. Perhaps that's because young people consume music in very different ways. Hardly anyone under 20 remembers pop culture before the internet, for example, when records had to be scrimped and saved for, rather than streamed or downloaded. Neither do they remember a time when their listening was limited to tracks they could hear on the radio, buy with their own pocket money, or receive from a friend on a scribbled-upon cassette. If you can only hear 10 songs, you're more likely to go for 10 you're sure you'll like, and your cultural identity will reflect that. When you can listen to anything, any time, you're less likely to hold tight to tribal loyalties.

"Maybe the excitement of listening to a song you saved up to buy has gone, but that feeling has been overshadowed by the freedom of simply listening to a song whenever you want," says 19-year-old Bianca Munyankore, who organises dancehall and grime gigs in Coventry. Munyankore listens to music constantly, she says, and believes that an openness to music is now considered a natural part of being young. "Also, if you saved up to buy a CD, you wouldn't be exploring any other music, and how can that be a good thing?"

To Munyankore, the idea of pop tribes is outdated. Nevertheless, she admits the internet encourages her to deepen her connection with her favourite music – and without it, she would also have trouble finding it. She listens to new dancehall or grime tracks on websites like – tracks often not allowed on mainstream channels because of their explicit content – and also uses social networking sites to organise gigs in the city, and form bonds with similar fans.

Duncan Wilkins, a 29-year-old metal DJ from Birmingham, says the metal scene in his city in booming for similar reasons. It's not because the home of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Napalm Death is overwhelmed by nostalgia for its musical ­heritage – teenage fans are simply embracing more extreme sounds. "And it's because of the internet," he says. "Metal fans feel like outsiders, and the internet gives them access to more music of ­outsiders. I never had that when I was young, so I'm quite jealous." Deathcore bands such as Suicide Silence and local metalcore groups like Bring Me the ­Horizon are particularly popular with teenage fans, he says, although they are very different to the city's older heroes. "Partly because they wear more fashionable clothes, and partly because metal has split up into so many sub-genres. But the spirit is still there, perhaps more so than ever, only the labels don't seem to matter so much any more."

Neil Kulkarni, both a music writer and a secondary school teacher, has observed pop tribe developments from both the gig venue and the classroom. "Subcultures definitely still exist, but they're not worn like a badge any more. They're not participated in with pride or any aggressively militant tribal way. It's 'just the music I'm into', or 'just what I like wearing'. A lot of kids also find their taste overlapping with other groups – they delight in those moments when what they find themselves liking is utterly at odds with everything else." He agrees that the ­internet has rendered his pupils less ­hostile to things one might assume won't fit in with their taste. "Critics expect to see subcultures walking down the street en masse, but that's not what it's about any more. It's small connections between people, between sub-groups of already existent subcultures, that are important."

So are tribes in fact expanding, rather than dying? Paul ­Hodkinson, author of Goth: ­Identity, Style and Subculture, thinks so; he believes the transformation of pop tribes over the years points to their success, rather than their failure. In his opinion, the Goth movement has branched out into ­offshoots (such as emo and scene) because of the outsider's need to make connections. "If you like things that other people find odd, and if that makes you unpopular, you will always feel it more important to be among people like you," he says. "Being in a tribe's always about being comfortable."

But was comfort important to older tribes? What happened to the spirit of protest that drove angry mods and rockers, and anarchic punks? Hodkinson thinks that academics such as Dick Hebdige – whose 1979 book, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, became one of the bibles of sociology – over-politicised the tribes they were observing. "His stuff on the subcultures he knew, like mods and rockers, was really spot on, but it's easy to read politics into a tribe when you want to see it there. The urge to be in a tribe is often about far less sexy things. Like trying to make friends, or having something to do."

Even John Robb, musician and oral ­historian of punk and 1980s indie, says our views of past pop tribes are far too rose-tinted. "There was and still is a lot of ­political idealism about youth culture and tribalism," he says. "Even in punk, there were apolitical tribes, and tribes who had greed and capitalism as their gods." Many people think that the spirit of pop tribes has died rather than mutated, says Robb, simply because the media is driven by fresh stories. "Editors will say, 'We've heard this all before,' and they have – but, for the youth, it's still a new story."

Perhaps pop tribes face more scepticism in 2010 because the very mass communication that makes the dissemination of music so easy also means it's equally easy to co-opt that music into the mainstream. The most underground of metal or hip-hop can be found not just on the internet, but on TV – by anyone with the full package of channels. In the days of rock'n'roll exploitation films, or hopeless record company attempts to create faux-druggy psychedelia, it was still easy to laugh at "the Man" and his failure to "get it". By the time of grunge, with fashion embracing plaid shirts, and Seattle ­becoming a hot travel destination, that distinction was harder to make. Now, when even indie labels are desperate to get their music into adverts, and there are musicians who make their living from licensing music to brodcasters rather than from fans buying music or concert tickets, it's simply not viable.

Perhaps the biggest change to the pop tribes, though, is that they are no longer the preserve of youth. Today, tribes embrace all ages, although sometimes this leads to blinkered nostalgia – "Like mod in the Fred Perry, Paul Weller sense," says Kulkarni. "It's now a dead-end of slack-wearing, Vespa-riding, laddish retro, ­fearful of black music beyond the 70s, scornful of makeup, and utterly antithetical to everything that ever made it ­interesting." He believes that subcultures stop being creative as soon as they become aware of themselves.

But if pop tribes open up to new influences, says Hodkinson, things can change positively. For his book, he interviewed Goths across the generations who attended the same clubs – they loved the cross-pollinations that go on between sub-genres. Robb and Wilkins are also proud that the audiences for their punk gigs and metal nights range in age from 16 to 60 – and that their relations are cordial and creative.

If a pop tribe means anything these days, says Robb, it should be an all-embracing term – about a state of mind or a set of tastes, rather than a stage of life you have to go through before reaching adulthood. "The internet is obsessed with finding new things, but the real pop debate has always gone on far away from that, in scenes that change and warp and cross-manoeuvre. That was always the whole point of the pop tribes in the first place. People ­disgusted or bored with mainstream ­culture, creating their own more thrilling worlds in which to exist."

Five great British pop tribes

Teddy boys

Golden years: 1953-58

Music: American rock'n'roll in the 1950s, and then rockabilly and glam when the teds returned in the 1970s.

The look: Edwardian drape jackets – whence the name; sculpted quiffs and "duck's arses" of hair at the neckline; crepe-soled "brothel creeper" shoes for jiving.

Deadly rivals: Everyone at first. By the late 1970s, punks often reported being ­attacked by gangs of Teds.

Public profile: Low, despite Teds being the first pop tribe – they pre-dated rock'n'roll, but soon became passionate fans of US music. In the 70s, there was a rock'n'roll revival big enough for a gig to be held in Wembley Stadium, followed by another, smaller revival in the early 80s. Now it's back underground.


Golden years: 1964-66

Music: US soul, UK groups such as the Who and the Small Faces.

The look: Tailormade three-button suits, parkas to protect them on scooters from mud and rain.

Deadly rivals: The greasy, unstylish rockers.

Public profile: Always bubbling away. The original Mods' habit of having bank-holiday rucks with rockers at seaside resorts made them a cause celebre in the 60s, and their profile has remained high thanks to periodic revivals of the music (in the late 1970s, and mid-1990s), and because mods are still regarded as the most stylish of all British cults.

New Romantics

Golden years: 1980-83

Music: Electronic synthpop, heavily inspired by the combination of David Bowie, punk and disco.

The look: Frilly blouses, heavy makeup on both sexes. Thanks to Spandau Ballet, it's hard to think of New Romatics without ­seeing kilts.

Deadly rivals: None, although rivalry within the scene was rife.

Public profile: The "Romo" movement of the mid-90s failed to spark public interest, but more recently the combination of Spandau Ballet's ­return and 80s-style synthpop ­becoming both fashionable and ­popular has changed that.


Golden years: 1989-92

Music: Midlands rock bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself, the Wonder Stuff, Gaye Bikers On Acid and ­Crazyhead. PWEI are said to have popularised the word with their song Oh Grebo I Think I Love You.

The look: Hair shaved at the sides and long on top – somtimes dreadlocked, rarely clean. Big stripy ­jumpers, with baggy jeans or shorts.

Deadly rivals: None: most other youth cults considered them ­beneath contempt.

Public profile: Extinct. Greboes came and went, leaving little trace of their existence.


Golden years: 1993-96

Music: Instrumental club music driven by high-tempo breakbeats and complex rhythms.

The look: Camouflage, Moschino jeans, Caterpillar boots

Deadly rivals: Not exactly deadly ­rivals, but fans of house music were held in contempt by some Junglists.

Public profile: Low in the UK these days – jungle music was a victim of the shifting sands of dance culture – but beginning to rise and mutate ­internationally.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Malcolm X’s legacy lives on 45 years after his assassination


Malcolm X’s legacy lives on 45 years after his assassination
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Published Feb 22, 2010 8:59 PM

Forty-five years ago on Feb. 21, Malcolm X — El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz — had begun his address to a mass meeting of the Organization of Afro-American Unity in New York City at the Audubon Ballroom when several men opened fire on him with shotguns and pistols, killing him.

At the time the corporate media framed the threats, attacks and assassination of Malcolm X as a feud between the Nation of Islam under Elijah Muhammad and former members of the organization who were led by Malcolm X. Yet it has been well documented that the membership of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm X were all under FBI and local police surveillance.

The FBI wanted to cause a rift between Malcolm X and the members of Elijah Muhammad’s family in order to weaken the impact of these organizations on developments within the broader African-American struggle.

Malcolm X’s assassination came at a critical point during the African-American political movement of the 1960s. The Nation of Islam’s newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, had done a superb job in covering developments within the civil rights movement from 1961 to 1963, but had remained largely aloof from the direct action efforts of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and other organizations.

The program of the NOI called for the creation of a separate state for African Americans in the United States or in Africa. The organization felt that based on the legacy of racism and national oppression it would be impossible for Blacks and white people to be integrated into the same society on an equal basis.

After the April 1962 police attack on the NOI mosque in Los Angeles that resulted in the killing of NOI member Ronald Stokes and the wounding of several others, Malcolm X wanted to engage in broader political efforts to seek justice in the case. City authorities found the killing justifiable. Differences between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad over the character of the NOI’s response to the killing of Stokes, coupled with the burgeoning mass movement for civil rights, increased tensions inside the organization.

When the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, killing four African-American girls, Malcolm X’s statements became even more militant in response to this act of racist terrorism and the failure of the John F. Kennedy administration to take effective action in support of civil rights.

Consequently, when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, and Malcolm later made comments at the Manhattan Center on Dec. 1 that Kennedy’s death was a case of “the chickens coming home to roost,” he was silenced by Elijah Muhammad. Malcolm would eventually leave the organization by March 1964.

Following his departure from the NOI, Malcolm formed two other organizations, the Muslim Mosque Inc., a Sunni Islamic organization, and the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a pan-Africanist group patterned on the Organization of African Unity, in an effort to build a united front in the U.S. in solidarity with the struggle for independence and unity on the continent of Africa.

Malcolm X: A transformative figure in African-American history

Building on the legacy of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X emerged during the 1950s as a leader within the Nation of Islam and a militant spokesperson for urbanized African Americans in the U.S. Born to Garveyite activist parents Earl Little and Louise Little in 1925, Malcolm’s exposure to nationalist and pan-Africanist thought began at a very early age.

Malcolm was one of seven children in the Little family. His father Earl, a Baptist minister, often carried him to the mass meetings he attended during the depression years of the 1930s. His father was originally from Georgia and his mother Louise had been born in the Caribbean nation of Grenada. (The Autobiography of Malcolm X)

Malcolm’s parents had originally met at a Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League conference, the organization founded by Marcus Garvey, in 1919 in Montreal. They were leading members of the UNIA-ACL. Louise Little’s articles were often published in the Garveyite newspaper, The Negro World.

Despite the economic crisis facing the U.S. at the time, Malcolm’s family, a close unit, remained self-reliant. The nationalist mood and self-pride exhibited by this family caused tremendous hostility among racist whites in Nebraska, where Malcolm was born. Malcolm and other family members believed that Earl Little was murdered by white racists in 1931 in Mason, Mich., near the state capital of Lansing.

The social pressure from the white power structure in the area around Lansing, Mich., and economic isolation precipitated a nervous breakdown for Louise Little. Her eventual commitment to a state mental hospital and the breakup of the family by the welfare department had a tremendous impact on the Little children.

During his primary school years Malcolm exhibited intellectual capabilities and talents. He dreamed of being a lawyer but was discouraged by a racist teacher who told him that he had to be realistic because he was Black. By 1941, Malcolm had relocated in Boston to stay with his older sister, Ella Collins, the daughter of Earl Little from a previous marriage.

Malcolm worked in menial jobs in pool halls and on transport trains during World War II. He eventually drifted into criminality and drug abuse that resulted in his arrest and sentencing to prison for burglary in 1946.

While in prison he was influenced by an older inmate to read and develop his mind. He then set out to learn as much as possible and to participate in the prison debating teams.

Malcolm soon accepted the teachings of the Nation of Islam at the urging of his brothers, who had entered the organization prior to him. When he was paroled in 1952, he immediately began to work as an NOI organizer under Elijah Muhammad’s leadership.

He rose swiftly through NOI ranks to become the Boston and later New York minister during the mid-to-late 1950s. After he gained national exposure through public speaking and media coverage, the press once again set out to discredit another fearless spokesperson for the African-American masses.

Malcolm X created a newspaper for the Muslim organization, Muhammad Speaks, which as with the Garvey movement proved to be a powerful vehicle for the transmission of the NOI’s ideas to the general public. In addition, Malcolm’s radio and television interviews and debates drew national attention from both the African-American masses and from U.S. political police agencies like the FBI.

By 1963, Malcolm X’s speeches had become more decisively political and secular. He began to de-emphasize certain aspects of Elijah Muhammad’s Black Muslim theology. His remarks at a mass rally held during a grassroots organizers’ conference in Detroit in November 1963 reflected his developing world outlook.

In this address, which was recorded and issued under the title, “Message to the Grassroots,” Malcolm X said, “The same man that was colonizing our people in Kenya was colonizing our people in Congo. The same one in the Congo was colonizing our people in South Africa, and in Southern Rhodesia, and in Burma and in India, and in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan. They realized all over the world where the dark man was being oppressed, he was being oppressed by the white man; where the dark man was being exploited, he was being exploited by the white man.” (Malcolm X Speaks, 1965)

In March 1964 Malcolm announced the formation of an orthodox Muslim Mosque that would rival the NOI and arranged to make hajj in April to Saudi Arabia in order to authenticate himself as a Sunni Islamic believer. When he returned to the U.S. in May 1964, he then established a political group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity, whose objectives were decisively revolutionary nationalist and pan-Africanist in orientation.

In July 1964, Malcolm departed again for Africa and the Middle East to engage in further study, analysis and research and to establish deeper contacts between the OAAU and other revolutionary movements in the so-called Third World. Although many writers have placed emphasis on his conversion to Sunni Islam, Malcolm never lessened his commitment to the revolutionary transformation of the U.S. and the world.

Malcolm spent the bulk of his time between July and November of 1964 in various revolutionary and progressive states in Africa, including Egypt, Ghana, Algeria, Tanzania and Guinea. He developed close political relations with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ahmed Sekou Touré of Guinea, Gamal Abdel Nassar of Egypt and Abdul Rahman Mohamed Babu, a leading government official and Marxist theoretician from Tanzania.

It was Malcolm’s connections with Babu that resulted in Malcolm’s meeting with the Cuban revolution leader, Che Guevara, during Guevara’s visit to the United Nations in late 1964. Malcolm took a keen interest in Cuba and Che’s role in Cuba’s pending aid to Congo’s revolution during 1965.

Malcolm had been one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy towards Congo during 1964, when the Johnson administration had intervened to halt the advances of the revolutionary forces. These revolutionaries were fighting against the Western-backed forces that had overthrown and assassinated Patrice Lumumba in 1960-61.

Malcolm’s public statements became more anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist in character and many believed that had he lived longer, Malcolm would have advanced socialism as a political objective.

Malcolm X also visited England and France during late 1964 and early 1965. In England he made alliances with organizations within the Black and Islamic communities. In France, he embarked upon efforts to form alliances with expatriate Africans and Caribbean nationals residing in Paris. Just before his assassination, the French government prevented his making another visit, apparently in response to U.S. State Department pressure.

During this period Malcolm began to emphasize the central role of women in the national liberation process. In an interview in Paris he told the public, “One thing I became aware of in my traveling recently through Africa and the Middle East, in every country you go to, usually the degree of progress can never be separated from the woman. If you’re in a country that’s progressive, the woman is progressive. If you’re in a country that reflects the consciousness toward the importance of education, it’s because the woman is aware of the importance of education.”

Malcolm continued, “But in every backward country you’ll find the women are backward, and in every country where education is not stressed, it’s because the women don’t have education. So one of the things I became thoroughly convinced of in my recent travels is the importance of giving freedom to the woman, giving her education, and giving her the incentive to get out there and put that same spirit and understanding in her children. And I frankly am proud of the contributions that our women have made in the struggle for freedom, and I’m one person who’s for giving them all the leeway possible because they’ve made a greater contribution than many of us men.” (By Any Means Necessary, p. 179, 1970)

Malcolm X’s secure position in African-American history

Despite the efforts of the corporate media to distort his legacy and international image since his assassination, Malcolm X has been immortalized by many writers and commentators on African-American affairs. According to journalist M.S. Handler, “No man in our time aroused fear and hatred in the white man as did Malcolm, because in him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not be had for any price — a man unreservedly committed to the cause of liberating the Black man in American society, rather than integrating the Black man into that society.” (El Hajj Malik Shabazz, documentary film)

During the later years since his martyrdom Malcolm has gained a secure position within the collective consciousness of Africans, oppressed peoples and workers worldwide. His image proliferates in the urban areas of America and his name and spirit are often evoked in relation to the uncompromising character of the African-American struggle for total liberation from national oppression and economic exploitation.

Consequently, the efforts of the mass media, U.S. intelligence services and the capitalist class in general have failed to obscure or co-opt his message due to the efforts of the political heirs of Malcolm X, who have continued to maintain the integrity and principled character of his legacy.

Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Obituary: Jack Shapiro

Sunday 21 February 2010
John Haylett

Jack Shapiro, who died last month aged 93, was born into the East End of London's Jewish community that provided so many pre-World War II members for the Communist Party.

Shapiro was recruited to the Young Communist League by his brother Michael, who later became a Communist councillor in Stepney before reporting the Korean war, alongside Chinese forces, for the Xinhua news agency and then settling in China.

Jack met his life partner Marie at a YCL meeting, marrying her in 1937.

Although born in Britain, she had been taken to Poland as a baby and jailed for her anti-fascist activities by the Pilsudski regime before returning to Britain. Marie died in December 2008.

Shapiro worked closely in the 1930s with lawyer Bill Sedley, who offered a legal advice service to hard-up tenants in their battles against predatory landlords.

Many tenants were Yiddish-speakers for whom Shapiro acted as interpreter in court, on occasion improving their evidence, as he admitted later to Sedley's son Stephen, the current Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Sedley.

He worked for a period as a full-timer for the party, but, in the early 1960s, he left it, identifying more with China's Maoism than with the British party's political approach.

However, both he and Marie remained whole-hearted supporters of the Morning Star until the end.

When the paper marked its 75th anniversary in 2005, he wrote: "As someone who remembers the excitement of seeing the first edition of our paper, then the Daily Worker, I am delighted to assist its continued publication. Please accept £75 to celebrate its 75th birthday."

He was also very complimentary about the articles carried in the paper about the 2007 Communist Party of Britain delegation to China and the booklet Line of March produced by the party.

His final speech was delivered on October 3 last year at a celebration of the 60th anniversary of Chinese revolution.

This was organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which he had joined.

At a later stage he became the party's honorary president.

But Shapiro's interests were not simply confined to politics.

He suffered all of his life from impaired hearing and tinnitus and he was a ceaseless campaigner for the Royal National Institute for Deaf People. He was also a founder of the British Tinnitus Association.

So influential was his and his wife's contribution that the association offers an annual Marie and Jack Shapiro Prize cash award for the published research paper by a UK-based author most likely to result in improved treatment or public awareness of tinnitus.

At his funeral, there were speakers from the British Tinnitus Association and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People.

There were representatives too from the Cuban, Chinese and North Korean embassies.

Shapiro is survived by his daughters Rosalind and Susan and by grandchildren Jeffrey, Genia and John.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Anti-fascist protesters march through Edinburgh

Face-off: Police and anti-fascist demonstrators on Royal Mile.
Pic: © STV

Scottish Defence League members forced to leave city by police.
.20 February 2010 14:00 PM


Thousands of anti-fascist protesters staged demonstrations across Edinburgh on Saturday as members of the far-right Scottish Defence League (SDL) gathered in the city.

Lothian and Borders Police drafted in officers from the Strathclyde, Fife and Northumbria forces to bolster their numbers in the capital - in all, it is understood that 900 police were on duty.

In one incident, scores of banner-waving activists attempted to enter a bar opposite the Scottish Parliament. Protesters said members of the SDL were inside Jenny Ha's bar and vowed to stay in the area until the SDL members left the city.

Police later loaded members of the league on to a bus to leave. Officers had closed the Royal Mile, with the road sealed off and hundreds of police on the street keeping opposing groups apart.

It is believed that around 90 people were kept inside the bar by police, who blocked the doors to stop trouble on the street. Minor scuffles broke out when some SDL supporters passed by anti-fascist activists behind police cordons close to the building.

Meanwhile, inside, SDL supporters held up flags and banners protesting against Islamic Sharia law.

Riot vans with officers wearing helmets eventually surrounded the pub entrance while two double-decker buses were driven towards the door.

Despite chants from SDL supporters that they would not be moved, the SDL members made their way on to the buses before being driven past two small counter-demonstrations assembled along the Royal Mile and outside Holyrood.

Officers said no arrests were made and the street was cleared by 4pm. A small number of SDL members were also held in Edinburgh's Waverley station.

Student protester James Nesbitt, 23, from Glasgow, said: "We had spotters out across the city looking for fascists in pubs. We got here quickly but the police are doing everything they can to keep us away from them. We're here because people are frightened with the developments in the far-right."

The incident happened as a formal anti-racism rally began in Edinburgh city centre. At least 2,000 people are believed to have taken part in the Scotland United rally, which was prompted by SDL plans to gather in the capital and protest against "militant Islam".

MSPs, charities, trade unions and faith groups were among those taking part in the rally, and speaker Aamer Anwar told STV News they planned to show there is no place for racist and fascist organisations in Scotland.

Mr Anwar, one of the rally organisers, said the march would serve as a warning to the SDL to "stay away". He had previously said: "We are uniting, right across the political spectrum, against their message of hatred. And we are sending a out a positive message, one of unity and one of celebration of our diversity.

"Let me be quite clear. They are testing the water and complacency is not an option. Silence is not an option. In the 1930s, the fascists scapegoated one section of the community, the Jewish community. And now today, what we have is a far right Nazi organisation that is scapegoating the Muslim community and that's why we're uniting. And every time they raise their heads they have be exposed for what they are, which is fascists."

Osama Saeed of the Scottish-Islamic Foundation, one of the protest's organisers, said: "Today is a further humiliation for the SDL. They only got ten minutes in the rain last November in Glasgow. They didn't even get that today. This is only due to good people coming out in numbers to take over Edinburgh's streets. The threat from the far-right cannot be ignored and simply wished away."

Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, one of the rally's guest speakers, said: "Today is about making a stand against those who would seek to divide and saying to them that their views are not welcome, as well as showing to the world that Scotland will not tolerate such views."

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray added: "The message from today's rally was upbeat and clear - Scotland will never stand by and allow hatred and bigotry to have its day. There is no place for - and Scotland will give no platform to - those who would divide our communities and attack our citizens."

The SDL describes itself as non-violent and pro-British. A video posted under the group's name on You Tube urges members to head to the capital to demonstrate against "Islamification" in the UK.

Police had earlier said that the SDL had not sought permission for a demonstration and it was unclear how many people might come to take part. Scotland United's organisers insisted any right-wing activist who tried to march in the city should be removed immediately.

Lothian and Borders Police assistant chief constable Iain Livingstone said: "We are pleased that today's activity in the city centre passed off without major incident, and with only five arrests being made for public order offences.

"At this time I'd like to thank those who participated in the Scotland United rally and march, the majority of whom were well behaved and willing to engage constructively with police. I would also like to thank those members of the public who may have experienced some disruption to their day as a result of the activity in the city centre, for their patience and co-operation."

A demonstration held in Glasgow in November by the SDL saw around 100 protesters contained by police and then herded onto buses out of the city, while thousands passed peacefully through the city in an anti-fascism protest at the same time.

In their online video urging members to attend the event in Edinburgh, the SDL said it would "unite with their fellow countrymen to defend this great nation. We will never surrender".

It continued: "To carry on the fight against Muslim extremists and Islamification in Great Britain, we will never surrender. If you love this country and love Great Britain then please join us in Edinburgh on February 20. We all join as one."

The Scotland United rally, organised by Unite Against Racism and Fascism, begun in Princes Street Gardens before heading through the city centre.

The SDL is an offshoot of the English Defence league, which has staged protests in Manchester and Birmingham which resulted in violence.

Last updated: 20 February 2010, 17:29

Friday, 19 February 2010

Texas suicide pilot left ‘communist’ manifesto

Violence is the only answer writes Stack, before flying headlong into IRS building
By Tim Edwards

Joseph Andrew Stack, the software developer who flew his single-engine Piper Cherokee plane into the offices of the US tax authorities in Austin, Texas yesterday, left a 3,000-word suicide ‘note’ – or manifesto - on the internet.

(NOTE FROM 'NOT A DINNER PARTY':His 'Manfesto' can be read here: )

Stack, 53, apparently set fire to his house before boarding his plane and flying “full throttle” at the third floor of the Internal Revenue Service building. IRS employee Peggy Walker was sitting at her desk in the building when the plane crashed: “It felt like a bomb blew off, she said. “The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.”

Aviation experts suspect Stack may have carried some kind of inflammable liquid in the plane, since the intensity of the explosion is inconsistent with the small amount of fuel such a plane could carry in its tank.

The attack, which killed two IRS employees, appears to have been the culmination of a 30-year tax dispute. The US authorities have ruled out terrorism as a motive, yet Stack’s actions bear all the hallmarks of militancy. In his suicide note-cum-manifesto, which seems likely to see him branded as a communist, Stack rails against elected representatives for taking tax money and giving nothing in return.

“I can say with a great degree of certainty that there has never been a politician [who] cast a vote on any matter with the likes of me or my interests in mind,” he writes. He specifically mentions the banking bailouts and the failure to tackle America’s health care system and goes into great detail regarding his tax disputes which appear to have left him without any pension or savings.

Stack writes of his hope that his actions will provoke “the inevitable double standard, knee-jerk government reaction that results in more stupid draconian restrictions” and that the “American zombies wake up and revolt”. He concludes: “Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.”

His sign-off appears to compare communism favourably with capitalism: “The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.”

It’s a sign of where America is at the moment that an article on Business Insider calling Stack’s manifesto “insane” has been heavily criticised. Comments such as “This is just the start of things like this. I DISAGREE with the way this guy rebelled, but i fully understand his frustration!!!” reflect a surprisingly sympathetic mood.,news-comment,news-politics,austin-texas-suicide-pilot-left-communist-manifesto-joseph-andrew-stack

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Reining in the corporate monster

Big business must be forced to temper its obsession with profit and align corporate practice with social justice and democracy

Prem Sikka,
Wednesday 17 February 2010 11.30 GMT

Despite Britain having only just emerged from recession, Barclays Bank has reported profits of £11.6bn. Its 23,000 investment bankers will collect bonuses of £2bn, mostly made from gambling with other people's monies. The bonus levy of £225m in taxes might also help the government, but soaring credit card rates and lack of bank lending will put dampener on any economic recovery. Barclays's gag on newspapers, alleged tax avoidance and role in creating new tax havens puts an entirely different complexion on the quality of its profits.

What is good for companies need not be good for savers, borrowers, taxpayers, employees, or local communities. That conflict is played out in daily newspapers and should be a major issue in the forthcoming general election.

There is an increasing disparity between the people's need for jobs, economic stability, quality of life and human rights, and corporate obsession with private profits. This harsh lesson is once again evident in the aftermath of the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft. Workers had no vote or say in the take-over of Cadbury, and soon afterwards Kraft announced factory closures. This may make profits for shareholders, but does nothing for workers or local communities.

After committing nearly £850bn to rescue failing banks and printing another £200bn of money to lubricate the economy, the government is looking for tax revenues to manage the economic crisis. But corporate barons resent paying democratically agreed taxes. The headline corporation tax rate has already been reduced from 52% to 28%, but they are willing to hold elected governments to ransom to achieve their aims.

Diageo, Unilever and a number of other companies are threatening to move their headquarters to offshore locations unless the government shifts taxes away from corporations and their rich executives to ordinary people. Of course, they still want to make profits in the UK and expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab for providing them with the legal system, policing, security, subsidies and an educated and healthy workforce.

The widening income and wealth inequalities are literally killing people. A report by Sir Michael Marmot found that on average people at the top of the economic ladder enjoy 17 more years of good health than the people at the bottom of the ladder. The report calls for an urgent need to raise the income of the people at the bottom of the ladder, which could raise the life expectancy of some groups by seven years. It recommends a minimum income level for healthy living to cover adequate nutrition, physical activity, housing, social interactions, transport, medical care and hygiene.

An increase in the national minimum wage would go a long way towards achieving this. Company executives are still drawing mega bonuses, but they are not happy about the prospect of an increase in the minimum wage.

Globally, just 500 corporations, mostly headquartered in the western world, control 70% of world trade and 80% of foreign direct investment (FDI). They wield enormous power to bully elected governments with threats of shifting production, investment and taxes. In pursuit of profits they impose the so-called "stabilisation clauses" on many developing countries. These enable companies to secure compensation if the introduction of environmental laws or social rights reduces the profitability of foreign investment. If protests by the people concerned with jobs, or cultural heritage, delay the completion of corporate projects and flow of profits then host governments are expected to pay fines to companies.

The extent of compensation is decided not by the courts, but by arbitration panels made up of corporate elites solely concerned with economic property rights. Such practices conflict with the universal declaration of human rights signed by UN member states, including the UK, that sponsor the investing companies.

There is an urgent need to align corporate practices with social justice and democracy. Rather than being tossed aside in the takeover bazaars, workers should have a vote on all mergers and takeovers. Before moving to newer pastures, corporations should be required to return all public subsidies and grants and make good any environmental damage that they have caused. They should be required to ensure that after their departure the local community would not be worse off.

Therefore, they should be required to contribute to the retraining of the workforce and help with the development of small-scale workshops. The government should enact legislation to ensure that trade by UK companies is compatible with the universal declaration of human rights.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Women at war: Sexual violence in the US military

"I put my weapon down and walked away to smoke a cigarette and that was when I was attacked"

Marti Ribeiro


The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first in which tens of thousands of women have fought alongside men for prolonged periods. This week the BBC World Service is taking an in-depth look at women's stories from the front line.

Helena Merriman reports on a woman whose experience of sexual assault, while serving in the US Air Force in Afghanistan, turned her into a campaigner for the welfare of service women.

Marti Ribeiro was born into a military family.

Her grandfather and father were both in the Air Force - and all her life she had wanted to join the armed forces.

After she finished school she joined the Air Force Reserves and a few years later, in March 2003, she was deployed to Iraq.

While she loved her job as a public affairs specialist, from the time she arrived she was routinely harassed and called Air Force Barbie.

"I had no idea how difficult it would be," she told the BBC World Service.

"My father, who is a retired military colonel, thought the world of me for joining the military.

"I never saw the personality traits in him that I saw in the military - I never saw what I was getting into."

In 2006 she was Afghanistan, in 2006.

"You're supposed to carry your weapon at all times in a combat zone," she said.

"But I put my weapon down and walked away to smoke a cigarette and that was when I was attacked."

She was then dragged behind some power generators and raped.

"If I had kept my weapon maybe I would have been able to prevent it," she says.

"But if I had used it I would probably have ended up in jail."

She went to the authorities but they told her that if she filed a claim, she would be charged with dereliction of duty for leaving her weapon unattended in a combat zone - an offence for which you can be court-martialled.

So she kept quiet and the man who attacked her went unpunished

"It would be my word over his and they are not going to take my word over his," she said.

When she returned from Afghanistan, she did not talk to anyone about what happened. She says she felt it was all her fault.

'Heartbreaking' phone calls

Congressional leaders, who have been holding hearings this month on sexual assault in the armed forces, say that more needs to be done to tackle what recent studies indicate is a widespread problem.

"Once you have been raped in the military you are most likely to be raped over and over"
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

In 2003, in a survey of female veterans conducted by the University of Iowa, funded by the US Department of Defense, 30% of the 500 female veterans interviewed reported an attempted or completed rape.

Equally worryingly, the Department of Defense estimated in its 2009 annual report on sexual assault, that around 90% of rapes in the military are never reported.

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who sits on the Military Personnel Subcommittee, successfully lobbied last year for the development of a Sexual Assault Database to encourage accountability within the Armed Forces.

"There are plenty of phone calls that come into my office of alleged assault of women by our military men," she says.

"They are heartbreaking. Some women don't want to go public with it, some have gone public with it and they've been drilled out of the military.

"I'm told that the statistics are that once you have been raped in the military you are most likely to be raped over and over."

She says that not enough prosecutions are happening and that while the Pentagon is taking it more seriously, big changes still need to be made.

"Why is it that when a woman alleges rape, the outcome shows that the man who supposedly did this was demoted or moved to another unit? I want to know why this is happening!"


Dr Kaye Whitley, Director of the US Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (Sapro), says it can be very hard for victims to report a sexual assault.

"We do know that being sexually assaulted takes a great human toll on an individual and there are all kinds of barriers to keep people from wanting to come forward," she says.

"More and more commanders are referring these cases to court martial" Dr Kaye Whitley, Sapro

One of these barriers, she explains, is that after someone has reported an assault in the US military: "Their command knows, everyone in the unit knows, and it affects 'unit-readiness'."

For this reason there is now a new "restrictive reporting option" so that victims who are afraid of reporting an assault can get the medical care and counselling that they need, without their command having to be notified, and without having to participate in an investigation.

For those who do decide to report a sexual assault, Dr Whitley says the crime is taken seriously.

"We are finding that more and more commanders are referring these cases to court martial," she says.

"One of the things that one of our leaders recently said is that we want to get so good at prosecuting these guys that if there's anybody walking around out there that's a predator, they'll think that the military is the last place they want to end up.

"So we are working very hard on that, we think we can do better," she says.

'Cultural change'

The writer Helen Benedict has been looking into sexual violence in the military for a number of years, and has recently written a play on the subject. She has heard from women whose experiences have ranged from disrespect, to constant sexual harassment, to rape.

"There is a culture that if you report someone, you are seen as a weak soldier who failed to defend yourself," she says.

But she says this does not mean that women should not be serving in the army.

"It is the men who are committing a crime who have a problem. The military has to deal with them and not punish women by shutting them out from this career," she says.

Ms Benedict says that economics may help to bring about the cultural change that she says the army needs.

"The recession means more women are joining the military then ever before. So as women become less of a minority and rise in the ranks and get more power, hopefully the culture will begin to shift," she says.

Meanwhile, Marti Ribeiro is now trying to tackle the issue politically.

She is part of the Service Women's Action Network, which lobbies to improve the welfare of US servicewomen and women veterans.

"This is so that if once my daughter is eligible she turns to me and says 'I want to do what you did,' I can support her," she says.

"But if she asked me right now I would say No."

You can listen to the BBC World Service series on Women at War on World Update all this week until Thursday 18 February.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Scotland: Hatred on our streets


14 February 2010, Scotland On Sunday
By Billy Briggs

THE far right, anti-Islamic Scottish Defence League is about to march in Edinburgh. But just how much support do they have?

FOR a man who claims to represent a silent majority, he is coy about being seen and heard. Don refuses to meet in person, talking only over a mobile phone and answering questions by e-mail. The self-styled leader of the Scottish Defence League (SDL)
is being ultra cautious. Given the incendiary nature of his views, and the depth of anger they provoke, perhaps this is not surprising.

Next weekend, the embryonic SDL, whose stated aim is to oppose the spread of militant Islam and Sharia Law, will hold its second event in Scotland, when supporters of the British nationalist movement descend on Edinburgh for a demonstration.

The event in the capital follows a protest in Glasgow last November, which descended into violence when balaclava-clad SDL supporters clashed violently with anti-racism marchers. Five arrests were made and part of the city centre was brought to a standstill.

This Saturday, the SDL will again target Scotland, which it believes is a fertile recruiting ground among young, white males. Don, who has an English accent, claimed the SDL had more than 800 members and would mobilise to fight their cause.

One target would be radical Muslim preachers, who were "actively spreading hatred within Scotland", he said. "The SDL started in 2009 because we could see the dangers caused by militant Islamic activity and we could see areas becoming Muslim. We have evidence provided by Muslims, who have spoken to us as they are scared of these people. We believe there should only be one community and not areas separated by religious or cultural differences."

Opponents, of which there are many, believe the SDL, despite its protestations, is indistinguishable from the openly fascist British National Party and that many of its so-called recruits come from a background of football casuals violence. Merchandise on sale to promote the movement includes clothes and badges emblazoned with slogans such as "Ban the Burqa" and "No Surrender".

Another badge available over the internet says "Asylum – Don't Unpack You're Going Back", while one of the organisation's websites hosts a video of Enoch Powell giving his infamous 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech.

But while the SDL embraces the language of the far right, it insists it is a multi-racial, peaceful protest organisation.

Another senior SDL supporter, who uses the moniker "Tony Mowbray" – obviously not his real name but some sort of football joke – declined to meet but agreed to answer questions by e-mail. He, too, denied the group had links to extremists.

He said he was a 40-year-old married man from Glasgow who comes from a professional civil engineering and management background and that he became involved with the English Defence League (EDL) after an incident involving his son.

"It (the story] involves Strathclyde Police, my ten-year-old son and a much older Pakistani kid who was bullying and hitting him. There were lies and false accusations and I had to watch a 6'4" Strathclyde Police officer tower over my 4'2" son and read him his rights. My son was beaten and called 'white trash'.

"This led me to embark on my own personal research and this is what led me to the EDL. When I started my research, it was based primarily on false accusations from people who use the race card to their advantage. As I read deeper, my research progressed down a very different and altogether more troubling path towards Jihad and Islamisation, " he said.

The man, who says he liaises directly with EDL leaders in London, also denied the movement had links to the far right and said the SDL had been demonised by the press. He said he attended the demonstration in Glasgow to prepare a report for the national leadership and was pushing for a change in strategy.

"Targeted demos, for example, rather than demonstrating in faceless city centres," he said. "I'm pushing for a change and/or a splinter cell which will target specific locations like the BBC studios. Why are they reporting false news? And the Saudi Embassy. Why is it funding UK mosques and education while perpetrating the most appalling religious intolerance and human rights violations on the earth today?"

The violence at the SDL protest in Glasgow followed major disorder in English cities, where the EDL has taken to the streets 20 times to protest against militant Islam. More than 200 people have been arrested at EDL protests, which began last summer after soldiers of the Royal Anglian Regiment were verbally abused by radical Islamists as they paraded through Luton after a tour of Afghanistan. Anti-fascist counter-demonstrators have been among those detained.

The SDL is an off-shoot of the EDL, as are the Welsh and Ulster Defence Leagues, and while they have different leaders in a fluid, ad-hoc structure, they work closely together. The EDL/SDL, despite stressing its "peaceful movement" mantra since its inception, has been roundly condemned for its antagonistic tactics.

John Denham MP, the UK Communities Secretary, has compared them to Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists who ran amok in the 1930s, while Unite Against Fascism has accused the SDL of being intent on inflaming racial tensions.

Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who spoke at the counter-protest in Glasgow, said: "To the BNP, to the Scottish Defence League, to the English Defence League, to any racist defence league, you are not welcome in Glasgow. You are not welcome anywhere in Scotland."

In England, the movement is expanding. About 1,500 supporters attended a recent EDL protest in Stoke-on-Trent, by far the largest gathering to date. Some 600 police officers were on duty, violence erupted and 17 people were arrested. Four policemen were injured.

Football hooligans from Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers fought each other, despite being fellow EDL supporters, and a video on YouTube showed vehicles being attacked and a police officer being kicked by a mob after he fell to the ground. Claims the SDL is intimately linked to gangs of soccer casuals in Scotland are hard to confirm. Don disputed allegations by the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight that football hooligans were pivotal to the formation of the SDL, as they have been to the EDL and WDL.

Yet Mickey Smith, a member of the WDL and frontman of an umbrella group of hooligans called Casuals United, said some fans of Rangers were pre-eminent in setting up the Scottish group. When Casuals United emerged last summer to protest against radical Islam around the same time as the EDL, hooligan gangs across Britain set up a Casuals United Facebook page, which listed the clubs they followed. Rangers were the only Scottish team listed.

Later, after complaints by football clubs over the use of their club crests on the Facebook page, the firms morphed into EDL "divisions" using names such as London, Midlands and Scotland.

As the EDL gains support across the UK, Muslims have been targeted in unprovoked attacks. In the worst incident, a mob of 30 white and black youths is said to have surrounded Asian students near City University in central London and attacked them with metal poles, bricks and sticks while shouting racist abuse. Three people – two students and a passer-by who tried to intervene – were stabbed.

Neo-Nazi groups such as the British Freedom Fighters and Combat 18 have been attending rallies and their members later posted videos of themselves on the internet. Tinderbox cities such as Bradford and Oldham – places that witnessed race riots in 2001 – are stated EDL targets for 2010, and there is growing concern over the possibility of serious civil disorder.

In response to these fears, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit, a countrywide police team set up to combat domestic extremism, has been investigating the EDL. It is hard to predict how many people will attend the SDL rally in Edinburgh, but Lothian and Borders Police said plans were in place after discussions with other UK forces. Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone, the officer in overall command of the operation, said no permission had been sought by the SDL for its event.

"We are making efforts to engage with the SDL. There will also be a counter-rally and march by the Scotland United group, for which permission has been granted by City of Edinburgh Council. We are working closely with the organisers of the Scotland United march and the city council to ensure the march passes off peacefully. Should any problems arise, then we will respond in a robust manner to ensure that order is maintained and the rule of law upheld."

Edinburgh Anti-Fascist Alliance hopes to disrupt the SDL's usual tactics and has written to some 100 pubs in the city, asking them to ban the SDL from their premises. Football grounds have also been targeted, with supporters being leafleted and asked not to support the SDL.

Last week, posters from the Unite Against Fascism group, protesting about the SDL plans and with slogans such as "Nazis not welcome here", appeared around the main university areas and across the south of the city.

City councillors urged restraint on both sides. Conservative Cameron Rose said: "If the Scottish Defence League do turn up, that is a matter for the police to take action. The prospect of Unite Against Fascism creating a confrontation will simply make the situation more complex for the police, who are the proper authorities to deal with public order."

Nina Giles, the director of Edinburgh & Lothians Racial Equality Council, said the SDL was a violent, extremist group, and called for its demonstration to be halted. "Any individual that holds that kind of hatred towards any group is not healthy. If the march does go ahead, it's quite worrying that these type of views would be given a platform." A spokesman for Scotland United said: "It is time to stand up for multicultural Scotland."

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Fears of violence as far-right group admits it can’t control followers

The Scottish Defence League march in Edinburgh will face a counter protest

Jasper Hamill
14 Feb 2010

With only a week to go before the Scottish Defence League takes to the streets of Edinburgh for a second time, the leaders of the far-right organisation have admitted that they have lost control over the supporters that follow their protests.

A recent English Defence League demonstration in Stoke turned into a “pogrom” against Muslims, according to anti-fascists, that was so violent it shocked even the Defence League leadership, who were quick to deny responsibility. Now Defence League organisers say that this Saturday’s planned demonstration in the capital is at risk of descending into chaos because leaders are losing control of the mass movement.

More than 1,500 people turned up on the side of the English Defence League in Stoke – the sister organisation of the Scottish Defence League – dwarfing the tiny number of anti-fascists that gathered to stand against them.

The mob turned over police riot vans, smashed the windows of Muslim homes and tried to attack a mosque. Organisers believe some 500 Scottish Defence League supporters will turn up in the capital next weekend.

Defence League leaders claim that hundreds of BNP supporters and other thugs turned up in Stoke simply looking for a fight.

Mickey, who leads Casuals United and is part of the EDL leadership, said: “Stoke was horrendous. It went mental. Hundreds of BNP members turned up. You can’t go around rioting like that, because eventually they’ll ban the movement. The people that came don’t care about the EDL, they just turn up for the riots.”

He added: “We’re not conspiring to cause riots. Yes, we have a lot of criminals attaching themselves to us and people that come along to kick off, but we’re trying to deal with that.”

The police are now so concerned about the Defence Leagues that the have set up a special unit to try and combat them.

Fear of infiltration is at fever pitch amongst the far-right group, with leaders even claiming that Special Branch tried to sneak into their ranks by disguising an officer as a Hells Angel.

The biker allegedly visited every regional Defence League leader in the county, asking for membership details and taking photographs. When enquires were made, no motorcycle gang had heard of him.

Police have also warned the EDL that Islamic extremists are plotting to attack their demonstrations and told them that any future protests in Birmingham could be attacked by suicide bombers.

Meanwhile, the Defence Leagues are making allegiances of their own, including with the Orange Order in Belfast, with the aim of opening a wing of the Defence Leagues in Ulster.

Mickey had this further warning: “People all around the country are kicking off against Islam. The government and police must be worried. Our movement’s gone from 30 or 40 people when we started doing demos in London, to thousands now. It hasn’t even been a year.”

Unite Against Fascism held its annual conference yesterday. The group feels that the threat from fascism is worse than ever and has warned that racist violence could become commonplace on the streets of Britain unless action is taken to combat it.

Weyman Bennet, joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism, said: “There was an attempt to try and have a kind of pogrom in Stoke.

“You’ve got fascists becoming successful in elections. Fascists are also at the centre of bringing racist football thugs on to the streets. This brings us into a very dangerous situation and we are at risk of major conflict.

“We will protest against the EDL or SDL wherever they go. We will not allow them to intimidate a community.”


Saturday, 13 February 2010

Turning a blind eye on the campaign trail as BNP targets prize seat

From The Times February 13, 2010
Tom Baldwin and Fiona Hamilton 41 Comments

British National Party activists are gathered outside the Underground station, smirking and smoking. A black man spits, twice, at their feet. “Yeah, I know who you are,” he says accusingly.

Does that happen a lot? “What’s that?” asks Richard Barnbrook, a big wheel in the party and an elected member of the Greater London Authority. That man just spat at you. “No! Deliberately?” Yes.

“I didn’t notice,” he mumbles, with a little shake of his head. “We actually get a very positive reaction from many older ethnic minority people here.”

Such a claim can soon be tested. Mr Barnbrook parades along the streets in his “trademark” beige suit which, he thinks, “adds to my charisma — everybody knows who I am”. An Asian woman shudders and moves off the pavement when she sees him approaching. A black father grabs his toddler’s hand and guides her to the other side of the road. A group of teenagers ride by on bikes, yelling obscenities. “Maybe I get a few funny looks, every now and then,” Mr Barnbrook concedes cheerfully.

Welcome to Barking, a suburban town that the BNP wants to make its own, where truth — as well as whole sections of the local population — can be just inconvenient obstacles to be sidestepped or swept away.

The decision by Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, to stand as a parliamentary candidate in Barking has inevitably brought the poison of racial politics ever closer to the surface of an already pockmarked eastern outpost of London.

At the general election in 2005, Mr Barnbrook was only 27 votes away from claiming second place ahead of the Tories. In the following year the BNP grabbed nine of the 30 borough councillor posts in the wards that make up the seat. The party secured an average 41 per cent of the vote in seven contested wards, compared with 33 per cent for Labour.

This is why Mr Griffin abandoned the North West, where he was elected as an MEP last year, and elbowed Mr Barnbrook aside for the chance to stand in Barking. It is where the BNP believes that white working-class alienation can be best exploited to gain a first crucial foothold in Westminster.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for almost 16 years and veteran of many battles in a political career stretching over four decades, recognises that she is in the fight of her life. “We face a real threat from the BNP,” she says. “Griffin is here because he thinks he can win.”

She has, in the past, been criticised for relying too heavily on the black and Asian vote. There have been complaints that she has amplified “BNP propaganda” with efforts to address white voters’ sense of unfairness. Last week she called for immigrants to earn the right to benefits or council housing over several years so that “local people” have higher priority.

Ms Hodge’s campaign has not been helped by an often dysfunctional relationship with Jon Cruddas, the MP for neighbouring Dagenham, who argues that Labour’s appeal should be around shared economic interests, not racial identity. But she has been more visible lately than before, opening a campaign office after the council elections and doubling party membership locally to about 400. Although a number of the party’s older councillors have been purged and are threatening to run as independents, Ms Hodge says Labour has been revitalised. “I’m so proud. We have all had to raise our game.”

Differences within Labour have been put aside because they are far outweighed by the need to “lance the boil” of the BNP. “I am really fearful that if they get a hold here, Barking would become a no-go area for the rest of Britain,” Ms Hodge says. “They bring division and violence.”

There has been talk of Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates pulling out of the election to present a united front against racism. The consensus among them, however, appears to be that this would merely reinforce Mr Griffin’s claims that the Establishment is ganging up on him.

A greater concern for Labour is the candidacy of the Rev George Hargreaves, leader of the Christian Party, who has strong links to the big Pentecostalist churches proliferating in the area and who may shave away significant numbers of black voters from Labour. “I would much rather he was not standing,” Ms Hodge says.

Barking’s menagerie of candidates will also include Frank Maloney, the former boxing promoter, who is standing for the UK Independence Party. He launched his campaign by challenging Mr Griffin to a fist fight and with a poster that spelt Britain as Britian. The BNP enjoys pointing out that error, but should not laugh too loud. Mr Griffin launched his own campaign for Barking last year in Dagenham, having got confused about the constituency boundaries.

There is much to ridicule about a party that has only recently started wearing suits in an effort to be taken seriously. Council meetings here have descended into farce on occasion. Some BNP councillors — the official opposition — have fallen out among themselves, walked out or been thrown out for misconduct.

On the doorstep Mr Barnbrook mixes talk about wheelie bins with a promise to put immigrant families in tower blocks because, he alleges, they got homes in a Labour plot to flood the constituency with non-whites. Has he got any evidence? “Yes, through our freedom of information requests. But I can’t disclose it at this time because of data protection laws.”

Outside his house, easily recognisable by the St George and Union flags, Mr Barnbrook insists — a little unconvincingly — that he is not bitter about Mr Griffin taking over as parliamentary candidate.

“Only Nick has got an ego big enough to deal with sitting alone in the Commons,” he says. “And, anyway, to control the council would be far more prestigious. I’m better with people, I have more charisma.” So how does he get on with his neighbours? “Great,” he replies. “We have black and Muslim families living here. I get on with everybody.”

A few inquiries at homes nearby suggests that this is not quite true. One black man says that he feels uneasy leaving his young family on their own because “a lot of people come to that house, I don’t like the way they look at my children”. A few doors down, a woman says: “I’m scared of them. Please don’t print my name.”

Mr Barnbrook may try to be nice. He clearly believes in the powers of all that charisma and his special suit. The BNP is ridiculous — even pathetic. But when fomenting such fear and loathing, it is not funny.


Meeting North Korea's 'Generation next'

"Look at our faces - are we depressed, are we unhappy, are we hungry? No"
Ri Ji-hye, student

By Paul Danahar
BBC News, Pyongyang

The people sitting before Chris Lawrence will one day be running North Korea.

It was a freezing cold February morning and Chris's new classroom at the elite Kim Il-sung University in the capital Pyongyang wasn't much warmer than the streets outside.

These days even the children of the party faithful can't escape some of the hardships of everyday life in North Korea.

"The main problem is a lack of heating," he said.

"Most of us in here are wearing our outdoor clothes as we work."

Chris is one of a small team of English teachers forming a joint project between the British Council and the Government in Pyongyang.

"I hope to achieve speaking English so that I can go abroad and do some business because I want to be a businessman"

North Korean student

In a sign that it may one day open up to the Western world, North Korea has gradually shifted a lot of its language training away from Chinese and Russian and towards English.

This is Chris's first day in the job but his new class has already made an impact.

"I'm quite impressed by the level of English in this particular group" he told me.

"I expect the students will go on to occupy some quite important positions within Korean society."

I asked one student what he hoped to do with his English.

"I hope to achieve speaking English so that I can go abroad and do some business because I want to be a businessman," he said.

Another said he was going to be a diplomat.

They seemed, at the moment anyway, quite willing to engage with the outside world.

I asked one student who his favourite English authors were.

He hesitated and then said "Shakespeare... and Dickens".

I asked him if he had read anyone more recent. There was a long embarrassed pause and then he replied: "Um… Jane Eyre... or Hamlet…"

The government wasn't only keeping a close eye on their reading list.

Everything the students said to me was being listened to by government officials who were there the entire time I was in the country, travelling on a journalist's visa.

But despite their presence, none of the students felt the need to include in their answers to me the usual rhetoric of "studying for the glory of the party and the dear and great leaders."

They were quite happy to talk about what they wanted to achieve in life as individuals.

It was in marked contrast to their faculty head who went into a long monologue about the virtues of the "dear leader" President Kim Jong-il as soon as I switched on my microphone.

Heated debate

Across town at the nearby Pyongyang University for Foreign Studies, the staff were much more progressive.

They told me they were very pleased to have someone from the BBC because "we record the BBC News everyday to help the students improve their language skills".

They played me some of their archive including news bulletins from the World Service that were almost a year old, so I knew they hadn't been recorded just for my benefit.

I found the final year class next door having a heated debate in very good English about whether it was fair to keep animals in zoos.

The students were sophisticated, knowledgeable and engaging.

They quizzed me about the on-going Iraq inquiry in Britain and then 21-year-old Ri Ji-hye asked me if she could be frank.

"It's so good that we can listen to [the] BBC," she said.

"It helps us a lot learning English. I so much want my country to be one of those leading in the economy."

"We're already a leading nation in politics and other stuff. Well, it's no offence but I want to learn English so that the other people get to learn [about] Korea."

She smiled and said "Look at our faces - are we depressed, are we unhappy, are we hungry? No."

That was certainly true of Ji-hye and her classmates.

But one of the challenges for her generation will not just be opening up to the rest of the world but opening their eyes to the world just beyond their city limits.

Few people in Pyongyang have any idea what life is like beyond the capital
The British Ambassador to Pyongyang, Peter Hughes, is one of those who believes the country will have to wait for another generation before there's any prospect of real change.

And he says few of people in the capital have any idea what life is like for the majority of North Koreans living beyond Pyongyang.

"I think it's important to remember that Pyongyang is totally different from anything that's outside of the city."

"Only certain people can live here and one of the punishments for doing something wrong is actually to be banished outside of the city."

"If you go out to the regional centres there is very little out there. The cities are in a bad state of repair. There are a large factories that are standing empty."

Proud and patriotic

Back in the classroom at the Foreign Studies institute, another British Council teacher was showing North Korea's "Generation next" how to run a brand campaign for Harley-Davidson, while on the streets outside people often stood more than a 100-strong waiting for a bus.

Pyongyang may be the country's showcase city but even here it's pretty obvious that the economy isn't working.

Like their parents, the young North Koreans I met are proud and patriotic.

They have high hopes for their country even if they don't yet understand just how far they've fallen behind their neighbour China.

But at least they may now be starting to learn enough about the real world to make sure they don't repeat the same disastrous mistakes.