Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
“China has revalued its currency, the yuan, for the first time in a decade – a move welcomed by the US, a long-time critic of its exchange-rate policy.
“The reform is being seen as the first step towards the liberalisation of China’s tightly controlled currency.
“The yuan will no longer be pegged to the dollar, but will float against a basket of currencies…
“In a move that seems to be coordinated with the Chinese decision, Malaysia has also scrapped its currency’s link with the dollar.” (BBC Online, 2005/07/21).
I find it a very interesting link. You may remember that Malaysia successfully resisted efforts to make it SubAmericanise after the Asian currency crisis. They were also threatened by a peculiar local variant of Islamism that was subordinate to US interests. But an alliance of Muslim Malays and the large ethnic-Chinese population kept the place stable. Who knows what they have now cooked up, with the USA stuck in the Iraq tar-baby?
“Moving to a currency basket implies diversification of China’s exchange reserves away from the dollar towards the euro and Asian currencies. But, while this process should influence fresh reserve accumulation, it is less clear that China will sell part of its stock of dollar holdings.” (Financial Times).
Moot. China’s large dollar holdings are as useful as its nuclear weapons in keeping the USA from interfering too much. China could generate a general economic crisis just by selling their dollars, hurting themselves but hurting the USA far more.
China has been ‘cornering the market’ in cheap industrial goods. Whatever else, the world would be very reluctant to do without those goods. Whereas US manufacturing has long been in decline. To keep dominance, they rely on genuine engineering and design skills, but also on a peculiar network of finance and ‘intellectual property’. All of that could vanish very suddenly.
Nothing seems to change the continuing panic from some people about plans for an ID card. It has never bothered me – as a large red-headed male, I am very hard to miss. Someone seriously targeting you would not need fancy technology. In the 1970s Italian film Illustrious Corpses; two men trying to investigate a conspiracy are overheard by a spy disguised as a blind man. He had fitted a radio microphone to the harness of his guide dog, and then sent it over to stand near the men. With modern technology and maybe methods that have never been made public, a lot more could probably be known.
Meantime people buy PCs with viewing cameras, and with no shutter to physically block them. And there are any number of ‘private detectives’, spies for hire by anyone who can pay them.
[For those who don’t remember him, the most notable thing about Blunkett, then Home Secretary and in charge of the police, was that he was blind. He managed to have a normal political career regardless.]
“Former foes Iraq and Iran announced ‘a new chapter’ in their relations on Thursday [July 7], including cross-border military co-operation, dismissing US concerns about Iranian regional meddling.
“On his first official visit to Tehran, Iraqi minister of defence Saadoun al-Dulaimi asserted his country’s sovereign right to seek help from wherever it sees fit in rebuilding its defence capabilities”. (Financial Times).
The elections at the start of the year brought to power the religious Shia, people who feel close to Iran, people who were kept under before the USA stepped in. Saddam ran a dictatorship, because any sort of Iraqi democracy was likely to be like the present mess.
Parliamentary Democracy works when no one thinks it is worth dying for the differences between the various potential governments. In England and Scotland, it evolved out of party differences that were worth dying for; Cavaliers and Roundheads evolving into Tories and Whigs. This worked after the two sides found that neither of them could impose a stable order on the society.
In the USA, the Civil War happened when electoral politics polarised between the anti-slavery Republicans and the pro-slavery section of the Democrats. Abraham Lincoln had about 40% of the popular vote, but got most of the Electoral Collage votes of the North and West, which was enough. His election was rejected by the Deep South, where his vote was almost zero, and this led on to war.
1688 was the moment when Britons decided that their differences weren’t worth killing each other for. In the 1770s, Britain’s North American settlers found their disputes with the British government were worth fighting and dying for. In the 1860s, their own internal differences were just as important. In the early 20th century, Irish Home Rule was an issue worth dying for, with real fears of a civil war spreading to Britain and setting Liberal against Tory-Unionist—maybe only the chance to interfere in the European war of 1914 prevented it.
The massive changes brought about by the 1945 Labour government could have been a cause for Civil War, except that the army that fought the Second World War was rather more radical than the rest of the nation and the leaders of the old order knew they’d lose.
The USA in Iraq operates on a fairy-tale version of its own history. They ignored the post-1945 lesson, when the USA was genuinely generous to its allies, rather than applying free-market dogma. The USA’s best period was in fact the low point of ‘market freedom’, the period 1950-1975.
Having learned all of the wrong lessons, I’d say they were on the way down. Most immediately, ties between Iran and Iraq are not easy to prevent.
“Using many tricks (including putting on stolen Dutch uniforms, which convinced some Muslims they were surrendering to the UN), the Serbs managed to capture several thousand of these fleeing men—and then kill them.
“In mitigation, it is sometimes pointed out that over the previous three years the Muslim defenders of the enclave had made many forays into Serb villages, killing hundreds of people. These raids were led by Naser Oric, a local warlord who now faces war-crimes charges.
“Hence, people argue, there was a strong desire on the part of ordinary Bosnian Serbs to take revenge for these killings. That is true, but it does not take away from the monstrosity of the Srebrenica slaughter. Far from being a flash of rage, the murders were ordered and carried out in a clinical, almost industrial manner—and filmed, for good measure…
“Three weeks after the massacre, Croatia’s American-trained army drove rebel Serb forces (and over 150,000 Serb civilians) out of its territory.” (Economist, 7th July)
The Serbs correctly figured that the break-up of Yugoslavia would be organised to their maximum disadvantage. They didn’t handle the situation very cleverly – you heard very little about the neo-Nazi element in Croatia. President Tudjman was identified as a ‘denialist’ by Devorah Lipstat, the lady who fought and won a legal battle against David Irving on a similar issue. But no one on the Serb side made anything of it, not that I’ve seen.
Western Europe and the USA allowed chaos to develop in Yugoslavia, and then blamed the Serbs when communities went to war with their neighbours. They then set up war-crimes tribunals – but carefully defined to exclude World War Two. It would not do to remember that Serbs were mostly pro-British, Croats and Bosnian-Muslims mostly pro-German and pro-Nazi. It would not do to remember that Croats organised their own death-camps with no need for German encouragement. It would not do to remember that only Yugoslavia’s Communists managed to bridge the communal gaps, allowing old hatreds to be forgotten about. Or almost forgotten about: when Yugoslavia lost its coherence after Tito, it all re-surfaced.
“The younger generation of criminals are far tougher than their elders: unlike them, they have no codes of honour, however perverse; no sense of ‘corporate’ or family loyalties, no moral compass.
“What worries the police is that the youngsters profess not to care about anything except material possessions, that their violence is voice of meaning… ‘No one taught me right or wrong, but I can count money’.” (Society Guardian, 13th July 2005).
There is no such thing as society, right? Traditional criminals were a fringe of society. This lot have decided that society maybe doesn’t exist. Or, as the film Trainspotting put it, if it does exist then it has nothing to do with them. This is a section of the poor deciding that they are nothing very much and might as well have short violent and enjoyable life. They ignore the old-fashioned principles that once kept Britain peaceful, but which the rich and powerful blatantly do not respect.
Britain didn’t move forward as it should in the 1970s. The late Ted Heath accepted his 1970s defeat by the Trade Unions and wanted to bring them into a revised power structure. A structure in which the sort of wheeler-dealer business favoured by Thatcher was ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’. Workers Control was there for the asking, but the bulk of the left refused to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Much better to continue with militant struggle, rather than make compromises that could be seen as a betrayal.
It didn’t occur to them that ordinary people would grow sick of militant struggle that produced nothing. Or that there was a rich vein of selfishness that could be tapped by politicians who didn’t care what damage they did to the traditional British consensus.
Thatcher’s years and Blair’s continuation have done huge damage to the common structures and assumptions that had made life meaningful for lots of Britons. With those scrapped in the interests of ‘reform’, meaningless is now the norm.
I’ve always refuse to draw a line between terror organised by the USA and terror organised against the USA. What London has been through is not essentially different from the bombing of cities done by the US Airforce, and also the RAF. The bombing did briefly scare the leadership of the US Airforce in Britain into putting Central London off-limits. They quickly pulled back, but the fact that it happened showed the odd mentality of the military, people who correctly feel that the values they serve are crumbling and could easily vanish completely.
Iraq was supposed to be a turning-point. It has instead been another turning down the road to ruin.
Britain too has been demoralised, as I explained in the last section. White and black youths mostly turn to crime. Some join the British Army, though non-whites suspect racism. The British Army is much whiter than the society as a whole, whereas the US Army has been a traditional career for Afro-Americans despite great inequalities. Also a path up for immigrants, but if that was ever likely to happen among Britain’s Muslims, the two Gulf Wars definitely finished it. Whereas a global Islamic cause might seem a sensible outlet for Muslim youths who find that their lives in Britain are really not worth living.
Until the invasion of Afghanistan, British Muslims might fight for the Taliban, or even in Kashmir, but had no clear link to al-Qaeda’s global war, which was anyway targeted at the USA rather than Britain. Blair helpfully put us in the firing line.
Ken Livingstone must remember the rows he had over sympathy for the IRA, in the days when he was Labour boss of the Greater London Council and before there was such a thing as a London mayor. Having captured an office that was almost invented to exclude him, one can understand if he had ‘boxed clever’. He has done some good things for London.
Instead he chose to spout the rubbish on 7/7, at a time when no one knew who the actual bombers were. He endorsed Blair’s idea that the bombers are waging war on Britain as such, rather than Britain’s role in the Middle East:
“Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.
“I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.
“In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.” [http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/mayor_ken_livingstone_message_for_london_index.html]
The bombers turned out to be children of immigrants, men who found a very distinctive way to ‘achieve their potential’ on 7/7. They were an Islamic convert with Jamaican roots and three men of Pakistani ancestry.
What did Britain have to offer them? How could they fit into a society that doesn’t value people like them and which has happily bust up all Muslim attempts to form a coherent society, whether secular or religious?
The one Islamic success has been Turkey, where Kemal Ataturk was able to carry on as a ruthless authoritarian until some sort of modern society had been established. That wouldn’t be allowed nowadays: Muslims must adapt to Western values, but do so through multi-party democracy and an economy open to global commerce. No European country allowed these things until after they had established a strong economy and a stable society.
It’s enough to make you wish to kill yourself, isn’t it?
The British Army in Iraq has stuck to the Shia south, very different territory from the Sunni lands where al-Qaeda may be operating. But meantime the British government has been doing everything it could to get more involved in the conflict, not less. With a possibility of handing over to the Shia in Iraq, they want to send more British troops into Afghanistan.
If there’s one thing that Afghans can definitely do well, it’s fighting. So if the present crowd can’t manage after all that’s been done for them, they are a lost cause and Afghanistan should be let find its own level.
In the weeks running up to 7/7, a move to Afghanistan was being floated:
“The UK is preparing to send reinforcements to Afghanistan to help with security.
“It was announced in June last year that the UK would send its HQ group from the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in 2006.
“But the Ministry of Defence has dismissed newspaper speculation the force will be 5,000-strong.
“A spokesman said: “We are considering a range of options but no decision has been made on the scale, nature and location of any future UK deployment.” (BBC Online, 14 June 2005.)
“At present the UK has 1,100 troops stationed in Afghanistan, following the US-led invasion.
“The number is set to rise though, with the Ministry of Defence confirming earlier this week that it would be sending reinforcements to help with security.” (BBC Online, 15 June 2005.)
A lot of us protested from the beginning about the invasion of Iraq, but we did not stop it and did not stop British troops from playing a leading role. Fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is nothing like as unpopular and the plans for redeployment aroused no popular protest. If the Islamists had been holding back to see if moderate Britons could restrain the mad bombers who keep blowing up innocent Muslims in the Middle East, they must have decided that Britain’s peace movement would achieve nothing.
The timing seems about right, if a possible Afghan redeployment was the cause. But 7/7 was anyway a well-chosen day. A clever person could foresee that security would be diverted to Scotland. That it would be a particularly demoralising time if London’s bid for the Olympics succeeded. It would also be a catchy date that happened to be identical in the British day/month and the US month/day habit. 9/11 was 11th September, they use 911 for emergencies the way Britons use 999. I think that that too was no accident.
Britons have an amazing capacity to bounce back after disaster. Conflict tends to solidify them into a determined and increasingly formidable mass. Which would be a problem for anyone looking to conquer Britain or to change its way of life. But no one has that motive: the aim is just to stop Britain acting as the USA’s pit-bull terrier as it fights to bend the rest of the world to its will.
Behind the scenes, the ‘top people’ are suffering a pain in the wallet. After all of the misery and social division inflicted on us by Thatcher etc., Britain’s economy isn’t growing any faster than it was in the era 1950-1975. France and Germany may no longer be overtaking us, but China and the Republic of India and moving ahead. A senseless fight with the Islamic World is the last thing we need.
The four bombers of 7/7 were working to a pre-arranged plan, a neat spread round Central London. Breaking the Piccadilly Line and breaking the Circle Line twice was a very effective way of disrupting London. Some people have supposed the 4th bomber was planning to go north from Kings Cross, which makes little sense to me, the better targets were to the south. It seems the Northern Line was out, and perhaps he didn’t know London well enough to try the Victoria line instead. But the bus he took was going south.
As I write, the significance of 21/7 is still unclear. It does seem definite that this was another set of suicide bombers, except that their bombs let them down. This was lucky for Londoners, but suggests also that there are very large numbers of suicide bombers waiting their turn. And if today’s shooting of a suspiciously-acting Muslim man turns out to be unjustified, that will make things even worse.
The initial reports were confused and some people believed that these were small joke bombs, except it is no joke if real bombs have also been planted. Non-suicidal bombers planting fire-crackers could cause immense disruption. Searching everyone who wants to travel by tube or bus is hardly feasible. Unlike Israel, we cannot wall ourselves off from potential bombers.
Unlike Israel, we can remove the motivation for British suicide bombings without the least risk or loss of anything we think we have a right to. All we need to do is to accept that the world outside of Europe is best left to find its own level.
The 21/7 bombers seem to have been prepared for death, but created confusion instead. I know very little about explosives, but I’m puzzled as to why four bombs should have all produced non-lethal explosions, when the same outfit had managed four hideously effective explosions two weeks before.
Unless someone planned it that way.
As far back as the 1993 bomb at the World Trade Centre, I had wondered if it was Russians who were the hidden hand behind the unexpected success of al-Qaeda. Russians had every reason to try infiltration many years back, in the days when violent Islamists were being sponsored by the West against Russia. Back in 2001, Belarus was perhaps being lined up for Western attack, after an uncooperative President got re-elected. The fall of the Two Towers changed all that, encouraging the USA to first invade Afghanistan and then try to occupy Iraq, where Saddam had hung on despite their best efforts. If the USA had been as successful as they expected back in 2003, they would have been nicely placed to threaten their other foes, including even Russia.
Of course there are other possible explanations. Maybe these were copy-cat bombers with no al-Qaeda links, people who lacked the skills to make efficient bombs. Or a bomb-maker might have been sickened by the earlier carnage, have been compelled to make bombs but deliberately made them to fail. We may not know the truth for some time, if ever.
Except that the USA is stuck in Iraq, and Afghanistan is falling apart. North Korea refuses to bend. Iran reacted with defiance to Western threats that didn’t seem credible from a Superpower overstretched in Iraq. Russia and China are both asserting themselves.