Not so surprising, Saudi Arabia?

I’ve been around a bit, and one of the most vivid memories was of my first visit to Jeddah in the 1970’s.  I was stuck by the strangeness of it all and even had a booking foul up which meant I was marooned over the weekend in Jeddah (Friday).  I wondered about and my curiosity was peaked by the crowd outside the rear of the Red Sea Palace Hotel.  I chanced upon the most revolting dehumanising thing I have ever witnessed, namely a public execution.  I did not tarry but scuttled off, shaken to the core.

Since then the Saudi regimes of the various so called royal rulers have continued to routinely chop off heads  of anyone who they disagree with or those who are deemed to have offended the religious beliefs of the Kingdom’s rulers.

Human rights have been and remain the last thing Saudi royal family consider.  They rule by fear and have no truck with the idea of self determination or even self expression.  The  idea of the noble Arab raising from the desert tribes is truly nonsense, and without oil Saudi Arabia would be nothing.  With oil it could be one of the best educated and progressive countries in the world, alas that has not turned out to be the case.

Are we surprised then when the Saudi regime bumps off in the cruellest way a dissenter. Sadly we are not, which begs the question of why does the West espouse the Saudi regime. The reasons are many, including not allowing China/Russia to have control over an important energy source, the biggest pocket book in the world to buy anything from fighters and bombs, as well as hospitals and luxury goods and property in London and Paris.  Also I believe an honest desire to influence these primeval Saudi rulers towards democracy and the respect of human rights.

Clearly this last objective has failed miserably.  The issues of the pocket book remain.  Who cares if the Saudis kill and maim and starve children in Yemen?  Nobody if they can make a buck from selling the Saudis militaria.  Should we care?

Please, I hope we do, and we should lobby our Parliamentarians to stop this trade no matter what the cost.  A Yemeni child or a Saudi journalist or those Saudi citizens  awaiting a barbarous beheading should be given the chance to live. What price on them?

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Imagination vs Fear of the unknown. Brexit is certainly unknown.

There we have it, stay in Europe or strike out on our own.  So far we’ve had umpteen warnings of the catastrophes that will beset the UK if we come out of the EU, so far they haven’t happened.

I wrote two years ago that what has come to pass has indeed happened, quelle surprize! However the lack of leadership from all political parties has added immensely to the conundrum.  “He who tells the future tells lies.” (old Arab proverb) Bare it in mind and accept that we have no idea of what is going to happen.  Absolutely no idea.

There are some out there who feel that launching into the unknown is a crazy thing to do.  They have a point.  There are others who argue that independently the UK will be better off, controlling our trade, taxes, laws and borders.

The worst offenders in irrational arguments are the regional players in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who keep barking on about the financial support they’ve received from the EU ignoring the fact that the UK as a whole is a net contributor.  The aggregate of their argument is that they get a better deal regionally from Brussels than they would from Westminster.  This is a curious argument from those who seek more local power and yet want to bow the knee to an unelected European commission.

The other great argument is about the motives of the Brits to leave the EU.  It is argued, probably authentically, that the great majority of voters voted for Brexit based on their xenophobic attitude toward immigration.  This sad but reflects the oversimplification of a yes/no referendum.  It also reflects poorly on the British sense of values.

We would all do well to go back to the core of the argument, i.e. Do we want to be ruled by an unelected council of ministers whose credo is ever more integration into their idea of a United States of Europe.

Me, no!  That’s it, you may want that, OK if the majority want that, that’s OK with me too.

Just keep in mind that if we leave we have to stride out and do our best to thrive. I hope in so doing we continue to welcome friends of every colour and creed.  I want to see my country thrive as an example of skill and adventure for the good not only of the UK but the world at large.  I just happen to believe that we will do this best as we Brits have done over the centuries.

 

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Anarchy and punishment.

If heads of state, aka Putin and Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), can order the murder of their opponents at will, even in other national jurisdictions, where does it all end? Are these people above the law?

It seems so.  Sanctions and even removal from power seem irrelevant.  That old nasty piece of work, Mugabe, for instance, lives in some style outside Harare after a lifetime of murdering and stealing.  Much the same can be said for Jacob Zuma of South Africa and alas many others. MBS locked away his cousins for massive corruption into a 6 star hotel for a couple of months – shame!

Is there a difference between murdering your own people at home or when they are away? Sounds a bit like a football fixture or vacation rental.  Of course this is not funny.  Monsters roam the world in all shapes and sizes and the world seems a long way off a solution.

What seems to me to be the point is, that we have to stop somewhere. The MBS murder of his opponent  Jamal Khashhoggi in Turkey seems so dire in every respect, that all right minded people should demand that MBS be put before an international criminal court.

Trump, another amoral simpleton,  will find a way to mitigate the Prince’s action, an accident maybe?  Give me a break!

Will MBS be made an example of in an international court?   Of course not.    Money they say makes the world go round.  Maybe the World Bank can do MBS down but somehow I doubt it.

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The politics of reason – a rarity!

Followers of this blog will know that I’ve been banging on about centrist messages as the only way to go in a civilised world. The trouble with this centrist doctrine is that centrist ideas can been seen as entirely compromise. Surely the centre ground of political thought is a balance between the right and left? Does that mean that the centre is neither one thing nor the other? Does it have no identity of its own? I like to think in the affirmative.

Balancing the needs and aspirations of all societies is mighty difficult and observers will note that the world is exceedingly short of balanced rulers, regimes or governments. We have always claimed that the idea of freedom is the key and that democracies will lead to the balanced way.

Yet half the world, may be more, is ruled by totalitarian or authoritarian governments, aspiring democracies struggle to come to terms with the past let alone plan for the future.

The very foundation of democracy the UK is struggling to establish or re-establish its democratic model which seems to have been at least confused by the bureaucratic model of the EU. There has emerged a backlash against the idea of a Federal Europe despite the evidence that the EU has presided over a peaceful amalgam of European nations for the longest period ever. The Brits of course are an island nation and have been insulated from the horrors of invasion. They see themselves as naturally set apart from Continental Europe.

It is dreadfully sad then to see this former beacon of democracy sliding toward populism both right and left. To hear the exaggerated nonsense from the formerly admired Jeremy Hunt, the histrionics of Boris Johnson and the wild proposals of the extreme left.

What is missing right now is leadership. In some ways as I have already said, it is hard at the centre to emphasise the difference that a balance brings. Leadership, charisma, and honesty are in short supply, but needed now more than ever.

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Brexit – stepping into the unknown.

 

Trying to persuade 32 million people (the British electorate) into leaving Europe was easy. It was also easy to project one liners about immigration, extra cash back et al. It was all about what could happen – freedom, border control etc., we know the story well.

There was something about that message that resonated with the Brits. In fact it is clear that we’ve never really been all that comfortable with the idea of anything that surpasses the idea of free trade with our European partners. The Europeans were never that comfortable with the British Government always seeking a playing field that resisted unified currencies and laws.

Breaking up after 45 years is painful, it was always going to be painful, but maybe that concept was never flagged up by either side of the argument. Anyway here we are. As I said in my last blog, it’s an argument of the optimistic innovators against the status quo, the let’s not change brigade.

It is not surprising that both sides are polarising so dramatically. This breakup is widely regarded as the biggest issue to face the UK government since the Second World War. But is it really? After all there was life before the UK joined the EU and the EEU. What about WTO rules and the Most Favoured Nation clauses, Canada E U Trade Agreement and all that?

To put it simply, an MFN clause is a non-discrimination requirement. It means that if you give a favour to one trading partner, you have to give it to all partners who benefit from an MFN clause. The principle is central to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which requires a member to give equal access to its home market to all members of the WTO. An MFN clause applies both to trade in goods and services.

What matters for present purposes, however, is not an MFN clause under the WTO Agreements but an MFN clause under the EU’s trade agreements with non-EU countries. The EU’s FTAs also contain an Most Favoured Nation clause which means that the EU must provide equal treatment to those trading partners who benefit from an MFN clause under their FTAs with the EU. What the EU offers to the UK must, then, be offered to Canada, Korea, Singapore and  other partners with whom the EU has negotiated an MFN clause.

Why does the EU not agree to this is one of the fundamental issues which supports the argument that the EU is a protectionist organisation which looks primarily inwards. Some even claim that the EU is a negative influence to free trade especially to developing economies.

There are, however, important exceptions to a Most Favoured Nations clause under these new Free Trade Agreements. Under Canadian deal an MFN obligation does not apply to cross-border trade in services and investment which covers provision of services through commercial presence, but it can be done with an element of goodwill. By allowing British banks and financial institutions to establish in EU countries and agreeing to recognise professional qualifications as it does now. So called Passporting rights may be covered by this exception because they allow free access to financial services market without imposing further regulatory requirements (i.e. local authorizations), thus constituting recognition of UK home state regulations.

This is tangential to the issue of allowing access to qualified persons of the enterprise working in EU countries and the employment of EU nationals in those enterprises. Again this seems an issue where a sensible compromise should be easily facilitated. However the EU does have and has consistently argued that right to free movement of labour and capital is a redline which cannot be compromised. Furthermore, Annex II of CETA establishes additional reservations (i.e. exceptions) applicable in the EU. One of the listed reservations to an MFN obligation in trade in services provides that the EU reserves the right to adopt an agreement with a third country (i.e. UK in case of an EU-UK deal) which (a) creates an internal market in services and investment; (b) grants rights of establishment; or (c) requires the approximation of legislation in one or more economic sectors (i.e. alignment or incorporation of laws between the parties). While the first two options seem unlikely given the UK government’s current red lines, but need it? It seems that passporting rights will require some form of approximation of legislation.

Of course the harmonisation of rules will necessitate the UK adopting EU rules for their operations abroad and for those regulations to be harmonised with the UK operations. But it would seem common sense anyway. This is surely a question of give and take, which has so far been eliminated by the time wasting posturing of both the UK and The EU.

Other services industries merely have to accede to EU standards where they are already established, i.e. air safety which is subject to world-wide agreed standards anyway. What’s the problem? There isn’t one really

In other words, these exceptions mean that the MFN principle must not be a barrier to a future EU-UK trade deal including financial services.

In the event, it remains to be seen whether the EU’s trading partners would find it practical to challenge larger benefits under a future EU-UK deal. On the one hand, it is probable that they would seek to secure passporting rights under their FTAs with the EU if such were given to the UK.

On the other hand, UK’s passporting rights allow non-EU firms properly established in the UK to get automatic access to sell financial services across the EU. Non-EU firms, including Canadian ones, have been using this route extensively. Whether the EU will agree to continue this scheme post-Brexit is yet to be seen. It is though a key issue.

These issues are complex and there is bound to be adverse consequences in the short term, many possibilities of the negative effects have been postulated by the institutions such as the World Bank who got it wrong at the outset and those who have most to gain from seeing the UK remaining in the EU. Those who threw out the optimistic one liners during the referendum debate have been firmly put back in their box.

It is important to note the things which influence both sides of the argument. The EU is a conglomerate of countries with many different cultural mores, however they are all bonded because of their experience of the World Wars. They were all one way or another, occupied, fought over blitzed or wrecked. The UK however was never invaded, it still sees itself the victorious leader and the defender of democracy.

This conditions the attitudes that prevail at local and government level. The Continent see the virtue of mutual support as Britain sees the future in terms of its individual and positive past.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. Or so the saying goes, but maybe there are two ‘will- sets’ here. Safety in numbers, a desire to be the leader. Two entirely different points of view. It maybe that the British aspiration to go back to its past is unattainable, but so maybe the dream of a Europe united in multi cultured harmony.

 

 

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The swedes swing right. A surprise?

The Swedish electorate has succumbed to the fear of overwhelming immigration. They are the last and least expected to follow the general right wing mood that is sweeping the Western World in both America and Europe.  Clearly there is abroad a fear and disquiet regarding the mass migration which is sweeping the world from the poorer regions to the wealthier ones.  Rationally, this should not be a surprise.

What exacerbates the issue is not just poverty but war, despotic and corrupt leaders, famine and disease, and of course the ease with which many people can nowadays travel. That is not to say that many who take flight do so in unimaginable hardship.

Migration is a global problem and as such should be at the top of the agenda for the security counsel and the general assembly of the U.N.. Regrettably the Security counsel is forever tied with its veto constitution which means that there is unlikely to be measurable improvement on decision making which will always be conditioned by the political divides of totalitarianism, authoritarianism, and so called democracy.

In the last analysis Messrs Putin, Xi and Trump run the world, all with competing and nationalistic ambition. It is worth noting that so far as this blogger is aware, there’s not much migration into Russia or China.  Trump who seems to be a populist simpleton is implementing draconian measures to protect the USA from the south American flood of migrants fleeing poverty and drug induced mayhem.

Putin is working hard to fan the middle eastern flames and so secure his Mediterranean base in Aleppo, whilst his axis with Iran is waging a proxy war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen fuelled by arms from the Western Alliance.

It certainly seems a complex mess, and there is an increasing imperative to improve the prospects of the African continent so that its population can acquire reasonable wealth and governance.

Africa, with its vast mineral wealth and ancient culture of learning, seems the one place that is well placed to improve its prospects whilst South America and the Middle East seem destined for prolonged chaos and thus de-stabilised populations.  The aspects of religious antagonism on the one hand, and wild drug induced dehumanisation on the other are frightening and seemingly without solution.

It is in all our interests to focus on stemming the tide of migration, not because we are afraid but because we want to share in a world that is balanced and where people can live freely and with fair material prospects.  Only then will the flood of migrants begin to slacken.

 

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The tribes of Israel

The furore over antisemitism in the labour party in UK gives many people cause for confusion. I lay out below the International definition: antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. Manifestations might include the targeting of the State of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour).
  • Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

Legal opinion states that: “The Definition is a clear, meaningful and workable definition. The Definition is an important development in terms of identifying and preventing antisemitism, in particular in its modern and non-traditional forms, which often reach beyond simple expressions of hatred for Jews and instead refer to Jewish people and Jewish associations in highly derogatory, veiled terms (e.g. ‘Zio’ or ‘Rothschilds’). Public bodies in the United Kingdom are not ‘at risk’ in using this Definition. Indeed, this Definition should be used by public bodies on the basis that it will ensure that the identification of antisemitism is clear, fair and accurate. Criticism of Israel, even in robust terms, cannot be regarded as antisemitic per se and such criticism is not captured by the Definition. However, criticisms of Israel in terms which are channels of expression for hatred towards Jewish people (such as by particular invocations of the Holocaust or Nazism) will in all likelihood be antisemitic.”

It is my opinion that this definition can be applied under the term “Hate against any group.” Be they Muslims, Welshmen, Russians, People of a different colour and many others excepting of course the very specific reference to the Holocaust.
We could argue for example that slavery was as an horrific sin as the Holocaust, undoubtedly there have been a number of crimes against humanity but none I would argue were of the immensity of the Holocaust.
Belief in the fact and extent of the Holocaust remains crucial in conditioning our perception of the Jewish race. The Holocaust is a recent example of the persecution of the Jewish race that has continued unabated since the tenth century. The Holocaust was the greatest and the most dreadful example of genocide and brutal crimes against humanity in the history of the human race. The Holocaust was the greatest of example of a National Government’s of institutionalising of a focused hatred of a particular racial group.  Today hatred may not be the public face of governments but hatred is rife and is stoked by the extreme right, and like most causes of hate, ignorance  plays a strong hand.
T he re-establishment of the State of Israel has been a massive issue especially for those who were displaced a the time.  The evolution of modern Israel has been both painful and extraordinary. There are as many opinions about the political initiative and the way things have turned out.  There have been many rights and wrongs and to comment on this epoch of history is not wrong.  Nor, I daresay, is there any absolute corrective measure available to Jewish friend or foe.
One of the great wonders of the tribes of Israel is that no matter where they live, they by and large are proud of their religion and heritage and remain Jews.  Israeli Jews, American Jews, British Jews, etc.  They are proud and disciplined, they believe in being Jewish. I find this admirable and I am in awe of a clan that despite the terrors of the past remain true to their cause and proud of their roots.  There is not a single nation that has not benefitted from their Jewish citizens, in science, medicine, and the arts.  I get a big buzz from classical music and so many of my idols are Jews.  The list goes on and on, from Albert Einstein in science, Daniel Barenboim and  Lenny Bernstein in music, George Soros in industry and philanthropy.
Of the total population of Jews, around 40% live in the USA and 40% in Israel the rest are scattered around the world.  Many are orthodox in the religious sense.  Jews though by and large integrate seamlessly into society with a small number supporting ultra orthodox traditions.  These orthodox groups do tend to group together and do wear clearly ‘different’ garb and personal adornments. In this regard orthodox Jews and devout Muslims choose to mark themselves as ‘different’ deliberately and proudly showing their religious and cultural heritage.
For those who are less aware, difference is often frightening.  Why are they not like us? This is a cry that has risen in time immemorial, the struggles of those who are different from the majority.  Those tribes who stick together in our midst, who we see as different and sometimes superior, sometimes as subversive, sometimes as inferior.  Those who  run the gauntlet of being deliberately different must surely understand the reaction they get from the majority whether they be Jewish, Muslim,  Sikh or whatever sect that sets them apart.  The guiding light as they all see it, is a common one; we believe in who we are.
The question remains, why crimes of hate against the Jews is differently defined from hate against those of colour, those of different religion or different homeland? It is of course the Holocaust, this dreadful crime against the proud Jewish race stands alone in its sheer dastardliness, its inhumanity, its sheer size and scope. To think that it could have happened at all is difficult, but we must never forget.
Man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds, and this very day someone, somewhere, will take an Israeli or a Palestinian life because they hate.  I would not attempt to propose a solution to the impossibly difficult issues surrounding Israel but one thing I know, hate will not generate a solution.
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