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Husna Rizvi is a New Internationalist staff writer covering global affairs and has previously written for Prospect Magazine.

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What to expect from The World Transformed

Photo by Funk Dooby (CC 2.0)

This year will be the third edition of The World Transformed – a festival that grew out of the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum. In previous years, mainstream media has portrayed the event as factional, hell-bent on exploring politically unrealistic ideas, and unnecessarily competing with the more bureaucratic Labour Party conference held in tandem.

Far from the contrary, TWT seeks to explore the ideological questions both within and crucially those absent from the Labour Party manifesto. This year will draw in organizers, thinkers and academics from numerous continents to pose an important question: how should the left, as a global force, respond to and reconstruct life after neoliberalism?

It’ll be four days of thinking as expansively as possible about the big ideas: borders, alternative economics, feminism, the decline (and rise) of unionism, and what internationalism means on the left.

As media partners of TWT, the New Internationalist will be covering the highlights, updating our readership with video reports and interviews for those who can’t make it in person. Last year, our co-editor Yohann Koshy reported that TWT was a throwback to the counter-cultural festivals of the 70s – filled with partying and critical thinking, all while aspiring to change the world. This year, we expect nothing less.

In particular, we’re pleased to see this year’s programme reorient itself around the international dimensions of collective agitation against oppressions. Kate Shea Baird, a member of Barcelona En Comú, the municipal executive that’s been governing the city since 2015, said: ‘We're facing many of the same challenges as you are in towns and cities across the UK: rising housing costs, precarious working conditions, the feminization of poverty and, perhaps most importantly, a crisis of faith in the party system and the institutions of representative democracy.’

‘As municipalists we believe that it's not enough to send better representatives to parliament, or even to win institutional power. Rather, we have to open up new spaces of direct democracy that allow people to exercise power in politics, the economy and cultural life. Only by radically democratizing our daily lives will we be able to build alternatives to the politics of commodification, isolation and fear.’

The 10 year anniversary since the financial crash is as good a time as any to rebuild said alternatives. For panelist Raquel Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urban planner, TWT signals the end of ad-hoc technocratic policy-making solutions to fundamentally ideological problems.

She said: ‘Neoliberalism led to a change in the paradigm of housing policy in almost every nation state in the planet. It was adopted not only by traditional conservative parties but also by old labour and socialist coalitions. The World Transformed provides an exciting political space within which the left can build alternative models. This is important not only for UK but also for the transnational movement around the right to housing and the right to the city.’

At the very least, some panellists have come to offer a warning against privatization. Bonnie Castillo, the executive director of National Nurses United, the largest American nurses union said: ‘There is no place for profit in health care. In that battle we have a common enemy and struggle: ours to gain healthcare justice and yours to defend it.

'We stand with you in this fight. As nurses, we see first hand the devastating effects that a private, profit-driven system has on the health of our patients and ultimately our communities. We come to share a warning about the dangers of a profit driven privatized ‘healthcare’ system, but also with stories from the front lines of the people-powered fight for healthcare justice in the USA.’

Practical warnings and consciousness-raising alike, ultimately, it’ll be a weekend of transformative thinking around how to tip the balance of power from Westminster to places like Liverpool – where the event will be held.

Expect big names: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who just released an ambitious workers policy, is set to speak a number of times, as well as Naomi Klein and Bhaskar Sunkara.

You can find the programme online and updates on Twitter under the hashtag #TWT2018



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Freezing arms sales to Israel is just a first step

Delegates hold up placards in support of Palestine at the Labour Party conference. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Solidarity with Palestinians means intervening in Britain’s arms industry, says War on Want campaigner Ryvka Barnard to a crowded room at The World Transformed, Momentum’s fringe festival at the Labour Party Conference.

After the Labour Party accepted a motion to freeze its arms sales to Israel this week, campaigners at the festival urged the party to go one step further and end the trade all together.

Even though the government has a licensing criteria restricting weapons sales to any entity that might use them against civilians, £350m worth of military grade hardware has been sold over the past five years to Israel, despite its well-documented human rights violations.

Ryvka explains that there’s no political will in parliament to enforce those rules, as complying with them would amount to a de-facto arms embargo on Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and India.

‘Sniper rifles, assault rifles, small arms ammunition, grenade launchers, pistols… are used daily against Palestinians – at the checkpoints, shooting at protestors – so [form a] regular part of the daily life of what occupation looks like,’ she says.

‘Other exports include naval combat vessels that are used in the shelling of Gaza but also to shoot at Palestinian fisherfolk and destroy their machinery – undermining their food security.’

Alia Malak, a Palestenian activist and refugee, said that Britain’s military support is a natural consequence of its active and colonial involvement in historic Palestine.

After the First World War, Britain established a mandate – what Hazem Jamjoum, a PhD candidate at NYU calls ‘essentially a colony’ – and helped political Zionist militias expel Palestinians from the territories – 70 per cent of whom have not secured the right to return since 1948.

‘Today, Britain presents itself as an uninvolved observer, when, in fact, the very same laws which hold Palestinians and their children in administrative detention without charge, are the same ones established by the British in 1945,’ says Alia.

‘The British are more than historically complicit. Through these sales, they are actively involved in the violent occupation of Palestine to this day,’ Hazem says.

Today, he says, Britain supports a two-state solution as a ‘fake way to show solidarity’ that can’t be reconciled with ‘the crucial issue of our right to return’.

’Partition never works,’ he says. Hazem explains that Palestinians don’t need a nation-state per se, but the right to return to their lands from 1948 – a two state solution, by definition would only guarantee Palestinians citizenship in a portion of historic Palestine.

‘We’re so used to thinking in terms of national frameworks that our solidarity is framed in that way too. Personally, I’m a no-state solution kind of guy’.

A resolution to independently investigate the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia was defeated in parliament in 2016 after a Saudi coalition airstrike on a Yemeni funeral killed at least 140 people. Nonetheless, Britain continues to supply arms to violent regimes, under the notion of what Ryvka calls ‘geopolitical influence’ and ‘necessary avenues for job creation’.

Despite the recent shift in political will in the Labour Party, the arms trade shows no sign of slowing down. Ryvka confesses that ‘we can’t dismiss the question about jobs’ but equally, ‘we must create jobs that don’t rely on the destruction of other people’s lives.’

It’s presented as though it’s a zero-sum game ­– either jobs in the arms industry or human rights – you choose

She says: ‘There’s a rich conversation happening about how to re-purpose these factories and re-skill workers in order to work in jobs other than ones in the arms industry. To think about the literal details like, “What can this factory make other than parts for drones?” and it could mean engines for refrigerators.

‘It’s heartening that this issue is being picked up by the Labour leadership right now. But there are going to be blocks. Because the way that it’s presented to us is though it’s a zero-sum game ­– either jobs in the arms industry or human rights – you choose. Especially in light of Brexit, it’s been presented to us as though that’s the decision and we can say actually no, there’s a different conversation to be had.’

Still, that doesn’t address the issue of what Hazem says is ‘fundamental’ to the Palestine cause – the right of return.

‘We are accustomed to a certain mode of solidarity, which is concerned with showing up to marches only if the death toll is a high enough number, or else it’s too cold outside for it to be worth it.’

Alia agrees that international interest and visible public support for the right of return, particularly during the Great Return March, appeared to be waning. She pins this on Britain’s anti-terror Prevent legislation, saying it elicited ‘genuine fearfulness from people to speak publicly about Palestine’.

This also follows the Labour Party’s decision to officially adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism for the purpose of disciplinary rulings, which defines claims such as ‘the state of Israel is a racist endeavour’ as tantamount to the denial of Jewish self-determination.

Speaking of the adoption of the IHRA definition, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign said: ‘The reality of the Palestinian people’s ongoing dispossession belongs to the public space: Palestinian people have the right to impart information about these present and past injustices, as every British citizen has the right to hear this information, along with the ideas and arguments that emerge directly from it.’

Despite this controversy, there are ‘multiple points of intervention both locally and nationally when it comes to dismantling the arms trade to stand in solidarity with Palestinians,’ Ryvka says.

‘Things don’t change because politicians suddenly decide to stop selling arms, but because of us, because we collectively agitate for those outcomes.’


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What we saw at The World Transformed

This year, at the Labour Party’s fringe festival ‘The World Transformed’, we saw a deeper treatment of the ideas that would make a genuine Left political programme possible – all in the heart of what Owen Jones kept calling ‘the People’s Socialist Republic of Liverpool’.

Creative ideas, as opposed to the catch-all term ‘neoliberalism’, took the centre-stage. We heard dissections of how to build and sustain a radical and movement-led media, thoughtful conversations about new modes of politics like Barcelona’s municipalism, and Kurdish militant feminism.

But most important, there was a feeling of restored intellectual confidence on the Left again, anger about austerity replaced by the solutions needed to repair its damage. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had just announced a radical new proposal for the Meidner Plan – a policy that would enable workers to share in the ownership of the companies they work for.

Morale was high – while conference delegates in suits and lanyards were debating the technicalities of a Brexit motion across the road in the main Labour Conference, we were ‘decolonizing our yoga practice’, picking up tips on how to intervene and disrupt the arms trade, and listening to the likes of Jean-Luc Mélenchon saying that a socialism without respect for biodiversity is no socialism at all.

Queues tailed around Liverpool’s streets to hear Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s speech. He opened by talking about a vigil he’d just attended for the victims of the war on Yemen. Concern for internationalism is making a comeback, in Labour circles at least.

‘This is the first time, maybe in history, that a party leader in Britain has centred their politics around anti-imperialism,’ said our co-editor Yohann Koshy at the opening of our panel on Labour’s foreign policy.

Corbyn’s keynote confirmed as much. The World Transformed has, over the years, morphed from a hub for young activists mobilized primarily around electoral campaigns to a genuine shared institution for the global Left.

In particular, transatlantic links are now becoming apparent. Last weekend marked the relaunch of Tribune, a publication originally set up by Nye Bevan – founder of the National Health Service – that went defunct in the noughties and was rebooted with the support of American magazine Jacobin.

According to Tribune's editor Ronan Burtenshaw, the publication was launched because ‘we [the Left] haven’t been strong enough. We believe the Left media needs to grow, needs to be better, and needs to make those cases for socialist politics and a socialist society even more clearly.’

New institutions aside, TWT attendees posed some of the most interesting political questions of the weekend. At a talk called Empire 2.0, an attendee asked: ‘What can those in the development sector do to resist predatory aid policies that under-develop third world countries?’ The question itself demonstrates a genuine and popular concern not just to avoid complicity in ‘the West being bad’ but to go beyond armchair critique to collective action.

With events like Acid Corbynism (a 60’s inspired dance movement) and Ed Milliband’s Pub Quiz being held at the same festival, this year’s event was marked by effective intergenerational organising. Young Labour activist Hasan Patel, aged 15, spoke at a Young Person’s Question Time urging other young people in the audience to get involved in politics.

He spoke alongside Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and successor to the late Jo Cox, murdered in 2016. She spoke frankly to children in the room about the effect of Far-Right white supremacy on British politics.

It was a bold moment - one that would be hard to imagine happening before the Brexit referendum – an MP speaking openly about white supremacy to a room full of 13 year olds.

British mainstream politics would do well to learn lessons from this distinctly Liverpudlian honest approach to organizing. With this new resurgence of ideas and renewed confidence in the Left’s economic argument, The World Transformed has built a real possibility, even an inevitability, that change is coming.


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Reforming the Gender Recognition Act is a feminist responsibility

*The consultation deadline has been extended to Monday at noon 'due to the large volume of responses'*

For the next few hours we have a chance to make a practicable difference to the quality of life for British trans people. As feminists we must take it.

Tonight, the government will be closing its consultation on reforms to the Gender Recognition Act. The consultation asks English and Welsh citizens what they believe the process for legally changing gender should look like. In its current form, the process amounts to a medical intervention – forcing trans folk to live within their ‘acquired gender’ for a two-year ‘reflection’ period up until that request for an official gender switch is granted.

Within that time, the applicant must produce evidence to a medical professional that they are subject to a psychiatric condition that the medical community call ‘gender dysphoria’ – a term used to describe ‘when a person experiences distress because there is a mismatch between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity’, according to the definition of LGBT-rights group Stonewall.

Beyond this, applicants must sign a waiver declaring their seriousness to live within their ‘new’ gender identity permanently. And if the trans applicant is married, their spouse must give consent to advance the application.

Why there must be reform

For feminists committed to interrogating and dismantling gendered power, the current process enshrined in the Act is deeply worrying. Stonewall calls it medicalized, interventionist, inaccessible and expensive.

It’s worth remembering that the Gender Recognition Act is about legal recognition – not medical advice or gender reassignment (which is not a pre-condition for transhood anyway, as it happens) but legal recognition of gender identity.

By unnecessarily medicalizing the process with psychiatric diagnosis and compelling trans people to legally live within their coerced identities for another two years, the status quo treats trans identity as akin to mental illness. It’s worth noting that in Norway legal changes to gender avoid this pathologization altogether, with no wait period.

At a time when 41 per cent of trans people say that healthcare staff lacked specific understanding of their health needs in the last year, it is important we use whatever leverage we have to demystify what it means to be trans.

The problem has its roots in a cruel misconception of how gender identity works: by assuming trans people are only changing gender at the point of lodging an application, as opposed to having always been said gender, the state becomes complicit in upholding a coercive practice.

In its current iteration, the Act bears a striking similarity to the days when homosexuality was defined in relation to mental illness within diagnostic manuals, a process that caused lasting psychological damage to queer people who lived through the phenomenon.

Gender is about social position, not the brute presence of particular genitalia, and trans people are subject to an extortionate amount of gendered violence.

This year, Stonewall revealed that 53 per cent of trans people aged 18-24 experienced a hate crime and 25 per cent of trans people experience homelessness at some point in their lives.

Feminists concerned about power know that it is not genitalia that bears a causal relation to the intimidation and harassment that women, including trans women, face. It is not genitalia that compels men to follow women (especially trans women) home at night. It is power.

When trans women attempt to live visibly as women, the threat of violence is heightened; 40 per cent of trans people adjust the way they dress in order to avoid discrimination.

Dismantling the ‘panic’

The moral panic that has surrounded the Gender Recognition Act is founded on two incoherent grounds: that recognition will allow trans women access to women-only spaces, and that trans women are a threat to cis-women (non-trans women).

Under current laws, trans women already have a default right to access women-only spaces and services, so the moral panic is coming a little late. But the first objection really stems from the second.

The notion that trans women have been socialized as men, and so are a threat to non-trans women in the way cis-men have historically been, is false because trans women have patently not been socialized as cis-men.

Trans women have been coerced into living as gender-conforming men from early on, while enduring transphobic bullying and violence. Their experiences are wildly different to that of non-trans men. As Lorna Finlayson and others recently put it: ‘There is clearly a difference between the experience of a child who is treated by others in ways that are characteristic of boys and also feels like a boy, and a child who is treated by others in ways that are characteristic of boys whilst feeling that they are really a girl.’

Cis-men (non trans-men) are largely conditioned into inheriting positions of power in patriarchy, the same cannot be said for young trans people, faced with the knowledge that, when it comes to getting a job, one in three UK employers admit they are ‘less likely’ to hire a transgender person and 43 per cent were unsure if they would recruit a transgender worker.

The government’s consultation advice states that ‘trans and non-binary people are members of our society and should be treated with respect’.

Until 11:00 pm on 19 October, feminists in Britain have a unique, time-bound opportunity to stand up against gendered coercion. It would be travesty not show support and act for our trans allies.

Stonewall’s guide to filling out the GRA can be found here. It takes a mere 10 minutes. The consultation will close at 11pm tonight GMT.



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For climate action, ‘mass civil disobedience’ is the only way

A new climate breakdown resistance movement is forming. We spoke to leading activists in the movement who feel civil disobedience is the only way forward

A new climate breakdown resistance movement is forming in Britain. On Wednesday 31 October in Westminster, ‘Extinction Rebellion’ – a nascent mass direct-action group, in the style of Occupy – came together to launch a rolling protest against the UK government’s failure to act to prevent climate change.

In London’s Parliament Square, in front of Gandhi’s statue no less, thousands of people made a declaration of non-violent rebellion in an attempt to force concessions from the government. Their demands include: an immediate reversal of climate-toxic policies, net-zero emissions by 2025 and the establishment of a citizen’s assembly to oversee the radical changes necessary to halt global warming.

A new climate breakdown resistance movement is forming. We spoke to leading activists in the movement who feel civil disobedience is the only way forward
 Two members of the the recently formed Extinction Rebellion who were arrested yesterday during the group's "escalating campaign of civil disobedience."

The group says that ‘peaceful, civil disobedience’ is the only way bring about the social change needed to expedite a reversal of fortunes for the human race. Otherwise, we are ‘on course for a next wave of extinction – a human extinction’.

They’re not wrong. A one-degree rise in global temperature since the industrial revolution has led to a sea-level rise that’s rapidly flooding Bangladesh and other Carribean, Pacific and coastal regions around the world. The group’s action came just a day after the World Wildlife Fund released a report warning that humans have wiped out 60 per cent of animal populations since 1970.

Fittingly, young people are at the heart of the movement. We spoke to fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Stockholm climate activist best known for starting a popular Friday strike movement ​in Sweden: Thunberg won’t be going to Friday classes until the Swedish government cleans up its act on climate change.

Thunberg and her parents drove in an electric car to Westminster, where she addressed a crowd of over a thousand people. ‘When I was eight, I found out about something called climate change, or global warming,’ she said. ‘Apparently it was something that humans had created by our way of living. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources.

‘I remember thinking it was very strange that humans, an animal species among others could be capable of changing the Earth’s climate. Because if we were, and it was really happening, we wouldn’t be talking about anything else. As soon as you turned on the TV, everything would be about that.

‘Why wasn’t it [burning fossil fuels] made illegal? To me, that did not add up.’

Teddy Walden, 18, is another member of Generation Z who rejects climate apathy.

‘If everyone consumed like Americans, we’d have gone through five Earths by now. That’s shocking,’ she said.

The co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, academic and activist Roger Hallam, believes mass movements like this one are the only way to force the radical changes needed.

‘A hundred years of political sociology shows you can only change entrenched power through creating economic costs for the people who hold that entrenched power,’ he said.

‘Through mass civil resistance, we’re going to create a new global regime that takes our responsibilities seriously towards the next generation.’

He contrasts this mode of organizing to other more technocratic and policy-focused work by NGOs. Extinction Rebellion has occupied the offices of Greenpeace, for example, to critique their ineffectiveness in lobbying governments to reduce emissions

‘The NGOs have been working for 30 years to reduce global carbon emissions and during that time they’ve increased by 60 per cent, which quite possibly has condemned every future generation to a living hell.

‘So in that context it’s probably worth trying something different. We went to Greenpeace to get them to tell their members to join mass civil disobedience, which has been shown to change political regimes rapidly.

But Hallam is frank about the challenges ahead. He expects Extinction Rebellion’s demands to be ignored by government. ‘They’ll ignore us, and then they’ll fight us and we’ll win. We haven’t got to the fight stage – which will be non-violent – but we will in the next two weeks.’

In a taste of what’s to come, soon after, more than a thousand people blocked roads circling Parliament Square, and 15 were arrested.

A new climate breakdown resistance movement is forming. We spoke to leading activists in the movement who feel civil disobedience is the only way forward
A large police presence monitored yesterday's protest

George Monbiot – the notable environmentalist and journalist was among them. Speaking earlier in the day, he made a call to arms. ‘We’ve waited long enough, we are waiting no longer. No one else will deliver it for us, no one is left but us.’

‘We claim to live in a democracy. In many ways it resembles a plutocracy – your votes should count [but] money counts instead.

‘The money of the city, and the fossil fuel industry and the farming lobby and the fishing industry and the auto-manufacturers and the airlines lobby. We are not heard because they are heard.

‘Parliament will not do this for us, corporations will not do this for us and I’m sorry to say that the big NGOs won’t either.’ Monbiot added that though this is the only planet known to support life, the intelligent bit has yet to be demonstrated.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party said we should embrace non-violent direct action (NVDA) where appropriate.

‘NVDA should be done in a considered way, its not something you do off the cuff, you consider it, you weigh it up strategically and when it’s done in those kinds of ways for the right reasons we’re whole heartedly behind it,’ said Bartley, whose fellow co-leader, MP Caroline Lucas, was arrested in 2013 for direct action against anti-fracking.

‘None of the broadcast media picked up on the fact that the chancellor didn’t mention climate change once in his budget,’ he adds.

‘The YouGov issues tracker is seeing the environment go up and up [as a concern] for people and the politicians haven’t caught up yet.’

As for their plan for mass civil disobedience in the coming weeks, Extinction Rebellion said: ‘If the government does not respond seriously to our demands, civil disobedience will commence from the 12 November’ with a return to Parliament Square programmed for 'Rebellion Day', on Saturday 17 November.


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How to boycott Saudi Arabia

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman outside 10 Downing Street in London, March 7, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

After the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, the British state is under increasing pressure to break ties with the regime responsible.

But the symbolic slight of not attending investment conferences in Riyadh isn’t likely to undo an alliance that goes back almost a century. With an inflow of cheap oil, inward investment estimated at $90 billion at multiple levels of the British economy and not to mention additional regular arms sales, Anglo-Saudi business links run deep.

We spoke to David Wearing, author of AngloArabia – the only comprehensive study on the Western-Saudi relationship written – about how Britain could disentangle itself from the House of Saud.

Where do you think the disparity between the Western outrage at the Khashoggi killing and the Saudis' brutal war in Yemen comes from?

[Khashoggi was] a well-connected guy – that’s the reason for the disparity. He was well-connected within Saudi elite and in Washington. So his criticisms were really telling because people could say he knows what’s going on within the regime. A lot of the people who were making a noise about his disappearance were people who knew him personally – his editors at the Washington Post, his fellow journalists, people from the think-tank circuit. I believe President Erdogan knew him personally actually.

It’s kind of black humour but the thing I keep saying is that if those 40 kids who’d been killed by a bomb on their school bus in Yemen a month ago had networked better in Washington….

Do you think there will be a shift in foreign policy from Washington?

The Saudis need a lot of inward investment from the West to diversify their economy. Loads of business people they want to get involved in their economy pulled out of the investment conference last week. It was a real disaster for them. So in terms of the message at the business level, it has changed – not massively, but enough to give them a fight I think.

At the diplomatic level we’ve seen pressure from the Americans basically saying to the Saudis this war in Yemen isn’t working – it’s got to stop. And the statement [the Americans] put out was basically saying the Houthis have to stop fighting first and then the Saudis will stop fighting, so they’re still siding with the Saudis but they’re basically saying the war needs to end.

That’s quite a big change. And I think it’s down to embarrassment over the Khashoggi affair, and also a fear that if the war continues it will be a catastrophic famine and everyone will not only blame the Saudis but also the West for it too. So that’s a short-term change, pressure on the Saudis, recalibration of support for the war in Yemen. Generally I think alliance with the regime will stay.

A lot of the relationship is based on Saudi wealth – all of those petrodollars that they earn from selling oil and gas. But with climate change, that money’s going to dry up with decarbonisation, a move to electric cars – the Chinese in particular are decarbonising. Loads of Gulf oil and gas goes to East Asia. The money’s going to stop coming in to those Gulf regimes, and if the relationship between say Britain and the Gulf is based on Gulf wealth and that wealth isn’t there anymore, in the long-term that could result in big changes.

The Kingdom has been positioned as a business partner and a partner in counter-terrorism efforts, by calling it a ‘stabilising influence’ in the region. Questions about the latter are pretty easy to debunk. But how do you flesh out the argument that you don’t need to sell arms to balance the books or fund a welfare state?

We’ve got this real problem in our political discourse where people seem to think there’s a legitimate trade-off to be made between economic benefits in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world, and the lives of Yemeni people, one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s demeaning, it’s dehumanising. I think we have to say that. We have to call out the fact that it’s a horrific way to think about people’s lives….

And yet it’s also important to point out that those arguments do fail on their own terms. British exports to Saudi Arabia in 2015/16 – that was the peak year for British arms exports being licensed by the British government – was 1.3 per cent of Britain’s total exports worldwide so even in a big year it's just 1.3 per cent of our total exports. So it’s not as significant as people think.

I think the other thing to point out is: is it beyond our wit as a country to find other things for those engineers and technicians to do than to make weapons to kill Yemenis with? It can’t be.

There’s a question about soft power that the regime has. They make numerous donations to universities, they have a huge PR network, one Saudi prince is Twitter’s second largest shareholder. Jadaliyya published a great piece detailing 70 years of the New York Times calling the Saudis reformers. It was hilariously depressing. How do you counter that?

So Foreign Policy magazine is one of the most respected mainstream politics magazines in the United States. And they’ve just run an article comparing Mohammed Bin Salman to Saddam Hussein.

MBS has spent so much Saudi money on PR agents and consultants and this huge rebranding exercise for Saudi Arabia. He’s toured the world, visiting Theresa May, Donald Trump; he’s gone out to California and shaken hands with the CEOs of all these big tech companies. At the end of all this, he’s been compared to Saddam Hussein in one of the mainstream’s most prominent magazines on foreign policy. This is history’s biggest example ever of, ‘You can't polish a turd.’

I think the way to counter their ability to project soft power is just to keep bringing people back to the facts. It took the Khashoggi thing to wake people up. They’ve had a month of the worst press possible. Deep down people know what that regime is like. There’s no way they can gloss it.

Suppose we have a general election and a Corbyn government is elected. A political class that’s aligned itself so closely with the Gulf states for so long probably isn’t going to take Gulf divestment sitting down. What do you expect the challenges to be?

[The Left of the Labour Party] said quite clearly that they want to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia on the basis on the Yemen war. Now, if the Yemen war stops, which it might do in the next few weeks and months, then that particular rationale for not arming Saudi Arabia might fall away… so that might make it harder for Labour and Corbyn in particular to make the argument.

One of the groups of people who would push back is unions with workers in the defence industry. There are Labour MPs that very strongly support arming these regimes who would push back against it. And Labour’s position on foreign policy, if you look at the last manifesto, is a bit of a compromise with the old Labour Right. It’s a compromise with the more militaristic aspects of the party.

On the other hand, this young mass membership, activist membership that’s got involved in the party would strongly support [stopping selling arms]. So there’d be a battle within the party for that.

The other aspect of that is, if you tell the Saudis we’re not arming you anymore because of the way you’ve behaved in Yemen or for whatever other reasons, what if the Saudis pull their investments out of the British economy? And what if that put downward pressure on Sterling? That’s a potential worry, I think they probably wouldn’t because if they did that they’d be sending a message to, say, the French and the Americans that they’re not a trustworthy economic partner. So they could damage their relations with the West more generally.

If the [Saudis did pull out investment] the government would probably be okay because Labour have an industrial strategy and because they’re planning a huge amount of public investment into developing that strategy; I think they’re going to attract capital from the rest of the world anyway.

Could you flesh out the idea that a Labour industrial strategy would encourage foreign capital investment? That runs counter to say, the editorial line of the Financial Times that foreign capital is being scared off by just the idea of a Corbyn government.

Let’s say Labour comes in, and they say, ‘We’re going to invest in high-speed broadband. We’re going to make the country as well-connected as possible – transport links, rail, stuff like that, we’re going to boost people’s ability to get an education and develop a whole new set of green industry and pour money in to that.’

International capital is going to look at the British economy and say that economy is going to start growing. And to the extent that it’s growing, there’s going to be opportunities for us. The investment that we make in that economy will get a return. Because the economy will be driven and grown by the state with a particular strategy. I mean, look at China, you have growth driven by the state having a particular strategy for growth. And that economy delivers significant returns on investment as a result. So, I don’t think capital is going to be flying away from the British economy because they think, ‘Oh people are going to have their taxes put up.’

Britain has the second-lowest corporation tax rate in the G8. So how come international capital still invests in Germany and Sweden? They invest in an economy because they think these workers are well-educated, well-supported by a social safety net and that the country has a big infrastructure with a booming economy, so it’s a good place to invest.

They don't just invest on the basis of, ‘What’s the level of corporation tax? We'll only go in if it’s as low as possible.’ That's not really how it works. That’s how we’re told it works to scare us from putting the corporation tax up, but I think the reality is it’s not the only way to attract foreign investment.


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New Internationalist’s top reads in 2018

It’s been a tough year. The climate change alarm is now ringing louder than ever, more people are migrating in deadly and brutally policed terrain and an ex-military man nostalgic for dictatorship was elected to the presidency of the largest nation in Latin America.

But there’s cause for some optimism. Mass movements are beginning to mobilize. Extinction Rebellion, Gilets Jaunes (the ‘yellow vests’) are on the rise and immigration detention systems are losing the veneer of legitimacy.

As always, social movements in the Majority World paved the way for the more radical modes of organising. In India, tens of thousands of farmers marched to the capital demanding debt waivers and higher crop prices. In South Africa, the shackdwellers movement resisted political assassinations in the fight for the right to housing. And in Hong Kong, leaders of the pro-democracy ‘Yellow Umbrella’ campaign are standing trial for ‘public nuisance’ after taking a stand against China’s authoritarian clampdown in the region.

At New Internationalist, we’ve covered those political crunch points in various ways. But this year, here’s our countdown of what readers were most grabbed by:

First up, an honorary mention: Revealed: Princess Diana visit linked to Bahrain crackdown

Secret documents show that the regime’s massive crackdown on opposition groups paved the way for the Royal visit and that Britain’s own ‘Butcher of Bahrain’ approved of the situation. Phil Miller investigates.

British staff in Bahrain were fully aware of torture occurring in Bahrain in the 1970s and early 1980s.’

Read the full article

10.A Q&A with Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky is a renowned linguist, the author of an abundance of books and arguably the most famous dissident intellectual in the United States. He talks to Andy Heintz about US exceptionalism, the best way to approach North Korea and the truth about ‘free trade agreements’

The Left should continue to support the victims of oppression, no matter who is the agent.’

Read the full article

9.Save the Children whistle-blowers speak out

Brie O’Keefe and Alexia Pepper de Caires speak to Ben Phillips about the ‘loneliness’ of taking on powerful institutions.

What happened to them, after all, took place in the NGO sector in London; the offences were committed against, among others, ‘middle-class white women with degrees’ by happily married men at the pinnacle of respectability in the NGO sector.’

Read the full article

8. Priced out no more: how a London group defied gentrification

Not resigned to lose their homes and workplaces to the whims of the property market, a group decided to fight against the odds. This is their plan to stay where they are. Alessio Perrone writes.

Over time, the community grew concerned more faceless student blocks would pop up in the neighbourhood, fearing a spike in housing prices and that welcoming more students with no interest in the community would impoverish it.’

Read the full article

7.Is China detaining a million Uyghur Muslims?

The country’s economic influence may be buying silence on a massive human rights violation. Nithin Coca reports.

Now huge, what the Chinese government describe as, ‘re-education’ centers, hold a ‘low’ estimate of 500,000 and a staggering high estimate of up to 3 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities. The vast majority of those detained have never been tried and committed no crime.’

Read the full article

6. The efficiency myth

Heard the tale about the private sector always doing things better? Nick Dowson wonders why it still has believers.

In Bolivia, water privatization was swiftly followed by a rate increase of 33 per cent, triggering the country’s famous “water wars”.’

Read the full article

5. If we all became vegan tomorrow

Emboldened by a recent study, The Guardian repeats the myth that becoming vegan is the ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth. Chris Saltmarsh and Harpreet Kaur Paul disagree.

Changing your shopping list – no matter how radically – will not solve these systemic problems. Thatcher said ‘there is no society’. Individualist ‘solutions’ to climate change – like prioritizing veganism – support this myth. We need to restructure our economy away from fossil fuel reliance and improve livelihoods as we do it.’

Read the full article

4. Kerala rises above the floods

This Indian state’s current struggle sets a good example for the rest of the country, writes Mari Marcel Thekaekara.

In a communist-led state, the opposition and people normally fanatic about their politics joined hands to work together to rescue and provide relief to the flood ravaged people across the state.’

Read the full article

3. The trashing of Oxfam

Abuse must be eradicated but the attack on Oxfam is disproportionate, argues Maggie Black in this opinion piece.

Attitudes towards Oxfam operate as a lightning rod of attitudes towards overseas aid, and aid charities, generally. Because Oxfam is not about something unimpeachable, such as ‘children’ or ‘health’, but embraces within its mission everything connected to poverty from slavery to diarrhoea to climate change, its name is exposed. Oxfam came into being as a dissonant voice on behalf of the dispossessed, and its intrinsically political nature has landed it in hot water many times during its 75 year history.’

Read the full article

2. The next financial crisis

Clueless central banks? A trade war? Southern debt? Ten years after the last one, leading economists including Jayati GhoshCédric Durand and others think about where the next crisis might come from...

The mainstream economics view is that free trade is good for all. And yet the historical evidence contradicts this.’

Read the full article

1. How Black Lives Matter has changed US politics

The struggle against institutionalized oppression in the US goes beyond protest to an inclusive politics of identity. And it’s not short on policy ideas either, says Jamilah King.

'There is a long history of wrongly blaming black people for the fundamental failings of electoral politics.'

Read the full article


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How to survive elite institutions like Cambridge as a woman of colour

Credit: Sheena Zhang

FLY, meaning ‘Freedom Loving You’ is the most singular political space I’ve ever encountered. Originally formed by black women, for black women, it was an hour-long weekly meet-up at a coffee shop in Cambridge, UK, to talk about racism and sexism at the university.

After a few years it had grown exponentially. The group expanded by reaching out to women of colour, outside the university, mostly out of necessity. One in five colleges admitted fewer than ten black students over a five-year period. Eventually 40, sometimes 50, of us would meet to vent about micro-aggressions, ‘gaslighting*’, curriculums that reproduce colonial violence, and friendship.

The authors of this new book, Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan, Odelia Younge, Lola Olufemi, Waithera Sebatindra were all involved in activism. Whether it was campaigning for a standardized sexual harassment policy, organizing against marketization or developing liberation campaigns and resources for marginalized students – they collectively agitated for progressive reforms within the institution.

In 2015, they began compiling a Google document, building a guide for other women of colour to resist, dismantle power and make the university experience liveable. The FLY Girls’ Guide to Cambridge is the first of its kind, a book that connects and politicizes a younger generation of women of colour to recognize and disentangle oppressions at the university.

I spoke to them about the impetus for writing the book, what it taught them about how to organize, and how to deal with complicity when entering centres of power.

Why did you want to write this book?

Lola: On the FLY blog, we all wrote little profiles. The point was to tell people the things that we wished we'd known in first and second year that made it easier to navigate the space, but also to have fun and enjoy the university experience. It was very practical, it was like: here are the shops, go to these nights. It was very much like here's how to survive, you know, and find a community, essentially.

Odelia then discovered FLY and wanted to write a book about the experience, and felt it would be stronger if it had more than just one perspective. I didn't really know if I really ever thought it would materialize.

I thought that it’s actually really important to show people how you arrive at more critical and nuanced understandings of the world.

What has FLY taught you about the politics of care and how to organise?

Lola: FLY was founded for a specific political purpose I think. It was a space where we could organize, where we could talk about building links with other groups and really make the connections between all of these big ideas that get floated around by student groups – marketization and so forth.

Suhaiymah: If you think about it, the reason that FLY works is because every year people need to have the same conversation because it’s new for them. For an 18-year old who is going to enter that context for the first time, those conversations will be the first conversations they have.

‘And so I made a pact to myself that the way that I would deal with that complicity was through resistance. And that the only way to exist in an institution is to resist it.’

I really do believe this is a historical document. It’s so easy to discredit that labour and those thoughts, but either way it’s cool to just have a record.

Lola: I think it’s amazing that we’ve captured what happened in that room – the energy, the solidarity and the idea that you could come to meetings when people broke down and started crying. I remember meetings where we would just like laugh for the whole hour.

Suhaiymah: I can tangibly remember the first meeting I went to, it was just four people and after that conversation, I just felt seen in a way that I had never been before that. It was like someone had said to me: ‘I understand what you’re saying; I feel the same; and what you’re saying is true.’

Those three things I’d never experienced before. I think over time realizing that being in that room was actually a really radical thing. There’s such a subtle difference between just sharing a sad story and people being like ‘oh that’s really bad’ and sharing that in a space where that’s the response that you get. I don’t know how to articulate it, but the response mobilizes you. And you can see that from all of the people who were doing political activism on campus, it was always people of colour.

I think of FLY as the antithesis of when another student activist thought it would be a good strategy to have another student being dragged on the ground by security whilst occupying a building during the Higher Education strikes.

Lola: Exactly, in terms of the politics of care, I think FLY is an incredible model for other activist groups. I would see the massive holes and gaps in the organizing practice of other groups in terms of making sure that people were okay and I think that was at the core of everything that FLY did.

And that meant that people stayed engaged for longer and had the stamina to withstand all of the kind of push backs that came as a result of being in the institution. It meant that that we could have, at least in this room, a kind of liberatory space.

Waithera: That raises interesting questions as well. How do you build up that care where you’re not just friends, but you’re committed to the same cause and where you’ve got these hierarchies being recreated [in activist spaces]?

Lola: I also don’t want to overly romanticize it. I came from the women’s campaign route so when people raised their concerns about desire, about the way that white men treat them, as facilitator I’d always try and link that back to be like, ‘Okay, but can you see now why this makes sense from a feminist perspective’ or why it’s and an important feminist step for you to make these connections?

I think if you entered the space with no political language, you left the space with an ability to articulate what was happening to you.

Waithera: That was the most transformative thing for me: the bridge between appreciating ‘the personal is political’ as a glib statement and actually seeing that what happens to you, happens to a whole bunch of people who come from the same place as you and look like you and then that makes it easier to then have conversations about, well, ‘What is facilitating that? This isn't a coincidence, so then what is it?’

Lola: There were fractures though – with gender and sexual identity. In an age where everybody's obsessed with talking about like political blackness and divisions and tensions. I think FLY was an incredible model for the way that women of colour can exist together without erasing the way all of these structures affect us differently. I think when we have these conversations, we assume that they’re new. But all the feminists organizing in the 70s and 80s were having exactly the same problems and so I think it’s important to see ourselves as part of that legacy and also to recognize that those tensions were made productive.

The book is filled with poetry. How does it fit in to your activism?

Suhaiymah: In first year I got loads of black feminist books and read them all. Poetry is a big part of the black feminist tradition, and so my journey with poetry is the same as my journey with feminism. I saw people using writing to free themselves from imaginings that were coercive.

Lola: There are things that poems articulate that other forms can’t. And it's really nice actually to have that broken up by poetry because there’s a feeling that poetry captures that prose doesn't.

Odelia: I adore poetry and the ways in which it asks us to lyrically imagine the words of the author. The way it breaks away from the confines of a sentence to describe things that are difficult to describe any other way. I like to think of my activism in that way – not beholden to single doctrine or hero, but the kind that asks others around me to imagine something differently with me.

How do you think about complicity in these institutions?

Waithera: There’s an extent to which it’s easier to ‘become one of the good ones’ if you talk like them. I remember trying to convince my bursar there was in issue with racism at Cambridge and he only listened to me when he discovered that I like Schubert’s string quartet. It could’ve made me the sort of person who was like, ‘Well, I’ll just talk to them about Schubert then.’

That might seem like an option, especially being broken down by those systems it might seem like there’s a possibility for you to become one of the good ones and maybe even make it quite far, but what stops you from doing that?

It’s mainly realizing that it’s not really an option. Because even if you do make it far personally, you have to accept so much daily violence just to accept it. And it’s very sad when I see people do that. My contempt for them is very high because they then do go on to be complicit on national levels or in corporate settings.

It’s not that I’m saying I feel sorry for them, I just get it, and I wanted to show that what these places should show you is that the only available option if you want to live, if you want to live your life with dignity and as a full human being... you have to just fight it. It sounds very whatever… but, complicity involves personal death.

Odelia: I tell myself all the time that while visibility matters, it is a dangerous goal because it makes us forget the things that we know to be very visible in our lives that are not recognized by others. And I remind myself that having been part of these institutions affords me certain access, and I must do the constant work of disruption and dismantling in those spaces.

Lola: Am I being complicit? I am complicit, by just being here, and by feeding into this idea and this narrative that to go to Oxbridge means that you are one of the brightest and best or whatever. And so I made a pact to myself that the way that I would deal with that complicity was through resistance. And that the only way to exist in an institution is to resist it.

For me, that’s the avenue that the women’s campaign granted me, it created ways for me to have an antagonistic relationship towards the institution. I saw other people navigate this space in completely different ways, and just get their head down and do work.

I think I was happier for it, because the second you’re able to be critical of the institution, the more it belongs to you, the more power and authority you have over it.

I don’t want to give universities too much credit, especially because of how they’re becoming corporate machines. But after I left I read a lot about what it means to exist in it as a subversive academic or student. I think I came to the conclusion that transformation can happen within the university, but the university as a site, is not inherently meaningful. It’s what we do within it that gives it purpose and meaning.’

*Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.

A Fly Girl’s Guide to Cambridge was published by Verve Poetry Press in January. To order a copy for £12.99 go to vervepoetrypress.com.






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An insider’s view: ‘Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are a waste of time’

PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat gestures to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as U.S. President Bill Clinton stands between them, following their handshake after the signing of the Israeli-PLO peace accord, at the White House in Washington September 13, 1993. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

At the time of its signing 25 years ago, the Oslo Accords were seen as a milestone on the path toward Palestinian liberation, a sign of better times to come for one of the world’s most entrenched occupations.

Instead, the Israel-Palestine crisis has dramatically escalated. Over the last 12 months the Trump administration halted all funding to the main agency providing support to Palestinian refugees, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), including healthcare aid. Beyond de-funding, several countries, led by the US, have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the Israeli Parliament passed the Nation-State Bill, granting the right to self-determination exclusively to Israelis.

I spoke to Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the Palestinian negotiations team (1999-2001), about the erosion of the peace process, why negotiations failed and why she now sees the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign as the only way forward.

HR: You’ve said it was ‘like negotiating with a gun to your head’. But what was your job like on a day- to-day basis?

DB: When you think of negotiations, you don’t think of [how] the parties are going to come together – by parties, I mean men, it’s always men. But I think of the physical process of actually getting the men to come together in the room. And that’s very much a feat. To give you an example:

All of the negotiations were held outside of the West Bank which meant, for the Palestinian negotiators, that they needed to have an Israeli issued permit to be able to travel to the negotiation session. Whether for travelling overseas or to get a meeting place in Tel Aviv they always needed them [Israeli permits] and have to cross an Israeli checkpoint.

I don’t know if master-servant is the appropriate analogy, but they held all the cards and we held none, and that’s what it felt like on every level.

I didn’t need a permit because I’m [also] Canadian. Without fail we were [stopped by] Israeli soldiers at checkpoints and held up, sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours, as soldiers checked the validity of the permit.

So when I say we were negotiating with a gun to our head, it was literally that – it was waiting for a soldier and then not losing your mind, and just trying to maintain that composure. And that’s just the physical side of things.

Whether it was the issues that were going to be discussed, or physically getting to a negotiation, there was distinctly a power imbalance and somebody in control.

I don’t know if master-servant is the appropriate analogy, but they held all the cards and we held none, and that’s what it felt like on every level.

HR: What happened when you got to the negotiating table?

DB: There were different types of negotiations, so if we were going to be discussing water for example, they would bring their water experts and we would bring our water experts and then we would discuss things. The other style, which became much more prevalent in the later years, was not with technical people present, but mostly politicians.

And when it was politicians present, a lot of the time was wasted talking about issues of the day. I remember in one negotiation session there had been an announcement of new settlements and so that ended up being the focus of the discussion, but not in a productive way. It was like: ‘You Palestinians just need to accept it. We have coalition problems so we’re going to forge on ahead.’

HR: Did you ever get to negotiate on the fundamental issue of the right of return?

DB: Yes, that was my file. Each side had a principal negotiator and the main Israeli negotiator was a man named Yossi Beilin.

On the Palestinian side was a man named Nabil Shaath. And then there was us, the lawyers: me and another guy on the Israeli side, a man named Daniel Levy, who has since changed his political beliefs to realizing that nothing’s going to happen through negotiations.

So [we were] sitting in that room with, on the Israeli spectrum, a Zionist, but perhaps the most left-wing Zionist that I could imagine. And with a Palestinian, Nabil Shaath, who was not really pressing hard on the issue of a right of return. With somebody like Yossi Beilin – he’s personable, he’s gentle, and he’s kind and there are a lot of good traits to him – but on the issue of right of return, he had this complete shutdown. He wouldn’t even engage. It was so deep, so embedded, that I remember thinking if somebody like Yossi Beilin is coming at it with this level of cruelty then just imagine the rest of the Israeli society that he does not represent.

And so, the words that came out of him were very much xenophobic and racist comments. He would use terminology like: ‘I don’t want Israel to be flooded with refugees’. Like, what? What are you saying? These are the people who you kicked out, these are the original inhabitants of the land. What do you mean you don’t want them flooding the country?

My father is a Palestinian refugee and it just hit me hard. The Palestinian negotiator [Nabil Shaath] ended up being like a therapist and trying to get Yossi to see that Palestinians were people too. I came to the conclusion, in January of 2001, that negotiations were a waste of time.

HR: So the most fundamental issue was never really addressed?

DB: No. There were always two levels of discussion. One level that was very much on the ‘let’s be pragmatic and practical’ side. And then you had these visceral issues. And so on the pragmatic, practical side, there were things like what do we do about security. Security ended up being one of the issues oddly that was the least problematic. And then [there were] ideological issues with the worst issue being refugees, Jerusalem and settlements.

I’ve said this in the past and I firmly believe it. If it had just been about drawing a line and a border, then the border would have been drawn a long, long time ago. But the negotiations very much touched upon many of these ideological issues. Israel was never prepared to address its history.

That’s why we see a mindset of control, of occupation. I mean it just permeated through all of the discussions – so things like water, permit control, this obsession with controlling how much water Palestinians use. [It was] very ideological, very colonial.

HR: So now that you’re no longer involved in negotiations, are you more involved in BDS?

DB: I’m a lawyer and I also teach in the United States. I’m active in the BDS movement and very much support it. Over the years I’ve really come to realize that nothing in Israel is going to change of its own accord. It’s grown so used to being an occupier, serving in the army is considered a rite of passage.

You hear people say: ‘I’m putting my son in as a child and he’s going to come out as a man’.

Israeli society has very much shifted to the right. We’re having elections on 9 April and the alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu is a man named Benny Gantz. His campaign slogans have been bragging about assassinating a Palestinian. He’s bragging about sending Gaza to the Stone Age – he tweets this.

I think the only way that things are going to change is if there’s real pressure coming from outside sending the message to Israel that what they’re doing is not normal and that things have got to change.

HR: Would you say there’s a friction between the BDS campaign and the PLO?

Yes and no. Formally, the Palestinian Authority is only supporting the very limited element to BDS, by supporting a settlement goods ban.

In fact, in some cases [the PA] has spoken against BDS. They’ve referred to it as not being helpful. And in the PLO, you've got some political parties that are very active in supporting BDS, and then others that are still toeing the Palestinian Authority line. So it’s kind of a mixed bag at this point.

The BDS movement is really focused on grassroots, civil society and political movements. The PLO/PA is much more of this elitist institution, for lack of a better term. Many of them are really wedded to negotiations, even though nothing’s been achieved through that.

HR: Have the PA lost legitimacy as a result? I’ve seen them described as sub-contractors for the occupation.

DB: Absolutely. They’ve lost credibility not just on BDS but also on a number of issues, like security.

The Palestinian Authority has two main functions. One function is to serve as a funnel for donor assistance to provide health care and education to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And the other, which was one of the features of the Oslo Accords, was for the PA to show that they would be able to be a state – so to take on a lot of the security functions that Israel was conducting.

This is why they’re called security sub-contractors. I now call them security collaborators.

Here we are 25 years later and there’s no independence. With each and every raid on the West Bank and Gaza, there are increasing cries from political movements, trade unions, civil society and grassroots activists, you name it – saying enough is enough, you don’t need to be Israel’s security collaborator anymore.

They’re very much focused on keeping this security apparatus in place and they don’t have a vision for liberation. People are getting killed by the PA on Israel’s behalf, or sometimes the PA is arresting people that Israel then kills.

HR: Why do you think it’s important for people to support the BDS campaign internationally?

DB: The only way the situation is going to end is through the BDS movement. Negotiations are definitely not going to change the situation. We’ve tried it for 25 years. I don’t think that Israel is going to come to its own senses by itself. I don’t think that it’s going to wake up one day and say that it’s been an occupier for five decades.

I think the only thing that’s going to change it is grassroots pressure. In [the Republic of] Ireland, they just passed their BDS motion [on banning settlement goods]. Just in the same way it changed the situation in apartheid South Africa, the BDS movement began in Ireland with women who were working behind cash registers at grocery stores refusing to ring up goods that were that were coming from there.

That then creates a conversation. It creates a movement and it’s those types of things that will lead to the downfall of the apartheid regime in Israel. But left to its own devices, it’s definitely not going to happen and left to the right-wing elements of the [Israeli] Labor Party, they’re going to continue to support the land theft and war crimes that Israel’s been allowed to perpetrate for a long time.


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Behrouz Boochani: Australia is introducing a ‘new kind of fascism’

Credit: Hoda Afshar

Immigration detention centres are prisons for those who have committed no crime. They are notoriously secretive: insulated from the media and portrayed by governments as a necessary means of protecting the nation-state. Few have managed to powerfully narrate the experience of being detained while being inside.

Behrouz Boochani, a 35-year-old Kurdish-Iranian refugee – currently detained on Manus Island, an island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that is used as a de facto prison for asylum-seekers heading to Australia – has done just that.

Boochani is in his sixth year of imprisonment without charge. He was originally held in Manus Island Detention Centre but, after it was forced to close in 2017 following a ruling that it violated PNG’s constitution, he and 600 other asylum-seekers have been left to languish on the island.

Throughout this experience, Boochani was writing a non-fiction book using WhatsApp and a smuggled phone. This year, No Friend but the Mountains: Writings from Manus Island Prison won the $70,000 Victorian Prize for Literature.

‘I don’t have this right to celebrate because there are so many people around me who are suffering,’ Boochani tells me via WhatsApp. ‘I certainly did not write this book just to win an award. My main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru [another island hosting a refugee prison] in a systematic way for almost six years.’

A new kind of fascism

In 2013, Boochani fled Iran to escape persecution for his dissident journalism, arriving in Manus just days after a policy to detain all asylum-seekers reaching Australia by boat was introduced. The indefinite nature of his imprisonment means he doesn’t know when he’ll be released. Twelve have died on the island already, many from suspected suicide.

Despite threats of solitary confinement and punishment, Boochani also used his smuggled phone to produce journalism for The Guardian and film a documentary from the inside. He has been keenly following political developments in Australia, where federal elections are due to be held in May 2019.

‘The situation [is] getting worse day by day. Unfortunately there are only two months [until] the federal election in Australia and [the status of refugees has] become the main political subject in the election, which is very sad. The government has started to [spread] more propaganda against us in the media, when we are innocent people.’

Tackling this system is not just about looking at authority figures or an immigration minister or even policies. This is a whole philosophy. This is a whole ideology and what’s needed is theoretical work alongside the kind of practical action

Boochani has consistently reported on the human rights violations taking place on Manus, including the almost non-existent access to medical care and reports of wrongful death and torture on the island. In the process of shutting down the processing centre in 2017, the authorities turned off the water and electricity supply, while 500 refugees – fearful of being abandoned on the island – barricaded themselves in for 22 days. Boochani was one of many who had to dig wells in the earth in search of water.

‘Parliament passed a bill [a] few weeks ago to evacuate sick refugees to Australia for medical treatment. Right now we are waiting for the government to follow this new law. What is making the situation harder is that there are many people who need urgent medical treatment and if the government continues to ignore the new law it will be risky for sick people. We shouldn’t forget that so far 12 refugees [have] died.’

No Friend but the Mountains, which Boochani tells me he does not yet have a copy of, is part-memoir, part-commentary on his journey, beginning on a dilapidated boat in Indonesia, to his current residence on Manus Island.

Written in experimental prose, Boochani often breaks off into lyrical metaphors. In the early chapters, before the rickety boat packed with dozens capsizes in the Indian Ocean, Boochani attempts, and fails, to reassure himself about his survival – thinking his death can’t possibly resemble the plight of refugees caught and spun on the news cycle.

He writes: ‘If the boat were to split in half by a stray wave, we would perish – gone like all the other absurd deaths that take place. It is wrong to think of our deaths as different from the millions of other humans, different from the deaths of others who have died up until now, from the deaths that have yet to take place.’

The book is peppered with such observations about the way refugees are thought about – using lived experience as a tool to chip away at the anti-migrant social order that institutions like Manus Island Prison seek to entrench.

‘First, I understand this book as a piece of art, then as a piece of Australia’s dark history,’ he messages me. ‘What the Australian government introduced to the world [through its border protection policy] is only a new kind of fascism and barbarism.’

Intergenerational oppression

Making the book a reality happened, in part, thanks to Boochani’s translator, Omid Tofighian.

After reading one of Boochani’s articles in 2015, Tofighian contacted the Kurdish-Iranian writer and began translating his journalism from Farsi to English. By that time, Boochani had been in detention for just over two years. He eventually realized that reporting facts and statistics about the brutality on Manus would only go so far in exposing the realities of the border system.

‘Behrouz acknowledges that tackling this system is not just about looking at authority figures or an immigration minister or even policies. This is a whole philosophy. This is a whole ideology and what’s needed is theoretical work alongside the kind of practical action,’ Tofighian tells me.

‘The book is important because it actually brings people into the prison. Empathy isn’t the right word but it really brings people in, absorbs them into that absurd or surreal environment,’ he says.

As a Kurdish-Iranian refugee, Boochani’s background is ever-present in his reflections about colonialism and immigration, Tofighian suggests.

‘Kurdish people have been colonized for a very long time, even before Western powers dominated the [Middle East]. In many ways I see Behrouz’s resistance to this neocolonial oppression as something that’s part of his heritage – part of his tradition. He’s almost been trained inter-generationally to resist this kind of oppression.’

While an author writing from inside a refugee prison might be self-evidently valuable, Tofighian tells me that it was a struggle to get Boochani’s voice heard. ‘When I started translating the book in Australia, I could hardly get anyone to support what I was doing or to show interest, open up doors or share resources. It was only once the book came out and once we won the award that things really started to change.’

The book and the award have had a galvanizing effect. ‘[After winning], these different collectives have come in and noticed the potential in supporting this particular kind of work – then things started to change. Politicians were suddenly on the back foot, realizing that their international reputations were under serious threat.

‘You could say that this book and the award have contributed to all of these movements that had been working or operating in isolation in some sense, but they’ve all come together now because there’s a new narrative.’

Boochani also tells me about the bonds of solidarity between refugees and Australians. ‘The bill to evacuate sick refugees to Australia was our first political victory after almost six years. It’s not because of this award or my achievement; in fact, it’s because of years of struggling against this policy that all the refugees and Australian people have done.’ These are groups that include the Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens’ Alliance (WACA), which has been lobbying for the right to refugee healthcare and an end to mandatory detention since the prisons were set up.

As for his plans once he leaves Manus Island, Boochani is steadfast. ‘I’m a novelist and journalist, of course,’ he says. ‘I will continue to work as a writer when I get freedom.’


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