Friday, 24 August 2012

Breivik - Totally Sane and a Complete Bastard

And so the verdict is in: by a unanimous decision of five judges, a Norwegian Court in Oslo has found Anders Breivik, the xenophobic terrorist who butchered 77 people last year, to be completely sane. He has been sentenced to a minimum of 21 years in prison - the maximum under Norwegian law - which can be extended in 5 year tranches if he is considered to remain a threat to society.

Ironically, the prosecution was keen to find him insane and apparently even now may conceivably appeal on this point.

However, this seems to typify the reaction so common when a white man slaughters people in the name of a political creed - in Breivik's case, white supremacy and Nordic racism. Within hours of his murder of scores of young socialists on the island of Utoya, the media and others were declaring him sick, mad, the product of a broken family, a loner obsessed with violent video games, and so on.

Strikingly, the media often does this with rightwing white terrorists - in spite of their normal revulsion of excuses for criminal activities, they all too frequently hurry to explain their excesses as mental aberrations and write them a get out of jail free pass. We don't hear the same excuses about other terrorists - they don't write about Osama being ignored by his Mum, or the 9/11 bombers being gripped by paranoid delusions: their activities are correctly ascribed to their ideology; so why not Breivik's and the likes of Timothy McVeigh as well?

Everything would have been different if only Osama's parents
had let him watch "The Prisoner"
Yet in truth, Breivik and his muderous activities, while maybe superficially inexplicable to the many ordinary citizens who would never contemplate such extreme acts whatever their views, are not so inexplicable at all. They are simply the tip of a very dangerous iceberg of hatred which we ignore at our peril. Look at the messages of support he got from rightwingers across Europe on web boards; or the excusatory comments to be found written by Daily Mail readers under the articles about him of the "it's terrible but not surprising.." variety. Breivik is responsible for his own actions, but the slaughter of Utoya, by his own admission, was in part inspired by the commentaries published by journalists like the odious Melanie Philips. His manifesto took their extreme views and moved them on a few stages to what was, for him, a perfectly logical conclusion.

Supremacist ideologies lend themselves to violence - we have seen that time and again, from the anti-Semitism of the Nazis to the "ethnic cleansing" by the Serbs in Bosnia, or the current spate of murderous assaults on Christians by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Breivik and his acolytes may spend most of their time in their bedrooms online, devising fantastical pseudo-organisations with kitsch medieval names and symbols, but that does not make them mad, nor any less dangerous.

Utoya, Srebrenica, Zaria, Kaduna - cultural supremacists of different nationalities and faiths continue the slaughter of the innocent, use violence in place of argument and twist sometimes genuine grievances into weapons of scapegoating and hatred. Their acts betray their own deep insecurities about themselves and degrade the very cultures they claim to defend or promote, but that does not give any credence to writing them off as aberrations, excusing their wider societies of their own (and our own) failures to be inclusive and humane with each other and with strangers.

It may offend those of us with inherent liberal beliefs in the fundamental goodness of humans, but for whatever reasons, the people who would bomb and kill others in the name of culture are usually far from insane, no matter how unpalatable their beliefs. In so many ways, they are simply the extreme manifestation of their own societies, of the savagery that lurks beneath the thin veneer of civilisation which can so easily be stripped away - just look at how quickly ordinary people were committing the most gross acts against their neighbours in former Yugoslavia, or in Rwanda, or Chechnya, or scores of other places at many times in history.

So they are not mad and indeed the act of declaring their actions necessarily insane both reinforces totally inappropriate stereotypes about mental health and completely misses the real causes of the atrocities they commit. In the film Downfall, Adolf Hitler was powerfully portrayed as a dark-minded, manipulative and angry human being -  causing great offence to many, not because it was in any way inaccurate, but because by showing how banal and even normal evil can be, it conveyed the very uncomfortable truth that such terrible acts can be carried out by someone who is ultimately just flesh and blood, like any of us.

And so the people who blow up cars in streets or detonate bombs on underground trains or shoot defenceless teenagers in the name of defending culture or religion are not insane at all - but they are very, very bad. And rather than writing them off as not responsible for their actions and in the process exculpating ourselves, we must certainly resist them with every breath we can find. But to begin with, we need to take a very, very long look at ourselves and our societies and how they can so easily provide the fertile ground for the poisonous seeds like Breivik to bud and bloom so very, very tragically.

Monday, 20 August 2012

God of Love?

It was almost certainly a deliberate and very telling editorial decision, but one page of the print Guardian should have caught the attention of any reader today.

Emblazoned across the top of the page was the headline:

Pakistani girl accused of Qur'an burning could face death penalty

In an outskirt of Islamabad, an eleven year old Christian girl has been accused of blasphemy, a capital crime in Pakistan, for allegedly burning some pages of the Qu'ran - her family dispute this, claiming she was tricked by a Muslim neighbour into throwing ash into a pot with pages from the Muslim holy book already in it. Whatever happened, this child has now been arrested and nine hundred Christians expelled from the area.

Although he is a priest for a faith whose founder called on its followers to extend special protections to Christians and Jews as "Peoples of the Book", the local mullah is quoted as approving of the expulsions, not only because of the alleged book burning, but because of the infernal singing of hymns in the local churches (now closed).

On the same page, the next article similarly told the tragic tale of religious intolerance and the hypocritical taking of lives in the name of faiths that all outlaw killing.

Jewish settler attacks on Palestinians listed as 'terrorist incidents' by US

The US Government has finally declared as terroristic a longstanding pattern of hate crimes by Jewish settlers in Palestinian lands against Arabs - and even the Israeli Government has condemned in similar terms a series of attacks by settlers over the last few weeks which have included the random beating of a young Arab by a mob and the firebombing of a taxi carrying Arab children. The "Hilltop Youth", a group of Zionist extremists, has been linked to attacks that have killed three Palestinians and injured 183 over recent months. 10,000 olive trees, vital for Arab farmers' livelihoods, have been destroyed and in 90% of cases, the Israeli police have closed the case without charge.

During the same time, Palestinians have murdered a Jewish settler family in their home and bombed a bus terminal in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring fifty. Some may argue that the continuing and desperate siege of Gaza, where hundreds of thousands live in ghetto conditions surrounded by the Israeli army, somehow justifies such assaults, yet how can it? Such attacks are not war, but simple murders with civilians as their targets - as such, they detract from the real injustices and murder committed against Gazans by the Israeli state and invite the enemies of Palestine to create some moral equivalence between oppressor and oppressed.

And the three faiths involved - the Judaism of Israel and the Islam and minority Christianity of the Palestinians all talk of the sanctity of life. Yet here we see blood shed in the name of these same faiths.

The final article is less directly focussed on interfaith disputes, but shows how bigotry, in this case Christian-led against Muslims, can lead to laws with supposedly unintended consequences for all.

Pussy Riot protesters arrested in Marseille

Arrested because...?

Because in a fit of Islamophobia, France has banned the niqab, the face covering worn by some Muslim women as a mark of their faith. It is a policy advocated by many rightwingers in Europe - curiously adopting the same policy adopted by President Assad in Syria, who enacted a similar ban on such garments in universities, while until recently Turkey imposed a similar ban on Islamic dress in public buildings. Why so many are so obsessed with what others wear has always been a puzzle to me - it also ignores the possibility that, while some people may ban face-coverings now, this is setting a precedent for other people to ban other forms of dress they don't like. For example, what if the fundamentalists of all three Abrahamic faiths club together to ban women wearing trousers? Or to insist that men must stop shaving (a sinful activity in all three faiths writings)?

In France, the law has been used to arrest people who wore balaclavas over their faces to show solidarity with the similarly-clad Russian punks, Pussy Riot, three of whom were jailed for two years at the weekend. Supposedly, the French arrests prove that the niqab law is not about niqabs at all - but about face coverings and so not aimed in particular at Muslims. It seems an ingenuous argument and a patent lie - the law was inspired and argued for by pro-Christian rightists supposedly to defend alleged and undefined "French republican values". The last time I looked, the values of the Republic included liberte; but in modern France, it seems noticeable by its absence, especially for liberal protesters and for Muslim women of a certain outlook.

And the point behind all these sad stories of intolerance, violence and bigotry?

JUDAISM: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself"      (Leviticus 19:18)
CHRISTIANITY: "Love your neighbor as yourself.'           (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)
ISLAM: "Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbour who is near of kin, the neighbour who is a stranger..."                                             (Qu'ran Ch4, v 36)

"We believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ishmai'l, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets form their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we submit to God."  Qur'an (2:136)

Each faith stems from the same beginnings, shares a number of Prophets and holds, on paper at least, the many of the same or similar teachings, mostly based on respect and love. Yet, as we know, so often the reality is warped beyond recognition by the fundamentalists and bigots of each. It may be a trait within monotheism - if there is One God with One Way which has to be revealed to His followers, then the corollary is that those who don't agree with you must not only be wrong, but sinfully against God too. And so what is the duty of a believer? The majority of each faith see it as little more than proselytising, if even that - for the truth is that most people of faith live in at least passive tolerance of each other the overwhelming majority of the time; many learn to respect and share each other. 

But where belief morphs into blind faith with its attendant dogmatic superiority and is manipulated by those with a political agenda to boot - racial supremacy, land grabs or simply scapegoating for some sort of gain, then we see the headlines of today. A sad, bad and foreboding taste of how the 21st Century presents itself as far from the enlightened "modern" society it would like to think it is; but rather, the echoes of the Dark Ages and the dark hearts of the zealots of monotheism grow louder and louder with every day. It is a harbinger of a dystopian future of neo-Inquisitorial theocracy. Torquemada would approve.

We let the headlines pass at our own risk.

Jews, Christians and Muslims - one God, three faiths.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Who Are They?

Ever since humans first created societies involving hierarchy and governed by rules, there has been an unspoken "social contract" binding them together - sometimes voluntarily, even democratically, sometimes by physical force. But underpinning each have been other factors which have governed the acceptance of rulers by the ruled which, if sufficiently out of kilter, have led ultimately to social revolt - whether by the Bolsheviks against the "former people" of the Russian bourgeoisie, or by the anti-Mubarak protesters in Tahrir Square.

What are these rules and conventions? They may be explicitly set out in religious tracts or political ideology, or they may be much subtler, never set out clearly yet somehow understood and accepted (willingly or unwillingly). Social convention may govern how we behave sexually or in our relations with people from different races or faiths; it may silently set the rules of acceptance about property ownership or appropriate behaviour in public - and in private; determine the role of gender and the contribution due from and respect to different age groups, and so on.

In contemporary society, it is generally accepted that millions of ordinary people feel powerless to change society or even have much control over their lives. Unlike at least some previous generations, however, the will to fight for change seems muted even although, superficially at least, there are greater freedoms in terms of speech and more ability to transmit ideas than ever before. And yet, whether bought off by the bread and circuses of mass media and home entertainment or isolated and disempowered by job insecurity and a decline in community cohesion, many are deeply accepting of the status quo - the Queen shall reign forevermore, while Capitalism is the inevitable, irreplaceable climax of history. "They" will always rule "us" and there is nothing we can do - nothing indeed we should even wish to do - to change this.

Engels identified this mindset as one of "false consciousness":
Ideology is a process accomplished by the so-called thinker. Consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. Hence he imagines false or apparent motives. ...It is above all this appearance of an independent history of state constitutions, of systems of law, of ideological conceptions in every separate domain, which dazzles most people.

On this basis, the rulers maintain their authority: there is often an implicit threat of violence if there is a real challenge, but more often than not does not require deployment, because people succumb to conventions and myths that subconsciously compel them to comply whilst consciously believing they are in fact making an informed choice. So in a capitalist society the unhealthy concept of endless competition with others being at the root of all social interaction becomes accepted as a fundamental and inevitable component of human nature. It could be typified as almost the Stockholm Syndrome of the masses.

But history shows how this can unravel - in pain and tears as in the Russian Revolution and civil war, followed by the new oppression of Stalinism; or more hopefully in the rise of Chavez in Venezuela and Correa in Ecuador. A new consciousness can be born, usually, perhaps sadly, from adversity. The old decays and eventually a new paradigm arises, but how that is shaped is critical to the new order - whether mass consciousness awakens to shape change deliberately and equitably, or whether one set of "They" is replaced by another. Do we have an elite revolutionary vanguard, which history shows can be readily corrupted by the power it seeks to acquire in order to disperse (never quite getting round to the latter)? Or can change genuinely come from mass bodies, decentralised, open, democratic - as the original Soviets briefly were in the heady days of 1917?

It is more than a historical hypothetical - for never more in human history has there been a greater degree of false consciousness around acceptance of the free market and capitalism; yet never have there been greater dangers if this destructive force is not stopped, tamed and destroyed. For capitalism in its ever onward drive to commodify and consume is driving our world to exhaustion and our species to extinction.

Since 2008 the banking crisis has for the first time in maybe twenty years or more led to people questioning the effectiveness and equity of the market system. The coming food crisis may propel this forward as the corporate grip on global food supply and the speculation in hunger that is manifest in the obscene trading of "food futures" in stock markets are revealed as the drivers of inflation and starvation. The 1% concept favoured by the Occupy Movement is technically wide of the mark as there is a substantial degree of unjust inequality among the remaining 99% as well. Yet it powerfully portrays the sequestering of wealth by a tiny elite - "them" - and could, finally and very consciously give the Left both the platform and the audience to show that in a socially just society, "They" can finally and irrevocably be replaced by "Us" - all of us.

Below: Welsh singer Jem released this understated and surprisingly dark song some years ago; its theme of compliance with  the rules set by "them" and how we make our own prisons has never been so pertinent.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

I Predict A Riot - Russia's Circular History

The most notable news story from Russia in recent weeks has been the arrest and trial of the three members of Pussy Riot. This is the female punk band that staged an anti-Putin protest with a satirical hymn to the Virgin Mary in Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow during the run up to the Presidential elections earlier this year (although it is to be noted the music track on the video below was not played in the Cathedral, but overlayed when it was uploaded to Youtube and the world).

Needless to say, their performance was executed without the approval of the religious authorities of the Russian Orthodox Church and the women are now facing up to seven years in jail for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred." Their trial began last week and appears to be a parody of justice - the prosecution witnesses talk about how they felt hearing the song, while only three of the thirteen defence witnesses have been allowed to be called. The prosecution witnesses are questioned about their religious beliefs, giving them full opportunity to stigmatise the defendants as blasphemers, while any attempts to show the defence witnesses to also have Christian beliefs have been repeatedly ruled out of order.

 Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and
Maria Alekhina
  face 7 years in jail.
It is a case that even RT News has admitted is dividing Russia between those who cling to Putin's nostalgic and increasingly repressive nationalism, and those who for the last two decades have been working for a free, democratic society where freedom of expression is a given. It is of little surprise to discover that the group was motivated to stage its protest where it did because of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch's public call for worshippers to vote for Putin. This was/is at a time when millions of Russians were protesting their suspicions of the President's "manipulation" of first the Parliamentary and then the Presidential elections. As the established Church in Russia - the Patriarch swears the President into office - its head should be at least formally neutral but, in the "managed democracy" that is the Russian Republic, this was blatantly broken - but  unlike the singers, no cleric has faced any charges such as abuse of office or breach of election law.

The outcome is expected soon. Putin appears mildly embarrassed by the international attention it has drawn, with politicians and celebrities across the world calling for the charges to be dropped. Today, he seemed to be suggesting there should be some degree of leniency shown in sentencing (this before a verdict is given). But it is already too late for him to pretend that somehow Russia has any sort of functioning civil society: the struggle between authoritarians and liberals is now fully on, and the trial is only one of several aspects of this, including the unprecedented range of anti-government demonstrations in recent months.

Supporters see the case as key to freedom of speech in Russia
For Russia, it is not an unfamiliar scenario, at least in the perspective of history. Almost exactly 99 years ago, Czarist Russia was rocked by a strikingly similar set of circumstances, albeit with rather different and more serious charges involved. Likewise, it marked a turning point in the political struggle between liberalism and authoritarianism.

In Kiev, in spring 1911, a young boy, Andrei Yutshinsky, was found murdered, stabbed dozens of times in what the rightwing "Black Hundreds" (who agitated violently on behalf of the Czar) and the gutter press quickly decided was a ritual murder of a Christian by Jews. A witch-hunt followed with a Jewish man, Mendel Beilis, arrested and charged in spite of a total lack of evidence - but in the two years he waited in prison for his trial, he was utterly demonised as a "Drinker of Christian Blood". His wish to do such a thing was based on the false "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", a tract written by the Czar's police, which created the myth of a Jewish conspiracy to take over the Christian world: Hitler later used it to great effect.

Two Russian policemen discovered the truth - the boy had in fact discovered that a friend's mother had been involved with a black market gang and threatened to report her, only to be murdered by the gang. However, on the Czar Nicholas' orders, they were dismissed and the prosecution of Beilis went ahead in September 1913 in order to "prove" the Jewish conspiracy theory was real. The Judge was met by the Czar and promised promotion if there was a conviction; the jury was packed with Government sympathisers and the defence was repeatedly denied the right to put its full case.

Outside the Court, Russian society was fractured, with liberal and socialist parties calling for Beliss' acquittal and decrying the whole affair as a disgrace to Russia' faltering steps towards a modern society. By contrast, the nationalists and royalists called full throttle for Beilis' execution and the expulsion of the Jews (tens of thousands had been murdered in recent years in vicious pogroms tacitly encouraged by the authorities). Abroad, the celebrities of the day petitioned for Beilis' freedom - H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Thomas Hardy, academics, politicians and students among them.

In the end, the case against Beilis was so thin that even the biased Court proceedings and the pro-Czarist jury didn't convict him. He was released and fled the country within a few weeks, never to return. But the Czarist Government continued with its repression unabated, the Beilis case being perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the very limited political and social reforms following the 1905/6 Revolution.

Putin and his coterie of course look back wistfully to the Czarist days and the ceremony around the Russian Government now owes much to the Romanov Court in its final days. Likewise, the restored, pre-eminent position of the Orthodox Church, used by the State now in the same way as the Czar to associate good, normal Russians with God and the President.

But as we await the outcome of this trial, a key one for freedom in Russia, Putin might do well to reflect that in less than four years after the Beilis case, the whole rotten edifice of Romanov Imperial Russia was to collapse in the flames of the revolutions of 1917. No autocracy can last forever. "Czar" came from the title "Caesar" in the old Byzantine Empire, where Emperors on their Coronation Day were accompanied by two men, one of whom whispered constantly to the ruler, "Remember, you are mortal." And the other one measured him for his coffin.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Games Without Finance: Capitalism Can't Compete

I didn't support the Olympics coming to Britain; but, once it was happening, I will admit, I really enjoyed much of the Opening Ceremony (industrial revolution aside!) and the success of athletes from all over the world, notwithstanding the odd quibble, is impressive to behold - not least the young British athletes who have worked so hard, sometimes with little support compared to their rivals.

I really liked the idea of Mitt Romney not only being so embarrassed by his carping about arrangements, but when that wonderful NHS symbol went up, what was he thinking as he sat in the audience watching? This, after all, is the man representing the morons who claimed that Obama's limited healthcare initiative was "Nazi Communism" and that the British health service is run by a series of "Death Committees" (I kid you not). There was even the American rightwinger who claimed that if Stephen Hawking was British, the NHS would have let him die years ago. Until, of course, Hawking pointed out he is British and has only ever had medical treatment from the NHS...

Public services- delivering better health and better Olympic Games
However, there have been many aspects of the London Olympics which show how the original ideals of the Games have been subverted by money-making; and money-making that, like so much of contemporary free market capitalism, is not working even to its own limited standards.

First we had the scandal over G4S paying security staff £1.50 an hour less than they claimed when setting their fee; "training" them months in advance and then expecting these low paid staff to sit, unpaid, by their phones, refusing all other offers of work for weeks and weeks until they got a phonecall from G4S (which we know now in many cases never came). All so that they could come in to work in temporary roles of a maximum of four weeks duration. And, of course, G4S barely recruited a third of the people they undertook to hire, lost touch with lots of them and failed to train or rota many others.

Big Fail - although G4S still intend to collect their full £59 million fee from the Government, which must have involved about the worst worded contract in history...

Who takes up where the profiteers of private enterprise have failed? Why, public staff - soldiers and police; both services currently facing swathes of redundancies. A number of the soldiers deployed at the Olympic Park face a very doubtful future in terms of their employment, while police numbers are at their lowest in years. But both services appear to have very quickly and effectively filled the gap left by G4S and their arrogant management.

But the private sector has also fared very badly in terms of services to visitors to the Park. Not only have the food outlets sold out half way through each of the first few days of the Games, failing to cope with demand, but Visa obtained agreement from Locog for a "cashless" Games - so if you want food, you have to pay with a card, preferably a Visa card.

But what happened? Well yesterday, the card machines all failed at the Wembley stadium, where Olympic football was underway. From cashless Games, suddenly they became "cash-only" Games. But, bowing to their sponsors original ethos, stadium officials had disabled all the ATM cash machines on the site - so thousands of spectators had to do without (though since the food had sold out anyway, perhaps it didn't make much difference!)

Since the outset, Locog has been criticised about its sponsors and their control over Olympic branding. Coca Cola and McDonald's (who have the largest outlet of their franchise in the world at the Olympic Park) are hardly bywords for sport and health. Olympic athletes are at least notionally amateurs: their success if they enjoy it may later bring them financial gain; but for the Games, they are signed up to the ideals of fair competition. But outside the stadium, the Olympics, it seems are now marred not by fairness or even competition.

Instead, monopolies have bought up rights to supply and profit from a captive audience. Yet in their greed and short-term thinking, just like the banks, the City traders and all the other "private-public partnerships" that proclaim social good while actually thinking about pure profit, it seems they just can't deliver anything right. Their total disinterest in the Games themselves is witnessed by the thousands of empty seats allocated to corporate sponsors who, having got the logo, just want payback, not sports.

With profit-margins squeezed for every last penny, just-in-time delivery systems collasping, consumers ripped off and low paid staff in insecure jobs, capitalism isn't going for gold. In fact, it's not even off the starting blocks.

Below: G4S would now like someone to run their recruitment service - perhaps they should have started earlier?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Between A Rock and A Hard Place - The Syrian Mirage

Men are huddled, naked and bleeding, by a wall as a crowd swarms around them, ready for the kill. A few moments later, gunfire blazes and they lie dead, butchered by a mob of supposedly democratic rebels.

This then is the face of "free Syria" - revealed today in a sickening video just as it is announced that the rebels have now received heavy armaments and surface-to-air missiles from anonymous donors via Turkey. And who are these patrons of the allegedly peace and freedom loving insurgents battling the Assad regime in Aleppo and Damascus?

None other, it seems, than our old friends, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. That's right, the same regimes that have sponsored the bloody crackdown on democracy protesters in Bahrain, and just last week in one of Saudi's eastern provinces. The enlightened despots, promoting a deeply fundamentalist strain of Wahabist Islamism, are funding the increasingly violent assault against the secular regime of Baathist Syria, just as previously they sponsored and, in Qatar's case, sent troops to support the battle against Gaddaffi's Libya and interfered in Iraq. They are even paying a wage to rebel fighters - all to advance their particular form of faith, probably the most repressive in the Muslim world and one disavowed by hundreds of millions of Muslims.

Just as the fall of the secular Libyan regime saw the al-Qaeda flag hauled above a courthouse in Benghazi, so violent jihadists are flocking to Syria, set on turning the country into the latest arena in their long war: and, it seems, with at least the passive support of the West. The Assad regime, which has long campaigned against fundamentalism, among other measures banning the niqab and hijab in universities, is particularly disliked by Islamists - just as was Gaddaffi.

Why? What possible motive could there be for the USA and its European allies to connive, albeit covertly,  with the very people they have spent so much time and squandered so many lives, military and civilian, in the mountains of Afghanistan?

Syria under Bashar al-Assad and his late father has of course been no picnic - the regime has been brutal and repressive itself (and indeed almost certainly was behind the Lockerbie bombing rather than the Libyans). Yet in terms of personal freedom, especially for women and minority faiths (its has one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East) it is light years apart from the monolithic dictatorship of the Kingdom of Ibn Saud. Its military opponents, while masquerading as democrats, have ranks filled with mainly people from a fairly narrow segment of the Sunni section of the Syrian community; this is why Shia Muslims, Alawites and Christians - as well as many Sunnis- have stayed loyal to the Assad regime, deeply anxious about precisely what form their "liberation" might take.

Yet America and the UK especially keep parroting the line that Assad must go, weeks ago destroying the Kofi Annan peace plan that might have fumbled its way towards some sort of peaceful, negotiated settlement. Repeatedly, they have taken at face value the often spurious claims - on a number of occasions shown to be downright lies - made by the Free Syrian Army, and they have ignored the calls by a wide range of other opposition groups inside and outside the country for a negotiated path to be followed. Instead, just as Iraq unravelled into bloody sectarian conflict, the West and its fundamentalist allies in the Gulf seem intent on providing the rebels with the means of turning a low level conflict into a bitter and bloody conflagration out of which who knows what horrors may emerge.

But peace and democracy is not what any of this is about. Rather, it is about neutralising an opponent of Israel and an ally of Iran in the wider geopolitical game played by the White House. As it skirts round and round Iran in ever decreasing circles, readying to strike, what is more obvious than ever is America's willingness to let millions suffer war simply to punish those regimes which, unlike Saudi and Qatar, dare to refuse to comply with US foreign policy.

As for their domestic policies, Washington is as unconcerned about the rights of Arabs under the Ibn Sauds as it was unfazed by the repression of regimes like Somoza's Nicaragua and Pinochet's Chile. It has never yet criticised Saudi Arabia for its oppressive regime, which reaches into the most private aspects of the Kingdom's subjects' lives, and it stood aside while Saudi troops assisted Bahrain in crushing democracy protests almost at the gates of the biggest US military overseas base in the world.

Just today, Iran was joined to al-Qaeda and the Taliban by a US judge who ruled it should pay compensation for the 9/11 atrocity - completely ignoring the fact that Bin Laden and his Taliban allies have always been sworn enemies of Tehran and Iran lent the US vital support both in capturing scores of al-Qaeda suspects and persuading the Northern Alliance to ally with the USA in the Afghan invasion. But of course, a similar, equally spurious claim was made against Saddam just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

So we know what to expect next and, as former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, unapologetically told the BBC about US policy in the Arab world not so long ago, "It's not about democracy. It never has been."