Battling for the Earth: The Huicholes

In his two-hour indie documentary, Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians, Hernán Vilchez captures one of the last Mesoamerican civilisations to preserve their distinctive way of life in an ever-globalising world – still able, until now.

The Huicholes tribe has been a largely resilient culture that lives in parallel to contemporary Mexico. Carbon dating proves their people’s existence long before Christ and their beliefs predate those of mainstream religions, practicing an early form of animistic and pantheistic mysticism.

Every year they perform an 800-kilometre pilgrimage to the top of the Cerro Quemado, a sacred mountain in the fertile semi-desert area of Catorce, where the hallucinogenic Peyote cactus grows. Eating the fleshy gourd is at the heart of the tribe’s spiritual knowledge and core to their existence, connecting them to their ancestors and guardian spirits through psychedelic visions.

HuicholesFIlm CARMELA Y AZAELThe earth where the cacti cultivate has evaded drought – which is widespread in surrounding regions – but is now falling foul to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). NAFTA grants mining concessions to Canadian multinationals out to quarry natural riches in the Huicholes’ holy land.

Since the treaty was signed, the asymmetry between incomes and expenditures has become stark. Some communities have seen corporations extract an average of 90 billion dollars in minerals in 20-odd years, leaving only one billion of that to be spent on local wages, land acquisition and indemnities. Foreign bank accounts have been fattened while Mexico’s national terrain has been decreased by a quarter, with 56,000 hectares of the desert being sold off.

What’s more, the unique biodiversity of the ecosystem which has been given UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage status and is protected by conservation groups such as WWF is now under threat. There are 4,000 plant species and 250 bird species that could potentially become victims of the mining companies.

The film Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians is backed by the traditional authorities of indigenous people and shaman, and José Luis has broken decorum by granting Hernán unprecedented media access to the Huicholes community. Accompanied by the director, the shaman and his son, Enrique, have travelled beyond the Sierra for the first time in their lives to promote the film, which documents the beauty of their way of life and their plight in the face of imminent extinction.

Their hope? To remove the veil of mystery around their ancient customs in an attempt to manifest empathy from the modern world. We met up with them on the London pit-stop of their tour.

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“Ohhh, I remember the first vision,” says José Luis, recalling the phantasmagoria of the Peyote. Wearing embroidered overalls and a palm leaf hat with beadwork dangling off the trim, he almost looks comical against the sober brickwork of London, but unknown to onlookers, he’s an earth warrior of the Huicholes tribe. “There was corn which is very symbolic for us and music – tunes and lyrics that gave me good feelings. When you take it, it’s like a vitamin pumping through you, so you have to remember to use it in a good way. This movie, this is not a coincidence or by chance, this is something the elders saw and now we are here accomplishing it as part of our spiritual way.”

The film was released in May 2014. Ever since, father and son have been touring in tandem, with screenings at grassroots venues such as universities and arthouse cinemas all over the world. “When I was five, I was very ill with an infection that made my skin pus and bleed. My father told me the only way to heal was to work with a xucuritame (an official of the tribe’s ceremonial centre), so I went and I began to feel relief from my illness.” Convinced of the power of his tribe’s knowledge, José Luis followed the path to becoming a mara’akame, or ‘a man who knows’.

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What he has come to realise is that the proposed exploitation of the Cerro Quemado mountain-scape risks not only the health of Mexican miners and local people – for the process sees two million litres of arsenic laced water pass through the municipal dam, leaving deposits that waft toxic powder down valley into the airstream – but endangers the survival of his community by ripping apart the very fabric upon which it is built. The Huicholes are only just starting to develop their written language, and their yearly ceremonial migration to the site allows dispersed members of the population to meet and disseminate information among one another by word of mouth.

“To be Huichol, by obligation you have to work for your own culture. You can’t just go out and be a model. No,” explains Enrique, the eldest of José Luis’ nine children at 37 years old, and a father of five himself. One of his siblings is the narrator of Hernán’s documentary and hopes a degree in the environment and human rights will help fight for the Huicholes, but Enrique has chosen to stay in the community and work as a farmer and artisan.

Though he carries a solemn air about him, he too realises it is time to bridge the gap between his old, traditional world and the very scary present: “I was really afraid, because I’d never flown on a plane before and didn’t know what was going to happen. But if you don’t go out of your community, you don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s really enriching my knowledge; I feel happy with every new city we visit because I see each place has its own essence. Here in London, I love how the pyramids look.” Hernán laughs as he translates, and clarifies that Enrique is talking about the city’s skyscrapers.

José Luis in London 2

José Luis reflects upon the journey as progressive so far: “The intellectuals, the people getting together to campaign, with their prayers we are activating an energetic connection with the spirits.” Back in April 2008, Mexico’s then president, Felipe Calderón, dressed as a Huichol live on television, made a pledge to protect the sacred site. He betrayed it one year later, by granting the mining concessions over 70per cent of the protected area. This led to Mexicans rallying on the streets calling their own leader ‘a jerk’.

The Huicholes escalated the issue at the United Nations Permanent Forum in New York City and in Vancouver, presenting their case in the homeland of their transgressors, First Majestic Silver Corp, who happened to be holding a shareholders meeting nearby. They headed there to protest in the hope of shocking investors into thinking beyond their stocks. Then there was a festival held in honour of the cause, headlined by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine and Calle 13, which Hernán believes was a peak moment, “but because there was a mass of people and mass of money raised, the aim became clouded. The message is the important thing, not the hype.”

The mobilisation of this anti-mining movement has resulted in an outpour of donations to fund community projects for the Huicholes and underprivileged inhabitants of the affected area, such as home gardens, reforestation and the recycling of rainwater. “It’s all about permaculture,” imparts Enrique, “which relates to the old traditions we used to have – it is important to recapture the ancient knowledge of how to build a self-maintained habitat using basic systems.”

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Similarly, support, education and micro-entrepreneurships are being given or set up for the locals who feel becoming a labourer in the mines is their most viable option. “Some people, without knowing the implications of mining, say, ‘Maybe I want to work in a mine? Bring the mines! Bring the jobs!’ They have a misplaced loyalty that seems to outweigh health risks – there are other ideas, let’s talk about that,” says Hernán.

Unsurprisingly, the director’s favourite story as a child was Sandokan: The Tiger of Malaysia, a prince turned pirate who led his men in attacks against colonial forces. “It was about the British and Dutch invading land, a kind of Robin Hood story of fighting for the poor, having adventures and finding love. He was a hero and I love heroes.” Now, at 44, he says his protagonists are the Huicholes. “There are a lot of temptations from the modern world, like money and exposure, but the Huicholes youth understands the need to protect mother-earth and to live in harmony as human beings. Spirituality is a realm above politics, if you don’t tap into it you will always be ruled by lower minds.”

Enrique (left) Hernán Vilchez (centre) José Luis (right) in London

Body Images: Teresa Madeline Geer and Hernán Vilchez

Turkey’s Attempted Coup: Let the Wounds Heal First

It was bloody, it was gruesome. At first it felt like a joke; in a social media age and among countless satellite channels, the low-rating state channel, TRT, broadcasted its dull announcement of the coup. Indeed, some even did not believe there was anything much that would come out of it and soon returned to watching their films and soap operas on that Friday night. Yet, as the details still continue to emerge – the horrific videos of tanks butchering people, limbs scattered across Istanbul and Ankara’s main streets among defiant crowds, snipers ruthlessly shooting at innocent masses, and officers’ Whatsapp conversations advising and reporting the killing of dozens in cold blood – it was definitely a horror movie that we have survived.

Yet, it was also epic. The people resisted a murderous military gang’s vicious attempt to take over the whole country against their wishes, with a bravery that already made Tahrir or Tiananmen look like a minor event. They surely beat a coup with their own blood, sweat and tears.

It looks like the attempted coup was amateurish and doomed to fail after all, even if civilians had not been mobilised by the president’s Facetime call televised live on CNN Turk, or the continuous salah recitations blared out from minarets across the country. We had similar desperate attempts, such as that of Talat Aydemir’s 1963 plot. But what distinguished this junta is that it has proven unmatched in cruelty by enacting the bloodiest coup attempt in the Turkish Republic’s history.

The country is traumatised, but so far has not really felt the consolation or condolences of world leaders or the international press. The Turkish people need due attention to their wounds, but do not find a sympathetic world. Instead they are faced with an international media and politicians who preferred to immediately focus on what the next actions of the “Sultan” would be.

In navigating their own dilemma, some European and U.S. officials as well as the media, have already alienated the Turkish public with countless insinuations that they could not care less about the toppling of an elected authority by a more western-friendly junta, even at the cost of a deadly massacre. The warm welcoming of the bloody Egyptian coup, despite its horrifying massacres, had already opened this door. Referring to Erdoğan supporters as “sheep”, and suggesting “they will follow whatever he says”, was definitely not the most respectful way to talk about a people resisting an attack on the government they elected and mourning their dead either. Now when they seem to be concerned a lot more about the post-coup purges, which are now well beyond a simple consolidation of Erdoğan’s power but the beginning of a whole new phase of Erdoğan’s regime, their selective sensibilities about liberties will only bolster the image of a hypocritical west. It was essential western leaders and media did a better job by supporting the people against a homicidal military faction’s violent toppling of a popularly elected president, before they brought up the issues of curtailed rights and liberties.

Was the popular resistance for democracy? The epic defeat of the coup may not have been for democracy, as some liberal or leftist coup resisters claim in their wishful language of “martyrs of democracy.” There were surely many ready to die, perhaps not for democracy, but for their honour, freedom, or leader. When a Kurdish friend, a bitter critic of Erdoğan and his recent campaign against Kurds that victimised his family and his hometown, readily took to the streets, he told me, “I would not be able to live with this sin if I stayed silent; I went out for myself, for our future, for everybody in this country; not for Erdoğan.” It was a “never again” moment. “Tomorrow I can go back to oppose Erdoğan,” he added.

Whatever their reasons, the Turkish public have saved a regime, with their own blood. Putschists in effect turned the Erdoğan regime into a popular revolution, a war of liberation. “We are here for martyrdom,” many were chanting. “Stop calling it martyr of democracy, as our shaheeds did not die for democracy. They died for religion, nation and motherland,” said a popular Islamist figure. It turned out they were not kidding when they were chanting, “Tell us to die, we will die” during Erdoğan’s anti-Gezi rallies three years ago. They earned their regime and they must be given some credit for protecting it. The invincible army-nation is back in full force, and Erdoğan would just as well take these Turks to conquer the world if it were a couple of hundred years ago.

Even if it was not for democracy that the majority shed their blood, it was most certainly the democratic thing to resist the coup. Of course, AKP supporters had the most stakes in the current regime and they were the first to take to the streets for Erdoğan. But we also did not see any crowds of people supporting the coup. Just as Gezi was heterogeneous, yet predominantly secular with a westernised base, this was also heterogeneous with a conservative majority.

The big masses that rally every night are still living through the horrors of the coup attempt in their cheerful and celebratory mood for surviving and defeating it. It will take time for the wounds to heal and the crowds to calm down. Unfortunately, what is lost in this mélange are calls for restraint, justice, and rule of law that are doomed to fall on deaf ears.

*This article is first of a three-part series on the July 2016 failed military coup in Turkey.

 

Image from: http://bit.ly/2aIwtbp

Lessons from the Valleys: Brexit and the Slow Death of Welsh Socialism

The Welsh Valleys never really recovered from the de-industrialisation of the Thatcher era. The Valleys are, in some parts, as poor as countries in Eastern Europe. On this basis they had received large amounts of EU funding for regeneration projects, whilst also remaining some of the safest Labour seats in the country with a long historic relationship with trade unionism.

The Brexit results, showing that every Welsh Valley had voted to leave, point towards a slow process of socialist decay. The days that followed the result, I think I went through what could be described as a mini-grief cycle. Denial, acceptance, general despondency. I was coming to terms with the fact that an area which could be described as the birthplace of democratic socialism in Britain (home to Keir Hardie’s constituency and NHS founder Aneurin Bevan) may be moving irrevocably rightwards. The men and women of these areas were pioneers of collectivism and breaking capitalist monopolies. Put simply, the Valleys proved to me that if the small people get organised, they can provide a real challenge to the interests of money and power.

After the referendum result, a flurry of race hate crimes ensued. In the same streets that had nurtured Colin Jackson, there were reports that refugee families had knives posted through letter boxes, and in Newport, a Muslim family had their door kicked in.

I thought of all of the times I came across quite startling instances in Welsh history where ordinary people stood up against oppression, fascism and racism; like in 1839, when there was a 10,000 strong march of working men on Newport under the banner of Chartism. This was one of the biggest political actions under the Chartist movement. Later leaders were to become passionate supporters of Indian independence. In 1936, the fascist Tommy Moran, was chased out of Rhondda by a mob of thousands who refused to let him continue with his planned public address. In the 1930s, about 120 miners went from South Wales to fight fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Ordinary men, not accustomed to leaving their close-knit valley towns smuggled themselves to Spain and risked their lives to fight against Franco. Even Paul Robeson, the black singer and activist, had a lengthy relationship with the miners of South Wales, whom he lived and worked with in order to better understand their struggles. In Wales, he experienced the dignity of living with no colour bar. There is no doubting the region’s historic leftist internationalist credentials. Given the xenophobic flavour of the referendum campaign, this made the vote to leave especially disheartening.

My initial reflection was that perhaps my rose tinted understanding of Welsh history may well be at significant fault. My only real day-to-day experience of the Valleys was when I took a door-to-door sales job 10 years ago, chugging for charities like Oxfam around parts of Pontypridd, Pontypool and Caerphilly. As a person of colour, I had heard the standard urban yarns about racism in poor working class white communities. But of course, myths and realities can often be quite different things. No one said anything remotely racist to me. I was touched by numerous acts of human kindness. Pensioners shoved fivers in my hand more than once “because the kids in those leaflets need it more than me”. This certainly was not the behaviour of a community which was somehow inherently bigoted or backwards. More importantly, it taught me to identify and challenge my own prejudices.

For me, Brexit signals a worrying change. Aditya Chakrabortty states that people’s willingness to frame immigration in a “them versus us” political narrative has increased. This was particularly marked in Wales, where people were willing to blame migrants for problems, despite the fact that immigration is particularly low. Of course, not everyone who voted ‘leave’ is racist, but there is no denying that the climate of fear, which was further promoted by the print media. The number of newspapers which favour more muscular and right wing approaches to immigration, as opposed to those which may adopt more informed and less sensationalist stances, is simply much greater.

This seems to go hand in hand with changes in voting patterns. From the 2010 to the 2015 elections, the share of the UKIP vote in the Valleys often went from single figures to between 12 and 20 per cent. UKIP was consistently the party that made the biggest gains. The party’s founder, Alan Sked, a professor of history and a passionate federalist, has had no hesitation in describing Nigel Farage as a “dim-witted racist” and has bemoaned the fact that the party which he founded has been infiltrated by far-right elements who hold nasty opinions about Muslims, black people and homosexuals. Let’s not forget that Farage’s campaign manager in South Thanet was a former member of the National Front. Farage has also discussed, quite nonchalantly on national TV, the repeal of the Equalities Act.

Have UKIP released the ogre of race hate in communities that have a proud tradition of challenging exploitation and imperialism? I fear that communities that have a pedigree of standing up to fascism and racism are forgetting some of the best pages of their history. Much to my moralising chagrin, they have voted for a right-wing political arrangement which is almost certain to reduce funding to the region. The result is more likely to entrench scapegoating mentalities in relation to immigrants, not alleviate them.

At least now, the political establishment is aware, in tangible terms, how divided this country has become. There may finally be some political urgency to address the huge disparities in wealth that the neo-liberal consensus has put into motion.

People are not born racist, they learn racism. Racism is often a proxy for other concerns related to reduced access to public services and downward pressure on wages. The Labour ‘Remain and Reform’ campaign undertook a gross miscalculation when it did not tackle these arguments head on. Jeremy Corbyn is fighting to become Labour leader for the second time, and it looks like he will win. If the Labour party is to ensure its own survival, it must resonate with ‘Left Behind Britain’, not just PhD candidates in London. City-dwelling progressives must stop, to use George Orwell’s phrase, “looking at the working class through the wrong end of the telescope”. Now is the time for proper conversations with real people.

The metropolitans must also open their eyes to the history of the Labour movement, and the near miraculous rights and privileges that ordinary men and women ensured for us. These were won in in the most difficult of conditions, and must be safeguarded. We need to re-learn the Valleys’ gift to us – the gift of effective, principled politics.

 

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Edhi: Losing Pakistan’s Greatest Son

As far back as many can remember there have been few consistencies in Pakistan, and fewer still to be proud of. Amid perpetual inter-ethnic strife, military coups and political scandals, an unlikely protagonist has left an indelible mark on the chaotic palimpsest of Pakistani history. Abdul Sattar Edhi, a humanitarian responsible for the world’s largest private welfare organisation and dubbed the “world’s richest poor man”, passed away earlier this month to both national and international esteem that is unlikely to be seen again in Pakistan. Endowed with veneration by civil society, Edhi did, in many ways die as he lived – as a transcendental figure of stark simplicity.

Details of his life are recalled with proud reverie by almost all Pakistanis: that he only owned two pairs of clothes; that he slept in a dingy and bare windowless room in Karachi; that his family had to hide a TV as they knew he considered such items an unjustified excess; that he denied his son a bicycle until the day every child in his cramped residential block had possession of one. Remarkably, by the time of his death, Edhi had created an organisation that constituted a lifeline to the destitute throughout Pakistan. Not only has the Edhi Foundation established the largest volunteer fleet of ambulances in the world, it has also rescued 35,000 abandoned babies, housed 50,000 orphans and set up countless homes to care for individuals with mental health needs.

Born in pre-partition Gujerat (1928), Edhi relocated to Pakistan in 1947 during the bloodshed of partition and his early experiences were central to an evolving philosophy of humanity based on inclusivity and justice. Hailing from the ethnic Memon community that rapidly established successful business and military links in the young nation, Edhi began work at a Memon dispensary that primarily served the interests of this influential merchant class. He was appalled by the discrimination he witnessed against non-Memons, establishing his own dispensary in 1951 at only 23, and dismissing the ethnic chauvinism of his own community with characteristic prescience: “humanitarian work loses its significance when you discriminate between the needy.”

As nationalism and state formation became increasingly associated with ideas of wealth accumulation, power and personal security, for many Pakistanis these ideals could only be realised through frameworks of ethnic division. Edhi however, held little conviction in identity politics and routinely dismissed notions of clan loyalty – and by extension, exclusion of the ‘other’. When asked by members of the religious establishment why his charity’s ambulances were treating minorities he replied curtly, “Because the ambulance is more Muslim than you.”

An almost messianic need to advocate for the marginalised and down-trodden allowed him to evade the religious fatalism that told us disasters were “meant to be”. Neither was he foolish enough to see poverty as virtuous in and of itself as other famous humanitarians have. Instead, the need for a robust welfare state to buffer the extreme hardships people had to bear became imperative.

Edhi’s personal will appeared, at times, almost superhuman: as a child, he was deeply affected by the experiences of neglect his mother experienced following a stroke, so years later he stood on a street corner in Karachi begging for money to buy an old ambulance. When his grandson was burnt alive in one of his shelters on Eid day by an unstable patient, he received the news while on a helicopter above a train wreck in Rawalpindi, but felt he had to continue working – holding his grief until days later when he returned home. He also ensured no harm came to the perpetrator, driven by a deep regard for those with afflictions of the mind. “The only time I entered a fight was when somebody teased a mentally handicapped person,” he once remarked. “I grew up feeling deeply about them”.

In a sign of the respect that he commanded in a society beset with intolerance, Edhi’s charity addressed taboos that even today are hard to openly discuss in Pakistan. In a remarkable indication of the vision he upheld, the foundation refused to endorse the pervasive moral and sexual regulation of women. Despite cultural norms and patriarchy often exerting an iron grip over feminine expression and reproductive autonomy, the Edhi Foundation housed victims of domestic violence, survivors of honour-based violence and the offspring of such women banished to the periphery. Edhi rejected judgements that perpetuated gender discourses, simply acknowledging the rawness of human fallibility while refusing to endorse grand moralising narratives of individual agency.

In many ways, it is these dichotomies that marked him out in a society littered with ostentatious corruption and incompetence. Where many sought security in gated communities, he sought a life among the everyday melee of bare existence; where the influential planned careful appearances, he was always personally accessible in his charity’s headquarters; where many strove to preserve privilege, he strove to dignify the quiet and daily suffering; where business elites flirted with charity in attempts to absolve sin, he rejected tainted money for the rupees of ordinary men; and where many marked the nation with self-interest, he marked it with overwhelming tenderness. At times he appeared to be the only person advocating the founding principles of an inclusive Pakistan, going even further than the “one nation, one culture, one language” vision espoused by Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. There were to be no geographical or ethnic barriers to humanitarianism. As he delicately stated, “The five basic tenets of Islam continue onto the sixth for me. [Humanitarianism] That it is not proclaimed as obligatory has deeper meaning; as right or wrong are left to human initiatives, its importance would be lost if forced.”

Edhi’s legacy is one of noble transcendence, beyond borders, beyond privilege and beyond political loyalties. In a stroke of great irony, his state funeral was conducted to reverberations of all of these. Having scant time for politicians and statesmen in life, in death we have seen and will continue to see these very figures fall over themselves to take ownership of his legacy. With Karachi National Stadium lined with generals, politicians and religious elites for the occasion, the funeral was closed to the public – the very people Edhi had devoted 60 years of his life to. As the great humanitarian’s body was lowered into the grave he prepared himself 25 years earlier, one gets the acute sense that Pakistan’s greatest son had already left his reply to these people: “I will go to the heaven where the poor and miserable people live.”

edhi-children- funeral - The-Platform

Featured: Via Pinterest  Body: AFP/Tribune.com.pk

An Inconvenient Democracy: The Turkey Coup Attempt as Told by Western Press

The failed coup attempt in Turkey over the weekend impressively demonstrated the victory of people power and democratic will over the machinations of the armed forces. Yet it is difficult to understand why major media outlets in the west avoided any mention of this important aspect of the event as the crisis unfolded, preferring instead to highlight deep divisions in Turkish society and the authoritarianism of its president.

Democracy is the backbone of a free society and replacing a democratically elected government by a military dictatorship cannot be an acceptable alternative. The present Turkish government, despite its shortcomings, is democratically elected. Some sections of the military tried to overthrow the government, and, with it, the people’s right to choose a government. It is a testament to the immense bravery shown by the Turkish people, who came out against the attempted coup, that a major disaster has been averted in a country at the centre of key affairs in world politics. Yet, observing the reportage of leading western media outlets, and the reaction (or lack of) from key western governments, does not reflect this reality.

The role of western governments in supporting and opposing military or civilian dictatorships in the world is extremely questionable. The way the so-called champions of democracy supported General Sisi, who overthrew the first democratically elected Egyptian president in living memory through a coup, is the perfect example of how western superpowers decide which regime to support and which to overthrow according to their vested interests. Unsurprisingly, western governments, such as the US and the UK, remained silent when events in Turkey began to unfold. It would not be until the success of the coup came into question several hours later that statements from western authorities in support of the elected government and Turkish democracy began to pour in. Just two months ago our own foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, won the ‘most offensive Erdogan poem competition’, so it is hardly surprising that there was no immediate support from our government for the democracy in Turkey. Did they want to see whether the coup attempt was successful so that they would extend their support towards an acquiescent military dictator, rather than working with an elected leadership that does not hesitate to speak up against western double standards?

Meanwhile, reputable mainstream media outlets like BBC, CNN and Sky News are expected to show a minimum level of neutrality in their reportage. Yet, following their live coverage of the attempted coup revealed that they rather found it the best opportunity to criticise the leadership of Turkey. There was little effort from all three channels to inform their audiences of the latest updates of a very fluid situation. This discrepancy in reporting was thrown into particular relief when comparing with the live coverage broadcast on Al Jazeera, who were constantly updating the news bulletin with the fast-changing developments in Turkey. When Al Jazeera was reporting the coup plotters’ failure to keep hold of the state television station TRT, the BBC and Sky News continued to report that the coupists had declared the takeover of the country and TRT was under their control. CNN went one step further, broadcasting in bold the headline ‘Martial Law in Turkey’. Long after Al Jazeera reported the retreat of soldiers from Istanbul airport, these channels continued broadcasting anti-Erdogan rhetoric by different commentators, rather than reporting these crucial updates. Al Jazeera interviewed one Turkish leader after another, including former President Abdullah Gul and former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, but the other three channels continued their commentaries against Erdogan. Indeed they even suggested that there was every possibility the coup would be successful because the president only had access to ‘FaceTime’ to address the nation.

What these outlets failed to acknowledge and report, due to their seemingly blind opposition to the Turkish leadership, is that the president is popular in his country and won his seat by popular vote. Turks came out on the streets in large numbers very late at night after being asked to do so by their leader, protesting peacefully and fearlessly in the face of tanks. Crucially, while the three big media outlets continued their running commentary on Erdogan’s failings and unpopularity among sections of Turkish society, they failed to broadcast that these very opponents, including Turkish opposition leaders, also strongly came out against the coup.

In a country that suffered for years under military dictatorship, Turks knew what was at stake and, in an impressive united movement, rejected the coup that was attempting to destabilise their hard fought democracy. Nonetheless, even when it was clear that the coup had failed, the three leading channels continued commenting on how ‘deeply divided’ the country was rather than admitting that the whole country was united against the coup plotters, and an extraordinary display of people power had saved their democracy. The unity of the otherwise deeply divided political parties showed in the extraordinary parliament session on Saturday exemplified the unity of the nation, but that aspect was hardly reported on.

The BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen, commented that President Erdogan is a ‘political Islamist who has rejected modern Turkey’s secular heritage’. This narrative has been the overwhelming theme in the coverage of most western media outlets. This continued on Sunday morning’s political coverage where the only concern showed by the BBC presenters and commentators was how authoritarian President Erdogan would become after the coup attempt failed.

Why did these outlets choose to cover the incident from such a narrow perspective, failing to appreciate the sacrifice of the Turkish people in saving their democracy? Mr Erdogan’s faith and Islamist ideology is frequently linked with the criticisms towards him, while the secularist coup plotters were not condemned. My own research into religion in the media has revealed how British media outlets represents Islam and Muslims from an ethnocentric perspective, considering secular values as the only acceptable way of life. It is not unlikely that the religious practice and political ideology of the Turkish leadership played an underlying role in the coverage of the attempted military coup in Turkey.

The BBC license fee payers have the right to receive impartial coverage of a major world event like this. CNN and Sky News also have responsibilities towards their audiences. This was not the time to only scrutinise the flaws of a democratically elected leader of a country, but to accurately report the events unfolding so that viewers are properly informed. In the battle against ISIS and the efforts to address the refugee crisis, stability in Turkey is paramount. Unfortunately, these outlets preferred to position themselves ideologically rather than impartially in their coverage.

The attempted coup in Turkey was a clear attack on democracy that was defeated by the united will of the Turkish people. The skewed coverage by the leading lights of western media is therefore a troubling manifestation of their professed commitment to democracy. It begs the question: is democracy only acceptable when it espouses leadership the west agrees with?

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The Missing Welcome of a Whale’s Tooth: Britain and Fiji after Brexit

Where to begin? I am a British Sikh, a Londoner by birth, a petite mature woman who wishes she was 5’2’’, and yes, I have all this pent-up aggression that expresses itself in constant apologies to anybody who steps in my path, treads on my toe, or otherwise makes my life a misery.

On the night of the historic Brexit vote, I had managed to slip into an unusually peaceful slumber on the sofa, television remote in hand. I may have been dreaming of Jeremy Vine and his valiant efforts to appear enthusiastic about the ridiculously ill-conceived barometer thingymajig on BBC, or wondering why I was being robbed of Robert Peston as BBC political editor. Maybe, I just wanted it all over, and couldn’t handle The Clash’s “Should I stay or should I go” on endless loop in my head.

I awoke to the inevitable – because let’s face it, when everybody expects a certain outcome, it never happens… Sitiveni Rabuka had been appointed leader of Fiji’s main opposition party. Rabuka had been the frontman for the country’s 1987 coup, told by God to get rid of the Labour Party that had recently won a general election and to make Fiji a Christian country. No need for that, we should have told him, because practically every Fijian is Christian and goes to church on Sunday. It’s already Christian. But Rabuka wasn’t talking about religion so much as race. Those pesky Indian vulagi (visitors) who had called Fiji home for close to a century were overstepping their bounds and becoming elected national officials. How dare they?

“How dare they!” was precisely the refrain of the Out campaign in Britain – to whose victory I also awoke – and of the small majority of its citizens for whom breaking with Europe mattered largely as an expression of nascent nationalism. The Lion roars again! When I ventured out into the cold grimy light of a typical London summer’s day after the vote, and regardless of the fact that I knew non-white British nationals had also supported Brexit (the irony of immigrants hating immigrants!), I didn’t have lions on the mind so much as rivers of blood. (Remember Enoch Powell, erstwhile British racist MP, and that rousing speech? Neither do I, but if you’re of immigrant stock, you get told about it pretty early in life).

So, where was I? Yes, grimy light of day, we are Brexiting, rivers, blood… and then POW! Somebody spat in my face. In my home town. In the streets where I was born, and where I have lived on-and-off my entire life.

All 5’1” of my petite frame rose up and raged against my attacker.

Just as quickly, though, I shut the hell up. I have lost my home. I have lost my home. I have lost my home…

I, who by some sleight of birth year, managed to not experience the racism that dogged the rest of my family, and who couldn’t really ever feel that home was anywhere but London or the UK, was finally, traumatically, homeless. It’s difficult to overstate the dislocation, the fear, the sense of indictment you feel gathering pace against your very existence and presence in the place you call home.

Ironically, a research colleague was at that moment experiencing the opposite: a homecoming of spiritual proportions in Israel. We couldn’t get to grips with the chasm between us, between the intensity of homeliness they felt and the intensity of homelessness I felt. Our email conversations during this time became desultory, our mutual empathy buried beneath the urgency of the feelings that engulfed us in our separate worlds. Our friendship hurtled towards its endgame.

In the meantime, more prosaic racial biases were occupying my attention and time. Not only did the country want us out – or at least, no more of us in – but my own neighbours were trying to get a car parking zone (CPZ) law passed because of a lack of car parking spaces for residents. And for some reason, they chose to identify a local mosque and a local college as the culprits for this loss of residential comfort. Because, hey, who should have to walk beyond their front door to get into their air-conditioned car, right? What my “neighbours” forgot to mention in their rousing submission and argument for CPZ was the traffic caused by the local church and the local school. No, it must be the Muslims and the minority-prolific college students taking away our land, not the Christians or overwhelmingly white kids and their parents.

And then I realised, I had gotten used to this insipid kind of racism. I mayn’t have had a turban knocked off my head, or been beaten up, but I have internalised the quiet racism that surrounds me. It is integral to my sense of the world and of my place in it, even if I often like to think that I am just one human among billions.

We are countering the decision in favour of CPZ in our area (the manner in which it was arrived at has multiple flaws besides the clear racism), and calling our neighbours and councillors to account for this. And I am doing so in tandem with dealing with the fear that is growing like a seed inside me: that I must find another place to call home. (But where? Immigration laws everywhere are scary as hell now.)

Some days are worse than others. The CPZ argument requires stating the bleeding obvious; the fear has to be overcome on a daily basis, and the loss of a good friend is unfathomable every minute of every day.

But then Fiji, which people have been referring to anecdotally as coup-coup land for so long now that it’s come to sound like a tired cliché, comes to my rescue. Because on Saturday 9th July, the people of a province called Rewa presented a whale’s tooth to the descendants of Indian indentured labourers, and recognised them as natives of the province and, therefore, as an inherent part of Fiji. In a country known for ethnic schism and ethnic coups – though my ethnographic research finds proof of peace in the feud, especially in times of ethnic crisis – in Fiji, this was a historic day. While Indians might be constitutionally Fijian, their acceptance as people of Fiji and their own sense of belonging was finally given emotional legitimacy by the powers that matter most to them – not the state, or the constitution, but the indigenous people of Fiji.

I can’t help but feel a complex array of emotions. Here I sit, mired in homelessness in the western world, this bastion of democracy and stability; while on the other side of the world, Indians in Fiji are rightly enjoying a long overdue sense of homeliness.

Image from: http://bit.ly/1DiWAx9

The Prime Minister Who Never Was: Michael Gove and His Populist Rhetoric

When Michael Gove threw his hat into the ring to become leader of the Conservative party, and potentially Britain’s next prime minister, I felt reminded of a moment of profound anger. Upon commemorating the Queen’s diamond jubilee in 2012, the then education secretary Michael Gove, a staunch royalist, suggested that the public present the monarch with a new royal yacht, which was estimated to cost upwards of £60million at a time of ubiquitous austerity. Commenting on a letter written by Gove to ministerial colleagues, the Guardian’s Patrick Wintour explained that Gove seems to have thought lavish spending and public celebrations could lift the people’s spirits. This manoeuvre cast the Scotsman at once as a reverent traditionalist and a forcefully idealistic, if not swashbuckling politician, whose intrepidity would allow him a great deal of personal freedom. However, at the same time, he failed to answer how to square his extraordinarily insensitive proposal with the feelings of those hardest hit by the financial crisis.

As recovery plan, Gove’s push for a publicly funded, and ultimately unnecessary, give-away for Britain’s most privileged household was economically naïve, politically untenable and socially reckless. Coupled with a tendency towards outdated political gestures and over-simplification, Gove’s idiosyncratic worldview re-emerged in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum. Ian Leslie, writing a rather favourable piece about Gove for the New Statesman in October 2015, quotes a source describing Gove as a “conviction politician” whose argumentative thrust derives from preconceived notions “about what works”, adding that “he isn’t that fussed about evidence”. Yet engaging with well-constructed, fact-based and robust arguments, as well as those who put them forward, is what constitutes an inquisitive and intellectual mind-set. Conversely, a refusal to do so is, by both definition and logic, anti-intellectual.

Interviewed by Faisal Islam of Sky News last month about the EU referendum, Gove dismissively proclaimed that “the British people have had enough of experts,” saying that they “get it consistently wrong”. Further challenged by the interviewer, Gove favoured his “faith in the British people to make the right decision” over the informed recommendations of those he had just summarily and unthinkingly disparaged. Despite his good education, and the fact that the New Statesman article describes him as a voracious reader – “his mental bandwidth is high” – Gove seems to refuse the difficult task of educating the people he politically represents in the basics of international relations and European affairs. In so doing, he contributes to ordinary people’s disenfranchisement at the same time as he claims to empower them by exiting the EU. Another journalist described Gove’s assertion as “amid a strong field of contenders, one of the most depressing moments in the interminable European Union referendum campaign”.

For me, it was the single most depressing moment, not only in the referendum campaign, but in my entire life as a politically-minded global citizen. Since the 1990s, Europe has ceased to be fragmented by a tightly-woven network of national borders and open gateways have fostered a climate of exchange, openness, intellectual endeavour and critical enquiry. However, the recent upsurge of right-wing populist parties across Europe, as well as the increasingly hostile turn in public discourse, is not only likely to consign porous borders and a climate of respect, reciprocity and mutuality to the dustbin of history, but it could also result in the break-up of one of the biggest peace projects in modern history.

Despite its often overly bureaucratic nature, the EU is nonetheless a worthwhile project, which, if politicians stopped their ransacking, could be developed into what Ulrike Guerot, a German political scientist, has tentatively called res publica eurpaea, or ‘European republic’. The EU is currently a supra-national union, asking its member-states to surrender parts of their national sovereignty. Among a plethora of ramifications, this process leaves voters with national parliaments whose powers are curbed and, more importantly, with a feeling of being disempowered. In this situation of perceived powerlessness, Guerot writes, the voters are not able to make their voices heard and their choices known: “The problem of not being able to choose European policies is that the real choice is between populisms and technocracy. And that is something that alienates people and ultimately reinforces populisms (of various kinds).” In a climate of alienation, populists and their reductive views will thrive easily, since they can prey on people’s fears in order to exploit them for political gains. This is exactly why the Leave campaign and Michael Gove’s anti-intellectualism, which he displays so proudly and blatantly, have been so successful.

The Leave campaign built its arguments around popular anti-EU stereotypes, used unverified facts and exploited the politics of fear. The much-referenced “unelected officials” of the EU are no strangers to Britain with its hereditary monarchy and House of Lords; the claim of £350million sent to Brussels every week was frequently subject to qualifications before and after 23 June; and the now infamous “Breaking Point”-poster rolled out by Nigel Farage was one of the most harrowing images of xenophobia seen in present-day Europe. Accordingly, it is now time to dispel these dangerous myths and to lift the right-wing smokescreen.

Writing more than 20 years ago, the literary historian and cultural critic Edward W. Said described the role of intellectuals in his book Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures as follows: “One task of the intellectual is the effort to break down the stereotypes and reductive categories that are so limiting to human thought and communication.” What British voters were able to witness in recent weeks was a re-emergence and consolidation of stereotypes, rather than their deconstruction. Jointly framed by simplifications and populist rhetoric, Gove’s support for the Leave campaign exacerbated existing divisions in British society, contributing to a rising culture of anti-intellectualism in the British public sphere. Had his leadership bid been successful, the finer and subtle distinctions of public discourse would have been likely to vanish, and this evolution of incendiary ideas could have further emboldened those who refuse to acknowledge the complexities of 21st-century politics.

Now that Gove has had to leave the Ministry of Justice in the wake of Theresa May’s access to the premiership, his vociferous role in the referendum campaign confirms that he is not the only public figure amplifying this anti-intellectualism trend – he is merely the most vocal one. Interestingly, however, it was Ted Heath, a Conservative like Gove, who took the United Kingdom into what was then called the European Community, or EC, in the early 1970s. In later decades, even hard-boiled Thatcherites like the late Geoffrey Howe correctly assessed the inexorable process of European integration. Echoing Harold Macmillan, Howe, formerly chancellor and foreign secretary under Thatcher, delivered a damning verdict of the Iron Lady’s nostalgia for Britain’s glamorous, but certainly not glorious, past in his famous resignation statement from November 1990: “As long ago as 1962, he [Macmillan] argued that we had to place and keep ourselves within the EC. He saw it as essential then, as it is today, not to cut ourselves off from the realities of power; not to retreat into a ghetto of sentimentality about our past and so diminish our own control over our own destiny in the future.”

In a bitterly ironic way, Leslie’s portrayal of Gove in the New Statesman emphasises the now-sacked justice secretary’s keen interest in “political biography”, but fails to translate this private interest into public action. If Gove really cared about Britain (as he claims he does), he would study how some key figures of his own party viewed the most pressing issues in British politics. But, as Leslie continues, Gove’s relationship with the Tory establishment is a complicated, at times ambivalent, one – even his party “isn’t sure if he is an asset or a ­liability”. Had he become prime minister, his firm belief in simple solutions would not only have turned him into a definitive liability for the Conservatives – rather, Britain is likely to have completely reverted to its once infamous status as the “sick man of Europe”.

Image from: http://bit.ly/2a9nFJM

Almeida’s Resurrection of Richard III

In 2012 a pile of bones was discovered under a Leicester car park by a group of researchers. DNA tests revealed these were the remains of Richard III, a king who ruled over England for a little over two years, more than 500 years ago. The media storm that ensued, and the respectful stately reburial he was given in the city’s cathedral, revealed just how fervent our obsession with royalty continues to be centuries later.

Richard has a tarnished reputation that has gone unchanged over the centuries, mainly due to Shakespeare’s play, but also as a result of Thomas More’s 16th-century biography of him. Shakespeare based his play on this factually inaccurate biography, which was essentially a character assassination to further legitimise the royal ascension of Richard’s slayers and successors, the Tudors.

Shakespeare’s Richard III has returned to the London stage at the Almeida Theatre with Ralph Fiennes in the lead role of the villainous king. The play opens with a moving tableau of the modern day unearthing of Richard’s grave. The stage, resembling an episode of CSI, is cordoned off as curious onlookers circulate the scene while salacious news reports describing the historical find plays in the background.

This production attempts to create an even nastier Richard than has ever been seen before, which Fiennes is perfect to play. This is apparent by the fact that, apart from the war scene at the end of the play, the recipients of Richard’s violent attacks are all women. First is Lady Anne, played by Joanna Vanderham, on whom Richard inflicts a heinous sexual assault when her venomous retorts prove a match for him. Then comes the turning point in the play, occurring in the second half, when we witness Richard carry out another sexual assault, but this time of a more violent nature against Queen Elizabeth, played by Aislin McGuckin, when she does not agree to marry her daughter (also his niece) to him.

These barbaric scenes are not in the original text but included by the director, Rupert Goold, in order to root the melodrama in something darker and more sinister. It certainly works as the violence towards female characters leaves audiences sitting uncomfortably in their seats for the duration of the play. There is a feeling that we, the audience, who laughed and chuckled at the gullibility of characters, especially women, are then taken in by Richard’s asides and have also been duped by him. Evil has caught us unaware, too, and leaves us unsettled. The audible laughter from the audience during the first half of the play becomes decidedly more nervous and hesitant, as we witness the sobering display of Richard’s army on the stage in the second half. Vanessa Redgrave reunites with her Coriolanus co-star, playing the role of the withered, deranged prophetess, Margaret. She is beguiling in her performance as the only character who truly manages to stand up to Richard.

However, there was a sense that something was missing when watching this play. Despite Goold’s attempts to root the production in darker matters through violence and the presence of armed soldiers, the mood of frivolous melodrama does not leave it. The brutal scenes towards women, apart from their sensationalist, shock factor quality fails to serve any other purpose. If you are primarily looking for escapism from theatre, then this will be a treat. But if you want something more – theatre that challenges and explores our political and social reality – which this play marginally attempts, then it won’t suffice. I left the theatre not fully convinced of the play’s merits, but the mighty acting skills of Fiennes and the brave performances of McGuckin and Redgrave make it worth a watch.

Richard III is showing at the Almeida Theatre until 6th August and there will be a live screening of the play in cinemas across the UK on Thursday 21st July. Tickets can be purchased through the Almeida Theatre website.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

Mark Duggan and the Fatal Hard Stop

When director George Amponsah recently started screening his film The Hard Stop, he could not have anticipated how timely it would be. The stark video of Alton Sterling being pinned to the floor and shot dead by cops in Louisiana, and the very next day that of Philandro Castile dying in his car seat after suffering a similar fate, reignited #BlackLivesMatter protests across the United States and the world. Two days after Castile’s shooting, as #BlackLivesMatter protesters were bringing London’s Oxford Street to a halt, I was at the Frontline Club to watch this raw documentary about the killing of Mark Duggan, shot dead by police here in the UK in 2011.

The Hard Stop is named after the controversial tactic used by British police, where armed officers deliberately intercept a vehicle to confront a suspect. It was the tactic used when police officers shot dead Azelle Rodney in 2005. At the time, the Independent Police Complaints Commission recommended the Metropolitan Police review the use of this “high risk option”. By 2013, the police officer who shot Rodney was found to have had “no lawful justification” for the killing, but the Met had yet to review the hard stop tactic. There had been no review by the 4th August 2011 either, the day the hard stop was used on Mark Duggan.

This candid observational documentary follows two of Duggan’s childhood friends, Marcus Knox-Hooke and Kurtis Henville, in the aftermath of their “brother’s” death. We join them as Marcus is facing prison for, essentially, starting the riots that came in the wake of the killing. He is accused of instigating the first act of violence in Tottenham, the epicentre of civil unrest that soon engulfed the entire country. Footage of Tottenham ablaze, and of widespread looting, is criticised by Marcus in a rare glimpse of politics in the documentary: “We are supposed to be standing united against the government, against all the oppression they are putting us through, not destroying our local area.”

Later, as Kurtis and his girlfriend listen to the radio in their kitchen, there is another nod to politics as the news reports on how austerity is hitting the poorest hardest. Kurtis is unemployed and we follow his struggle to find work. It is his sincere attitude and cheeky sense of humour that break down barriers in this film. These universally relatable glimmers of humanity draw you in, and you might even notice how different life is for the Kurtis’ of this world, as he looks for work online by parking next to a Carphone Warehouse to use their Wi-Fi using an unidentifiable and very old mobile handset.

Moments of insight are scattered along the journey. Prominent race rights advocate Stafford Scott appears briefly. Scott was the co-founder of the Broadwater Farm Defence Campaign set up in the wake of the 1985 riots on the estate. Back then, it was Cynthia Jarrett who died after a police search of her home and PC Keith Blakelock who was shot dead in the subsequent unrest. Grainy footage shown from the 1985 riots looks otherwise identical to the scenes of 2011 and leaves you wondering how far things have really come. Scott gives his opinion that the following generations, like Mark, Kurtis and Marcus, need little reminder of the history they were born into, as negative experiences cement what they already know about the police and life on the Broadwater Farm Estate.

For many in this country, places like the Broadwater Farm are the ones you avoid, the places that even police fear to go. But for those who live there, it is not just somewhere to tolerate, or survive. “This is my home,” Marcus says as he shows us the corridors where he learnt to ride his bike, “whenever I need to be safe I come here.” These moments of humanity are the most powerful in the film, like seeing Mark’s girlfriend Simone at home with the kids laughing about when they first started dating, or telling us that some days their oldest son Kimali does nothing but silently listen to Mark’s music all day – or later, hearing Mark’s young daughter crying to her mum: “I’m tired, I want to go and sleep with my daddy in heaven.”

For much of the film though, while the dark footage, harsh words and raging music reinforce the stark realities and the raw anger of day-to-day life for the two main characters, I can’t help but wonder if they potentially reinforce negative stereotypes, too. It’s hard to know whether director George Amonpash has peeled away enough of the misconceptions and misunderstandings to be able to change any minds with his work.

I ask Amonpash about this, and he admits that he is not sure. But he explains his experience of screening the film around the country, and of one particular occasion where a young white boy brought his father to the cinema to watch it. All “dad” had to say in the end was, “Wow – I had absolutely no idea.” As I am leaving the screening, a young international student who has just watched the film approaches me and says, “Can I ask you something? One thing I don’t get is, if they didn’t want all of this to happen to them, why did they do all the things they did in their lives?” Perhaps the documentary should have dug deeper to answer this. Or perhaps, the point of it is that you walk away asking this very question, because, ultimately, we must all take responsibility for both the question and the answer.

This film opens with the words of Martin Luther King that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” The Hard Stop ends by not only giving a voice to the unheard, but capturing it in its rawest form. The importance of watching this film will only grow as we realise how much the reality it documents still has to change.

The Hard Stop is in UK cinemas from today, Friday 15th July 2016.

Image from: https://www.intofilm.org/resources/1035 

Editorial: Labour Pains

Tony Blair. How tragic that in 2016, in the midst of a post-referendum national crisis, the name of the former New Labour prime minister crawls out of the woodwork. Yet in this is also a strange prophetic harmony; that as a tense, broken Britain reels from the destruction wrought by one prime minister, another prime minister is resurrected for reckoning over his own destructive actions. And thus must it be, for Baghdad has imploded once more. Iraq no stranger to the sound of death and the flow of blood continues to shudder from over a decade of unprecedented chaos since the Britain-backed invasion of its borders in 2003.

The pale-faced former leader nods with jittery confidence in response to two words put to him on Sky News this past weekend: War. Criminal. He pauses before answering. “I’ve said many times over these past years that I’ll wait for the report, and then I will make my views known, and express myself fully and properly.” The timing of the Chilcot report could not be worse yet, perhaps, could not be better for Blair. For the current Labour leader, who is set to “crucify” Blair over his position in the war on Iraq, has been thrust into a political war of his own party’s doing.

Jeremy Corbyn, the uncompromising, consistent and committed anti-war veteran MP, has proved jarring for political and media establishments since becoming leader of the Labour party last September. Elected with an unprecedented mandate, Corbyn has offered renewed hope to thousands of disillusioned voters who were ready to see a return to the soul of Old Labour: a party that fights for working-class Britain and financial equality. This has been of predictable discomfort to the Tories, who have spent a dirty year enforcing austerity while concealing their own tax havens in Panama. The time was prime for Labour to take to the podium as the alternative to a detached, damaging and unpopular Tory government.

Yet, it is Corbyn’s own Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that has thrown the majority of its weight against the elected leader in the name of “unelectability”. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, the son of Corbyn’s ideological lodestar Tony Benn no less, was sacked in the early hours of Sunday 26th June upon admitting to plotting a coup against Corbyn. What followed was orchestrated, synchronised and staggered resignations and a 172-40 vote of ‘no confidence’ from the PLP. The theatrics have sustained the news cycles of a ravenous and irresponsible media at a time when attention is desperately needed towards a government in disarray. Our Tory prime minister has failed and his political party has forced the nation into an uncertain future amid economic shock and global disgrace.

Throughout this battle, Corbyn’s genuine achievements have been overcast with seemingly blind dismissal. His leadership has seen Labour’s membership more than double. Internal threats against Corbyn and his democratic election and threats, indeed, they are – have resulted in 60,000 new members joining the party in the space of a week. This alone is about half of the entire Tory membership and takes Labour to 450,000 members – far higher than its last peak of 405,000 members seen under Tony Blair. In a mere nine months as leader of Labour, with little establishment support from the outset, Corbyn has led his party to win every single by-election, in some instances, with vastly improved majorities. Labour also won every single mayoral contest, including Sadiq Khan’s celebrated London win, a result heavily influenced by Corbyn supporters. When pundits were expecting Labour to lose up to 150 council seats, Labour lost only 18 and made vast strides into councils otherwise not expected to perform well. And for all the criticism surrounding the EU referendum campaign, 63 per cent of Labour voters chose ‘Remain’ – a mere 1 per cent less than pro-EU SNP at 64 per cent and only 7 per cent less than the stubborn Europhile voters of the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile a dismal 42 per cent of Conservatives voted to remain. That the PLP cites Corbyn’s ineffective campaign as cause for ‘no confidence’ is, therefore, deeply questionable.

Corbyn’s effectiveness as leader is reflected in his record. The onslaught, one of the most deplorable internal revolts of recent times, is disingenuous in principle, undemocratic in nature and painfully untimely in context. The glaring dichotomy of Labour ranks is thus exposed: that of the PLP on one side, and the union and party members on the other. This coup effort has been a long time coming; Margaret Hodge was expected to instigate a ‘no confidence’ motion against Corbyn weeks before Brexit. The shrillest cries of Corbyn’s supposed unelectability comes from quarters that were the very architects of the New Labour car crash that saw 5 million voters desert Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn, overwhelmingly elected, must not stand down and must not be expected to. To do so would undermine the core democratic principles on which the Labour party functions. In the event of a leadership challenge, as now seems likely, the outcome must be fully respected and the party must work through the major breach of trust that the past fortnight has exposed. With his mandate and record of electability, it is no longer obscene to suggest that Corbyn can win the next general election, but this must be planned imminently with a party at harmony with itself and its leader. His leadership contenders will carry quite a different record, including Angela Eagle who voted in favour of Blair’s war in Iraq in 2003 under New Labour, a matter that will come to light when the Chilcot report is released.

Which returns us to the nub of the matter. As Alex Salmond has compellingly argued, the attempted political lynching of Corbyn at this moment indicates an effort to stifle the anti-war leader before he can take action on the findings of the long-awaited report. Chilcot must not be drowned in the din of political opportunism and an imbalanced media landscape. As one resigning prime minister is rightfully relegated to the disgraced records of history for failing a country, another disgraced prime minister must face his due reckoning before the jury and scribes of history. We await the verdict.

Jeremy Corbyn - No to Iraq War

 

Since this article was published a few hours ago, Huffington Post UK has reported that at least 100,000 people have joined Labour since the EU referendum. 

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