Miliblair’s defence of Empire and its alien laws

David Milibland… What would your father think if he could see you now?

The erstwhile Harry Potter lookalike has been inviting journalists for a chat about his big speech, a defence of the use of pre-emptive armed force, which he delivered last night.

Now I found particularly interesting his comments in The Guardian:

“After the end of the cold war it was tempting to believe in the ‘end of history’ – the inevitable process of liberal democracy and capitalist economics. Now with the economic success of China, we can no longer take the forward march of democracy for granted.”

In the second sentence he doesn’t include the forward march of capitalist economics. Now, China is now a capitalist power – but the fear for British and American elites is that China’s position as an alternative trader (for African nations, etc) will mean that not only will profits be denied, but alternative models of development may become easier for poor countries to pursue.

As the Stop The War Coalition have said, it’s a shame that the forward march of hundreds of thousands of people five years ago were not heeded by Miliband and company…

The purpose of Milibliar’s speech was to rebrand the invasion and occupation of countries by the US – with Britain tagging along – as being morally justified because it’s about “spreading democracy”.

The US oil companies getting access to Iraqi oil-fields was just a coincidence, then? And anyway, wasn’t the argument for invading Iraq based on the threat of WMDs?

Hmm. If he’s for democracy, perhaps Miliblair would like to spread a little here at home, and persuade Brown to let us have a vote on the EU consti-treaty? Or hold the promised general election?

On a similar theme (you’ll understand if you read it), Chris Bambery comments in this week’s Socialist Worker on the racist backlash that accompanied the Archbishop’s speech:

Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a lecture last week on the Islamic tradition of sharia law and its relationship to the law in Britain.

His comments were unremarkable as these things go – but they triggered a week long racist backlash in the press.

The Sun’s readers are now being asked to “Bash the Bishop” – though the paper’s current campaign would perhaps be better titled “Bash the Muslims”.

For what began as an attack on the archbishop of Canterbury has shifted rapidly – and with grim inevitability – into a yet another assault on Britain’s two million Muslims.

Former home secretary David Blunkett joined the fray on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He laid into “well-meaning liberals” who “believe that we have to accommodate something which is external to our country”.

The logic of Blunkett’s position is chilling. If Islam is an “external” religion then Britain’s Muslims – who are overwhelmingly from ethnic minority backgrounds – do not properly belong in Britain.

This is only a breath away from the old racist slogan of the 1970s, “There ain’t no black in the Union Jack”.

Kelvin McKenzie, the Sun’s former editor, appeared on a Sunday morning BBC show denouncing Islam as a “medieval” religion and slating its mistreatment of women – this from a man who introduced topless darts to our television screens.

The subtext to much of this argument is that Christianity is more “enlightened” than Islam.

Except that while the Catholic church was burning people at the stake for the outrageous suggestion that the earth might rotate round the sun, Islamic Europe in Spain and Sicily helped establish science and medicine.

Another common argument from the bigots was the fate that would allegedly befall the archbishop if he were to preach in Saudi Arabia. This ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia is a key ally of the US and Britain.

Our leaders defend its royal rulers to the hilt, lavishing arms on them and greasing their palms with dollars and sterling to secure contracts.

Tony Blair went so far as to describe Saudi Arabia as “a friend of the civilised world” and justified its ban on trade unions and use of judicial torture as “their culture, their way of life”.

The media hysteria was quick to branch out from sharia into a wider attack on anything deemed “Islamic”.

Last weekend the Independent on Sunday ran a front page headline claiming there were 17,000 “honour” crimes against women in Britain each year. The picture was of a Muslim woman in a veil, just in case anybody missed the point.

The sources for this tale were some highly dubious extrapolated statistics provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers – an institution hardly famed for its unflinching support for women’s rights.

The Independent’s story focused solely on Muslim cases of domestic violence. Nowhere did it mention that two women are killed each week in Britain by a current or former partner – and the vast majority of these are non-Muslims.


Then came the Sunday Times headline, “Minister warns of ‘inbred’ Muslims”. This followed Phil Woolas, the environment minister, claiming that arranged marriages between first cousins in the Pakistani population were responsible for creating “genetic problems”.

This whole furore is not about theology or the judicial system. First and foremost, it’s about racism. The powers that be have proclaimed Islam to be an “inferior” religion and civilisation. And the constant tirade of Islamophobia they unleash translates into everyday bigotry and daily attacks on Muslims.

Behind this outpouring of hate is the “war on terror” led by the US and Britain. And some of the Muslim-bashing commentators are at least explicit about this link.

Matthew d’Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph writes, “We are at war with fundamentalist Islam… British troops are risking their lives against Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq and Afghanistan… Could [Williams] have chosen a worse geopolitical context in which to call for the official incorporation of sharia rules into the law of the land?”

Ever since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were first posed as a “clash of civilisation”, as a decades long crusade of Western “democracy” against Muslim “totalitarianism”, Islamophobia has slowly dripped into the body politic of the US, Britain and other countries.

Here in Britain this means longer detention without charge or access to a lawyer, the bugging of defendants, increased stop and search under terror laws and constant demands on the Muslim population to prove their loyalty to a state that treats them like dirt.

We see constant US and British wars and occupations, unflinching support for oppressive regimes such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, the demonisation of Islam paraded endlessly through our media. All this is guaranteed to breed simmering anger across the globe.

The alternative is to demonstrate that Muslims and non-Muslims stand together in rejecting this “war on terror”, the assault on our civil liberties and the Islamphobic slanders.

The anti-war demonstrations on 15 March should be a showcase for our response to George Bush, Gordon Brown and their ideological crusaders.

Also in the SWP’s paper this week, here’s Richard Seymour (of Lenin’s Tomb) on the alien laws of our ruling class:

The newspapers are terrified. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has raised the suggestion that some forms of sharia law be introduced as a means of “constructive accommodation” with British Muslims.

The Sun raised the prospect of “medieval punishments” being inflicted on Britons, and complained that Williams was “giving heart to Muslim terrorists plotting our destruction”.

The Telegraph explained to its readers that sharia is associated with “amputation of limbs, death by stoning or lashes” for such crimes as theft. Perhaps the Telegraph is concerned about its former proprietor, the convicted fraudster Lord Conrad Black. On their account, if he had been tried under sharia law he wouldn’t have a limb left on his body.

However, even liberal opinion is expressing concern, arguing that Muslim women will experience reduced freedom if religious courts are allowed to adjudicate in matters of family life.

There is a further implication that what is proposed is somehow “alien”. This is “a Christian country with Christian laws”, according to the national director of the right wing pressure group Christian Voice. And Gordon Brown has conceded to this nationalist sentiment, arguing that “British law should be based on British values”.

The scare stories have little to do with what is actually proposed. The archbishop called for allowances to be made for the practice of sharia law within the confines of English law, on a limited basis and with the mutual consent of everyone affected.

He argued, quite correctly, that there is a diversity of interpretation among Muslim jurists about what sharia entails, and endorsed the liberal variants. He pointed out that Britain already has separate arrangements for other religious communities. Orthodox Jews are entitled to work out some of their arrangements in a rabbinical court. Muslims can already choose to have disputes settled privately under sharia law. And there are already sharia-compliant products and services operating in Britain, for instance in banking.

So the hysteria is not really about anything Rowan Williams actually said. It is an expression of the Islamophobia that has been cultivated in the West as an obnoxious cultural counterpart to the “war on terror”.

Meanwhile, the tabloids are several centuries behind on this scoop – Britain already has a system of alien laws. It is maintained in large part by right wing bigots in outlandish medieval costumes, such as the “law lords” or the “privy council”.

Drawn from a ruling class with an alien culture – and values that most of us don’t share – our overseers in wigs and cloaks have always been rather fond of telling us how to live.

They tell us who we can have sex with, and have even been given to legislating on what kind of sex we can have; under what conditions we may be married and to whom, and when we may divorce; what we can protest about, when and for how long; when we can strike, and for what we may strike; what we can consume, and where we can consume it.

Whether outlawing homosexuality, restricting abortion, or regulating the ingestion of recreational substances, these laws have never had anything to do with the values of ordinary people.

For example, at the moment, the state is considering restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion. This campaign is being driven by right wing anti-abortionists such as Ann Widdecombe MP.

The fact that state control of the female body has resulted in the deaths of women in backstreet abortions doesn’t stop these people calling themselves “pro-life” – but they represent a minority of the British people, and certainly a minority of women.

As usual, the trouble with the archbishop of Canterbury is not that he “went too far”, but that he didn’t go far enough. He rightly challenges the state’s monopoly on public identity, but does so primarily in order to carve out a larger space for religious power.

One of Rowan Williams’s political interventions in 2007 was to co-author a letter to the prime minister asking that Catholic adoption agencies be exempted from regulation that would compel them to consider gay people as adoptees. To put it another way – he asked the state to guarantee the Catholic church’s right to operate homophobic policies.

In the case of sharia law, on one level Williams isn’t asking the state to withdraw, but to get more involved in the regulation of religious and personal life. He suggests that certain forms of Islam are more acceptable than others – and that those variants ought to be encouraged and recognised by the state.

It is quite right that Muslims should have the same rights that any other religious group has – but the best way to ensure that is for the state to keep out of our moral lives. And a good first move in that direction would be to divest the Church of England of its peculiar privileges and authority.


Govt moves to calm fears of non-doms – more sucking up to the super-rich from Labour

After Lord Bigby’s intervention in the debate, and much panic on the pages of the FT, here’s the U-turn:

The Treasury has been accused of climbing down over its plans to tax wealthy foreigners living in the UK, after it moved to clarify its position.The government aims to target non-domiciled foreigners who live in the UK but say their real home or “domicile” is elsewhere.

At present, these “non-doms” pay no tax in the UK on their overseas earnings.

The Treasury wants them to pay £30,000 a year, but now says it will not need full earnings details or back payments.


Treasury Chief Secretary Yvette Cooper made the clarification in an interview with the BBC.

We don’t need to know the detail of people’s worldwide income if they are going to be paying the £30,000
Treasury Chief Secretary Yvette Cooper

She admitted that there had been “misunderstandings” over the government’s plans, because of the wording in the draft legislation document drawn up by officials.

Ms Cooper insisted there had never been any plans to “snoop” on the global earnings of wealthy foreigners living in the UK, nor to seek payment of taxes for previous years.

Under the government’s plans, wealthy non-doms will be eligible to pay a flat £30,000 in tax a year – once they have lived in the UK for seven years – or else sign up to the existing British tax structure.

“We don’t need to know the detail of people’s worldwide income if they are going to be paying the £30,000,” said Ms Cooper.

‘Common sense’

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said the Treasury’s clarifications amounted to a “climb-down” by Chancellor Alistair Darling.

The Treasury had faced mounting criticism over its non-doms tax plans, including from one of its own ministers, Trade and Industry Minister Lord Jones.

CBI deputy director general John Cridland, said the Treasury’s clarification was “a victory for common sense”.

“The proposals were clearly cobbled together in a hurry and went a lot further

than the 230,000 headline figure, with the clauses on trusts and the retroactive aspects for taxing gains particularly punitive.

“It was not just a tax on the ‘super-rich’ but affected tens of thousands of accountants, lawyers and managers who work hard in the UK and help generate huge amounts of wealth for the economy and the Treasury.”