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Jeremy Corbyn: A ‘radical’ international policy?

Click here for article in Shout Out UK

One day into the Corbyn era and the Conservatives had their line of attack. Security, security, security – a single word designed to warn and appeal to the public that Corbyn is a novice leader with a dangerous cause. Priti Patel, Employment Secretary, used the word 11 times in a four minute interview on Corbyn; Michael Fallon, Defence Secretary, 9 times in a single minute, reciting Cameron’s party-line denouncement of Corbyn word-for-word – “the Labour Party is now a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security.

A hero of the new populist Left he may be, but on the question of national security, the Tories are right. Corbyn’s self-styled “radically different” international policy is an ill-conceived project to turn the clock back on the West and leave its allies, particularly in the Middle East, at the mercy of everything the Left should stand against. It is a policy of self-destructive ‘pacifism’ – and it is not even “radical.”

You might not expect this from a man who has so often found himself on the right side of history: Corbyn actively resisted Thatcher’s collusion with Apartheid and Pinochet, earning the badge that every aspiring revolutionary child of the 60s hoped for – getting arrested for protesting fascism. He spoke out in support of Salman Rushdie after the fatwa from Ayatollah Khomeini; he was the first MP to protest Saddam Hussein’s gas bombardment of Kurds in Halabja; and as recently as this year’s Labour leadership campaign, he visited a Kurdish community centre in solidarity with their struggle for peace and self-determination.

Despite these welcome overtures, Corbyn has time and again abandoned his ‘comrades’ exactly when they needed him most. His opposition to the coalition bombing campaign against IS, for example, is utterly at odds with his supposed support for the Kurds. Together with the Turkmen, Christians and Yizidis of Northern Iraq, the Kurds have said repeatedly that further strikes could save many more – and that areas such as the Kurdish-majority city Kobane would now be in ruins under IS rule were it not for the support of US air-strikes. Yet Corbyn has opposed all Western intervention at every turn.

It is not inconsequential to note, here, that Corbyn was until recently Chair of Stop The War Coalition campaign. Throughout his career, he has voted against 13 critical pieces of anti-terrorism legislation and has blankly opposed every motion in favour of UK military support overseas, including Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya. With this steadfast ‘pacifism,’ Corbyn proposes to implement a foreign policy that “understands our role in causing the conflicts of today” – that is to say, a policy that accepts we have in many ways brought present crises on ourselves. His plans to retire Trident, abandon NATO, renounce militarism, eschew intervention, apologise for the Iraq War and abandon the Kurds, in his own way, very much belong to his narrative of retreat and ‘conciliation’.

It makes total sense, then – at least logically – why Corbyn would refuse to declare war on fascists who have already declared war on him and his allies – he thinks there is actually something justifiable to their cause. His comments during a parliamentary debate on counter-terrorism for British nationals returning from overseas bear a little scrutiny here:

“I have encountered young people who have been attracted to what ISIS is doing..[who] say that what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan was appalling…We are living with the consequences of the war on terror of 2001, and if we continue to try to create legal obstacles and make value judgments about people without considering the overall policy we are following, we will return to legislation such as this again and again, year after year.”

This view – so popular on the Left nowadays – is utterly facile. It brands the likes of IS as a response to the West’s colonial bluster, saying, in effect, that Islamist video-butcherers and suicide-murderers represent a “resistance” with a liberation ideology.

This view is neatly summarised by Guardian columnist and contributor to Corbyn’s former Stop The War Coalition website, Seamus Milne, who, in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders, wrote – “let Paris be a warning: they are here because we are there.” Indeed, Stop the War Coalition publishes numerous articles of this kind. One of them, argues that Islamist terrorists who want to impose Sharia and kill cartoonists for drawing the exalted prophet of Islam while shouting “allahu Akbar” have nothing, in fact, to do with Islam. Another, claims moral equivalence between those that expressly target civilians – IS and the Charlie Hebdo killers – and the US, whose civilian victims are incidental to its attempt to repel the advance of terror groups.

Over-reaching considerably in attempts to confront the conscience of the imperial West, advocates of this view make the grave mistake of thinking fascists with brown-skin might just stop being fascists if only we were a little nicer to them.

As Nick Cohen argues in ‘What’s Left,’ this amounts to a surrender of once cherished the values of the Left in favour of a stubborn attachment to multiculturalism and a misguided kindness to anything non/anti-Western – no matter how savage. It gives too much ground, not only to IS, but to powers such as Russia and Iran whose intervention in Middle Eastern conflicts are invariably an affront to all the Left used to defend – emancipated women, scientific inquiry, freedom of speech and separation of religion from the state.

Now the Left appears willing to do anything at all costs to avoid being seen to support the US. They choose to bury their heads in the ground, fooling themselves into thinking they are “anti-war” when they are not at all. They are shadily taking the other side in a conflict where the moral and civilisational stakes are extremely high.

Corbyn’s “radically different” international policy bears all the hallmarks of this long lost Left. From his misdiagnosis of the Islamist threat to his broad retreat from old alliances, Corbyn ultimately condemns those he claims to support.

During the Labour hustings, he  easily managed to win applause with loose talk of global justice, oppressed peoples and the Iraq War. But now as leader, he should face the appropriate scrutiny – why does his solidarity with the refugees of wars extend only to those that have made it to Europe? Why is he content to treat these symptoms while denying the root cause of IS? Does he believe IS is a rational actor that we can negotiate peace with? Why would he even tolerate co-existence with such a regime? Why does he flatly deny the need to resist, militarily, fascists who mean to destroy everything he claims to love and wants to defend? And is he sure he still wants to call this a “radical” policy?

These are very important questions for a potential leader of a major world power (yes, that’s right, a world power), and until Corbyn has a convincing argument, the Left should be careful what it wishes for.


The Long Arm of the Law – How a paper fan can get you fired

Click for article in Tokyo Weekender

You are a minister on the campaign trail trying to manufacture popularity for an upcoming election. You and your election team decide to take to the streets to distribute some promotional freebies. You print your name, face, a heartfelt slogan and a snapshot of your local policy platform onto a cheap sheet of round paper or cardboard. So far so good. Then, you notice it is 30 degrees celsius outside, so you attach a handle onto the leaflet, make it into a fan, and hand them out to sweaty constituents at a summer festival. Ok, now you have gone too far. You are fired.

Midori Matsushima, now former Justice Minister, did exactly this with her leaflet (pictured left) and was later forced to resign this month amid accusations of vote-buying. According to opposition DPJ lawmaker, Renho Murata, because Matsushima’s leaflet came with a handle and a fan-like frame, it was technically an ‘uchiwa’ (a paper fan). According to Renho, this qualifies as a ‘donation’ of ‘an item of monetary value,’ which is a violation of Article 139 of the Public Office Election Law (Japanese link). The Electoral Commission agreed with Renho.

Cue a flurry of fan-related political assaults across the parliamentary floor in both directions. Renho Murata, having led the attack against Matsushima, then faced questions herself regarding her own round paper leaflet (pictured right), which she had distributed while campaigning for election to the House of Councillors in 2010. In response, she maintained that without a handle or frame, her leaflet does not fit the traditional definition of an ‘uchiwa’ and is therefore perfectly legitimate. The Electoral Commission agreed with her, again, and her non-uchiwa leaflet got the green light.

So, what are we to make of all this triviality? For one, pushing legal loopholes is a very dangerous game. The prohibition against ‘donations’ or distributing ‘items of monetary value’ is a minefield of legal ambiguity that is as easy to get entangled in as it is to exploit. Take, for example, Article 139’s ban on serving any food or drink during an election campaign, ‘except tea and some sweets that are served only ordinarily.’ This means in theory that serving an extra cookie with a mildly expensive brand of tea could make the difference between lawful hospitality and an illicit indulgence of corrupt intent.

Indeed, if one were to take a fastidious interpretation of a clause as vague as a prohibition on ‘items of monetary value,’ then one could reasonably outlaw Renho’s leaflet too, for while it might not much resemble an effective ‘uchiwa’, it could certainly resemble a coaster/ place mat, or mouse-pad, or dartboard, or makeshift poopascoopa, or wobbly table stabiliser, or a myriad of other items.

But did she design the leaflet with such intent? Well, here marks the outer layer of the law – an area of almost unintelligible legal ambiguity (termed ‘zaruhou’ in Japanese). It is the frontier, the penumbra, the gray area of regulatory loopholes where the letter of the law ends and the drama of interpretation begins. Here is the quarrelsome task of determining when an act of self-defence becomes murder; when a genuine campaign contribution becomes a bribe; when harmless hospitality becomes self-serving indulgence – or, if you are in Japan, when a leaflet becomes a fan.

Just days after Matshushima’s disgraced ‘uchiwa’ was brandished in parliament, another fan-like leaflet came under investigation, this one belonging to LDP Deputy Defence Minister, Akira Satō. This leaflet – definitely an ‘uchiwa’ – was approved without spectacle, however, because it had been placed at a reception desk, rather than actively distributed.

When you work in an industry obsessed with scoring points and saving face in front of the voting public, the line between legal and illegal, job and no job, can become deceptively blurry. And it tends to turn politics into something of a fanfare – the kind of fanfare that convenes multiple times to debate nuances in the definition of a fan; that makes a politician as high up as Matsushima, Justice Minister, equivocate on what is clearly an ‘uchiwa’; that can get Matsushima’s ‘uchiwa’ (costing a mere 80 yen a piece to make) sold in Yahoo auctions for 16,500 yen; and that can doubtless make anti-politics cynicism regrettably more fashionable.

Rejoinder to Reza Aslan – Blame everything but religion?

Of course there are discrepancies in how religion is promulgated and enforced across the world because religion is man-made (and masculine-made). A woman can legally vote in Iran, but not even drive in Saudi Arabia. But this relative diversity does not negate the fact that traditional ideas in Islam about martyrdom, jihad, blasphemy, apostasy, and the status of women and so on are there, plain to see, in scripture for any Muslim to exploit. Any fair-minded Muslim can denounce literalist creeds of these ideas on whatever basis (usually secular), but one thing they cannot say is that fundamentalists are not “true” Muslims or, what Obama has said, that “no faith teaches” what ISIS does. Aslan is an apologist in this regard. He preaches non-judgment when it is a matter of empirical fact that literalist interpretations of scripture are more prevalent and politicised in Islam at present than any other monotheism. Is it bigotry to point that out? No. Intolerance of religious dogma is important whenever it arises, whether in Islam, Christianity or whatever. If 500 years ago during the colonisation of the Americas, a larger proportion churches and its Christians had said as Columbus did – “let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold” (drawing on mandates for slavery in the Bible – Leviticus 44-46; Parabols, Luke 12:47), then we’d be saying, rightly, that Christianity promotes violence.

On ‘Terrorism’ in the Gaza conflict – Rejoinder to Russell Brand (a.k.a Pseudo-political Gasbag)

Russell Brand is an idiot. I’ve taken the time to go through his arguments:

1) I have no idea why he equates terrorism to pricking someone with a pin and it’s frivolous as far as I’m concerned, but from what I gather, he’s trying to say ‘terrorism is ok in asymmetric warfare’ – i.e terrorism is a weapon of the weak; acceptable in the face of superior resources and weaponry.

It’s a slippery slope. I’m not convinced that killing innocent bystanders indiscriminately and intentionally is ever justifiable, but if it is, then you better at least have ‘supreme emergency’ on your side, or first have tried non-violent resistance, mass demonstrations, unconventional warfare and so on. Hamas has not done any such things.

Besides, Hamas cannot scapegoat a lack of resources for its terrorist activities. It chose, for example, to destroy much of its own trading stock, such as the 3,000 fruit and flower producing greenhouses it inherited when Israel withdrew its occupation. Up until 2011, it was in receipt of long-range missiles and $15 million a month from its powerful ally Iran, as well as millions from Turkey and Qatar. It chose not to invest this capital in schools, trade, infrastructure, or even bomb-shelters (except for the elites), instead preferring to build an extensive network of tunnels and thousands upon thousands of missiles, which it aims at densely populated areas in Israel, including hospitals and schools, rarely causing any damage or killing any of the civilians it intends to (mainly because of Israel’s Iron Dome).

2) He says ‘there is no objective terrorism. There’s just different perspectives of violence.’ This is post-modern nonsense. This is why he feels it’s OK to call Hannity a terrorist. For Russell, Hannity is a terrorist because according to his muddled definition of the term – ‘using intimidation to reach your goals’ is terrorism. Well, not any definition I’ve ever heard. A university’s use of deadlines to make students submit course work could qualify as such… Hannity is an idiot and a bully, but he’s no terrorist. And Russell is being frivolous in the extreme to label him as such.

3) He says ‘nobody should be using violence, the people who are using the most, and most effective violence are surely committing the greater crime.’ To Russell, then, all victors are criminals.  Because the Allies were more effective in their violence than the Axis in WW2, they were the greater criminals. This is warped logic.

“Heiwaboke” – What Does Peace Really Mean In Japan?

Click here for the article in Tokyo Weekender

After returning from a trip around Europe a few years ago, an embarrassed Japanese friend told me about how on two separate occasions she had ‘lost’ her euros. A lady asked for “small change” at a Barcelona bus stop before swiping the lot, and then in Rome, tricksters posing as station attendants (apparently confident enough to not even bother with the uniforms) successfully took advantage of her gullibility. When the story had finished, along with her grumbling, she confessed that she had suffered from something I had not heard before – “heiwaboke”.

In English, “heiwaboke” may be translated as “peace at any price” or, at its most derogatory, “peace idiot”. It is a by-product of the post-war project to build a new Japan as a nation of peace, centred around Article 9, or the “peace clause”, of the Japanese constitution. The new Japan, throughout the course of this project, has become a place so accustomed to low crime and so benign that even the tourist streets are free from crooked schemes. Some of its people, therefore, see only a world that is peaceful and safe and have no imagination at all for war or confrontation.

As nice as this might seem, it suffers from some dangerous illusions. The most common mistake of the good-hearted, wrote novelist Lionel Shriver, is to assume everyone else is just like you. With its misapplication of trust, “heiwaboke”, assumes the best in everyone, fails to see the threats and tyrannies that do in fact exist, and lacks the necessary vigilance to reliably defend one’s self and others against them.

Though my friend found this out for herself, successive Japanese governments – with their foreign policy – have hardly managed to unmoor themselves from the shores of Japan, anchored as they have been by the constitutional relic known as Article 9.

When, for example, Japanese troops were finally deployed overseas in Iraq (after some severe legal wrangling), they were subject to such strict rules of engagement that, in the words Temple University’s Jeff Kingston, they were “more of a burden on the coalition than a welcome contribution, pinning down [coalition] troops for guard duty when they were desperately needed elsewhere”.

This dispatch, though largely an unavoidable quid pro quo for the US-Japan Security Alliance, was a response to criticism Japan received in the Gulf War of 1990-01 when it failed to join the 30-nation strong military coalition against Saddam Hussein (resorting instead to “checkbook diplomacy”). Now, thanks to legislation (PKO), the SDF can take part in peacekeeping operations, but they must stay clear of any combat operations, meaning Japan can only tag-on to other countries when humanitarian crises arise, as they inevitably do.

The Article 9 castration of Japan reads as follows – “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes”, going on to say, “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained”. Of this, even a mild interpretation would seem to limit Japan’s right to self-defence, but given the realities of the region Japan has found itself in, now with a rapidly militarising China and a cadaverous nuclear-armed North Korea, Japanese courts have been compelled to interpret the “peace clause” to allow for defensive military forces only.

A 2012 government survey found that 82.3 per cent of the population supported this, wishing security policy to continue as it is now, with both the US army and the SDF protecting Japan cooperatively. Yet, 60 per cent in a Mainichi poll this May opposed changing Article 9, proving that most are content for the government to exploit the loophole. Support for Article 9, therefore, is not so much based on a high-minded pledge to the spirit of the pacifist constitution, rather it is based on the notion that it is better to entertain a lie than to risk a fight.

Some fear, for example, that revising it and making the Self-Defence Force into the National Defence Force, will mean nationalist gasbags like Osaka Mayor, Toru Hashimoto, will return Japan to a war-waging nation, provoking Chinese and Korean relations beyond repair.

But this is misguided. Nationalists like Hashimoto will pipe up whatever the weather, and his trash talk does not mean one should assume that if Japan revises Article 9 and obtains only the same sovereign rights enjoyed by every other country in the world, that it will inevitably transform into an imperialist monster once again. Arguments of this kind show only an attachment to the illusions and insularity of “heiwaboke”, and a popular misconception that only those of the Right can have any confidence in the new Japan.

“Heiwaboke” needs to be dispelled. Japan’s involvement in global and regional security should not be curtailed forever because it was once, in a bygone era, a colonial power. And nor should subservience to American strategic interests be codified into the constitution of any independent nation. To think otherwise, is to do a disservice to the independent, secular, representative democracy Japan has become since the constitution was drafted.

Is Princess Masako Really A Lazy Tax Stealer?

Click here for the article in Tokyo Weekender

MEDIA PUNCH-BAG Princess Masako, wife of the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne, was reportedly heckled at Tokyo station this March. “Tax stealer! Pretending sickness, lazy tax stealer! Get out of the royal family!” yelled a man of around sixty years old in reference to the princess’s health problems and prolonged absence from public view. Princess Masako was reported to have been “frozen” with shock at the encounter, before then scarpering to the mountains of Nagano with her husband Crown Prince Naruhito and daughter Princess Aiko for an apparently “tense” ski trip.

Reporters then followed the family to Nagano, interviewing people on the ski slopes agitated by the sizable security detail allocated for the trip. “It’s a nuisance” said one skier about the 30-strong police escort that surrounded the royals. “If she has the energy to enjoy skiing, then why can’t she do her official business?” the onlooker added. On the last day, Princess Masako, having neither the energy for skiing nor for official business, stayed safely out of public view (how easily a simple family outing can turn into a melodrama, she must have thought).

Disgruntled passersby are not alone in their disapproval for the princess. It has been nearly ten years since the princess was first hospitalised with a “stress-induced” illness, and many royalist sympathizers have, as a result, been feeling desperately unfulfilled by the lack of ceremonial ribbon-cutting and unctuous hand-waving that has been going on. In 2008, for instance, the princess attended a private dinner with the Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall but did not appear a few weeks later for the King of Spain, leaving one palace insider to complain to the Times of London, “What logical explanation can we give for that? That the British are healthy but the Spanish make her ill?”. Afterwards in a right-wing magazine called WiLL, Kanji Nishio expressed likewise that it would be better if the princess could “disembark” the “ship named the Imperial System”, since she is “seasick and cannot stay on board”.

Such protestations fail to understand the nature of princess’s woes, the causes that brought them about, or what it really is that constitutes “public duty”. It is worth noting here that the captain of the “ship named the Imperial System”, if you will excuse my labouring the metaphor a little more, is not the Emperor, but the bureaucratic giant known as the Imperial Household Agency (IHA). The IHA has itself long downplayed the princess’s illness, calling it “adjustment disorder” – a condition that is by definition acute, rather than chronic, and not supposed to last for more than six months. Though her treatment has gone on for nearly ten years, the IHA has not acknowledged that her illness is what Akira Iwanami, a professor of psychiatry at the Showa University School of Medicine says is more likely “depression”.

But it has not always been thus. Masako Owada, as she was known before becoming a princess was an Oxford and Harvard educated, multi-lingual daughter of government official, on the cusp of a promising career in the Foreign Ministry. It all changed in 1993 when she agreed to marry Prince Naruhito (after two rejections, according to rumour) and finally entered the Imperial family. Soon enough, after the initial buzz of rejuvenated interest in all things royal (prompted by a typically glamorous wedding), the attention around her turned to sexual politics and to whether she could produce a male heir (Japanese succession laws still allow only men to inherit the throne).

At the time, there were no grandsons to continue the supposed 2,600 year-long dynasty of the Imperial family, and pressure weighed heavily on Princess Masako, from the IHA among others, to produce the (male) goods, all the while ensuring she elevated herself from commoner to classy royal. Then with her miscarriage in 1999 she had to contend not only with the terrible maternal pain of loss but also the tedium of a royal succession crisis – a position that meant in 2001 she again had to listen to the sighs of disappointment when her newborn baby Aiko was born with the “wrong” kind of chromosomes. She became in the words of one commentator, “a prisoner of her womb”.

That Masako’s rising cosmopolitanism and the palace’s rigid traditionalism would collide is hardly surprising either. The IHA has never cared for a modernising. A most conspicuous case was in 1993 when Masako was criticised for speaking slightly longer than her prince during their first joint press conference. It was, she was told, more befitting of a princess to be deferential and self-effacing. Yet she failed again to exercise sufficient restraint in 1996 when she revealed she enjoyed the novels of Nobel Prize-winning Kenzaburo Oe, an outspoken critic of the Imperial system who turned down the offer of Imperial decoration saying it was unsuited to democracy.

When she finally suffered her breakdown in 2004, her husband Prince Naruhito shocked many by speaking out against the restrictions imposed on her by the IHA – restrictions that he claimed “denied Masako’s career and character” and that, according to Jeff Kingston of Temple University, dictated “clothes, food, press conferences, and a heavy schedule of ceremonial duties”. If Masako is to be criticised of “lazy tax stealing” or slacking off, we might first see what “public duty” she can offer when untethered; when the “untraditional” sides to her diplomatic talents are put to good use, and when she is not compelled to conform to the heir-bearing duty and banality of the palace. That this has been denied to her, and us, is surely the real “tax-theft” here, as well as the likely cause of her psychological decline. And it is therefore not Masako, but her handlers that should feel the ire of the public.

This Might Sound A Little Pious, But…

In a recent conversation I had over beer cans in the park, an Australian friend of mine remarked how “there are no good causes left anymore” – an apathy that was backed up a few days later by what another Australian friend of mine claimed was his motto for life – “if it’s not fun, then it’s not worth doing”.

To the first remark, I replied in such a feeble way that I have been unable to escape the shame ever since – “Well, I’m pro-Pussy Riot.” I muttered since that was apparently the best example of a “good cause” I could come up with on short notice. Retrospectively I can see in my answer that the remark stirred up instinctive disapproval, and I should be glad for that at least, but it’s a pity the cerebrum couldn’t more quickly kick in with the sort of scathing reply the initial remark deserved.

To the second one, I gave no reply. Of course, what good would life be if it were not in some way “fun”? But then our privileged and thrill-seeking ways were only won through the tired and bloody sacrifices of others. I dare say that soldiers managed somehow with their songs of comradeship and nostalgia to eek out a morsel of fun in the trenches, but I bet not one of them would have called the experience “fun”. Their cause certainly was worth it, though – and it was this alone that stopped them from slicing their necks with their own bayonets.

Yet in our couch-ridden, facebook-drooling, First World comforts we fail to identify the good causes that are still being fought and died for in the world, dismissing them as “boring” and therefore “worthless” or opposing them mistakenly as part of a fashionable “anti-establishment” or “skepticism”. They do exist, however, and I have taken care to list some below, lest I ever neglect them again. You may add more if you please:

– Challenging racist nationalism and homophobia whenever encountered
– Bringing religious freedom to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and so on (as well as “building up that wall” (between church and state) in our own countries as was requested to Thomas Jefferson)
– Convicting war criminals at home and abroad – Henry Kissinger, Charles Taylor e.t.c.
– Scrutinising the motives of corporations at all times
– Helping the large liberal-minded young population of Iran to topple their theocracy
– Releasing North Koreans from their starvation and slavery (somehow)
– Protecting freedom of speech (especially for those whose views we find revolting)

I said it was pious…