Abu Ghraib film

We saw Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedures about Abu Ghraib. We were appalled and shocked by the candour of the interviewees and the horrific photographs. I was parricularly horrified by the way private Lyndie England was coerced by her lover Sergeant Grainer, currently serving 10 years in prison, who not only made her take shots of naked Iraqi prisoners in compromising sexual poses, but also, when she became pregnant with his child, ditched her and married her best friend.

Pity the director could not resist all those special effects and loud music – it would have been a much stronger film without them.


Palestinian Nakba project

I saw a marvellous exhibition at the Patriothall Gallery in Edinburgh created by the Scottish artist Jane Frere, titled ‘Return of the soul: The Nakbah project’. Frere, who was inspired by visits in the Nazi concentration camps, deciedd to create a project on the plight of the Palestinians, dispossessed by the Zionists during and after the 1948 war, which Israelis calls their ‘war of independence’ and Palestinians their Nakba, or catastrophe. Because I am working on a book on Israelis commemorating the Palestinian Nakba, I thought this project, made of thousands of wax figures of refugees, suspended on invisible nylon strings from the ceiling, creating a visceral, emotional exodus, was very poignant. Ev en though I often think that the Palestinian voice tends to be appropriated by well wishers – perhaps like me? – Frere, who worked with second and third generation refugees in Lebanon and the West Bank, teaching them to scult the figurines and getting them to record the testimonies of their parents and grandparents, has created an impressive project.
More details: http://www.alnakbah.net

100 months to save the world?

I have a little grand daughter – I want her to have a world. Yet my mind has been sharpened by reading the prediction of the Onehundred months group (http://onehundredmonths.org/) that in just 100 months time, if we are lucky, climate change will reach an irreversible stage. It’s frightening to think how little governments, international organisations, and you and I have internalised this message. The group’s message is clear: the level of carbon dioxide is the highest ever due to human activity, as 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth’s atmosphere every second, yes, second. If we do nothing, the earth’s climate will be shifting into a more volatile state with catastrophic consequences, yet the British are building a third runway in Heathrow and opening a new generation coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, while the US presidential hopeful Barack Obama is reversing his policy over petrol prices, promising not to reduce American dependence on fosil fuels, but rather on Middle East oil.

Some anticolonial, antiracist and liberation activists say that concentrating on the environment is spurious when there are more urgent things to work for, such as clean water, food, shelter, security and, yes, national liberation. Yet, as George Monbiot (www.monbiot.com) says, those who identify a conflict between environmentalism and humanitarianism have either failed to read or refused to understand (the admittedly complicated) science. Monbiot says that it all hinges on stopping coal, unless we leave it – and the carbon dioxide it produces – in the ground, human development will start spiralling backwards.

And there is no point in saying, as western governments tend to, that it’s all because of China, India and Brazil. According to onehundredmonths.org, it is up to wealthier countries such as Britain (and Ireland? where is the public debate in ireland? Or in Israel-Palestine?) to take a lead. During World War II Britain showed it was able to galvanise itself and the population by reducing resource use – it can do so again.

My little granddaughter smiles at me and looks trustingly at the adults surrounding her adoringly – for her, and for the children in Palestine, Africa, Asia and everywhere else we and our governments must take immediate action. There are plenty of plans – look up the New Green Deal at neweconomics.org and start putting pressure on your governments.

Protect the Irish Equality Authority

It is clear that the Irish government is panicking about finances. In the run to save money, the area of equality and anti-racism would be hit hardest. Many of the cuts make sense only if they are viewed as an attempt to save money while also axing independent organisations. Thus we saw the axing of Integrate Ireland Language and Training, spearheaded by the TCD Centre for Language and Communication Studies, teaching English to refugees since 1996. Even though the IILT itself was planning to mainstream its activities, the Department of Education closed it down without consultation. Thus we also hear that the NCCRI may be incorporated into the office of the Minister for Integration and, while I have been a critic of the NCCRI which, I believe, has passed its sell-by date, closing it down points to not taking the equality sector seriously.

But it is the plan to merge the Equality Authority, the Irish Human Rights Commission and the office of the Data Protection Commissioner, which is the most worrying. I am not quite sure what the Irish Human Rights Commission actually does, but I have no such doubts about the Equality Authority. Although attacked by former Minister for Justice Michael McDowell and by right wing writers such as Kevin Myers, the Equality Authority is doing a sterling job. A quick glance at its website reveals that during 2007 the EA responded to 10,993 queries. In addition it dealt with 737 case files, 87 related to ageism, 177 to disability, 225 to discrimination against the public sector, 63 dealt with discrimination against Travelers, 68 cases dealt with the race grounds and 65 with the gender grounds, both of which continue to be a significant focus of cases taken under the Employment Equality Act.

Beyond statistics, the Equality Authority has utterly changed the Irish climate where discrimination on gender, race, and age grounds had been par for the course. By merging it and decentralizing it, the government seeks not only to save funds, but also to weaken this crucial agency and the anti racism and equality sector.