Tag Archives: America

Trump’s Military Expansion wins US hearts but won’t educate American minds

Military $ Up, Foreign Aid Down

Donald Trump wants to spend $54 billion more on the US military, whilst cutting foreign aid and environmental policies to pay for it. Sadly, US surveys during his election campaign indicated around 55% support for this policy. He would do better spending $54bn on education and integration. Meanwhile, over 120 retired US generals and admirals wrote to Congress urging it to maintain diplomacy and foreign aid which has been labelled as “bloat” by some Republicans and could be cut by up to a third.

“This is a landmark event and message to the world in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve…We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: win.” – Donald Trump

US military spendingThe US already spends around $600bn a year on the military and department of defense. That figure is equal to the next dozen nations in total, dwarfing even China’s $150-200bn, Saudi Arabia’s $80bn and Russia’s $70bn. In fact, it spends over 40% of the world’s total military expenditure, making it the world’s military policeman or soldier. America has around 5% of the world’s population but nearly 50% of its military power, in terms of navy, missiles and expenditure. Only Saudi Arabia spends more proportionately, around 10% of its GDP, often buying from American suppliers.

America has around 5% of the world’s population but nearly 50% of its military power, in terms of navy, missiles and expenditure. The US Navy is bigger than the next 7-10 navies combined. Only Saudi Arabia spends more proportionately, around 10% of its GDP, often buying from American suppliers. 

Does America not realise that it is its interference in world military conflicts that has precipitated some of the terrorist response. It’s time for superpowers to put their guns away. It’s time for more foreign aid, not sovereign raids.

US defense budget graphic 2016

Books not Bombs

Bernie Sanders, like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, wants to see the nuclear deterrent reduced, and spent better elsewhere. The US spends twice as much per capita as the UK on Defence, indeed the proposed increase is equivalent to the entire UK annual military budget.

Trump’s CPAC Speech was Sabre rattling

“We will be substantially upgrading all of our military, all of our military, offensive, defensive, everything. Bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and hopefully we’ll never have to use it, but nobody’s going to mess with us, folks. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military buildups in American history. No one will dare question, as they have been, because we’re very depleted, very, very depleted sequester. Sequester. Nobody will question our military might again.” – Donald Trump, CPAC

Trump has also said that he will “obliterate ISIS” and his language sometimes sounds like he could quite possibly go after Iran and North Korea at this rate.

“We don’t win anymore. When was the last time we won? Did we win a war? Did we win anything? Do we win anything? Do we win anything? We’re going to win. We’re going to win big, folks. We’re going to start winning again.” – Donald Trump, CPAC

He sees wars as something to win. He would do well to remember the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo:

“Next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle won”.

The last time a Western leader presided over such a large military expansion it ended in the Second World War, just what does Donald Trump want to start? Appealing to the hearts of Republican traditionalists who want a strong America won’t feed, heal, educate, or inspire the minds of its citizens, Democrat or Republican.

Transgender Day of Remembrance – 295 Trans murders #TDOR2016

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

Every 29 hours a trans person is murdered in the world, 295 were reported up to this year’s annual 20 November Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). Most, some 85%, were in the Americas, but even in Europe, 5 were killed in each of Italy and Turkey. In Asia at least 11 across India and Pakistan. North America had 23 reported murders of transgender people, but Brazil had 123, ten times as many per capita. Honduras is, in fact, the most dangerous place per head of population, twice as bad as Brazil, with 89 people killed over 8 years of reporting. Over the last 8 years, some 52 trans people have been stoned to death – and not by ISIS, one just 3 weeks ago in Brazil; 630 were killed in the street, many as sex workers, but it begs the question about bystanders and communities not noticing or standing up as allies; one victim in Pakistan was refused medical treatment because she was trans, speeding her death.

These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg as statistics are based upon scouring news reports and some people may only be listed as a sex worker and/or their trans status not mentioned. Some may not have been killed because they were trans, but many were. Also, the numbers do not include the 33-50% of trans people who also try to take their own lives through suicide.

2264 Trans Lives lost Violently

Over 2008-2016 since the Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) TvT Project has been running, 2264 have been killed. By far the largest, 541 were sex workers, but 99 hairdressers and beauticians, 34 artists, and 25 activists were counted among the dead as well as 9 religious leaders.

Trans Awareness Week/Month

Katy Jon Went Transgender Awareness MonthAs an antidote, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in several talks and discussions during Trans Awareness Week, or even a full month being celebrated by some. UEA, my local university, was particularly busy with events on each day, in conjunction with other societies such as FemSoc and Pride. Events covered non-binary questions, trans student politics, Ava Rollason sharing her colourful life and journey, and the growth of diversity and even dissent within and towards trans* identities.

Trans Visibility without the Violence

Trans people have indeed reached a “tipping point” and yet that has not diminished their risk of harm – self, and assailant-based. With shockingly high suicide risks, 80% consider it, and 33-50% act on it, trans people are especially vulnerable, and now, especially visible.

With around 0.75 to 2.5% or more people identifying as transgender and/or non-binary, one interesting visualisation is that there could be on average around 250-1000 trans* people at each UK premiership football match.

Visibility without risk of violence is what trans people are seeking, although many would no doubt prefer a form of passing invisibility as opposed to a discriminatory erasure or prejudicial ignorance.

Candle burning in the darkMany have called 2015 the year of transgender visibility, after 2014’s “transgender tipping point” but what does that make 2016? One hopes that whilst deaths and murders are on the rise, that also, acceptance, diversity, and rights, are also increasing, and the killings are a temporary peak and will subside as countries make healthcare and transition access easier and more affordable, reducing the risks of sex work as a means of paying for surgeries. It should be noted that the primary victims of trans violence are trans people of colour, and that Trans Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter should be trending side by side, particularly as they were at the forefront of the emergence of trans rights in the USA. This month we remember the dead, celebrate the living, and offer hope to transgender people all over the world, and stand against the hate that takes so many of our lives.

Chilcot Inquiry says Iraq War a Sovereign Cock-Up leading to 1000 Saddams

Iraq War Chilcot Inquiry criticises Blair

Tony Blair wikimedia
Tony Blair – via wikimedia

The 6.5 year long Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War says that Saddam Hussein was no imminent threat and Tony Blair “exaggerated” the case for war. The 2003 invasion of Iraq was “unnecessary”, not a “last resort” as the EU had reluctantly sanctioned, and Saddam Hussein was “no imminent threat”.

“We have concluded that the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort.” – Chilcot

It is shocking in the extreme that Blair favoured guaranteeing a war over negotiation! See pages 3-4 of this document. In addition, that he gave Bush and America, seemingly unconditional backing, irrespective of the people or Parliament:

“I will be with you whatever” – Tony Blair

Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq War: Tony Blair note to George Bush, 2002
Chilcot Inquiry Iraq War Tony Blair note to George Bush

Making the case for war

Whilst the “dodgy dossier” may not have been “sexed up” it was certainly “exaggerated” with an end plan in mind to “regime change” to remove Saddam and then going looking for any evidence to sell the casus belli. Something, both Bush and Blair as religious persons would have wanted to do in line with Just War Theory.

Iraq Regime Change

“[Afghanistan] is our one act of regime change so far, so it had better be a good advertisement” – Tony Blair (p5)

Jeremy Corbyn critical of Tony Blair

When the current Labour leader is willing to criticise so vehemently a former Labour PM, it is significant:

He says the “overwhelming weight of international legal opinion” says the invasion was illegal. It had devastating consequences, he says, fuelling terrorism and war across the region. By any measure the invasion and occupation of Iraq “has been for many a catastrophe”. He says it has led to “a fundamental breakdown of trust in politics.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Unintended Consequences

Nobody had an exit strategy, where have you heard that one before? There was little thought given to post-War reconstruction or politics. A travesty for the 180,000 civilians who have been killed in the 12 years since, now some 1-2,000 a month, only recent numbers of which can be blamed on ISIS. Rather than one Saddam Hussein, Iraqis now feel that they have “One thousand Saddams now”.

 

Sovereignty

We had sufficient sovereignty in 2003 to invade a sovereign nation, Iraq, and side with the USA against the view of France and Germany, and the European Union consensus against war, except as a last resort, which we jumped the gun on. Just five EU nations, a minority, backed the (second) invasion of Iraq and triggered the “obituary for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy”. Suggestions, therefore, that remaining in Europe would have lead to a common foreign and defence policy and an EU army are ludicrous.

EU Referendum lessons?

The Iraq War and the EU Referendum may be chalk and cheese in reality, but politically they are similar. They are momentous decisions with long-term consequences, mass public demonstrations, Parliamentary democracy and sovereignty issues, and the ability to end political careers. It also demonstrates the danger of siding with America against a European consensus. We may have a “special relationship” with the US, but we are also closer to Europe on other issues including a tendency to peaceful negotiation rather than international interference as the self-appointed “world’s policeman”.

So, politicians “exaggerate” the facts to fit the cause they have already made their minds up to pursue. Somewhat like the EU referendum campaigns! Perhaps a 6.5 year long inquiry into Brexit would drag the whole process until the next generation of voters vote to Remain! Indeed, Chilcot said that on a decision as momentous as war, “Regular reassessment is essential.”

Were there to be a Brexit Inquiry, its findings, I can tell you now, would be that both sides “exaggerated” the pseudo-facts, “exaggerated” the costs and benefits, “exaggerated” the fear and threat, leading to the travesty of a divided Britain, rising hate crime, decimated political leadership, and 3-10 years in economic doldrums whilst we negotiate our way back up the international leaderboard.

Norwich LGBT & Allies Stand with Orlando Vigil against Hate & Homophobia

Orlando Shooting, LGBT Vigil in Norwich

Norwich Stands with Orlando, Vigil Against Hate, 13 June 2016
Norwich Stands with Orlando, Vigil Against Hate, 13 June 2016

Monday evening, just as the heavy rains stopped, 200 people – LGBT and allies, gathered on the steps of Norwich City Hall, to stand with the 100 fallen, killed or maimed in a hail of hate and bullets at Pulse, Orlando. The Vigil against hate was organised by Norwich Pride and featured speakers: Katy Jon Went, Julie Inns for Norfolk Police and the Chair of Norwich Pride, Andy Futter.

Norwich again shows its support for diversity and freedom of expression, as it did with its Charlie Hebdo vigil, demonstrations against the EDL and many more political but peaceful assemblies.  The Norwich vigil was marked by a minute’s silence and the lighting of candles on the steps of City Hall. [See below for the texts of the speeches or photos of the event]

Norwich City Hall, Orlando LGBT Vigil
Norwich City Hall, Orlando LGBT Vigil against Hate [see more photos of the event]

LGBT Communities unite against Hate

Vigils were also held in Brighton, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leicester, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, and around the world. Cities turned their landmarks rainbow in the same way that after the Bataclan massacre many lit their monuments and city halls in the colours of the French tricolour flag.

Orlando shooting Rainbow lit Eiffel Tower Paris
Rainbow-lit Eiffel Tower in Paris by Felicianne Soukéïna

Norfolk local and LGBT poet laureate, Trudy Howson, at the Soho event, told Sky News:

“It is very important to show solidarity … we’re all part of the same community and it’s very important that we show love and solidarity. We’ve all been victims at some point of homophobia – we need to stand up to hate and evil and fight for respect.”

Laurie Penny wrote about the Soho gathering and the condemnation of queer Muslims, by some, that they shouldn’t exist, and of those who refused to kneejerk blame radical Islam as apologists with blood on their hands:

One woman held up a sign that said Every Life Matters: “Queer, Black, Muslim, Latino.” Next to me in the crowd a white man in his forties held a sign that said “I’m Gay And Religious – Get Over It.” Squeezed in beside him was a young man in a taqiyah, standing with a girl. “My friend is Muslim,” said the girl.

The London event took place outside the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street, Soho, where three people were killed and many injured in a nail bomb attack in 1999, just showing that homophobic terrorism need not be of religious origin. The perpetrator, David Copeland, was a far right BNP neo-Nazi extremist who targeted diverse communities in Black, Bangladeshi and gay areas of London in three bomb attacks. He was known to have mental health conditions including paranoid schizophrenia but insufficient, perhaps due to the public outcry, to warrant diminished responsibility as a defence plea.

Lighting candles at Norwich City Hall, Orlando LGBT Vigil
Lighting candles at Norwich City Hall, Orlando LGBT Vigil [see more photos of the event]

Orlando Massacre explanations aplenty

As family, media, and commentators explore the reasons for Omar Mateen‘s mass killing spree, families and lovers mourn their dead, who no amount of analysis can bring back. It has been said that Mateen was bipolar, was a wife-beater, had joined several Islamist extremist groups including ISIS (at the last minute). His father says that Omar had recently witnessed two men kissing and had been disgusted by it.

The most recent reports suggest that he’s actually patronised the club and been drinking there – hardly very devout Muslim behaviour, indeed many said he was barely religious at all. Apparently, he’d also been seen on gay dating sites, so the possibility of internalised homophobia, self-hate, and sexuality identity repression seem very strong motives, with the tacking on of Islamic State, more of an afterthought seeking some kind of redemption and forgiveness in the afterlife for his, considered sinful by his faith background, sexuality.

Muslims, Gun Control and the Blame Game

Scapegoating and stereotyping have hit the headlines, making it all about IS or immigrants, religion or lack of gun laws. Some on social media have perpetuated the hate and homophobia by rejoicing in the slaying of sinners – sick! Yes, the US right to bear arms and easy access to not just a pistol or shooting rifle but an automatic weapon are accountable – but not solely responsible, for the extent of the massacre. Getting off 24 shots in 9 seconds was facilitated by the type of gun that was readily available. It was not purchased for self-defence, unless one was expecting a war. The AR-15 style assault rifle – the Sig Sauer MCX, is described by its maker as a “battle-proven weapon system”.

US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has adopted an “I told you so” type of approach, taking credit for seeing this coming and calling for an immediate suspension of Muslim immigration. Some are happy to label it terrorism, others a hate crime, yet more that it is a gun control or immigration issue. Not so many, focus on the fact that this was a very real attack on an LGBT safe space, a gay bar, some have even gone to great lengths to condemn Muslims and avoid reference to LGBT, how else can right wing nationalists stir up Islamophobia whilst avoiding any reference to their own homophobia? The crime does not fall into a neat explanatory box. Journalist, Owen Jones, walked out of a Murdoch-owned Sky News discussion because it failed to acknowledge it as a specific attack on the LGBT community.

FBI Report in US Mass Shooting Incidents

FBI 2000-2013 mass shooting incidents in America
FBI 2000-2013 mass shooting incidents in America

Between 2000 and 2013, 486 people were shot dead, and even more wounded in mass shooting attacks in America. The frequency of incidents has only got worse, more than doubling in the last 7 years of the analysed period, to more than 16 incidents a year. The Orlando attack was the worst mass shooting in peacetime American history.

A Mother Jones investigation going back 33 years shows 670 killed and 650 injured in 80 incidents, with mental health a factor in between 60% and 80% of cases.

The vast majority took place at commercial workplaces or schools, by disgruntled employees or students, or over things as irrationally minor as arguments over a CD player or driving ability. By far the majority were carried out by white males, not foreign immigrants or Muslim extremists. Out of 160 incidents, barely 2% could be described as Muslim perpetrators, a couple were clearly anti-semitic.

“You are no more likely to be shot by a Muslim than by a Christian or an atheist in America.”

LGBT Muslims are also in mourning.

orlando shooting
Photo of a rainbow-illuminated Ankara Mosque by Cihat Ertem

Text of Speeches at Norwich LGBT Vigil

Katy Jon Went | Julie Inns | Andy Futter

Katy Went

Speech download as PDF

If killing 50 LGBT people, and maiming as many, is your response to witnessing a kiss, an expression of love, between two people of the same sex, then you need help not hate, to get open minded not offended, and a change of religious interpretation. I can’t help but think there might have been some internalised homophobia going on besides mental health, anger and other issues already raked up by media, before this individual jumped on the ISIS bandwagon to tag his heinous act.

We forget that London, Brighton and elsewhere have had their own homophobic atrocities, that were not done in the name of ISIS, that Los Angeles Pride just had another violent attack on it averted, nothing to do with alleged Islamic extremism, that Prides in Israel have seen LGBT people attacked and killed by Jewish Orthodox extremism. There is no place for ill-informed Islamophobia now – people of all faiths and none, Communists and Fascists in recent history, have all targeted LGBT people.

Anger is no less a legitimate response than many others at this time. Forgiveness, albeit a healing one, can never be asked or expected of anyone unless freely given and only by the victims and their loved ones. Understanding, love, mercy, and worldwide calls for an end to homophobic judgement and violence are needed, people to challenge bad religious interpretation and attitudes, and show better alternatives. I’m pleased that many faith groups march with Pride, and historically just one small one, against it, here in Norwich.

Religious groups are all over themselves with prayers at the moment but no recognition of the hypocrisy that their slowness to accept LGBT people counts towards the fear and hate that drives confused and conflicted people to carry out these acts. The victims don’t need prayer they need acceptance, the only justice would be churches, mosques and temples overturning their hitherto homophobic attitudes, policies and doctrines. This may sound offensive but so was Jesus. Prayer without doctrinal change and better practice right now is like blessing the homeless with words but not with a blanket and some food. People of faith need to offer more than prayers right now.

I’ll put my hand up in the air, 30 years ago I was a fundamentalist Christian, opposed gay rights etc, years later several members of my University Christian Union, that I’d helped found, came out as gay or lesbian. My views changed, when I had my own coming out and Damascene conversion to LGBT acceptance. Others can too.

Will we see the same international condemnation and responses as in Paris? I doubt it, as the victims were LGBT.

Amidst the EU referendum debate, US presidential campaign and escalating immigration and Islamophobia issues, we don’t need blanket condemnations but change. People in the US and UK have hijacked Orlando as an excuse to condemn migrants, religion etc, but not to call it homophobia.

Hate and fear need naming but the responses need to be love and, ‘out and proud’ confidence.

As Martin Luther King said:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Julie Inns, Norfolk Police

Good evening everyone it’s so wonderful to see so many people supporting this event tonight. I’m immensely proud to be standing here tonight; I stand here on behalf of Simon Bailey, Chief Constable of Norfolk Constabulary and Lorne Green our new Police and Crime Commissioner who unfortunately at short notice were not able to be here tonight, although they send their best wishes for a successful event.

I am very privileged to be standing in front of you tonight with so many familiar faces some of who I know quite well and some who will be new to me, supporting this Norwich Stands with Orlando Vigil to support our LGBT brothers and sisters across the pond who have suffered this weekend and for which there are no words to describe what went on in Orlando this weekend. I just can’t think of the words to describe it. But from the Constabulary and Police and Crime Commissioners Office our thoughts do go out to the family and friends of those effected but this atrocity.

Now we all know that Norwich is statistically a safe place to live, it’s a safe county and we encourage people to come here to live, to work or come on holiday and visit and we say to you, you can come and you can bring your religion, your sexuality, you can eat your food and wear your traditional clothes and come one come all and we are really accepting of that. However we must be mindful that unfortunately in this day and age that terror can strike anywhere.

But for this to happen to them during their PRIDE celebrations in a club where they should have felt free, welcomed and happy to be who they wanted to be, I don’t know about you guys but I find that even more heart-breaking and gut-wrenchingly awful that I have no words to explain it.

So I’d like to think that we would be lucky enough in Norfolk never to have to experience anything like what happened in Orlando over the weekend and our county will never see such an atrocity. But we have to remember that it does go on and we all have a part to play in keeping all our citizen’s safe. So with that in mind let’s not blame the actions of a small minority of the people who commit these acts on the majority. And when we talk about what happened in Orlando and bandy the word hate crime around it doesn’t quiet cut it for me, it just seems to be a bit beyond that. But I want to be really really clear on this and this is important for me. Norfolk Constabulary is absolutely committed to the LGBT community in Norfolk that we will keep you safe and we will shield you from harm wherever possible. But in order for us to do this, people have to come and talk to us and sometimes that can be difficult. But we want you to be who you are, to be authentic at work and out in the community and to be safe while you are doing that, but for us to do that if there is a problem you need to come and tell us about it and I know for some of you that is going to be difficult so I’ll be here afterwards if you would like to come and talk to me or take my contact details so we can talk in private, that would be really great.

The one thing I would like to reassure you on is that when anyone reports incidents of hate to us whether it be about your sexuality, your race, which religion you follow or if you live with a disability, whatever the issue is I can assure you now, we will believe you, we do take it seriously and with your help do whatever is possible to pursue the perpetrators through the criminal justice system until we get a conviction and that is my personal promise to you on behalf of Simon Bailey and Lorne Green.
So I’d like to say that Norfolk Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner wholeheartedly support this vigil tonight and say no to hate. But not just no to hate, No to hate in our county, No to hate in our fine city, No to hate across the world and finally we believe in hashtag #loveislove.

Andy Futter, Chair of Norwich Pride

In the early hours of yesterday morning, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a 29-year-old man carrying an assault rifle and a handgun and began shooting and murdering individuals before taking hostages.

Once the horrific event had played out, fifty people lay dead and a further fifty-three were hospitalised.

These people were a part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. They were enjoying a weekend night out with their friends at a venue in which they should have been safe.

I ask those of you who do not have to experience this particular brand of hate to understand that – despite it being 2016 – the LGBT+ community – my community – still needs these spaces.

They are our sanctuary.

And if you can’t understand the concept of a bar or nightclub being a sanctuary, then be grateful. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to tell people that you met someone new – simply because of the gender of that new partner. It means you’ve probably never been afraid to leave your house for fear of being mistaken for another gender and the violence that so often goes hand in hand with that ignorance.

I mean that utterly sincerely. Be grateful if you have experienced none of those things. But try to reflect on the experiences of those who have and understand that we need those safe spaces – just like the Pulse nightclub.

That should have been a safe space. But yesterday, that peace; that sanctuary, was shattered in the most brutal way.

Those individuals were no longer safe. They were targeted for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered; or for being a friend of the LGBT+ community.

Being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgendered is not a choice. Getting out of bed and deciding to walk into a bar to target those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is most definitely a choice. But so is being an ally.

So for those of you here tonight who are not L,G,B or T, I thank you for your support.

Our community is strong and across the world right now and the coming days, you will see how just strong this worldwide family is; but we are all the stronger for having you on our side.

We are all the stronger for you understanding that despite huge legal steps forward – lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people still face hate on a daily basis, for simply loving the people we love and expressing our true selves.

We are all the stronger for you understanding that, so I would ask you to understand something further. Yes – every life matters; every act of terror and murder should be condemned; but make no mistake: this was an attack directed squarely at the LGBT+ community.

Right now we are scared.

But we are also empowered by our love and solidarity.

Right now we are vulnerable.

But we are also strong in ways which may surprise many – including ourselves – and we will not be beaten.

Right now we are upset.

Right now we are angry.

So when you reach out to your LGBT friends, loved ones, brothers, sisters, colleagues: hold us closer and hug us tighter than before.

Right now, we need it.

Every one of us here tonight owes it to every one of those who died at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando to stand taller. Be prouder.

We will not hide in the shadows.

We will not quietly clamber back into the closet. We will not stop living our lives.

So for all of those who died on Sunday in Orlando; to those who still lie bleeding in hospital; to those who have had loved ones ripped mercilessly from their lives, I say this: the people of this fine city stand with you.

Tonight we are united in grief.

Tomorrow and always – let us be united in love.

 

Saudi Arabia mass executions & death sentences a Human Rights travesty

Saudi Arabia State Executions Escalate

2015 saw a rise in Saudi Arabia‘s public executions, some 157 people according to Amnesty International – there were 90 in 2014, 192 in 1995, the previous peak. Even more shocking was that 2016 began with 47 in a single day, on New Year’s Day, allegedly all ‘terrorists’ including prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. Iran has threatened reprisals with molotov cocktails already thrown at the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Meanwhile even mainstream media commentary is now comparing the House of Saud to ISIS whilst Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE) praised the message it sent to terrorists. Saudia Arabia has now ordered Iranian diplomats out and Bahrain followed suit, severing diplomatic ties, a day later, along with UAE and Sudan creating a new Middle East crisis.

ISIS Saudi Arabia Executions Any Difference via Khamenei
ISIS v Saudi Arabia Executions “Any Difference” asks Iran’s Khamenei

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Iran too, despite its own record executions, has compared Saudi Arabia to ISIS. Ayatollah Khamenei the self-titled “Leader of the Islamic Revolution” calling it a “White ISIS” and asking whether there are “any differences” between them.

Other atrocities apart, and excepting the variant methods of execution (Saudi still has stoning and flogging punishments, though often commuted to jail time, not to mention posthumous crucifixion), what is the difference between the continued practice of state executions by America, China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the so-called Islamic State, all of which have executed dozens of people a year. Iran has executed hundreds – perhaps a 1000 making its condemnation of Saudi Arabia somewhat hyprocritical. Pakistan has 6-8,000 people on its death row and in 2015 carried out 316+ executions a massive increase on the handful of 2014. Egypt (500+) and Nigeria (650+) have also been resorting to issuing death sentences (2014 figures).

Saudi Arabia's human rights record on executions 2014, 2015, 2016
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record on executions 2014, 2015, 2016

Ironically, the Saudi Arabian national flag features a sword – the very means of public execution, before each of which verses from the Koran are read justifying the sentence. Offences can include atheism, drugs crimes, homosexuality, insulting Islam, and sorcery!

The Death Penalty

Whilst just over a dozen countries had abolished the death penalty 30 years ago, today over a 100 have ended the practice. Some among those that have kept it, though, have increased its use in recent years in the name of countering ‘terrorism’.

Death Penalty around the world, 2014, Amnesty International
Death Penalty around the world, 2014, Amnesty International

Thousands a year are sentenced to death worldwide but fewer are carried out, some 20,000 people are incarcerated under a death sentence, yet to be carried out. In 2014 over a 110 people in 9 countries had their death sentence reversed, leaving them exonerated as innocent. This is the biggest reason to end the practice. Three times as many countries commuted death sentences to other forms of punishment.

“The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it.” – Amnesty International

Twelve countries still use hanging and ten use shooting, only Saudi Arabia and Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) behead people, swift but brutal. US executions peaked at 98 in 1999 and have steadily fallen since to 28 in 2015, but over 3,000 remain on death row.

A Foreign Office spokesperson has commented, saying that:

“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country. The death penalty undermines human dignity and there is no evidence that it works as a deterrent.”

Perhaps the UK should criticise America, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China’s position on capital punishment, alongside Islamic State? As David Cameron was challenged to do and amongst excuses for close ties with Saudi responded with:

“We oppose the death penalty anywhere and everywhere” – David Cameron, October 2015

Executed Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

Arrested in 2012 and sentenced to death in 2014, Sheikh Nimr had opposed violence calling instead for peaceful protesters to resist the Saudi state and police bullets using “the roar of the word” and non-violent agitation, though he was not opposed to celebrating the deaths of tyrants. Mohammad al-Nimr, his brother, was arrested for merely tweeting about the death sentence but has since called for calm despite his own son on death row. Al-Nimr was pro-democracy and against “murder in the name of God”.

“The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets … and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice”…We do not accept [force of firearms]. This is not our practice…We welcome those who follow such attitude…Nonetheless, we cannot enforce our methodology on those who want to pursue different approaches…The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets.” – Sheikh al-Nimr

“The oppressed should unite together against the oppressors, instead of becoming tools in the hands of the oppressors. The Khalifa family [in Bahrain] are oppressors, and Sunnis are not responsible for their actions. These are not Sunnis, they are tyrants. The Assad family in Syria are oppressors, and Shiism is not responsible for their actions. Never defend an oppressor. It is never justified for someone who is oppressed to defend [another’s] oppressor.” – Sheik al-Nimr, 2012

Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr Crufixion

Ali Mohammed al-Nimr via Facebook
Ali Mohammed al-Nimr via Facebook

Ali al-Nimr, nephew of executed Nimr al-Nimr, was arrested when just 17 for participating in Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations against the Saudi Arabian government. He was subsequently convicted by confession under torture. He is now 21 but in 2015 he was sentenced to death by beheading and then posthumous public crucifixion. As of today over 1.5 million people have signed just one of the several petitions to commute or cancel his sentence.

The UK Government believes that it can “achieve most by speaking privately and regularly to our Saudi interlocutors” rather than publicly confronting its ‘ally’. The Foreign Secretary recently said that he did not expect Ali al-Nimr to be executed and Shadow Minister Hilary Benn  has called on him “to seek fresh assurances that he will be reprieved.”

However, by threatening death to so many, and carrying out more than previous years, it is easy for Saudi Arabia to mollify the West with a couple of concessions and reprieves without denting its religious and political ethnic cleansing of opposition.

Political Prisoners in Saudi Arabia

Islamic Human Rights Commission IHRCSaudi Arabia denies it has any political prisoners but unofficial estimates from human rights bodies including the UK-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) suggest that up to 30,000 are imprisoned for political crimes against the Saudi state.

Back in November 2011, after the fatal shooting of four Shias, Sheikh al-Nimr had called for:

“[the] release of all those detained in the [Arab Spring] protests, and all prisoners of conscience – Sunnis and Shias.”

Raif Badawi Flogging

Saudi Arabian political blogger and recent recipient of the EU’s Sakharov prize for Freedom of Thought, Raif Badawi, is serving a lengthy prison sentence for “insulting Islam” and also received the first tranche of 50 or a 1,000 lashed whipping sentence. Subsequent installments have been suspended based upon his poor health, exacerbated by his latest hunger strike, these last three weeks which has led to a deteriorating medical condition.

Raif Badawi, 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought
Raif Badawi, 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought

Wahhabism and Saudi Arabian History

Saudi Arabia has a wealth of cultural and religious history, is the birthplace of Islam, home to Mecca, Medina and Mohammed. It is rich in oil and other resources but beyond poor when it comes to human rights, democracy, and accountability. It offers the West tokenistic concessions in exchange for continuing its own ruthless totalitarianism.

Its brand of Islamic belief is Sunni as opposed to Shia, and an extreme version of that called Wahhabism or Salafism. They are stricter forms of Sharia Law based Islam, literalist, anti-Western and puritanical. Jihad, whether missionary or military, can be seen as a legitimate expression as well as expansion of Islam against its detractors.

Saudi Arabia, Extremism and Terrorism

Dr Yousaf Butt, senior advisor to the British American Security Information Council and director at the Cultural Intelligence Institute, says of Saudi Arabia:

“…one thing is clear: the fountainhead of Islamic extremism that promotes and legitimizes such violence lies with the fanatical ‘Wahhabi’ strain of Islam centered in Saudi Arabia. And if the world wants to stamp down and eliminate such violent extremism, it must confront this primary host and facilitator.”

He goes on to quote Wikileaks and other sources that purport to show Saudi’s financing of terror groups, several thousand Saudis are alleged to be in ISIL’s ranks. More easily verified is the funding of extremist Wahhabism via mosques and madrassas worldwide.

Saudi Arabia’s Hypocrisy on Human Rights

This same country was recently chosen to head a United Nations human rights selection panel. If it weren’t so serious and concerning, this would be satire. What’s worse is that apparently the UK supported their appointment.

Whilst Saudi Arabia has appeared to give women token political rights in recent municipal elections, they still can’t drive. Restrictions on political dissent and freedom of speech continue unabated and punishments for religious disagreement, in particular Saudi’s Wahabi version of Sunni Islam. As a result Freedom House’s freedom index ranks Saudi Arabia bottom on all counts.

Saudi Arabia is also the largest market for the British arms industry along with billions of other business deal tie-ups. As a result Britain is unlikely to publicly condemn Saudi too often, human rights will remain compromised by commercial interest. Indeed, a senior Government minister today defended close links with Saudi Arabia arguing that they enabled us to “tell them what we think”. True and unhypocritical condemnation of executions can only come when America and other countries also end the death penalty. Equally, rightful opposition to Islamic State (ISIL) should be accompanied by calling state-sanctioned extremism by Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and others to account too.

Gun Violence in America endemic, bigger threat to US Safety than ISIL

USA Gun Violence contrasted with UK

US Gun Violence 2015 incidents map
US Gun Violence 2015 incidents map – Gun Violence Archive

Whilst the British police managed to arrest a machete wielding youth in a shopping centre, in the US a domestic disturbance armed only with a bat saw the offender shot dead along with an innocent bystander. Gun violence in America has seen over 13,290 gun-related deaths recorded so far in 2015: 331 in mass shootings, 980 by police (91 unarmed of whom 37 were black), 25% showed signs of mental illness, over 46% were non-white, and 3,371 were teens or children, injured or killed. America has way more to worry about from its own gun culture than international terrorism or ISIL/Islamic State.

The figures for 2015 are up on nearly all counts from 2014 – Police Officer-involved incidents constituted 4,344 of the 52,324 total shootings up 35% from 3,213.

Chicago Police Department Officer Incidents

On the day after Christmas, Chicago Police were called to a domestic incident by the father of a 19 year-old black youth armed with a bat and on medication for known mental health issues. Somehow, 7 bullets later, Universtity student home for Christmas, Quintonio LeGrier, and 55 year-old, mother of 5, Bettie Jones were both dead. Such a contrast to British police gun violence where most years see zero fatalities and any unjustifiable exception to this results in public outcry.

Gun Violence in America Archive Toll 2015
Gun Violence in America Archive Toll 2015

Chicago suffers the worst figures of any US city (New York is now 6th), some 240 police shootings between 2010 and 2014, 70 deaths, mostly black men. This is despite new training and measures that have resulted in “Police-involved shootings [being] down by double digit percentages”. New York is surprisingly safe these days and police self-control such that just 41 were shot dead by police in a population 3 times that of Chicago. Still too many though. Phoenix and Philadelphia are proportionately worse with 57 and 54 fatal shootings from populations half the size of Chicago.

Chicago PD alleges nearly all are justified. Despite 410 investigations since 2006, only one was found to be unjustified, though some are still pending. Most reports ends with the trite phrase:

“This investigation found that Officer A’s use of deadly force was in compliance with Chicago Police Department policy.”

A far larger number must surely be seen as disproportionate? Gun versus bat? Armed adult vs teen? White v black? For example, over 90% of those investigated in 2014 were Black and/or Hispanic.

Laquan McDonald Investigation

Chicago Police Department Officer
Chicago Police Officer Badge

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently removed the city’s police superintendent and head of the Independent Police Review Authority and the CPD remains under review following the year-long belated charge of first-degree murder against Officer Jason Van Dyke for the 16-shot fatal police shooting last October of Laquan McDonald and attempts to prevent the public release of officer-incriminating vehicle dashcam footage.

In a recent series of studies, adults who were shown pictures of children of different races labeled black children as several years older then they actually were. They were considered “less innocent than their white same-age peers” – Education Week

Mass Shootings and Domestic Terrorism

With 2015 nearly over America has seen 329 people killed and four times as many injured – 17% up on 2014’s 281. That’s considerably more than acts of terrorism. Chicago with 1% of the US population also has 3-5% of its mass shooting victims.

Wider Issues of US Gun Violence Prevalence

The bigger issue is how endemic gun ownership and gun crime are to America, that recourse to a weapon for self-defence, arrest, or to settle scores, is the first resort not the last, and that those most affected by disproportionality and/or unreasonable use of force are people of colour. Whilst America claims or has been called upon to “police the world” it should sort out its own back yard first before any attempt to be the “world’s policeman”.