Notes from the front – of the week 20/1/2015

After France: Tories play the Islamophobia card

Tory Communities’ Secretary Eric Pickles’ recent letter urging Muslims to explain how Islam ‘can be part of British identity’ has fanned the flames of bigotry and has nothing remotely to do with combating terrorism.

The letter, sent to 1,000 Muslim leaders after the recent attacks in Paris, effectively held all Muslims responsible for extremist terrorism and implied the adherence to Islam makes them less ‘British’.

The right-wing tabloids were ecstatic and UKIP was given a fillip by this government-led endorsement of an Islamophobic blame game aimed at Muslims.

Moreover it is completely ineffective as an intervention to prevent terrorism, which presents a threat to all sections of society, including Muslims.

Far more effective would be for the British government to reconsider its ongoing participation in imperialist military actions across the Middle East, to draw the lesson of the West’s support for Al-Qaeda type forces in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Libya and its failure to deliver any type of justice to the Palestinians. It is all of these – alongside Islamophobic hate crime and attacks on the civil liberties of Muslims in the name of counter-terrorism – which creates the alienation that in some small number of cases can give rise to murderous extremism.

Contrary to the implication of Pickles’ propaganda, the overwhelming bulk of Muslims and their organisations are implacably opposed to all terrorism, whether it is that of a frenzied right wingers like Breivik in Norway or murderous Islamic extremists as recently in France.

Tory gesture politics that just whips up Islamophobia does nothing to fight terrorism and simply encourages hate crimes and assaults on the Muslim community while strengthening UKIP and the far right.

SYRIZA poll lead widens

Latest opinion polls just days before the Greek election show SYRIZA’s lead widening. The international criticism of the anti-austerity party has become notably more muted as the prospect of it topping the polls increases. 
Instead the main tactic of the existing domestic parties opposing SYRIZA has been to attempt to blur the lines by claiming to support a variant of SYRIZA’s anti-austerity policies, despite their previous record of supporting it. Alongside this new parties are being promoted against SYRIZA which aim to win support on the basis that they precisely have no track record in government – therefore can avoid the disdain the electorate is showing to the minority parties that have supported Samaras’ New Democracy austerity government.

One of these newly created parties Potami (‘River’) has been put together just to siphon off voters from SYRIZA, using fake left rhetoric on austerity to achieve this.

So far none of these attempts have dented SYRIZA’s poll lead.
However so far, while SYRIZA remains ahead, the final outcome of the election in terms of who can form a government remains unclear.

Few of the polls suggest that SYRIZA has a sufficiently strong lead to form a government outright. If it tops the poll it will qualify for the additional 50 seat top up that goes to the leading party in the Greek system. But this alone may not be enough to give it an overall majority unless it can benefit in seat allocation, both by being sufficiently far ahead of the second party (probably New Democracy), and if a number of small parties fail to achieve the 3 per cent threshold for parliamentary representation.

There is a widespread support for SYRIZA beyond Greece, especially in Spain, Ireland and Portugal. Even mainstream politicians have supported SYRIZA’s call for a debt-cancellation conference. As SYRIZA leader Tsipras writes, all the crisis-hit countries of Europe would directly benefit from debt-reduction. In reality a SYRIZA win would be a huge boost to all those fighting austerity.  The first results could be known on Sunday evening.

Kiev steps up offensive eastern Ukraine

Despite the ceasefire agreement, in the last week the Kiev government has launched a series of offensive actions across eastern Ukraine in an attempt to weaken the opposition.

In a series of military actions it has fought to try to take control of the devastated Donetsk International Airport to use it to step up its ongoing artillery attacks on the city of Donetsk. It escalated its bombardment of Donetsk and undertook airborne bombing raids on the towns of Gorlovka and Makeevka. Many civilians have been killed.

Russia’s immediate response was to call for both sides to pull back their heavy artillery from the ceasefire line separating the two sides and to re-consolidate the terms of the ceasefire agreed in September. Kiev’s President Poroshenko has rejected this.

The chaos that has resulted from the intervention of NATO last year to orchestrate the overthrow of the elected president in a ‘civilian coup’ which then adopted IMF and EU agreements in place of the subvention agreed from Russia, has led to a further dramatic weakening of Ukraine’s already failing economy.

Cutting trade with Russia and the IMF austerity programme, together with the war on the population in the east, have resulted in the economy shrinking, some estimate by more than 8 per cent last year. The local currency, the hryvnia, has officially lost half its value since last year.

With the IMF demanding cuts to welfare and business subsidies, Ukraine’s government is increasingly concerned about rising public discontent beginning to express itself politically on the streets. Nationalist rhetoric about war and the ‘threat’ of Russia is being stepped up to divert the population’s attention from the impact of the economic crisis.

This is the context for Poroshenko’s latest bloodcurdling threats to impose Kiev’s control over the population in the east. In fact, given the opposition of the overwhelming majority of the population in the east, and the current military relationship forces, such fighting talk does not mean Kiev can actually achieve this. It is aimed to whip the population into a pro-Western nationalist frenzy – which builds the far right and neo-Nazis.

While Poroshenko’s Kiev forces cannot take control of the East, it can terrorise the eastern population, which is what it stepped up doing this past week.

Imperialism’s Libyan chaos

Imperialism’s 2011 assault on Libya and victory over Gaddafi continues to result in chaos, death, destruction and is crushing the living standards on the population. Tens of thousands have been displaced, food prices have rocketed, Libya’s infrastructure has suffered devastating damage, resulting in fuel, power and water shortages and disrupted medical services.

The overthrow of Gaddafi left no single force able to unify the country. The resulting conflict descended into open civil war from the middle of last year and the country is de facto split in two.

The Islamist-leaning Libya Dawn forces control the west, including the capital, and are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey. Meanwhile forces backed by NATO – which are also formally recognised as the legitimate government – have relocated to the eastern city of Tubruq where they operate their parliament from a ship. This side is also supported by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

NATO’s crushing of the Libyan army was responsible for the huge flow of weapons to Al Qaeda inspired forces all across the region. Even ISIS now has recently claimed it now has a foothold in eastern Libya.

The West is desperate to get a settlement to its advantage in Libya, because Libya has Africa’s largest oil reserves, which produce the highest quality crude in the world. Control of the oil wells between Benghazi and Sirte are a principal theatre of the ongoing civil war.

However despite the West’s support the Tubruq ‘government’ has not been able to prevail in imposing its authority on the whole country.

Having failed to militarily defeat the Islamist forces controlling much of the country, the West is now invoking the authority of the UN in an attempt to broker peace talks.

Swiss Franc surge is a new phase of crisis

Currency markets were thrown into turmoil when the Swiss Franc surged by more than 30 per cent in a single day, when on 15January the Swiss central bank unexpectedly abandoned its policy of capping the currency’s appreciation.

It appears that the Swiss National Bank had to give up as it is was overwhelmed by the huge inflow of speculative money, which was not deterred by negative interest rates (which mean depositors have to pay the bank interest not vice versa!).

The backdrop to the Swiss turmoil is the continuing crisis in the world economy and stagnation in Europe. But the immediate cause was US economic policy. Alongside engineering a greater than necessary fall in world oil prices, primarily to deal a blow against Russia, Iran and Venezuela, a rise in the US dollar has drawn capital inflows in its direction and correspondingly weakened rival currencies such as the Euro. These trends have impacted on other currencies including the Swiss Franc, which is regarded as a ‘safe haven’ leading to an inward surge as the Euro weakened.

The short-term casualties include some homebuyers in Eastern Europe (who were encouraged to take out mortgages denominated in Swiss Francs), Swiss exporters and many currency speculators. The longer-term consequences could be far wider.

But once again it illustrates that the US is the main destabilising force in the world economy. Its historically low growth rates are insufficient to finance its current expenditure – both on maintaining American living standards and on its foreign military adventures. It is dealing with this not by addressing the real weaknesses of the American economy – which would mean confronting sections of American capital – but instead using the dollar’s pre-eminent role in the international financial system to suck capital from the rest of the world.