Friday, 17 October 2014

The small things enable the big things...

Both professionally and while running Pragmatic Radicalism, I've concluded that it really is the little things that count. I sum up my views in this aphorism:

"The small things are the hardest to get right, but once you get them right, the big things are easier to achieve."

PS I don't claim to have invented the above, as it's clearly not rocket science. But it did occur to me independently.

My blog for Progress: Their rights, our responsibility

Online here.

Their rights, our responsibility

Syria. Bombed out building. Assad. Homs.
It says a lot about humanity, international institutions and individuals that despite our facade of civilisation and modernity, the last three years saw weapons of mass destruction used against civilians and violations of human rights on an industrial scale, both in Syria. It was reported this week that photos smuggled out of Syria in 2011 of industrial-scale torture by the Assad regime are to appear in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. The scenes they depict, as with those from the Ghoutta WMD attack last year, evoke bygone eras of man-made tragedy. It is entirely appropriate therefore that they appear in such a museum, their ghosts reminding us of the human cost of inaction.
In these isolationist times, to have maximum impact, the photos should be displayed next to those showing other recent examples of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, which the international community did little or nothing to prevent: Bosnia, the Anfal campaign against the Kurds in Iraq, Rwanda, Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and, of course, present day Iraq and Syria.
I have visited the Washington DC Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem in Israel, and the Halabja memorial in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. As with all people of good conscience, I say ‘never again’. Yet it keeps happening again and again – a perpetual cycle in which those with evil intent fill the vacuum left where good people choose to do either nothing, or the bare minimum.
Perhaps this is a tragic reflection of illogical, irrational, contradictory urges within us all. We demand lower taxes yet simultaneously expect public spending increases. We refuse to vote, yet criticise politicians for not listening. It is human nature, yet when it comes to human rights, this wishful thinking, this perpetual hoping for the best, this conflicted logic is deadly.
To put it crudely, we say we believe in human rights but we do nothing to uphold them. Almost as if it would be enough to write down the criminal law, but be content with no criminal justice system. When other people’s ‘right to life, liberty and security of person’ (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3), is being snuffed out we offer words of outrage, words of sympathy or words from noble legal texts. Yet when our own lives are threatened we demand action.
Politicians are far from solely to blame, for we the people have a responsibility to take the defence of human rights more seriously. We who are fortunate to live in democracies, enjoy but often do not value the rights won by and defended by our forebears in armed conflict. Yet from our gilded citadels, the delicate balance our politicians walk between leading and following is at present tilting in favour of the public’s abhorrence for military intervention to protect civilians from terrorists or dictators. We must accept our individual and collective responsibility to our fellow humans by urging our politicians to uphold human rights.
Large-scale human rights abuses should not be merely contained, they must be confronted. Politicians the world over have a responsibility to improve the mechanisms by which ‘never again’, ‘the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘the responsibility to protect’ become more than words. At present, people of good conscience are gifting the field to those for whom human rights are anathema. Unprotected principles perish. Rights will rot away if not respected. One day we may ask others to protect our human rights. We had better hope that they value our rights more than we value theirs today.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

My Times letter: Turkey should not be expected to be the only external country fighting ISIS on the ground

THE TIMES - online here; published in print edition on Saturday 11 October

Sir, Given that the US and UK have ruled out sending in ground troops, it is odd that western commentators demand that Turkey becomes the first and only country to do just that. Given the tragic history of relations between Turks and Kurds, it is all the more important that the world acts collectively to protect them and others. If the West was serious about its objective of “degrading and defeating” Isis, it would devise a suitable military strategy. At present, it appears to wish to outsource to others what it is unwilling to do itself. Meanwhile, civilians pay the price.

John Slinger 

Monday, 6 October 2014

My Guardian letter: air strikes strategy seems incapable of helping Kurdish city of Kobani

Online at The Guardian here (and published in print edition on Tues 7 October 2014)

During the 26 September parliamentary debate, the prime minister said that without British air strikes there was no realistic prospect of “degrading and defeating” Isis and destroying it as a serious terrorist force. While he was clear that “we should not expect this to happen quickly”, your report (6 October) that Syrian Kurds have said that US-led air strikes are “not enough” to defeat Isis forces attacking Kobani on the Syrian-Turkish border, points to flaws in the US-led strategy.
First, Britain’s decision to limit our intervention to Iraq means we are powerless to come to the aid of Kobani. Second, the prime minister and President Obama insisted that their objectives could be met by providing air power in support of local forces, and by arming them. In Kobani, local forces have been receiving air support, yet still they may succumb to the terrorists. The strategy must therefore be adapted so that it is capable of achieving its objectives.
John Slinger

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Brian Blessed on the World Tonight about why William Hague is not the Greatest Living Yorkshireman!

A wonderful bit of radio, this - regarding David Cameron's description of William Hague as "the greatest living Yorkshireman" during his speech yesterday to the Conservative Party Conference. BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight  interviewed veteran actor Brian Blessed about this claim.

Caroline Wyatt (presenter): Was Mr Cameron right in his choice [of William Hague as the "greatest living Yorkshireman"]?

Brian Blessed: Oh, absolutely not.Totally ridiculous. He's a marvelous man, he made a marvelous speech the other day, he's a lovely Yorkshireman, a terrific guy. But he doesn't compare to me! I am, without doubt, the greatest Yorkshireman who's ever lived. We've got hundreds of Yorkshire people, you've got Patrick Stewart, the Captain, Jean-luc Picard, you've got Geoffrey Boycott, Dickie Bird, the whole of the gigantic county is full of marvelous people.

But the fact of the matter is, I am very hurt, because I have a special relationship with the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, absolutely. I was there in Number 10 Downing Street a few weeks ago, going to see about animals, and I was falling asleep by the window sill, and I suddenly felt his arms around me: "Hello Brian". We'd come into Number 10 Downing Street, we'd stood outside the door, he said: "Wake everybody up and shout "Gordon's alive" "! And I did that and he said thank you so much. So we have this very special relationship and it's an aberration by him to say that Hague is a wonderful man.

But William Hague comes from Woth-on-Durn, I come from half a mile away, Bolton-on-Durn, next to Woth-on-Durn [in a Yorks accent now], and they were always second to us. We beat them at football, we beat them at Sheffield Association League, but I mean William Hague, love, he can't hold a candle to me".

Caroline Wyatt: Follow that - Brian Blessed....