The Trouble with Tolstoy: In Search of Happiness

This is part two of the BBC documentary about the greatest writer that ever lived. (Part 1 is here.)

Alan Yentob continues his train ride through Tolstoy’s Russia, examining how Russia’s great novelist became her great troublemaker.

Continue reading “The Trouble with Tolstoy: In Search of Happiness”

The Trouble with Tolstoy: At War with Himself

This is part one of a must see BBC documentary on the world’s greatest writer, Lev Tolstoy. (Part 2 is here.)

Alan Yentob takes an epic train ride through Tolstoy’s Russia, examining how Russia’s great novelist became her great troublemaker.

Continue reading “The Trouble with Tolstoy: At War with Himself”

Thank You So Much

A message from the father of the murdered nine-year-old Ibrahim Shayban to Russia, China and Bashaar al-Asad.

The Russian and Chinese vetoes to protect the Syrian regime from UN Security Council condemnation are reminiscent of all those American vetoes to protect Israel. Both countries have their reasons for shielding the Syrian regime: Russia’s naval base at Tartus, discomfort over the way the Libya No Fly Zone slipped into more overt intervention, the fear that UN condemnation may one day focus on Russian abuses in Chechnya and Chinese abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang. But both countries should consider their own interests more creatively. Ultimately, their influence in Syria and the wider region will depend on their image in Syrian and Arab eyes. The Syrian regime will not be there for ever. The Syrian people will.

Iran is another state which has repeatedly shot itself in the foot since the Arab revolutions began, first by mischaracterising as Islamic uprisings the deposings of Mubarak, Bin Ali and Qaddafi, then by opposing the revolution which seems most similar to Iran’s in 79 – the Syrian revolution. Iran used to be popular in Syria even amongst many sectarian-minded Sunni Muslims. It used to be popular in the wider Arab region. This popularity was Iran’s best guarantee against marginalisation and even military attack from the region’s pro-Western forces. But its popularity has evaporated this year.

Back to Ibrahim. He was martyred while leaving a mosque in the Qaboon suburb of Damascus. His funeral was held today in Meydan, in the heart of the city. Here’s some footage. Apparently insecurity forces killed two of the mourners when they came out of the mosque into the street.

Commentators have been telling us that central Damascus remains quiet. It’s true that many areas have been quiet, either because the upper middle class inhabitants still support the regime or are sitting on the fence, or because of the overbearing police and mukhabarat presence on the streets. Damascus has certainly not slipped out of regime control, as Homs, Hama, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib sometimes have. Yet Damascus has been bubbling for a long time. Pro-regime commentators will say that Kafar Souseh (which has demonstrated frequently since Shaikh Rifa’i of the Rifa’i mosque was shot) is a suburb, not the city itself – which is true, if Camden Town isn’t part of London. Suburbs further out – like Harasta, Douma, Muadamiya – have been veritable war zones for months. Imagine if Streatham, Hackney, Tottenham and Ealing were in a state of war and commentators told us ‘London remains quiet.’ And Meydan and Rukn ad-Deen have witnessed frequent, large demonstrations, and savage repression. These places are as central as Chelsea and Kensington. Smaller, briefer demonstrations have occurred in high-class Malki, in Sha‘alaan, Shaikh Muhiyudeen, Baghdad Street, Muhajireen. You can’t get more central. The last place is within earshot of Bashaar al-Asad’s house. If the quietness of Damascus reassures the regime, I think they’d better start panicking.

Neocons holding up START treaty

The neoconservatives represent the Likud wing of the Israel lobby. In the 1970s, when the United States was reeling from the defeat in Vietnam, and reconsidering its imperial stance, the neocons joined the military-industrial complex and unreconstructed Cold Warriors to derail the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and Nixon’s detente. The Cold War is over, but the neocons still have an interest in maintaining a state of conflict. Once again, therefore, they are derailing a worthy arms control initiative. Here are some wise words from Ivan Eland as to why the neocons are so afraid of New START.

The START treaty, which would reduce the United States and Russia’s nuclear arsenals by 30%, has been held up in Congress for months by neoconservatives. Will the treaty gain any traction before more conservatives join Congress in January? RT’s Dina Gusovsky is joined by Jacob Hornberger from The Future of Freedom Foundation and Ivan Eland from the Independent Institute to discuss the START treaty.

Support Assange

The Russian government is encouraging NGO’s to nominate Julian Assange for the Nobel Peace Prize. Meanwhile this letter of support has appeared in the Guardian signed by several of our friends.

We protest at the attacks on WikiLeaks and, in particular, on Julian Assange (Report, 9 December) The leaks have assisted democracy in revealing the real views of our governments over a range of issues which have been kept secret and are now irreversibly in the public domain. All we knew about the mass killing, torture and corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan has been confirmed. The world’s leaders can no longer hide the truth by simply lying to the public. The lies have been exposed. The actions of major corporations such as Amazon, the Swiss banks and the credit card companies in hindering WikiLeaks are shameful, bowing to US government pressure. The US government and its allies, and their friends in the media, have built up a campaign against Assange which now sees him in prison facing extradition on dubious charges, with the presumed eventual aim of ensuring his extradition to the US. We demand his immediate release, the dropping of all charges, and an end to the censorship of WikiLeaks.

John Pilger, Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition, Salma Yaqoob, Craig Murray, Alexei Sayle, Mark Thomas, Caryl Churchill, AL Kennedy, Celia Mitchell, Ben Griffin (former soldier), Terry Jones, Sami Ramadani, Roger Lloyd Pack, David Gentleman, Miriam Margolyes, Andy de la Tour, Katharine Hamnett, Iain Banks

Reese Erlich: “Stop using the word ‘terrorist'”

Defining what a terrorist is and isn’t is a major dilemma. What one may consider terrorism, another may consider resistance. So where does one draw the line? Reese Erlich tackles that topic in his latest book “Conversations with Terrorists: Middle East Leaders on Politics, Violence, and Empire.” Erlich is a veteran journalist who has covered U.S. foreign policy for decades. He has freelanced for National Public Radio, Radio Deutsche Welle, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Radio, and writes for The San Francisco Chronicle and The Dallas Morning News.

Drawing on firsthand interviews and original research, Erlich argues that yesterday’s terrorist is often today’s national leader and that today’s freedom fighter may become tomorrow’s terrorist. By branding all of American’s opponents as “terrorists,” it makes it more difficult to look beyond the individual or the political group and understand what they are really all about. I caught up with Erlich recently and here’s what he had to say.

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The American Empire Is Bankrupt

Chris Hedges examines moves by Russia/China to dump the Dollar as a global reserve currency stating that “it marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back.”

I’d also recommend the Michael Hudson article De-Dollarization: Dismantling America’s Financial-Military Empire referred to by Hedges.

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Continue reading “The American Empire Is Bankrupt”

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