Open Democracy – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:59:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is there any Hope of a Ceasefire in Gaza? Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:04:35 +0000

Global opinion appears to be shifting against Israel – but will that be enough to force an end to the bloodshed?

By Paul Rogers | –

( ) – As we near the seventh week of the war in Gaza, the extent of the devastation and loss of life is such that many Western governments are coming under pressure to back ceasefires – with France and Ireland having already done so.

In the UK, MPs voted against supporting a ceasefire on Wednesday evening. Fifty-six Labour MPs voted for the measure, rebelling against Keir Starmer’s order to abstain, including eight frontbenchers who have left their posts over their defiance.

Starmer, like Rishi Sunak and many other Western leaders, is instead urging restraint with humanitarian pauses. Without their backing, is there any possibility of a ceasefire and an eventual return to negotiations?

In Gaza, sustained air strikes and artillery fire have killed some 11,000 Palestinians, including 4,500 children, and wounded 20,000 more. The whole of the Gaza Strip has been besieged, with food, water, fuel and electricity withheld. Some hospitals have closed and others will follow shortly. Around 1.1 million Palestinians have been ordered to move to southern Gaza and while most have, as many as 200,000 have not.

This devastation also has the function of deterring Palestinians in the West Bank – where violence has increased significantly – from responding to the hugely heavy-handed treatment being meted out by Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Since 7 October, 185 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and 2,500 wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The level of shock still being felt in Israel from the 7 October attacks by Hamas should not be underestimated and extends right across society. The loss of civilian lives was the worst in the state’s 75-year history, with 1,200 people killed and up to 240 taken hostage, as well as some reports that dozens more IDF soldiers were ‘spirited away’ by Hamas.

That few Israelis acknowledge that this number is far less than the tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian lives lost in the same 75 years is allowing Binyamin Netanyahu’s far-right government considerable freedom in its determination to destroy Hamas and, as it sees it, make Israel safe again.

The Israeli government views Gaza as the main problem. It has attempted to build support for moving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians across the border into Egypt. Joe Biden’s administration in the US has come out against that, as well as against Israel permanently controlling Gaza, which would imply the long-term garrisoning of the territory and its people.

As US policy slowly shifts, senior figures in the US military are now talking of the need for a limited war – the implication being that this must not go on for months – because of the rapid loss of support for Israel in the wider world beyond Europe.

Israel is not remotely up for that, with the Financial Times reporting that “Israeli officials have suggested that Gaza will be sealed off from Israel and potentially squeezed ever tighter by new buffer zones and security barriers inside the strip”.

Many analysts will argue that Gaza has been akin to an open prison for over two million Palestinians for the past 15 years, but this latest suggestion sounds more like a vast closed prison, with all exits sealed off.

Netanyahu government’s stance presumes that the IDF can actually destroy Hamas but, despite many decades of effort to cultivate support across the Global South, the global mood is turning against Israel as it reduces streets to rubble and destroys neighbourhoods. That is reflected in increasingly trenchant statements from UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres about Gaza becoming a “graveyard for children”.

A grim consequence is that we are already seeing a dangerous worldwide rise in antisemitism – with talk of a ‘slaughter of the innocents’, with all its biblical meanings – and Israel becoming a pariah state.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

How far this war goes on may now depend on the Biden administration as only the US has the clout to demand a ceasefire, not least with over $13bn of military support for Israel just agreed by Congress. It is highly unlikely Netanyahu will be persuaded by anyone else, not even the full weight of the EU states even if they gather together sufficient unity.

While there are deep divisions among the seven million Jews in the United States, there is also a further element to factor in: the US’s tens of millions of evangelical Christian Zionists – and their propensity for voting Republican. Biden is looking at an Israel lobby rather than a Jewish lobby, which he will no doubt view as a substantial concern in an election year.

For now, the US president remains committed to avoiding a ceasefire, and the prospect of a negotiated long-term peace agreement is therefore remote. Without an abrupt and unlikely collapse of Hamas as a paramilitary force, the war will continue into the New Year and beyond, with no end in sight. Israeli military operations will likely continue along the current pattern of air and artillery attacks, coupled with the use of special forces and other elite troops in individual assaults.

What happens further down the line will depend on whether Netanyahu remains in power – the war is proving to be a protracted affair and his far-right government could come apart sooner than most analysts think.

If the government does manage to hold on to power, and the IDF carries on as now, global leaders will likely eventually back a ceasefire with calls that become too strong to resist, but that could take many months.

If Netanyahu’s government falls, though, a ceasefire becomes more likely and could eventually lead to an uneasy stability, with ‘peace’ being too strong a word to use. With preliminary negotiations then possible, the conventional view is that there are two broad options for the future: two states comprising separate Israeli and Palestinian territories or a single state with human rights for all.

If the second option is considered, it is hugely complicated by the fact that Israel and the occupied territories already function as a single state. The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, is the law-making body for the State of Israel but also exercises final control over the rest of the territory. Its rule covers 14.1 million people: 7 million Jews and 7.1 million non-Jews. The two million Israeli Arabs within the 1949 boundaries have voting rights but the 5.1 million in Gaza and the West Bank do not, so Israel can hardly be described as a parliamentary democracy.

Indeed, the ruling party in the current coalition, Likud, has in its original 1977 policy platform a clear statement of where it stands: “The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

It is true that most students of the conflict assume that even the beginnings of a negotiated settlement, should one come about, will be based on the two-state solution but that is far from the view of many Palestinians. Even so, working towards transforming that single ‘state’ into a full democracy with uniform rights might be better for all, but it would be a task stretching over at least a generation.

Either way, the current conflict has already meant that Hamas is achieving its aim of a long war that will see many tens of thousands of young Palestinians further radicalised by Israel’s brutality. In the coming years, the Netanyahu government may end up having been the recruiting sergeant of choice for Hamas or whatever movements succeed it.


Neoliberalism can’t solve the Climate Crisis: We Must become Activists Tue, 08 Aug 2023 04:08:04 +0000

Radical action is essential to stop the transition from global warming to global boiling

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers

( ) – Extreme weather events have increased in frequency and intensity over the past decade, with the last month seeing a rare combination of problems across North America, the Mediterranean and Middle East, northern China and South Korea. For the British, there has been the separate added shock of seeing tourists fleeing wildfires, especially in Greece.

These events are all part of the early stages of climate breakdown, which will get progressively worse unless the world makes a revolutionary and rapid transition to a low carbon economy, yet there is little evidence that political leaderships are even remotely prepared for this. At least UN secretary general António Guterres is using different language, not least his use of “global boiling” rather than “global warming” for his warnings of what is to come.

He is an exception, and public opinion overall is still not aware of the huge changes required. All the warnings from climate scientists, coupled with the evidence of our own eyes, seems to count for little as we move towards an unstable, chaotic and overheating planet.

Why is this? More importantly, why is it that radical decarbonisation isn’t happening, even though we know it’s possible? And, most important of all, how can things be turned round in time?

Let’s start with the inaction. Here, three elements interact. First, we are talking about fundamental changes in how we live, not just in the UK or western Europe but across the whole world. The result would be a cleaner, safer and healthier world, but it would involve years of huge change – which is a lot for ordinary people to take in. We shouldn’t underestimate this. Poorer communities, in particular, will find it very difficult to cope with the changes, while richer elites everywhere in the world will likely maintain the naive belief that their wealth will keep them secure.

Second, what must be done runs directly counter to the way the economy currently works. The market fundamentalist system is rooted in competition and the false belief that the millions of people left behind will benefit from trickle-down from the rich and be content. It believes that while central government, in partnership with wealth, may hold the ultimate levers of control, it should have a minimal role in how the market works. Cooperation is anathema to this way of thinking, but cooperation is essential to prevent global boiling.

Neoliberals see this market fundamentalist approach as necessary for an ordered and stable society, and believe that if the millions of marginalised people do not upset the apple cart, all will be well. At root is a belief that the elite knows best.

In Britain, there was the unexpected risk of a seriously radical Labour government taking over in 2017. Fortunately for the neoliberals, that was narrowly avoided and since then the threat from the Labour left has been well and truly suppressed.

Despite this, the system still has wider concerns over potentially violent responses from the margins. In many countries, and especially Britain, new laws have been brought in and others strengthened, and police and security forces are much better equipped and trained to handle public dissent. Heavy prison sentences for even small acts of nonviolent direct action are now there to be used.

The problem is that a market economy system simply cannot act fast enough to handle climate breakdown. The system knows this, so finds it preferable to support the view of any “experts”– of whom there are plenty – who still deny there is a problem.

The anti-climate breakdown forces are exceptionally well entrenched in society and have the easy job of convincing people that no action is required

This brings us to the third point: the relentless propaganda from the fossil fuel industry and associated think tanks over half a century to deny the problem, even when their own scientists are saying otherwise. In a fairer world there would be an offence of global corporate manslaughter, but in the real world there isn’t.

Overall, the anti-climate breakdown forces are exceptionally well entrenched in society and have the easy job of convincing people that no action is required – just when they are being told that action will be personally costly. Politicians will play on this, especially when elections are in the offing. This can even reap electoral favour. The current behaviour of Britain’s Sunak government is a case in point, with Sunak declaring that climate policy must be “proportional and pragmatic”, following a by-election win in a constituency where the Tory candidate had opposed extension of the ULEZ low-emissions scheme.

So where do we go from here? One way to look at it is to view the current issue as two very broad global trends that are on course to converge, and when they finally meet there will be a chance of radical change because there will be no alternative.

One of these trends, as we have seen, is a system set in its ways and highly unlikely to change. Carbon emissions will continue rising, temperatures will head well above 1.5°C and those with the power will reap the rewards, at least in the short term.

The other trend is much more positive and has three elements.

Climate science has come on by leaps and bounds in the past half century. The science community is far more confident of its expectations of climate breakdown and is, at last, saying so bluntly. That welcome change also has greater force because of the manner in which the beginnings of climate breakdown are frequently exceeding the warnings of predictive models.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The second trend is, at last, a growing public awareness that things must change, and change quickly. The power of the movements in many countries is remarkable, so much so that far more people are willing to risk prison for the sake of the future.

Finally, numerous impressive developments in renewable energy technology have brought down the cost of electricity by huge margins, bringing it well below grid parity in price with fossil fuels.

That leaves just two huge questions, on which so many futures depend, particularly for our children and grandchildren. When will the convergence happen, and how quickly can changes then be made?

If it takes another 20 years to the early 2040s, then the task will be almost insurmountable, with action only happening after numerous appalling catastrophes, and bitter anger from the marginalised billions. If change comes before the mid-1930s then prospects will be brighter, but the later the convergence the greater the challenge.

It is therefore a matter of the sooner the better, so the rest of the 2020s has to be a time of intense activism whenever and wherever possible. Whether it is by persuasion, argument, nonviolent direct action or other means, it might then be possible to convince enough people that radical action is essential before the transition from global warming to global boiling risks becoming irreversible.



Secret Files reveal how UN Climate Advisers ‘greenwashed’ for BP Wed, 28 Dec 2022 05:04:20 +0000 By Lucas Amin and Ben Webster | –

( – The PR firm advising the UN on climate change campaigns has been accused by US lawmakers of helping BP “greenwash” its fossil fuel investments, openDemocracy can reveal.

Exclusive: US Inquiry unearths pro-Gas PR Strategy produced by Firm “At Core of global Climate Effort”

Internal BP documents released to the US House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee and published last week show Brunswick created a strategy in 2017 or 2018 to help “reframe the conversation on gas”, “protect BP’s ‘advantaged gas position’” and “secure support for gas as a natural low carbon fuel”.

The news has sparked fresh concerns over Brunswick’s work for both Big Oil and the UN, which openDemocracy revealed this month.

Duncan Meisel, executive director of the Clean Creatives campaign calling for PR companies to boycott the fossil fuel industry, told openDemocracy: “The campaigns revealed in these documents are precisely the kind of activity that the UN climate champions should be working to stop.”

Anatomy of a greenwash

Lawmakers in the US have published a new report and a tranche of documents “showing how the fossil fuel industry engages in ‘greenwashing’ to obscure its massive long-term investments in fossil fuels”.

The ongoing inquiry into the “climate disinformation crisis” by the House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee has used subpoenas to obtain and publish internal documents from BP.

These documents reveal that Brunswick partner Phil Drew masterminded Brunswick’s campaign to publicly portray BP as a responsible environmental leader while the company developed its natural gas assets.

Drew now leads Brunswick’s work for the UN and has become a special adviser to the “UN Climate Change High-Level Champions” and “various multilateral initiatives”.

Drew did not advise the UN at the time he devised this plan for BP – but Brunswick continues to advise the oil company and would not confirm or deny whether Drew still works on BP’s account.

A PowerPoint presentation prepared by Drew in 2017 outlines the campaign, and was presented to Bob Stout, BP’s vice president and head of regulatory affairs, and other executives.

The aim of the multi-year campaign was to “advance and protect the role of gas – and BP – in the future of energy conversation”.

Drew noted that “renewables dominate the debate on the future of energy” and stated that BP needed to “reframe the conversation on gas” because, although it was “lower carbon than coal”, it was “still a fossil fuel”.

The presentation advised BP to focus its message on “key national governments” in the US, UK and Germany, while also targeting think tanks, academics, and “top tier media”.

Via Pixabay.

Princeton University, the Financial Times and the Economist were among the “influencers on gas and methane” that Brunswick recommended targeting.

A key tactic of the campaign was to position BP as a leader in tackling leaks of methane from extraction wells, which are a potent source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brunswick said the leaks were the “Achilles’ heel” of the argument for gas, and proposed BP take a “leading role on methane” to “authenticate [its] low carbon seriousness”.

The House of Representatives committee’s report concluded that Brunswick was suggesting that “advocating for methane regulation” would help to “advance BP’s self interest in continuing to produce and sell natural gas”.

BP appeared to accept Brunswick’s advice and in 2018 held an event in London to promote methane leak reductions, which enabled the company to claim it was doing “good for the environment” while developing six major gas projects.

Professors from the prestigious US university Princeton who were part-funded by BP joined the event and, later that year, the company announced it was “supporting” Princeton’s work “to improve scientific understanding of methane”.

BP continued to publicise its work on methane leaks and during COP27 earlier this year the company claimed its work on cutting emissions evidenced its “net zero ambition”.

Climate disinformation

In a promotional video, Drew says Brunswick’s work for the UN places the firm at “the very core of the global climate effort”.

Critics say this is not a place Brunswick should be.

Kathy Mulvey of campaign group the Union of Concerned Scientists told openDemocracy: “The UN and UN-affiliated bodies have globally recognised authority to set the bar for ambitious climate action. They can and should work with PR firms that share that goal – and have refused to be complicit in fossil fuel industry climate disinformation.

“The UN High-Level Climate Champions should insist that, if Brunswick wants to keep working with them, it must drop fossil fuel clients.”

openDemocracy previously revealed that Brunswick also works for Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, and Harbour Energy, the biggest producer of North Sea oil and gas, alongside other fossil fuel giants.

A Brunswick spokesperson said: “The point of this campaign was to draw attention to the urgency of tackling methane emissions in 2017, as a prerequisite for natural gas playing a role in the energy transition.

“It was focused on real outcomes that set a new standard for the industry: setting the first quantified methane reduction target for a major energy company, the first deployment of continuous methane monitoring across its oil and gas projects, and partnerships with universities and NGOs to accelerate methane detection technologies. BP was recognised for its efforts to measure and reduce methane by the UN Environmental Programme.”

A spokesperson for BP told openDemocracy: “We have long recognised methane emissions from the oil and gas industry as an important issue and have a track record of promoting reductions and taking action, working with others across the industry and beyond – of which that proposed campaign was part.

“We actively and transparently advocate for effective regulation of methane emissions, including the federal regulation of methane in the US


The volunteers risking their lives to secretly educate Afghanistan’s girls Wed, 17 Aug 2022 04:24:24 +0000 By Deepa Parent | –

( – In 2002, when Matiullah Wesa was a teenager, armed gunmen burned his school. It was this, he told openDemocracy, that led him to dedicate his life to ensuring other children in Afghanistan can get an education.

Wesa is the co-founder and president of PenPath, an NGO that works to reopen closed schools in the country’s rural areas – from the Spin Boldak district in Kandahar to Helmand province – and has so far educated more than 115,000 children.

Today, PenPath has 2,400 volunteers, including six women who give secret classes to secondary school-aged girls. Despite multiple assurances made by the Taliban at international forums, teenage girls are still banned from classrooms in Afghanistan in the wake of the group’s takeover of Kabul.

Schools have since reopened for boys and for girls up to the age of 11. But in many rural areas, children are still being deprived of an education; between safety concerns and the weak economy, parents are reluctant or unable to send them to class – and that’s if there is a school at all.

“There are villages in Afghanistan that have over 1,500 people but not a single school,” Wesa explained. So, many of PenPath’s classes are taught in children’s homes, with volunteers playing pre-recorded school lessons. In towns where there’s an internet connection, volunteers give online classes to groups of girl and boy students.

“We’ve recorded the Afghan school curriculum from class 1-12 and teach children in rural areas. If they can’t go to school, we’ll bring the school to their doorsteps, sometimes behind closed doors,” Wesa explained.

“Even if the Taliban threatens us, we won’t stop fighting for education… Education is our human right.”

Related story

Some parents are reluctant to send their daughters to schools with male teachers – either because they fear Taliban repercussions or because of their own conservative values. So, educators from PenPath go door-to-door to urge community elders, parents and tribal leaders in rural Afghanistan to encourage girls’ education.

“We have two challenges,” Wesa said, “one is that the Taliban has banned girls in grades 7-12 and the second challenge is that parents are discouraged from sending their girls to school because of the lack of female teachers, toilets, and secure campuses. It’s a huge problem.”

‘Fighting with determination’

Most of the funding for the NGO comes from the founders’ pockets, although some is donated by people around the world, the Afghan diaspora and local elders. Wesa and the volunteers work without pay unless a ‘good samaritan’ donates money towards their salaries.

“Girl students, their parents, and tribal leaders have come up to us and thanked us for bringing education to their villages. They were happy and want to study more,” said Wesa. “Our female teachers have received so much encouragement from these little girls. It just keeps pushing us to do more.”

Some of PenPath’s female teachers told openDemocracy they are not worried or scared about what they are doing, because they believe in a right to education.

One female volunteer said: “I believe it’s my responsibility to teach those who are in need of education, especially children here who are the future builders of Afghanistan. I will keep fighting with determination for my aim.

“We will try to provide education to each and every Afghan girl, at the same time, we request the international community to provide them with opportunities like scholarships and help build schools for them.

“We don’t need to be scared of anyone or a group. We will fight for girls’ education till our last breath.”

Even if the Taliban threatens us, we won’t stop fighting for education… Education is our human right

This was echoed by another female volunteer, who added: “I have started volunteering because my country, Afghanistan, is in a really bad situation. We are fighting for our country and there are people here who won’t stop fighting for this right…

“I’m sad but not scared because I’m fighting for education which is a fundamental right of all human beings. It’s not a new thing that there are people against girls’ education so I’m not really scared about it.”

‘I won’t be discouraged’

With the Taliban increasing restrictions on women travelling without male relatives, PenPath volunteers travel in gender-segregated groups.

“Our female teachers reach one house of a girl child that’s pre-decided and they gather other girls from the village and conduct classes behind closed doors. Our male teachers do the same when holding classes for the boys,” said Wesa.

Volunteers give classes in two shifts – a morning one starting at 7am and another from 3pm. Each day, the classes teach more than 1,000 students across various districts in Kandahar, Helmand and Kabul.

PenPath has also launched mobile libraries – collecting and distributing more than 360,000 books to the children of Afghanistan since 2013. The NGO hopes to expand the number of online classes, secret schools and mobile libraries in the coming months.

Wesa first started working to reopen schools during the Taliban’s previous regime in the 1990s. He admitted it’s “harder” to do so now, but said he won’t give up.

Asked about the potential risks if the Taliban finds out the organisation is teaching girls, Wesa said, “We have chosen a non-violent way to fight for girls’ education and even if there comes a threat or they say I’ll be sent to jail, I won’t be discouraged to cease our educational activities.”

He added: “We’re finding ways to make sure [children] don’t lose out on the only thing that can save this country from starvation – which is education”.

Deepa Parent is an independent journalist based in Paris. She covers international conflict and the consequences of war on human rights. She reports on refugee crises, women’s rights and the role of geopolitics in conflict zones. Deepa has a masters degree in Media and International Conflict from University College Dublin, where she studied how to cover conflict with a focus on US foreign policy and public diplomacy.


Published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Afghan Women Activists protest against Taliban’s new Burqa Decree Mon, 16 May 2022 04:25:42 +0000 By Deepa Parent | –

( ) – “You are all loose women for protesting against the burqa. Why don’t you want to cover your bodies? You are not Muslims,” a Taliban fighter yelled at Zoya* when she led a march of 20 women in Kabul on Tuesday. Zoya, 38, a women’s rights activist and mother of five, was protesting against the controversial burqa decree issued by the Taliban last Saturday.

Women’s rights activists march in Kabul against new face-covering order, despite threats and risk of imprisonment.

The decree says that women must cover their face in public, by wearing either the head-to-toe burqa, which has a grille for the face, or the niqab, which covers the face except for an opening for the eyes. Most women in Afghanistan wear a head covering but do not cover their face, though women in rural areas tend to dress more conservatively.

It’s the latest addition to the raft of restrictions imposed by the Taliban since they took over Afghanistan last August. Women are barred from seeking employment, except in jobs that can only be filled by female employees (such as midwives, dressmakers and some administrative roles); and girls between grades 7-12 have been banned from going to secondary school.

The edict, issued by the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, has alarmed not only the women of Afghanistan, but also the international community, which condemned the newest suppression of women’s rights in the country. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said it is “deeply concerned” by the move.

Zoya and other women activists mobilised as soon as they heard rumours about the new edict, one day before it was announced. As soon as the women started their demonstration in the capital, carrying placards that read ‘No to obligatory burqa’ and ‘The burqa is not our hijab’, they were confronted by Taliban fighters carrying guns.

“They screamed at us. They were pointing guns and threatened to attack some of the protestors. They called us loose women with no morals or character. You could translate that to the worst word you can use for women in English. That’s what they said,” explained a distraught Zoya.

“One of the Talibs turned towards a protester, who he knew was Pashtun, and asked why she was joining a protest with women like us, Tajiks, who are not Muslims. It was terrible. We were detained for two hours, questioned, threatened, and warned that if we continue, we will be imprisoned for these protests.”

Samira*, 25, another women’s rights activist, also demonstrated in Kabul against the new decree, on Monday. She explained what happened: “We can’t just sit down and accept these restrictions imposed on us by the Taliban. They can’t just suppress our voices. At 10am, I reached a park and spoke to the women there, and asked if they would join my protest against the Taliban. I was honestly surprised that they agreed, given the recent news of abductions and forced disappearances of women protestors. We stood together and demanded our rights.”

Samira’s life changed overnight when Kabul fell. Previously, she ran a successful clothing business in Kabul, alongside two male business partners. As soon as the Taliban took control of the city, it was announced that women must stop working and should be accompanied by mehrams (male relatives). “I had two men as business partners and we weren’t allowed to work together anymore. I was forced to shut my enterprise. I was also setting up a little restaurant. They’ve made me change my life enough. I can’t let them rule over my choices of clothing,” said Samira.

My three daughters can’t go to school. If I don’t fight for them today, who else will?

Zoya worked for 18 years as a teacher, but lost her job when the Taliban closed schools for older girls. She wants to speak up for the rights of girls who are banned from classrooms and for the women of Afghanistan whose voices are being silenced. “We went back 20 years to the day the Taliban arrived here. My three daughters can’t go to school. If I don’t fight for them today, who else will?,” asked Zoya. There are no restrictions on her two school-age sons.

Samira, Zoya and the dozens of other activists who protested unanimously reject the new rule. “We do not and will not wear a burqa. We already wear a hijab, which is our choice,” said Zoya.

In a similarly defiant tone, Samira added: “You can’t just make half of the population of the country disappear. We will defy these restrictions and only we women can choose what we want to wear. All I’m asking for is for the Taliban to change these rules and give us our freedom. For now, I won’t wear it, even if they threaten to kill me.”

Family support – including from men

As part of the new decree, the Taliban also announced that it will arrest male relatives of women who refuse to cover themselves from head to toe. Despite these threats, Zoya and Samira chose to stand against the Taliban. Zoya said: “My husband and male members of my family asked me to avoid these protests initially, but now they have decided to support my fight for women’s rights. The men and women of Afghanistan have united in opposing this regime. We don’t want them to rule us.”

Seconding Zoya’s stand, Samira added: “It’s the same in my family too. My mother is worried for my safety and has asked me to avoid the protests. But at the end of the day, they’re supportive of my choices and understand that if we don’t unite against this rule, nothing will change in our beautiful motherland.”

Women rights activists have faced threats ever since they marched on the streets, a few days after the Taliban first banned women from working. One of the most outspoken civil rights activists who led these protests is Hoda Khamosh, who represented Afghan women at talks on the humanitarian crisis in Oslo. In January 2022, sitting across from a table of Taliban officials, Khamosh stood up and demanded they call Kabul and release jailed protestors.

The Taliban think we exist only to marry and have babies with

Speaking this week about the mandatory face veil decree, Khamosh said: “No one has recognised the Taliban as a government and all the promises they’ve made in international summits have not been kept yet. They’re not only not stopping targeted killings, but are also trying to erase women from society. By imposing this rule they’re trying to shut women within four walls. The Taliban are doing this because it was us women who stood against them. They believe women are slaves and aren’t humans. They think we exist only to marry and have babies with. The Taliban don’t think we’re capable of doing anything else.”

Khamosh’s demands against the Taliban in Oslo were in response to forced killings, abductions and raids, which continue to grab headlines. Last September, female protestors and women’s rights activists who protested against the ban on education and employment were beaten by the Taliban in Kabul and Herat.

However, these encounters and violent threats have failed to shake the will of Afghanistan’s women. “If they think we will stop protesting after yesterday’s verbal abuse, they’re mistaken.” said Zoya. “I am fighting for the future of my daughters and many others in our country. We plan to march again. Not only against the burqa decree, but also for education, hunger, poverty and employment rights.”

*Names have been changed to protect identities

Deepa Parent is an independent journalist based in Paris. She covers international conflict and the consequences of war on human rights. She reports on refugee crises, women’s rights and the role of geopolitics in conflict zones. Deepa has a masters degree in Media and International Conflict from University College Dublin, where she studied how to cover conflict with a focus on US foreign policy and public diplomacy.


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Fighting repression in the Land of the Free: an Arab-American feminist Perspective Sun, 02 Jan 2022 05:08:45 +0000

While the US criticises authoritarianism abroad, it represses its own Black, Arab and other minority citizens through surveillance, militarised policing and incarceration

By Nadine Suleiman Naber | –

( OpenDemocracy) – For decades, US and European governments, as well as corporate media, have been condemning authoritarian repression and violence against women in the Global South – from Africa, to the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific Islands and Latin America. And tragically, these same voices have too frequently misused grassroots human rights and feminist struggles to push for violent military interventions.

As an Arab-American professor and activist, I have witnessed over 30 years of repression within the US against feminist and queer people of color, and those involved in racial justice, anti-war, and decolonial social movements. I often wonder, where is the international outcry over repression and misogyny within the United States?

Given the recent escalation of US repression of Black and Palestinian activists, it is more clear than ever that railing against authoritarian repression in the Global South is a far cry from real concern over peoples’ freedom. It is especially hypocritical to demand an end to gender violence in the Global South when the US was not only founded upon rape and sexual assault as a tool of enslavement and colonisation, but also continues to rely on sexualised violence to dominate BIPOC communities. Consider the more than 1,200 reports of sexual assault and the controversy over hysterectomies targeting immigrant women in ICE custody; the forced sterilizations of Native and Black women; and police sexual violence.

Sensationalising human rights abuses abroad turns public attention away from such human rights abuses in the US and helps maintain the fiction of the US as a democratic nation state with equal rights and freedom for all.

Solidarity with Palestine

It is no surprise that many anti-imperialist Black activists and feminists from the Civil Rights era to today have stood in strong solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

This solidarity was always global in scope, as it was forged in the 1970s context of global anti-imperialist liberation movements and a shared consensus that the Cold War sidetracked liberation movements across the world, and that they were being co-opted by military and corporate elites, finance capital, and efforts to control resources and create a new imperialism.

This internationalist frame conceptualised South Africa and Palestine as key sites of Western neo-imperialism and identified them as locations whose struggles were intrinsically connected to all forms of anti-colonial critique. It was in this context that instances of feminist solidarity such as the alliance between the US-based Union of Palestinian Women’s Association (UPWA) and the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) emerged.

Continued FBI surveillance and repression of Black, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim residents expanded such solidarity. A principal example of this is the FBI’s 1996-2000 investigation into Chicago-area Muslim Americans called Vulgar Betrayal, which eventually encompassed nearly every FBI field office and impacted the lives of hundreds of citizens or legal permanent residents. Algerian-American Assia Boundaoui, who uncovered this operation, produced the film ‘The Feeling of Being Watched,’ in which she documents how FBI surveillance trickles down into the everyday lives of Arab-American Muslim youth, families and communities in the form of paranoia, distrust, fragmentation, and the destruction of community relations and philanthropy.

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In 2008, the Bush administration attorney general, Michael Mukasey, authorised a new kind of investigation called an “assessment,” which required no factual basis for suspecting wrongdoing before allowing agents to employ intrusive investigative techniques like surveillance and database searches. In 2009, a memo from the Atlanta FBI revealed that fears of a “Black Separatist” terrorism threat justified an “assessment” of the growing Black population in Georgia.

The blame game

This meshes with the reality of law enforcement today focusing on Black-led activism rather than white extremists carrying out violence. In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union noted community fears that the category of a Black terrorism threat was “created to justify surveillance of, and other government action against, Black people, including Black activists”. Such fears are, of course, well founded.

The events of the summer of 2014 especially helped consolidate the increased solidarity between Palestinian and Black social movements in the US. Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, faced the military-grade weapons of four city and state police departments – tear gas, smoke bombs, stun grenades and tanks – while Gazans were confronting Israel’s heavy artillery shelling, massive use of flechettes, mortars, and half-ton to one-ton missiles.

Activists forged solidarity around several points of unity, including how the canisters fired in both Gaza and Ferguson were US-made, as well as how the St Louis County Police Department, which killed Michael Brown and initially placed Ferguson on siege, had trained with the Israeli military. Following Ferguson, the FBI used sophisticated surveillance aircraft technologies to police BLM protests after the killing of Freddie Gray in 2018 and has continued to do so.

Today, these alliances continue to grow, especially through a conjoined struggle committed to resisting the US government’s application of the ‘counter-terrorism’ framework to smear, police, and surveil both Palestinian and US-based Black resistance movements. For example, local joint terrorism taskforces ‘visit’ activists from the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), blaming them for “inciting violence”.

In 2019, the US publicly disclosed its concept of “racially motivated violent extremism”. Under the guise of stopping white supremacist violence, this terminology enables the ongoing repression of Black-led resistance movements against police violence. Today, more and more coalitions are arising in response to the US’s scapegoating of Black and Arab communities as ‘threatening’ to the state.

Opposing Zionist movements

Black-Palestinian solidarity has also emerged against Zionist movements that have worked to reinforce the repression of Black and Palestinian movements. Groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have spied on Palestinian, civil rights and anti-apartheid activists. The ADL has also attacked the Palestine-related efforts of M4BL and sought to block activists from using the language of apartheid in their critiques of Israeli settler-colonialism. The organisation also contributed to commentator and university professor Marc Lamont Hill losing his job at CNN over his support for Palestinians and Jews holding equal rights in one secular state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

The Biden administration has so far failed to reject Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian civil society organisations as ‘terrorist’ groups

Left-leaning BIPOC feminist and queer movements that have committed to solidarity with Palestinian liberation have been key targets of repression. I will never forget when, in 2004, the Ford Foundation rescinded a $100,000 grant awarded to INCITE! Women and Gender Non-Conforming People against Violence, after our organisation published a statement supporting Palestinian liberation.

The US and Zionist repression of activists in the US extends globally, to places the US is invading and/or dominating. Today, the effects of the US’s alliance with Israeli repression against Palestinians is reaching deep into Palestinian civil society, as is the work of groups like the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, which have been promoting attacks on Palestinian civil society groups for many years.

The Biden administration has so far failed to reject Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian civil society organisations as ‘terrorist’ groups. State Department spokesperson Ned Price has been entirely weak in response. “We’ll be engaging our Israelis partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations” is obviously meaningless at a time when Israel is trying to shut down three organisations that are documenting its human rights violations for the International Criminal Court, and another three engaged in vital work in the community.

Israel has also tried to shut down free speech in the US by advocating for laws against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS). Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the US, earlier this year called on 35 states with anti-BDS laws to sanction Ben & Jerry’s over its decision to stop selling its ice cream in illegal Israeli settlements.

Erdan’s letters to US governors read: “I ask that you consider speaking out against the company’s decision, and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben and Jerry’s and your state.” Those that follow his advice are favoring Israel over a US company, free speech and most importantly over equal rights and freedom for Palestinians.

These laws violate First Amendment rights – rights that were always meant to primarily protect white middle-class people (and originally wealthy white landowners) rather than ‘all Americans’. The laws are also devastating Palestinian and Arab students’ lives by compounding the fear and intimidation they face on campus if they campaign for Palestinian rights, intensifying that already imposed by the McCarthy-like targeting of individuals by groups like Canary Mission.

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Limitations on free speech through anti-BDS laws and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, alongside efforts to divide Palestinian and Black activists, are intended to create an atmosphere in which supporters of Palestinian liberation are fearful and immobilised. They also support and sustain sexualised racism against Palestinian students, such as the threat of castration received by Ahmad Daraldik at Florida State University and misogynist cyberbullying that paints Palestinian women activists as “whores”.

A wider web of repression

Repression is an ever-growing concern in the US – far beyond its impact on Black and Arab activism. Consider the surveillance of Indigenous people involved in struggles like Standing Rock or the attempts to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Refuse Fascism analyses “the very real danger and threat of fascism coming to power in this country”, whether it is led by the Republican Party or whether it is sustained by Democrats, who “will consistently pull to try to work with, conciliate with and collaborate with [Republicans]”.

Yet we have learned from history that measures like these can have the opposite effect, proving to be a galvanising factor.

Addressing these issues now is particularly timely with the recent news that two of the alleged killers of Malcolm X in 1965, both Black Muslim men, who were hastily arrested on shaky evidence and became victims of the very injustices Malcolm X denounced, were deemed innocent. In the aftermath of his assassination, prosecutors, the New York Police Department and the FBI withheld key evidence that probably would have resulted in the acquittal of the two men. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R Vance, has apologised and said they “did not get the justice that they deserved”. Both men spent more than 20 years in the brutal New York prison system, often in solitary confinement. Only Muhammad Aziz is still alive today.

The role of prison

US-based prison abolitionists have long critiqued the cruel history of wrongful convictions of BIPOC individuals through police torture and frame-ups.

In Chicago alone, there is a backlog of over 500 cases of alleged police torture and frame-ups involving primarily Black and Latinx men who remain incarcerated for life for crimes they did not commit. I work with mothers who have been fighting for their children’s freedom for decades while enduring devastating health and economic challenges. They often remind me of mothers in Egypt, like the beloved Laila Soueif, who has been the focus of many international human rights stories about the authoritarian regime’s frame-up of her son, Alaa Abdulfattah, who helped lead the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

Black feminist abolitionists have insisted upon fighting against the criminalisation and incarceration of BIPOC women, queer and transgender survivors of gender violence such as Marissa Alexander who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for defending her life from an abusive estranged husband. Transgender abolitionists are resisting invasive, transphobic airport surveillance and the ways police specifically ensnare and criminalise trans people of color.

History and the FBI

Unfortunately, these realities, rarely heard on the global stage of human rights, are as appalling as the histories that shaped them. The history of the FBI’s repression through surveillance began long before its recent investigations of Muslim and Black communities.

J Edgar Hoover, who headed the FBI at the time of Malcolm X’s assassination, was no friend of the Civil Rights Movement or Black resistance to rampant white supremacy. This resistance continued the struggle against centuries of enslavement and rebellions. It is this history, however, that people like Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin in Virginia seek to whitewash and prevent children from learning in schools.

Visions for a radically different future must affirm life, interconnectedness, and the conjoining of all movements for human rights, gender justice, liberation, abolition and decolonisation

Hoover’s FBI had a history of focusing its attention against Black organising to secure rights and justice rather than on white efforts to violently oppress Black people in the US South and elsewhere. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that in 1919, as director of the FBI’s precursor, the General Intelligence Division, Hoover investigated Marcus Garvey for allegedly associating with radicals. He couldn’t pin any violations of federal law on Garvey, but the Justice Department eventually accused him of trumped-up mail fraud charges in 1923.

Mike German notes in The Guardian that “white vigilantes, police and soldiers targeted Black communities with violence [and I would add sexual assault and rape] during this period, which included the Red Summer of 1919, the Tulsa massacre of 1921 and scores of lynchings”, yet these violent acts of heterosexist racist terror “did not receive the same focused attention from Hoover’s agents”. Nonetheless, when the movie ‘Mississippi Burning’ came out in 1988, it deceitfully lionised the role of the FBI in advancing the Civil Rights Movement.

If people living in the US aren’t getting their history whitewashed then all too often it’s being revised to center the victimiser and downplay the real defenders of freedom.

Ever since the FBI’s inception, it has treated Black-led activism as a national security threat and suppressed Black social movements. Consider the counter-insurgency programs of the Cold War era that grouped both Black and Arab activists into the same “threat/enemy of the nation” framework.

The FBI’s COINTELPRO programme, which attempted to label homegrown resistance movements as under the thumb of Communist influence, relied upon informants, blocked donations, and used fearmongering to repress Black resistance. It intentionally targeted Black women activists. Hoover, for instance, directly targeted The Sojourners for Truth and Justice, a Black Leftist feminist group.

This history has profound relevance today in racist and misogynist red-baiting, as with the questioning by Republican Senator John Kennedy of Asian-American Professor Saule Omarova, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as head of the Office of the Comptroller of Currency. It also extends into the US government’s recent targeting of the Movement for Black Lives, founded by three Black women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi, with its explicit feminist and queer politics. Such targeting inspired the book authored by Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele, ‘When they Call you a Terrorist’.

President Richard Nixon’s 1972 Operation Boulder, an offshoot of COINTELPRO developed in alignment with the US’s alliance with Israel, targeted Arab immigrants in the US for special investigation with the specific purpose of intimidation, harassment, and the repression of their activism. Surveillance programmes like Countering Violent Extremism and cases like the US’s deportation of Palestinian American community organiser and survivor of Israeli sexualized torture Rasmea Odeh, have continued this legacy. While denying Odeh a fair trial, the judge overseeing her case condoned rape culture. He prevented her from discussing a sexual assault experience that was crucial to the case, diminishing her experience of what he called “torture, rape, and all that stuff”, while protecting her perpetrators in Israel and supporting their sexist, racist narratives about her.

Hopefully more and more people will learn from the many groups that have developed comprehensive strategies for dismantling US state violence and repression and uplifting alternative ways of living and thriving in relation to the earth and each other. I have taken inspiration from groups like Palestine Legal, the Arab American Action Network, Arab Resources and Organizer Center, the Justice for Muslims Collective, Refuse Fascism, Survived and Punished, MAMAS, Organized Communities against Deportations, and many more.

I am especially inspired by the Palestinian Feminist Collective’s reminder that the repression of activism is a feminist issue; that love must guide liberation; and that visions for a radically different future must affirm life, interconnectedness, and the conjoining of all movements for human rights, gender justice, liberation, abolition and decolonisation.

Nadine Naber is public scholar, a Professor at the University of Illinois and director of Liberate Your Research. She has authored/co-edited five books, including Arab America: Gender, Cultural Politics, and Activism; Race and Arab Americans; and Arab and Arab American Feminisms (winner of the Arab American Book Award 2012). She is co-founder of Arab and Muslim American Studies at the University of Michigan; The Arab American Cultural Center at the University of Illinois; and the organizations, The Arab Women’s Solidarity Association North America and Mamas Activating Movements for Abolition and Solidarity. Dr. Naber is considered an Exceptional Leader with the OpEd Project and is a recipient of the YWomen’s Leadership Award; the Silver Circle Teaching Award at UIC; and the University of Washington’s Social Justice Award. Her co-authored book in progress, “Pedagogies of the Radical Mother,” is under contract with Haymarket Press.

This article is part of a series for the annual and global 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence published in collaboration with the Women Human Rights Defenders Middle East and North Africa (WHRDMENA) coalition as part of its #SheDefends yearly campaign. The articles reflect on the past, present and future of feminist movements and the meaning of global solidarity.

Featured Illustration: ” The #SheDefends campaign launches during the ’16 Days of activism against gender-based violence’ | Women Human Rights Defenders Middle East and North Africa (WHRDMENA) coalition”

Via OpenDemocracy

This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. If you have any queries about republishing please contact us. Please check individual images for licensing details.

In Sudan’s new Revolt, Women and Youth will not settle for less than true Democracy Sun, 21 Nov 2021 05:04:34 +0000

The Sudanese people have made up their mind to defy the 25 October coup, and there is no way back

By Nazik Awad |

( – Sudan’s coup on 25 October was both highly anticipated and inevitable. For three months, tension between the civilian and military partners that had ruled Sudan since the 2019 powersharing deal had been intensifying.

After the 2019 revolution and the fall of former president Omar al-Bashir, political parties and civil rights groups in Sudan reached an agreement to share power. The constitutional document signed in August 2019 also gave the military a share of power in the sovereign council governing the country with limited executive power.

The transitional period that resulted from the agreement was designed to avoid the bloody paths of other uprisings, most notably in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Civilian leaders hoped for a smooth transition, protected by strong international support, and a partnership that could sideline the military’s desire for unilateral rule. But the reality proved to be different.

The crawling coup

The coup was not a surprise. In fact, many groups, including resistance committees, professional unions and youth groups, had been warning for months about early signs of a military takeover. On 21 September, Sudan witnessed a failed coup attempt that was considered by many as an early test for the real one to come a month later. Sudanese women’s rights groups published statements and organised protests demanding civilian rule and condemning the military’s attempts to take power.

The attempted coup was followed by a crisis between the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), the main civilian political coalition, and the military, most notably represented by the military chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.

Since its independence in 1955, the country witnessed three revolutions, followed by three military coups

The FFC and Sudanese civil society groups, including women’s rights groups and resistance committees, criticised the statements of the military that followed the attempted coup. On 30 September, countrywide protests led by women’s and youth groups erupted against the military attempts to seize power, refusing the return of the former Islamist regime.

The protests reflected the high level of political consciousness among the Sudanese since the 2019 revolution. Protesters used the slogan #NoWayBack, expressing their determination not to allow history to repeat itself.

After all, Sudan’s revolution brought to an end a vicious cycle of military rule that had lasted over six decades. Since its independence in 1955, the country witnessed three revolutions, followed by three military coups, in 1958, 1969 and 1989.

A people united

When the weak civilian government established after the 2019 revolution was toppled by a new military coup on 25 October, the reaction was immediate.

By dawn the following day, Sudanese people were on the streets, united in their demands that the military give up power and stop interfering in the country’s political life.

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The unity of the Sudanese people towards a single goal has never been achieved so easily before. It didn’t happen because of the high levels of coordination between different groups, but because of the shared hope of building a civilian government and ending the failed rule of elite old men, whether civilian or military.

The two-year transitional period was full of failure and struggles, but more importantly, it was also full of debates: heated public discussions about the present and the future of a country long torn by civil wars and divisions. These debates were not given the time to mature and lead to the creation of new institutions or leaderships, but they were enough to demonstrate the type of government most Sudanese people want: a civilian government.

A new generation

The protesters on the streets of Sudan’s villages, towns and cities are not just defying Al-Burhan and Hemedti. They are fighting the ghosts of the past, and the old traditions and political practices that are dominating our present.

Resistance committees, youth groups, women’s groups, professional unions and political parties are leading the protests. But the new leadership is highly diverse and grassroots-based, providing the best representation of the social and political complexity of a country made up of dozens of tribes and languages.

The young generations leading the revolt have managed to create their own language, their own visions, and their own way of leading. Take Randok, a street language created by the displaced young men from conflict areas, mostly non-Arabic speakers, who found themselves homeless on Khartoum’s streets since the 1990s.

In a country that was under military rule for six decades and witnessed 50 years of civil wars, a genocide and division, the only way out is through radical change

This language has been widely adopted by the younger generation over the last decade and used as a tool to resist the oppression of the former regime by students and artists. During the 2019 revolution it was used to pass coded messages to young protesters. This widespread adoption of a language of marginalised homeless people affected by war gave rare recognition to parts of Sudan’s population who are usually forgotten. It was also an indication of the deep desire for fundamental change in the country.

Another revolution

Protesters today are not demanding a return to the situation before 25 October. Women and youth groups, along with the resistance committees, are seeking more fundamental changes. They are ready for a new revolution, if needed, to avoid another coup in the future. Young people want a clean break with the country’s troubled history and the failure of its powerful elite. This can only be achieved with complete civilian rule and the ending of the military’s interference in politics.

The road towards such change is long and difficult. But it’s important to recognise the legitimacy of these demands. In a country that was under military rule for six decades and witnessed 50 years of civil wars, a genocide and division, the only way out is through radical change.

And because we have been through it all in Sudan, we know that compromises are not the solution.

The seven demands announced by resistance committees on 30 October are laying the ground for the future political agenda in both the short and long term.

The demands focus on the demilitarisation of the state, the release of detainees, ensuring accountability for the crimes of the coup leaders, and building civilian institutions like the parliament.

Most importantly, protesters have made it clear that they will not negotiate, compromise with, or enter into a partnership with the coup leaders. Some experts and diplomats consider these conditions unrealistic, but the demands are aimed at avoiding any possibility of giving legitimacy to the coup leaders.

The Sudanese people have already made up their mind to defy the coup, and there is no way back. If the international community is truly committed to democracy, it must stand with the people of Sudan and support their demands.

Nazik Awad is a woman human rights defender from Sudan, living in exile. She is also the founder of the Sudanese Women Human Rights Defenders Project.


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

CGTN: “Sudan protesters march against use of force by police”

Oil Giant BP paid ex-MI6 spy firm to snoop on green campaigners Sun, 24 Oct 2021 04:04:18 +0000

Exclusive: Oil giant also shared intelligence on environmentalists with British Museum and Warwick University in ‘shocking’ web of surveillance

By Martin Williams, Lucas Amin and Gabriel Pogrund |

( ) – Oil and gas giant BP spent years spying on peaceful climate campaigners – and even hired a private intelligence firm set up by a former MI6 agent.

A new report by openDemocracy, published on Monday, reveals a “shocking” web of surveillance that saw BP keep tabs on campaigners and share information with public institutions, including the British Museum and the University of Warwick.

CCTV image held by BP, showing Chris Garrard at a train station in 2015 | BP

The company’s targets include Chris Garrard, a classical music composer with a doctorate from Oxford University. The 34-year-old from Basingstoke works with the Art Not Oil group, campaigning against BP’s decades-long sponsorship of the British Museum.

Over several years, BP gathered personal details about Garrard, including a CCTV image of him waiting at a London train station in 2015, when he attended the oil giant’s annual general meeting.

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Under the image, a note said: “Male, with ginger beard observed holding a protest banner outside Excel Centre.”

BP also obtained a number of other photos of Garrard and commented on changes to his hairstyle. One memo said: “Used to have long dreadlocks. Now short hair.”

The oil firm has publicly committed to a ‘net zero’ policy and claimed it is “fundamentally changing” to become greener. But documents obtained by openDemocracy reveal it has spent years gathering information on its critics.

“It’s very murky,” Garrard told openDemocracy. “Knowing that those CCTV images could be accessed in that way was really concerning… I find it quite disturbing that BP was able to do that.”

We have used the risk consultancy Welund to monitor and review material in the public domain

The oil company also retained the services of Welund, a controversial spy firm, to provide regular email updates about Garrard. This continued between at least July 2019 and January of this year, and included details about his social media activity.

Welund – the trading name for Papea Ltd – keeps details of its work closely guarded, but it has established a reputation for teaching the oil industry how to understand “the activist threat”.

According to its website, Welund works to “monitor the threats posed by international and domestic campaign groups”, and its client list is reported to include many of the world’s biggest oil and gas firms.

Welund faced criticism last year when it was revealed to have signed a £12,000, year-long contract providing intelligence about activists to London’s City Hall.

Reports say that one of the company’s senior officials has described the green movement as an “existential threat” to the oil and gas industry.

Today, a BP spokesperson admitted: “We have used the risk consultancy Welund to monitor and review material in the public domain such as social media posts that could help us manage these and other risks.”

None of the intelligence gathered about Garrard suggested he was engaged in physical protest or disruption. Instead, the musicologist prefers to focus on research and peaceful campaigning.

The director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said the surveillance of Garrard was “extremely intrusive, shocking, and wholly unacceptable”.

“This is an appalling, totally unjustified case of political spying,” she said. “The Information Commissioner’s Office should investigate Welund and all involved in the targeting of this campaigner, and ensure he has a route to redress.”

The role of BP in the surveillance of activists comes amid the oil giant’s attempt to rebrand as a more environmentally friendly business. Its CEO, Bernard Looney, has pledged to “help the world get to net zero” with the aim of being “recognised as a leader for transparency of reporting”.

Philip Evans, oil and gas transition campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Reports of this kind of surveillance are disturbing, and show a completely warped set of priorities.

“Universities, cultural institutions – and most importantly fossil fuel companies – should immediately stop wasting time and money on greenwashing and monitoring activists, and instead throw all their efforts into tackling the climate crisis.”

Welund told Garrard that it holds “no personal data” about him, claiming that it only retains personal data on staff and clients. But emails from BP show the spy firm was sending regular updates which named specifically Garrard.

British Museum memos

Last year, Garrard sent a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to the British Museum about its relationship with BP.

Internal emails show how these were flagged by museum staff and shared across multiple departments, describing him as “an anti-BP activist”.

Transparency campaigners say that this goes against Freedom of Information guidelines, which say that requests should be dealt with “applicant blind” regardless of who they are from.

Conservative MP David Davis told openDemocracy that the British Museum “must ensure requests remain applicant blind”.

“The British Museum is publicly funded and should adhere to the Freedom of Information Act principles,” he said.

“If they do not follow public rules, then it must be questioned whether they should get public money.”

This is an appalling, totally unjustified case of political spying

The British Museum – which refuses to reveal how much money it gets from BP – told openDemocracy that “as far as they are aware” its staff have not received intelligence about campaigners from either BP or Welund.

But previous disclosures cast doubt on this. During one exchange in 2015, a museum employee wrote: “We got a call from the client [BP] saying they had intel that there is some protest activity planned around this event. They aren’t sure at this stage what the activity is.”

Garrard told openDemocracy that the FOI requests he submitted to the museum were “legitimate questions that you’d expect a taxpayer-funded institution should be expected to answer”.

‘Discreet security’ at Warwick

Details of BP’s snooping are revealed in a new openDemocracy report on Freedom of Information, ‘Access Denied’, published on Monday.

The report also reveals that Warwick University collaborated with BP on a security strategy about a student who was researching BP’s archive, which is housed on Warwick’s campus.

Connor Woodman was targeted with “very discreet security” in 2015 after he requested access to records.

Internal emails show that a security team was deployed to watch him in-person and on CCTV, as well as monitoring his social media activity.

It came after a BP official identified him, saying: “I recognised him from the Facebook picture we have of the anti-fossil fuel group of Warwick students.”

Emails show Woodman was repeatedly identified by staff, with the university and BP employees sharing updates about his movements.

University officials gave instructions to monitor him, saying: “Low-key, no high-viz. Think [a security staff member] should sit inside the BP archive… I can see [Woodman] videoing them and asking for comment and then claiming he is being monitored and what are we hiding.”

He added: “Delicate and very discreet security only please.”

Another email from an unknown sender warned that a student had been “asking lots of questions about BP”. They added: “We will be vigilant – opportunity to use your new CCTV!”

This is further evidence that any kind of notion of academic freedom is being increasingly eroded

Woodman was a climate activist with a group called Fossil Free Warwick, which successfully pressured the university to divest from fossil fuels. He then set up a group called BP Off Campus.

But the internal documents seen by openDemocracy do not accuse him of breaking any laws or violating university rules.

Indeed, Woodman said he had not been involved in any occupations on campus at the time, and maintains that his research aims were “completely appropriate”.

In one exchange, a BP official wrote to the university saying: “Connor Woodman (the gentleman leading the student campaign on campus) was around the [university archive] a few minutes ago and a couple of other students have also been noted…

“Not implying that this is anything but legitimate, but just wanted to keep you advised of the information…”

A university employee replied: “That is very helpful… [Woodman] is certainly very active at the moment and think he should be supervised in your archive if that is at all possible.”

Woodman told openDemocracy: “This is further evidence that any kind of notion of academic freedom is being increasingly eroded.

“There’s a political and moral question about whether we want universities that have an interest in dampening dissent. If we want to protect that liberal idea of academic freedom, then we need to think about massive structural reforms to our universities.”

‘Monitor and review’

After ignoring openDemocracy’s questions for days, BP eventually responded after details of this investigation were shared with the Sunday Times.

A spokesperson for the company said: “BP events have seen legitimate protests over many years, but they have also been targeted by more disruptive and sometimes potentially dangerous actions. We support people’s right to demonstrate peacefully but have a responsibility for the safety and security of those at our events and it is important to understand any risks.

They added: “We have used the risk consultancy Welund to monitor and review material in the public domain such as social media posts that could help us manage these and other risks.”

Welund did not respond to questions from openDemocracy.

A Warwick spokesperson claimed that the university “does not monitor climate campaigners but will provide security support if requested”.

They added: “The BP Archive is located in the same building as the Modern Records Centre but is a separate organisation. It is not a University-run facility and access is granted by the BP Archive, who have their own separate staff and security arrangements. Warwick staff have no access to the BP Archives.”

A spokesperson for the British Museum told openDemocracy: “Nothing has been shared with BP about specific campaigners or campaign groups. It’s possible that some references may have been included in a larger summary, such as a round-up of press clips after [an] announcement or opening of an exhibition in which BP is the sponsor.”

They added that the museum has standard FOI policies in place, adding: “If ever we do notify an external third party about an FOI, our policy is to do so on an anonymised basis.”

The museum’s spokesperson confirmed that BP has a current sponsorship in place with the museum – but refused to say how much money it received from it, saying it was “commercially sensitive”.

Martin Williams is deputy UK investigations editor at openDemocracy and author of ‘Parliament Ltd’. He can be found on Twitter @martinrw

Lucas Amin is a research consultant working on anti-corruption and good governance issues. On behalf of openDemocracy he is currently looking at the UK Freedom of Information Act, whether it works, and how it can be strengthened.

Gabriel Pogrund is Whitehall Editor, The Sunday Times. Author of Left Out and was 2018 Stern Fellow at the Washington Post


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.

Don’t use girls as justification for bombing Afghanistan, again Wed, 18 Aug 2021 04:06:56 +0000 By Nandini Archer | –

( – The chilling reports coming out of Afghanistan right now are more than enough to anger any feminist. As hundreds cling to US planes, scrambling to leave the country, women and girls predict a violent backlash and LGBTIQ people fear for their lives. I can understand why you might want our world leaders to act urgently.

But, British feminists, how could you have forgotten already? We’ve been here before. I’ve been shocked by the knee-jerk and lazy reactions across social media, with many calling for intervention to ‘rescue’ women and girls in Afghanistan. There is no feminist case for sending UK troops to another country.

I’m a British feminist, my politics were formed very much by the impact of 9/11 and the so-called ‘war on terror’. I haven’t forgotten the way Western leaders in 2001 used the plight of Afghan women and girls under the Taliban to justify occupying the country – “white men saving brown women from brown men”, as feminist scholar Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak put it.

Back in 2001, the UK prime minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, called for moves to “give back a voice” to Afghan women. In 2010, then US secretary of state Hillary Clinton vowed to defend Afghan women’s rights. This was a huge part of her so-called feminism – vowing to save the Afghan women, while bombing them.

“It is not too late for [the] US and UK to send troops to help hold Kabul,” tweeted Justin Forsyth, a former aide to Gordon Brown, who has also served as CEO at both UNICEF and Save the Children. He linked to a BBC article headlined ‘Kabul’s young women plead for help as Taliban advance’. The piece reads: “For 20 years the West has inspired, financed and sheltered this new generation of Afghans. They have grown up with freedoms and opportunities that they fully embraced.”

Journalists across the media are pursuing a similar narrative. Reporting the story of an Afghan woman, who two decades ago, at the age of 12, was forced to get engaged to her cousin, the Financial Times yesterday wrote: “After the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the teenager discovered a freedom that would have been unimaginable”.

That’s exactly the problem: all these statements seem to rest on the assumption that the occupation of Afghanistan was a good thing for women and girls – something Hilary Clinton herself claims.

But it absolutely wasn’t. Nearly 70,000 civilians were killed and injured in the US’s longest-running war – many of whom were women.

But the violence has been entirely legitimised or brushed over by claims that women and girls in Afghanistan once again need Western rescue efforts – as if the people being murdered are just collateral damage.

What have the US and UK been doing in Afghanistan for the past 20 years? How could you possibly believe in this liberal interventionist narrative when Afghan women’s empowerment apparently fell apart in a matter of days? Haven’t we learnt anything from intervention in Iraq – or Libya?

If they really cared, Western leaders could offer immediate asylum to people fleeing Afghanistan

In 2011, liberals including human rights groups actively called for intervention through the backdoor, via a no-fly zone (a euphemism for bombing that meant NATO’s were the only planes flying.) And what was one of NATO’s justifications at the time? That Gaddafi was using mass rape as a weapon of war – which Amnesty International failed to find any evidence of.

Sure, I get the desire to want the UK government to do ‘something’ to support those fleeing the Taliban and I don’t think any of us have all the answers – but sending troops is never the solution. And when warmongerers and imperialists claim to care for women’s rights – don’t believe them.

If they really cared, Western leaders could offer immediate asylum to people fleeing Afghanistan. The Stop the War coalition, which was set up ahead of the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, said in a statement yesterday: “The British government should take a lead in offering a refugee programme and reparations to rebuild Afghanistan, an act which would go a great deal further in advancing the rights of the Afghan people, women in particular, than continued military or economic intervention in the fate of Afghanistan.”

This would be a start. And while the UK has announced that it is “looking at bespoke arrangements”, suggestions that the scheme “will be similar to that used to help Syrian refugees” tell a more accurate story: in reality, only tiny numbers of those fleeing will be allowed in – the UK government doesn’t care. It’s already emerged from senior military sources that the Home Office is reluctant to give many people asylum because of the message it will send to other refugees.

Regardless, offering asylum alone isn’t enough. The hard truth is that governments around the world will have to negotiate with the Taliban like they would with any other state, whether they agree with it or not. Women in Afghanistan are not a monolithic group and many have long resisted both the Taliban and Western intervention, and they don’t need your rescuing now.

After two decades of failed Western intervention, don’t be fooled again. As was the case with Tony Blair’s illegal invasion of Iraq and David Cameron’s catastrophic intervention in Libya, when the UK sends troops, it spells destruction for women and girls – and today would be no exception.

Nandini Archer is 50.50’s global commissioning editor. She covers stories relating to gender, sexuality, feminism and social justice. She is also an active member of the feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut and previously worked with the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion. Follow her on Twitter @nandi_naira


This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence.


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Al Jazeera English: “Afghanistan war: 20 years of US presence ends with urgent evacuations”