Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Reflections on crimes against humanity

Saturday’s forum at the Imperial War Museum to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide saw delegates divide over a central question: when should the international community intervene to stop deaths?

There seem to be two ways of preventing genocide. The first is through intelligence. A genocide – the systematic wiping out of a particular group – must be planned. Both the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide required planning of practicalities and a build-up of hatred against the target group to incite participation. It needs large numbers of collaborators. Given these aspects, genocide must be detectable.

The second way to prevent genocide is much more complex: intervention before killings on a ‘small’ scale become genocide. Weeks were spent debating whether the massacres in Rwanda should actually be called ‘genocide’ before any action was taken. Partly because of the obligation to act, states were reluctant to define the events as genocide. Politics trumped humanity. Many on Saturday called for action in Darfur, Sudan to prevent genocide, but this comparison was described as an ‘absurdity’. ‘Civilians are being bombed by the state’ we were told by a speaker in the audience, but this was not genocide in his opinion. Presumably people were saying exactly the same thing in May 1994 – it shows how unclear a situation can look from outside.

The distinctions between conflict and genocide were made clear at the conference: whereas conflict, simplistically, involves two sides fighting, genocide is a one-sided attempt to ‘rewrite’ humanity, to reduce diversity in the human race. Conflict resolution and genocide prevention must therefore be treated distinctly too. Before or during the event, evidence that this is what has been planned and carried out must be present and must be distinguished from the fog of disinformation that will be thrown out by the perpetrators. This requires specialised investigators. The international community must keep its eyes open: to remember past atrocities and see that it is not so unbelievable for one people to turn against another. Other countries that receive information of plans of genocide from informants must be obliged to take it seriously and act to protect the victim group. The need to keep racism out of education becomes more vital if it is viewed as a precursor to genocide.

Conflict resolution is different and it is up to the world to decide how seriously it should take this. There is no point in calling something a genocide just because thousands of civilians have been killed in conflict because while wars are acceptable to all countries the same bickering over terms and sovereignty that was present in Rwanda will be seen each time. Would countries condemn the killing of innocents in war and, as a consequence, stop bombing or fighting in civilian areas? While greater use of intelligence could contribute to preventing genocide, a fundamental change of world attitude is needed before rapid response to conflict can be achieved. While we can hope to become more sophisticated in insuring that Rwanda or the Holocaust doesn’t happen again, we still continue to live in a world where the deaths of 10,000 in Iraq can be seen as collateral damage and nobody will step in to stop Israelis and Palestinians from tearing each other apart. Is it so ridiculous to suggest that all innocent deaths should be a crime against humanity?

Friday, March 26, 2004

Tall is beautiful

Tower Hamlets council has just approved a rather attractive new tower for the Isle of Dogs.

Inevitably the objections came rolling in, as they always do, from residents and the Canary Wharf group and City Airport (this may have been fair enough: towers in flightpaths tend to cause problems). The undertone to the objections is always basically anti-tower and this is sad.

It took London a ridiculously long time to realise what New York has known for a century: that big cities need big buildings. Hence we have a vast sprawling city where someone in Kensington thinks it would be more practical to get to the moon than Greenwich, and they would be right. The development on the Isle of Dogs in the past four years has been remarkable: the island will soon have everything anyone could possible want within a very small space, it combines futuristic offices, shops and bars with wide open spaces and an abundance of wildlife . So why is there always someone complaining about further development?

Since 9/11 we have come to think of terrorism whenever we look at a tower and this is exacerbated in Canary Wharf where planes flying to and from City Airport make some hairy turns as they use the development to get their bearings. But despite that tragic attack, a tower actually isn't a shining beacon, beckoning to the crazies to steer its way. Your hijacked plane would find it just as simple to crash into the Houses of Parliament if it felt so inclined. Tubes could be targets, so could Leicester Square. You don't beat terrorism by avoiding fearfully high buildings.

The petty objections to towers in London mask a real prejudice: we in Britain feel that towers represent arrogance. For those that thought 9/11 was something America had been asking for and forget the fact that people actually died that day, the twin towers were a symbol of overblown capitalism, ridiculous architectural showing off that was bound to end in tears. The stalinist Senate House in Bloomsbury was London's highest building until the 1980s, which is pathetic when you look at New York's Flatiron and Chrysler buildings. Skyscrapers can be awe-inspiring. In the Isle of Dogs, where the glass reflects the water of the docks around them, they can be beautiful. The first tower of the Canary Wharf estate is infinitely more interesting now it has been joined by tall buddies, making up a proper skyline from vantage points like Greenwich Park and not just looking like a random tooth sticking up out of the wasteland of an old tramp's mouth (good simile? discuss).

High-rise development on the Isle of Dogs will create an inspiring and compact centre for London and in ten years time the place could be amazing. But the council must ensure that the high profits made in the area improve conditions for the island's low-paid residents: the builders, cleaners, security staff (and journalists) that keep the place ticking along. Large swathes of affordable and social housing amongst new swanky developments will eliminate the rich-poor divide that presently carves up the south side of the island. The council and Ken have been good at addressing this, and must not be scared to squeeze as much as possible from the wealthy companies that are coming London's way: it will benefit them too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Bring on the crash!

The government is going to lend teachers up to 100,000 to buy houses. Well, thanks very much Labour.

Some questions:
- by doing this you, the government, are giving people with houses £100,000 and putting teachers £100,000 in debt. How does that equalise our society?
- What does this do to slow down the overpriced housing market, which has frozen young first time buyers out of the market? Except, now, teachers and presumably the other key workers that you choose to give big debts to.
- *If* the housing market crashes, because of the lack of first-time-non-key-worker-buyers, leaving these teachers with large debts in negative equity, will you bail them out?
- How many actual houses could you build with 100,000, which you could then ‘lend’ to teachers? More than one house?

Modern philosophy

A conversation over coffee
I don’t understand why Jack Straw’s having a go at Israel for killing the leader of Hamas
Ah.. because it was illegal. And stupid.
But why was it illegal? He’s a military target. He’s the leader of Hamas.
No he’s not. It’s not a war.
And he was in a wheelchair.
It’s not a war? What? It sure has looked like one for thirty years!
No.. it’s not a war. It’s a conflict within a nation.
But.. but.. isn’t it better to kill the leader of Hamas, who have been blowing themselves up in Israeli cafes, than the little children? And the Tom Hurndalls? They always say they’re going after Hamas when they bulldoze houses, so why does everyone go mad when they actually get someone from Hamas?
They should have arrested him.
They couldn’t have arrested him, he was surrounded by guards; everyone would have ended up getting shot anyway, so why not go at him with a rocket launcher? It’s what he wanted.
Ah, yes that’s the point though, isn’t it? Now he’s a martyr.
And lots more Hamas leaders will come along.
So what if they go after all the Hamas leaders – what if they destroy Hamas?
They won’t destroy Hamas. Because they’ll always recruit more people. And now there’s going to be all the revenge attacks in Israel. So you see it was stupid to kill him. And America have been crap.
So there’ll be loads more attacks and so Israel will have more justification to go in and do what they do.
And then they’ll be more suicide bombings.
That’s right.
And it’s not a war.

Later, with someone else.
It’s simple isn’t it. They just build the fence in the right place and bring in international forces to keep them apart.
Oh.. but I hate the idea of separating people. I’m ideologically against it.
But. they. can’t. live. together.
No. There is that.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

An autobiographical note

Who the hell writes this thing?

My name is Clare. I live in London, on the Isle of Dogs, which is where the taxi drivers live.
My writing name is Clare-Marie White. I have wanted to be a journalist ever since I wanted to be a vet (I was too scared of the needles. And no good at science.) Despite this, I have made a recent decision not to sacrifice my life to journalism, not to do anything I feel really uncomfortable with (like knocking on the doors on murder victim's families or inventing stories about the asylums seeker who ate all the swans) and not to get paid nothing unless it's for a good reason.
These are deeply unfashionable views amongst those who run the media but then the media ain't the fabulous, smoky, seething den of intrigue that I expected anyway. So sod 'em. But I like writing and I would like to be rich. If the two combine one day all will be well. And if people manage to spell my name right that will be even better.
I work for the Quakers, who are great. That doesn't make me religious, but I do think about religion now. I think about many other things since starting this job: I grapple with pacifism, though haven't quite got my head round it yet; I'm learning about Africa and other places that I didn't think much about before. In the sense of being political if you get passionate and angry about things and want to change them, I am political. Pretty much left wing (but don't try selling Socialist Worker to me, I don't want it), keen on capitalism done fairly - if that's possible.
I like music a lot: all music; I rarely know who I'm listening to, but I like it.
We'll no doubt talk about all these things in much more detail, readers. So that's all you need to know for now. And how kind it has been for you to listen.
Enough first person, on with the writing!

White Llama is coming...

What White Llama wants to be when it's grown up:
- a series of comment pieces by me, Clare
- carefully written and possibly even edited
- resplendent with colour coded headings to differentiate between topics that we will call 'comment' (black), 'rant' (red) and 'mememe' (majenta!). Anyone out there know how to do that?
- opinionated, and very welcoming of other people's views

What White Llama will not be:
- my addiction to world-wide-web-time-wasting revealed