Tag Archives: war

Germany and refugees – why so different?

Katja from the French association Playing for Change Occitanie (PFCO) explains what her organisation is trying to do to help Syrian refugees in a rural corner of Southwest France.

PFCO has helped two new arrivals from Syria, recently arrived in France, to make the most of their talent for pottery. They hooked them up with local potters and other people motivated to help their fellow humans, sparking off a dynamic sequence of events.

Their goal is to change the negative image that the media has proffered concerning refugees and show they have a lot to offer.

Katja, a native of Germany, contrasts the tiny number of refugees accepted in France and the UK versus the million plus already taken in by her compatriots.

“I think for Germans it’s more realistic. There are more families that have lost somebody in the war or have been refugees themselves. Even the reunification in the 1990s… It was a kind of refugee situation… you still feel it in Germany.

“All these people that have grown up in East Germany, they have been living with the Communist international solidarity as the main frame of all the education they have lived through. All this reflects the awareness of never fascism again.”

“In Germany, we treat that topic a lot whereas in France, that’s never reflected,” she said.

Katja’s own family became refugees at the end of the Second World War, fleeing ahead of the advancing Russian army from what is today part of Poland.

“If people hadn’t helped them, I wouldn’t been here today.

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Groundbreaking approach to truth seeking

"The Act of Killing": New Film Shows U.S.-Backed Indonesian Death Squad Leaders Re-enacting Massacres | Democracy Now! 2013-07-22 13-04-18

I watched this interview with The Act of Killing director Joshua Oppenheimer over the weekend. He comes across as a man of massive integrity and cultural sensitivity. His film tackles the death squads who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civil society defenders and others in the years leading up to the overthrow of Indonesia’s first president Sukarno in 1967.

Oppenheimer’s own coup is to have got some of the murderers to boast about and even to re-enact their killings, and to thread together the close relationship between these killers of the past and the politics of Indonesia today.

The fact that the killers remain at large, even that they continue to boast of their role in building modern-day Indonesia somehow as revered citizens, makes their stories stand apart from those of the 20th century’s most notorious mass murders.

As Oppenheimer explains:

“…it’s as though I am in Nazi Germany 40 years after the end of the Holocaust, and it’s still the Third Reich, the Nazis are still in power. So the official history says nothing about the killings. But, and yet, the aging SS officers have been allowed to boast about what they’ve done, even encouraged to do so, so that they’ve become these kind of feared proxies of the state in their communities, in their regions, and also perhaps that they can justify to themselves what they have done. And I realized at that point that this was a reality so grave, so important, that I would give it whatever it took of my life.”

This is no ancient history from some faraway country – it implicates not just today’s elites in Indonesia but also the foreign policies of both the United States, Britain and others of their Western allies.

I am definitely going to watch this film and to use it as inspiration for alternative approaches to truth seeking, the goal of any worthwhile journalism project done in service of society.

To understand more on the background to this story, I would recommend reading The Shock Doctrine and The Confessions of an Economic Hitman and The New Rulers of the World.


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No holiday in Cambodia but rather catharsis

I watched the extraordinarily moving documentary Brother Number One last night, one I’d meant to catch when covering the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

It tells the story of a New Zealander who was captured, tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. The film’s great success is to use one person’s tale, a foreigner’s what’s more, to guide the audience into the bigger picture of how the Cambodian regime’s survivors and their families are trying to heal their traumas.

The Khmer Rouge and its followers killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 according to the Human Rights Watch publicity accompanying the film. In 1978, Kerry Hamill and two friends disappeared without trace while sailing from Australia to Southeast Asia. Via Kerry’s youngest brother Rob we learn how a Khmer Rouge cell attacked their boat, killing the Canadian Stuart Glass and arresting Kerry and the Englishman John Dewhirst.

Film-maker Annie Goldson skilfully skirts the potential trap of giving too Western a slant on what is Cambodia’s story. The risk she took paid off thanks to Rob’s resplendent qualities as a human being, ones that transcend all country and ethnicity.

In Rob’s agonised journey to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal he shows great sensitivity towards the Cambodians who survived the dictators’ reign or lost countless family members to their crazed ideology. In court testimony he addresses directly the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp interogator – Kang Kek Iew or Duch – who oversaw his brother’s killing. We hear many Cambodian victims’ stories along the way.

Rob is brutally honest in showing his own grief as he retraces his brother’s last days, collecting snippets of memory from those who’d seen him in prison. He deciphers on camera the impish coded messages Kerry left to his family in the final “confession” preceding his certain execution.

I have wondered before about the true worth of international trials processes for murderous tyrants and the balance to be struck between revenge and justice. This film left me with a deeper understanding of how trials are vital not just as attempts to right wrongs but also as vehicles for victims to explore, express and honour their grief for slain and tortured family members.

The many victims of the 2003 Iraq invasion deserve just such a process though I fear they’ll never get one. Nor will the families of Cambodian civilians killed by the US war-making that helped the Khmer Rouge rise to power.

War crimes tribunals are as yet limited only to the captured tyrants of geopolitical minnows such as Cambodia. Potential candidates from the world’s more powerful states, such as US ex-president George W. Bush and British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have only their own consciences to wrestle with for now. More’s the pity.

Thankfully this film was not about such men but rather a rare moment for the victims. It is a fantastic piece of work I highly recommend you find time to watch. Bring tissues.


Filed under democracy, journalism

No jobs, no money – ordinary Afghans pay the costs of war

(Photo: Traditional market in Herat Afghanistan. 25-5-09
Copyright © Guy Smallman. All rights reserved.)

I spent a fascinating evening in London on Thursday listening to two men who have stepped away from mainstream political thinking and policy on Britain’s military adventures in Afghanistan, both of them having experienced the place for themselves.

The first was Ben Griffin, an ex-SAS soldier who served tours of duty with the British army in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, after three months in Baghdad, he quit in protest at the tactics being used by occupying forces in that country. He went on to set up Veterans for Peace UK, whose aim is to resist war through non-violent action, to support persecuted war-resisters and to counter militarism in society through education.

He spoke alongside the British photojournalist Guy Smallman, one of the few to work unembedded in the country, which is to say out on his own without military minders. Smallman’s choice of subjects breaks the mould of most UK press coverage out of the country, which focuses on British troops. He looks instead at the everyday lives of Afghans and the ways in which war and occupation have left many of them destitute.

“The big problem in Afghanistan is povery, poverty and unemployment. They affect everyone,” he said.

Smallman showed excerpts of an exhibition and a short film he compiled to mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. It is now available for groups to host by contacting the Peace News office on +44 (0) 20 7278 3344.

Below is a brief smartphone video interview I did after the event, inspired by the VisionOntv mobile template. I got an audience member to shoot the pictures while I asked a couple of questions. The idea is to practice, and have others practice, doing the sort of public-interest citizen journalism I promote in Fraudcast News. The sound is more dogby than dolby, my fault, a problem I’ll have to remedy next time.

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Silence is not the answer – Afghanistan behind the headlines

Good to see some people working hard at keeping Britain’s military activities in Afghanistan and other war theatres in the public eye. If you’re not vocally against these actions, you’re silently in favour by default.

This week offers a chance for Londoners to learn more about the work of a couple of them – photographer Guy Smallman and British army veteran Ben Griffin:

7.30pm, Friends House, 173 – 177 Euston Road, NW1 (opp. Euston station).
Co-hosted by Peace News and Quaker Peace and Social Witness.

The following video features former SAS solidier Ben Griffin talking about the three aims of Veterans for Peace UK, which are:

1. Resist war through non-violent action
2. Support persecuted war-resisters
3. Counter militarism in society through education

Can’t say fairer than that.

Ben Griffin of Veterans For Peace UK from Jason Gleeson on Vimeo.

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