Why we should not attack the Islamic State

The situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq is dire. The tyrannical rule that the Islamic State - or IS - imposes in the areas of Syria and Iraq which it controls are chilling. Their persecution of the Yazidi and other minorities is an affront to our common human decency. Now they are exporting murder to their neighbours, in Beirut and in Ankara, and more recently in Paris. I can understand the calls to do something, to use the West’s massive military power to help those who suffer under IS. A lot of people calling for intervention in Syria have the best intentions of civilians at heart. However, that does not make their desire to intervene is correct and I feel it could do much more harm than good.

What is typically meant by intervention against IS is usually bombing. Britain is currently bombing IS territory in Iraq. France, Russia and the US are heavily bombing IS in Syria and in Iraq. Our involvement in the regional conflict between IS, secular rebels and the governments of Iraq and Syria makes it more difficult to bring about a diplomatic solution. We can hardly argue against violence while using violence ourselves. We can hardly encourage any side to stop spreading the chaos and carnage, while we are spreading the chaos and change. At the same time chaos and destruction created by our bombing is the environment in which IS thrives.

I do not think there is an example of when bombing a Middle Eastern country has improved the situation for civilians. Our military has been heavily involved in Iraq since the 2003 invasion and the situation has deteriorated to the point where a medieval death cult controls vast swathes of land. When it was argued that we should not attack the Saddam regime, the counter argument was: "it can't get any worse". It can and it did. Now the same argument is being used to support attacking IS. It can get worse than IS and it will get worse the more we bomb. The west has been bombing this area of the world off and on for the last 25 years and it is in a worse state now than ever. Eventually we have to try something else.

It is difficult to talk about intervening against IS without looking at the wider issues. Firstly, Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria. No one in favour of attacking IS can clearly say what Assad's role in their downfall should be. To some he is our natural regional ally; to others he is as much a part of the problem as IS. Russia supports Assad, but Britain and America want him to go. Assad's actions are clearly fanning the flames of IS, but fighting a war on two fronts in Syria would be much more difficult. If we must throw our military weight around, the Assad question has to be resolved first.

Secondly, IS needs to be put in the wider regional context. Looking beyond Syria and Iraq, we can see the wider Sunni Muslim world is in revolt against many factors: the secular governments which ignore the religion of their citizens, tyrannical regimes controlling the holy sites of Islam, the growing power of Shia Iran, heavy-handed Western foreign policy, artificial borders between nations which make no sense on the ground - some of which date back to the Sykes-Picot treaty in 1916 - and many other factors. Bombing IS to dust will not pacify an entire region. We are entering a long phase of conflict in the Middle East that cannot end until the above issues and others are resolved. This goes beyond religion, nationality and ideology, but involves all of these. A lasting and just peace for the region - which is what everyone really wants - cannot be brought about by the destruction of one group of fighters.

Another question that has yet to be resolved is what form should intervention take? We are currently bombing IS and have been for a while, but this has had little effect. I am not sure what more bombing by Britain can achieve that bombing by the US, France and Russia cannot. However the main question I would put to those who support bombing IS is how far do we go if bombing does not stop them?

Do those who support bombing believe that the British government should support a Turkish ground invasion? This will most likely result in heavy casualties for the Kurdish minority in the region, who are frequently targeted by the Turkish army. When that comes, it make may bombing supporters choke on their brown flakes when they read their Sunday Times.

Would those who support bombing IS, support a British and American ground invasion of Syria? Simon Jenkins of the Guardian claimed on the Moral Maze that it would take a deployment of 500,000 allied troops and the occupation of most of the region to defeat IS. Do we have the stomach for that? Do we think that re-creating the British Mandates in the Middle East will bring a just and lasting peace? Is that what is in everyone's wider interest? Will the Syrians who object to being ruled by Assad or IS welcome British rule with open arms? I think not. Most likely we would make an enemy of every side in the conflict and unite them all against us. This would destroy any chance of a negotiated peace.

Even if we send in the troops, as I have seen many people argue for, and defeat IS – what happens after that? What is our wider plan for the region? If there is anything we have learned from our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is that our post-invasion plan needs to be a lot better. Look at what happened in Libya: it would be generous to say that the post-Gaddafi plans for Libya were drawn up on the back of a cigarette packet. Now the country is in a state of chaos with violent clashes between different factions, including IS who were not present in Libya before. If we are intervening in Syria and Iraq in anyway, we need to have a clear understand of the type of society we are trying to build, who will be our allies in this process and how we cleanly transition to this. None of these criteria have been satisfied.

What we have right now is a rush to find a solution to IS. When you have a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. When you have a billion pound military based heavily on air superiority, then every problem starts to look like one you can bomb with jet planes. From most of the commentators in favour of bombing, I have heard a lot of "bombing is definitely the solution, we just need to find out why". We are currently sleepwalking into a half-century long conflict in the Middle East and we cannot let a sudden desire enact our revenge on IS dictate regional foreign policy.

None of this answers the question of what we should do about IS? Simon Jenkins says nothing. I would recommend discontinuing military operations to give the maximum weight to diplomacy. If we must do something militarily, then we should support the Kurds who are currently fighting on the frontline against IS. This support for the Kurds should include supporting their desire for a state and standing up to Turkey who oppresses them.

Above all, I would counsel caution at a time like this. We cannot be selective in our foreign policy and still claim to stand on the moral high ground. We cannot oppose the tyranny and brutality of IS while supporting the tyranny and brutality of Assad. We cannot say we are opposed to the spread of chaos and fear while using our military to spread chaos and fear. We cannot say we oppose religious nihilism while offering nothing more than a power vacuum and more dead bodies as an alternative. It is okay to admit that we do not have the answers and cannot act now. It is far worse to admit we do not have the answers and act anyway.

Do as I say, not as I do: Religion in the Middle Eastern Uprisings

A wave of revolutions have taken place across the Middle East, and in their wake, a lot of people are asking what sort of government do they want to see. Unfortunately, a lot of the people asking these questions are neither from nor based in the Middle East. Westerners feel the need to meddle with these newly emerging regimes and shape them according to their own personal bias.

Recently in Egypt the democratically elected Islamist president was ousted by the military and a new government is being formed. In Syria the process of overthrowing the old regime is still going on and the opposition groups are becoming increasingly fractious. They are divided along religious and ideological lines mainly in their views of what the new Syria should look like. Iraq and Libya are facing the same problems of spreading sectarian violence.

In the UK bloggers are pontificating over what people far removed from them should do. Mainly they talk about which factions the UK should support. Religion is frequently a factor in this as it is divisive across the Middle East. The growing conflict between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims for control of certain countries is well documented, however, other groups such as Alawite Muslims in Syria stand to gain to lose depending on what form of future government rules there. The Middle East is also home to a lot of Christians, especially in Egypt where Christians make up ten percent of the population and are worried about the implications of an Islamist government. Syria also has a sizeable Christian population (again around ten percent of the population) who have similar concerns as Sharia law spreads amongst the rebel groups.

Recently the Catholic Herald wrote an article in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and criticising the UK's support of the Syrian opposition. Conservative Christian bloggers were quick to point out that Christians were better protected under Assad's brutal Ba'athist dictatorship, which is secular, than they would be under an Islamist government. This was accompanied by a chorus of support for the Middle East's secular regimes. It seems that Conservative Christian bloggers support secularism in the Middle East but have a different attitude to the UK where they are deplore the “aggressive secularism” of the British government in its plans to legalised gay marriage. The hypocrisy of this is beyond belief. I do not see how you can justify supporting a dictator who uses chemical weapons against his own population whilst criticising a government's attempts to extend equal rights to all its citizens. I assume the fact that chemical weapons are not mentioned in the Bible as sinful makes the Syrian government more righteous than the British one. According to certain Conservative Christian bloggers, secularism in the Middle East is the best form of government - even if it comes couched in brutal military oppression - but in the UK secularism threatens to undermines the basic values of the family.

Another claim of Conservative Christian bloggers is that the UK is a Christian country and that government policies should encourage Christian values. In reality only 13% of people identified as being members of the Church of England in the last census. Congregation numbers are falling across the UK and many Churches are left without a folk. They can hardly be representative of a silent majority of British citizens who want the British government to enforce Christian values. Still, Conservative Christian bloggers assert that the UK is a Christian nation and the government should reflect this. In the Middle East, the majority of the population not only identify as Muslims but actively practise the religion, and want their governments to match the demographic make up of their nations. Especially in some countries where years of military rule has enforced secularism to prevent an Islamic uprising. Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected as an Islamist leader by the population of Egypt. The West preaches democracy and then complains about the outcome when the Middle East takes up the mantra. Conservative Christian bloggers would prefer secular regimes in the Middle East (secular Middle Eastern regimes only come in the aggressive kind) despite the wishes of the population for a government that reflects their values. Again this hypocrisy is staggering. The UK can barely be described as a Christian nation beyond that the fact that we have an established church that is heavily in decline due to overwhelming Christian apathy. However, according to Conservative Christian bloggers the UK government should adopt Christian values (despite widespread support for gay rights and a woman's right to choose) while the Middle East must have aggressive secular regimes despite what the people of these countries want.

Hypocrisy among Conservative Christians bloggers is nothing new, but this latest wave of hypocrisy is surprising and I advise Conservative Christian bloggers to look at the difference between what they desire in the Middle East and desire here at home. It's hard to claim to be the voice of morality when you clearly endorse whatever is best for your own group above the needs and wishes of the general population. If Conservative Christian bloggers do not like the aggressive secularism of the British government then I invite them to live under the Assad regime and see what really aggressive secularism is like before telling Middle East countries what they should do.

The left and the EU

“Vote for us and we’ll give you an in/out EU referendum.” This was the message David Cameron was sending to the euro-skeptic wing of the Tory party during his recent speech on Britain’s role in the EU. Many have characterised this move as a desperate attempt to win back support from the right wing of his party, currently being seduced by UKIP. The fact of the matter is that the wheels have started turning in a process which may eventually bring Britain out of the EU, something the euro-skeptics have wanted for years.

How should those of us on the left respond to this - beyond a knee-jerk dismissal of any idea put forward by a Tory government? The country as a whole remains deeply divided on the issue of Europe. Many people want out. Still more want a change in the relationship between Westminster and Brussels. The right seem to have made up their minds on Europe but the left remain deeply divided on this crucial issue.

Of course there are plenty of pro-EU lefties. A lot of us see the European Parliament as to the left of our own and see EU laws as important protections against aggressive neo-liberalism. Restrictions on working hours prevent British firms from forcing employees to work twelve-hour days at minimum wage, which they would certainly do if possible. All of this was recently underlined by TUC leader Frances O'Grady when she claimed that the Tories’ EU policy woulderode workers’ rights. There are also a lot us on the left who value our relationship with our European neighbours and believe that British culture has become enriched by the flow of migration across Europe that the EU allows.

However some lefties are certainly very much against the EU. Some are suspicious of its origins as a free trade agreement. It has been labeled as a “capitalist club”, an organisation that seeks to make life easier for multinational corporations. The EU has also been blamed for the decline in the British manufacturing industry as more firms relocate to Eastern Europe where wage costs are much lower.

Economics aside, there is also a tendency amongst some members of the left (usually from the working class left, but by no means always) to want to protect British culture. These are the lefties who want restrictions on immigration, a viewpoint that is extremely divisive on the left, as illustrated by the reaction to Maurice Glasman and Blue Labour. It also worth noting that the right-leaning Blue Labour also want to withdraw from the EU.

Strangely enough the debate on the EU was not always framed the way it is now. In the 1980s, it was the left who opposed membership to the European Economic Community as it was then and the right who supported it. Granted, back then it was much more a business agreement aimed at growing the economies of Europe and less of social venture. A key strand of the Labour party’s 1983 election manifesto was Britain’s withdrawal from the EEC. This manifesto, dubbed “the longest suicide note in history”, has long since stood as an example of Labour at its most left wing. Many euro-skeptic Labour supporters see the policy of leaving the EU as a descendent from the old Labour policy of leaving the EEC.

The Labour party’s relationship with Europe has come to be seen by many as emblematic of how the party has changed for the worst since the early 1980s, especially under Blair. There are lefties who believe that the Labour Party has turned its back on its roots of protecting the indigenous working class from exploitation and fighting for socialism, in favour of supporting immigration, European integration and liberalism. These supporters seek a return to working class old-Labour values - although they are by no means all working class themselves.

Clearly the Labour party has turned its back on socialism in favour of liberalism but the rest of the point I do not concede. However, significant working class social conservative support has moved from Labour to the Tories (and in some cases the BNP) since the early 1980s, partly due to the left’s response to the issues of immigration and the EU. There are many who argue that a return to working class old-Labour values can bring back some of the support Labour lost under Blair and Brown.

This leaves the Labour party in a quandary. The country is divided on the EU, as is the party. There is no clear route to popularity and electoral success and neither is there a clear ideological line to follow. This partly explains why Labour’s response to Cameron’s pledge has been decidedly lackluster. The Labour Party does not want to be caught on the wrong side of the debate and choosing either side would alienate a large pool of potential votes.

There is no escaping the fact that the country and the left remain deeply divided on this key issue which is coming to define modern politics. There are good arguments either way from a left wing point of view but I must reject the argument that the EU is against the best interests of the working class and that the left has turned their back on the poor. EU labour laws mentioned above are a clear example of how the EU protects against the exploitation of the poor and the working class. This is especially true now that the power of the trade unions has been diminished so much. In the 21st Century, the definition of the poor and the working class needs to be expanded to include immigrants (from the EU and otherwise) who are typically the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. It is for the benefit of all poor people that the left should fight, and I feel that the EU is a key part of this fight as it allows us to rise above the opposition of our domestic Conservative government.

It is clear that the EU is changing in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis. Becoming more integrated socially and fiscally seems to be the desired course of action. Britain needs to know whether we support this process and how to shape and develop its implementation, or whether we want nothing to do with it. During the course of the debate to come on EU membership the left needs to find a clear point of view to support ideologically and politically. We need to do better than giving people simply what they want, as this might not be the best course of action. As lefties we need to stop being divided on the issue of the EU and clearly stand for something.

The plight of the people of Western Sahara

Head over to a map of the world. Look for Egypt, that’s easy to find. Then look to your left. Assuming your map fits the usual specification, you will reach the western edge of North Africa. On the other side of the Mediterranean from Spain you will find Morocco. South of Morocco and north of Mauritania, there is an independent country of Western Sahara. This country is hardly known in global affairs, but it is not an independent country.

Western Sahara is the world's most sparsely populated country, being mostly dessert. It has a population of five hundred thousand people. Originally a colony of Spain, who withdrew from the country in 1975, the state of Western Sahara has been in dispute ever since. After Spain left, a war was fought between Western Sahara’s two neighbours, Mauritania and Morocco, which ended in 1979 when Morocco annexed most of Western Sahara. An independence movement, the Polisario Front, started a guerrilla war, seeking to establish an independent country known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic or SADR. This ended with a UN monitored cease-fire in 1991. Since then Western Sahara has been divided between the Polisario Front controlled SADR, which occupies around a quarter of the territory, and Morocco.

Morocco controls the majority of the country, including the population centres and natural resources. Both Morocco and the SADR are seeking international recognition for their claim to Western Sahara. Both have lined up support from across the world, but the territory remains disputed. Western Sahara is the largest and most populated territory on the United Nation’s list of Non-Self-GoverningTerritories and it exists in a legal grey area between being a disputed territory and a non-decolonized country or an occupied nation.

The location of Western Sahara in North Africa. Map from Wikipedia

Attempts to organise a referendum to decide Western Sahara’s future have been indefinitely stalled. The legal (and military) disputes that surround Western Sahara are varied and complex, with a host of countries and meta-national organisations (the Arab League, the African Union, etc) endorsing the different claims to the country. I suggest anyone with an interest in disputed territories and military occupations should look into the case of Western Sahara, as it is frequently overshadowed by events in Palestine.

So why is there less public outcry against what has happened in Western Sahara? Why do Palestine and Tibet get all the attention? It is difficult to say. All of the above and other situations around the world are clearly important places were citizens live without an ability to determine their own future. A lot of attention is drawn to the Middle East and China, partly because we in the west are complicit in the violations which take place in these countries through the trade agreements we have with their oppressors. This is especially true with Israel, as the UK and the US selling arms to the Israeli Defence Forces which are used against the Palestinians.

Also these other conflict areas are relatively well-populated. There is an estimated nine million Palestinians in the world, where as there are less than half a million Western Saharans. In the case of Palestine, many millions of people were displaced by Israeli occupation and have become refugees. Some of these have moved to the west where they have set up pressure groups highlighting the problems of those left behind in the occupied territory. In the case of Tibet, there is the Dalai Lama, an internationally-recognised figure, campaigning for freedom from occupation. However, more recently even the Dalai Lama has campaigned more for recognition of Tibet within China rather than independence. There are relatively fewer Western Saharans and less of them in western countries drawing attention to events in North Africa. When Africa is in the news more recently it has been in relation to uprisings connected to the Arab Spring, which did not spill over into an uprising in Western Sahara against Morocco.

Other disputed territories around the world attract more attention than Western Sahara, but it is important to remember that we in the west are just as complicit in the repression there. Morocco is enjoying a tourist boom currently, and the money we spend there funds the military which keeps Western Sahara under Moroccan control. Western Sahara may not be the world’s most high profile trouble spot, but is the largest disputed territory in the world and has the largest disputed population. Next time you are looking at a map do not take it for granted that a border is a sign of an independent country.

Do you know who Xi Jinping is?

I have been asking people this question and a lot of people do not know the answer. We will return to that shortly.

The world watched with rapped attention a fortnight ago as Barrack Obama won a historical second term in the White House. The global news schedules were drowning in coverage of the campaign and the Election Day itself. I personally stayed up until 5:30 in the morning to see the results. It was an event of global significance, a race the outcome of which would affect the lives of billions if not everyone on the planet. However while this was going on, the leadership of another country was also being decided, an event that could perhaps be equally as important.

The Chinese Communist party (the world’s largest political organisation, with more members than there are people in the United Kingdom) recently changed the membership of its politburo standing committee, the countries highest decision making body. Once every 10 years at the Chinese Communist party conference, China’s leadership steps down and new leaders are appointed. These leaders come from the 25 member politburo and its higher body, the seven person standing committee. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of China as well as other leadership figures are chosen from the standing committee. All of this is conducted in secret, with the conference ending with the new leadership being shown to the party.

The makeup of the standing committee and China’s new leadership are decisions with the same global signification as the race for the White House. China is the world’s second largest economy and it is predicted that during the new leadership’s term of office China will become the world’s largest economy. China also holds the majority of the world's debt as well as being a key export market for the growth starved west and a major financial centre. They have the world’s largest army, an expanding space program and now aircraft carriers and stealth fighters. In less than a decade the members of standing committee may become the most powerful people in the world. My question concerning all this is, why has there been a lot less media coverage of the events leading up the anointment of the new Chinese leadership?

There has been coverage, with articles on BBC website and in other new sources but I have not seen one piece on the Chinese Communist party conference grace the front page of a British national newspaper or appear as the top story on a news broadcast, as the American election did. The change of power in China is just as important as the change of power in America, perhaps more important as the new leader has a much greater ability to effect change in his country than Barrack Obama does in America. This is where I answer the above question, Xi Jinping is the new General Sectary of the Chinese Communist Party and is very likely to be the next president of China. So why is there less coverage of the method by which he came to power? Why are we not globally weighing up the pros and cones of perspective Chinese leaders, examining Xi Jinping's qualities as a leader and considering what his vision of China might look like?

The main reason is that people in the west simply are not interested, which is not only a shame but a dangerous way of thinking. We prefer to focus on our own politics, believing them to be most important events in the world, whilst dismissing events elsewhere as less than important. It is foolish to ignore the changes that are happening in China. By all accounts Xi Jinping’s forthcoming appointment to the presidency is a victory for China’s more conservative factions. He has close ties to the military and is the son of a past powerful figure and party elder. He is certainly not a reformer, but he does have a more global prospective than previous leaders. We should be concerned about our future and the power that China will hold over it, and we should be more concerned about the people directing this power and the means by which they are appointed.

Another reason why western media is not as interested in the change in Chinese leadership is that the key events happen in secret. The standing committee and a shadowy group of party elders decide in secret on the next generation of leaders and who will be appointed to the most senior positions. This process does not lend itself to the extensive coverage, which news sources use to attract large amounts of views and readers. The results are also a forgone conclusion. It had been known for a while that Xi Jinping would be the next General Secretary and that Li Keqiang would be his deputy. It is almost certain they will be given the most senior positions in the Chinese government, the presidency and premiership. Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and others had been elevated to positions of power by outgoing president Hu Jintao, a man who favored loyalty above all else.

Chinese leadership elections are not as exciting as their American counter part, they lack scandal, uncertain results and a dramatic conclusions. News vendors may not be that interested but that does not mean the events are not globally significant. We may not be that cornered about the changes in Chinese leadership but as a nation we should be.

Xi Jinping will lead China for ten years during which China and the whole world will face serious challenges in terms of the economy and the environment China also faces many internal challenges, in rooting out corruption  finding its place among the other global powers, maintaining its growth rate and balancing political freedoms with the Communist state. Xi Jinping is not a man much is known about in the west but his character may come to define the next decade of global events.

In the west we need to stop thinking of ourselves as the main stage or the only stage as we increasingly become a side show. We need to pay more attention to events in China and Chinese politics as our economic recovery will depend upon it. Xi Jinping and the other new members of standing committee step into the spot light as Obama secures himself a second term in power but Xi Jinping will be leading China long after Obama has left the White House. Us in the west should pay as much attention to events in China as we do to America as they profoundly effect our world. Xi Jinping should be a name that is on everyone's in the west's minds.

Chinese democracy: is it an oxymoron?

More than a year after the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, its reverberations can still be felt around the world.  Civil war rages in Syria, Libya is attempting to rebuild itself, and Egypt is trying to shake off the shackles of a military dictatorship. However, one big question that remains unanswered is – will the Arab Spring turn into a Chinese summer?

The Chinese Communist regime is among the most unusual and interesting in the world. It maintains an ideological connection to Marxism and Maoism, but also presides over a labour market more deregulated than in most western countries, as well as owning some of the world’s largest private firms. It is somewhere between a socialist’s and objectivist’s dreams or their worst nightmares. Despite the government’s at times overbearing nature, it remains consistently popular with the one point three billion people it rules over, mainly due to the government’s ability to lift people out of poverty.

Chinese industrialization has been swift and effective, building high-tech industries where once there was subsistence farming. A country which once closed its doors to western technologies and goods now has a maglev network and is building 26 new airports. There are people in China today who run software firms whose parents farmed rice fields; one generation has gone from Milton’s green and pleasant fields to Silicon Valley. Many Chinese people do not want to change their government, because in their opinion they have the best government in the world: no other government has ever done so much to so drastically improve the wealth and living conditions of so many people. Poverty still remains a problem in China, especially for the millions of migrant labourers with no legal status or protection, but the wealth of the world is flowing into a country which throughout history has thought of itself as purely self-sufficient. Imagine if our parents and grandparents had been serfs on lands owned by feudal Barons, how much would we look up to the political party that brought us consumer goods.

The Chinese government has also recently relaxed its laws against political dissidence, and it is now acceptable to criticise openly state bureaucrats and regional officials if it is felt they are corrupt or ineffectual. What is firmly off the agenda is any suggestion that Communism should end or that the Chinese government should be elected democratically. For now this delicate balance works well, the government provides vast (but unevenly distributed) wealth for its people and they enjoy more social freedoms than their parents; in turn the party, politbureau and old guard remain firmly in charge and enjoy the universal support of their subjects.

Much like Enron, the entire system is kept afloat by rising stock prices and a healthy dose of aspiration, or the case of China rising absolute living standards and the slim chance of becoming a Communist billionaire. Should a recession strike China and living standards fall, then questions will be asked. The overbearing Communist regime will not be so popular when the trickle of wealth seeping down from the top dries up and suddenly over a billion people will want a say in their government. This will be especially true of the above-mentioned migrant works who currently have the least to gain under Communism.

No regime that has been in power as long as the Chinese Communist Party will quietly step aside, and it will be difficult for western powers to criticise any Chinese crack-down on pro-democracy movements whilst our business interests are so closely linked to the Communist Party. Pro-democracy rumblings in China, such as we have seen in the Middle East, will have disastrous effects on the global community. China owns most of the west’s sovereign debt (especially America’s) and a civil war in China (like the one we see in Syria) could involve more people than World War II. With what will soon be the world’s largest economy up for grabs, the stakes would be very high in a free and open Chinese election.  Multiply this by the problems Russia has had in transferring from Communism to democracy, and you have the potential for a very unstable situation with the very real possibility of grave consequences.

China is opposed to intervention in Syria, as they can hardly call for change in non-democratic regimes, especially as eventually the pro-democracy uprising will find its way to China. When living standards fall, when the impoverished people industrialization is built on the back of organise, when the distribution of colossal amounts of wealth becomes too uneven, calls for regime change will be inescapable.

Democracy will inevitably come to China, but just like the tide of pro-democratic uprisings across the Middle East, this will not necessarily result in the best outcome for the west. Democracy and the Chinese government might seem like strange bed fellows, much like the free market capitalism and state socialism of the current government’s economic policy. The Arab Spring is sill changing the political landscape of the Middle East, but it will be a mixed blessing if becomes a Chinese summer.

Culture of Resistance

There is a long-standing trend across society of people feeling alienated from the political establishment. This is not a movement with ideology or leaders behind it but more a broad feeling of disaffection felt by many. Individuals have sought to express this through music, film and political action drawing many who feel the same towards them but without forming a tangible movement. In recent months in the UK this has grown more apparent as opposition to the Tory government and their program of austerity has grown. I suggest the coining of a new phrase to describe this movement of the dissatisfied and how the feeling is expressed as the culture of resistance.

The culture of resistance is a general anti-establishment view point. Best described by a friend of mine as the 'fuck the police' mentality. It incorporates those against the established ideology of neoliberal free market capitalism but, in its actuality, is a broader dissatisfaction with the status quo and the dominant political philosophy. It covers a spectrum of people from those who wear Che Guevara hoodies to squat dwelling anarchists. It can be manifested in those who subscribe to specific anti-establishment ideologies such as socialism and those who take direct action against the establishment in the form of protests. However, it can also be seen in those who feel alienated from the main political discourse and social norms. The culture of resistance is not specifically opposed to or against anything that can be easily defined. That is a characteristic of a more defined movement with influential figures and a more defined ideology. The culture of resistance is more of general expression of dissatisfaction felt by many who do not fit within the establishment and are disenfranchised by this.

In one aspect it can be summed up in the general anti-establishment vibes given off by bands like Kasabian but it encompasses such diverse songs as the anger of Anti-Flag’s Die For the Government to Tracy Chapman’s more subtle Talking About a Revolution. It encompasses a range of films, from James Dean's non-specific rebellion in Rebel Without A Cause to the anti-big business rhetoric of Michael Moore’s documentaries. From the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to Iain Bank’s Complicity. It covers those who feel disenfranchised from the political and social establishment by their gender, sexuality, race, poverty or sub-culture.

For those of us on the left to be a more effective political force we need find a commonality in these disaffected individuals covered by the broad term of the culture of resistance. We need to seek out the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection and mobilise people against their oppressors. I am fully aware of many on the left who feel alienated and disaffected by lack of a strong left-wing voice in mainstream politics calling for progressive change. Many also feel dissatisfied that Labour frequently fails to be this progressive voice. Individuals form isolated causes or individuals take direct action as they feel disconnected from a larger political movement. This in essence is the culture of resistance.

It is job of those on the left to form alliances between dispirited groups and people who fall under the culture of resistance. Many of the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection are conflicting problems. Power structures within the culture of resistance make this difficult, as is forming connections within such a diverse group of people. However, forming alliances between dispirited groups has always been one of the great strengths of the right. Consider the many differences between neoliberal, free-market corporate conservatives and the faith, family and flag social conservatives who sit together (not always happily) on the benches of Republican Party. In the British Tory party we see a similar uneasy alliance between the anti-immigration lobby and supporters of the interests of large companies who exploit the cheap labour migration brings. The right counts forming political alliances as one of its strength and so too should we on the left.

There are recent examples of direct action taken by large groups of members of the culture of resistance against their political oppressors. The main instance of this is students demonstrating against tuition fee rises. A diverse group students of different ideologies and different social backgrounds united by their opposition to a single issue and their general disenfranchisement with the political establishment.

The student tuition fees protests are a clear example of the increasing degree to which young people are disillusioned with political establishment. The protests of thousands of young members of the culture of resistance in the lead up to the Iraqi war were largely ignored by mainstream politicians and thus alienation of those outside the main political discourse is continued. In recent student protests the culture of resistance were driven to property damage and occupation in response to the feeling that the voices had been ignored or silenced before. Through the media branding them as violent trouble makers, the alienation and disaffection of the culture of resistance is perpetuated.

In the Arab world we have seen a string of uprising by the political oppressed. Again a broad cross section of society has been united in a common movement of the politically alienated and the socially disaffected against their oppressors. In Egypt, a country fraught with religion divisions, Christians and Muslims were brought together against the dictatorial establishment. This should be an example to those who wish to effect social change that through a common culture of resistance very divergent groups can be brought together and ultimately topple their common oppressors.

Very recently in Tottenham, north east London the poor and disaffected lashed out at an establishment which they felt was repressing the community. This is an example of an entire community and culture falling under the label of the culture of resistance due to the disenfranchisement of poverty, the alienation of the lack of having adequate political influence to effect necessary local development and perceived over policing. The culture of resistance does not only cover isolated individuals but can incorporate entire social groups or movements.

The culture of resistance has only grown larger and more pronounced as time has gone by and more people felt alienated from mainstream politics by the dominant ideology. We have seen that there is a great power in this disenfranchisement once mobilised. Those of us on the left need to work on building bridges that unite the disaffected in a common movement if we are to effect serious and lasting social change.