Thursday, 30 December 2010


Interview starts at 1min 30secs.


Chinese missile shifts power in Pacific

By Kathrin Hille in Beijing
Financial Times

A new Chinese anti-ship missile that will significantly alter the balance of military power in the Pacific is now operational, according to a senior US commander.

Admiral Robert Willard, the top US commander in the Pacific, said the Chinese ballistic missile, which was designed to threaten US aircraft carriers in the region, had reached “initial operational capability”.

His remarks signal that China is challenging the US ability to project military power in Asia much sooner than many had expected.

The US and other countries in the Pacific region are increasingly concerned at the speed with which China is developing its naval power. Japan, for example, recently decided to refocus its military on the potential threat from China.

“So now we know – China’s [anti-ship ballistic missile] is no longer aspirational,” Andrew Erickson, an expert on the Chinese military at the US Naval War College, said in response to Adm Willard’s comments to the Asahi newspaper.

Defence analysts have called the Dongfeng 21 D missile a “game changer” since it could force US aircraft carriers to stay away from waters where China does not want to see them. These include the Taiwan Strait where a potential conflict could develop over the self-ruled island which China claims.

The land-based missile is designed to target and track aircraft carrier groups with the help of satellites, unmanned aerial vehicles and over-the-horizon radar. Aircraft carriers and their accompanying ships are unable to defend themselves against such a threat.

Aware of the missile’s development, the Pentagon has already started considering ways to counter the new threat, including a new concept for more closely integrated navy and air force operations.

Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said in September, the development of such a missile would force the Pentagon to rethink the way carriers were deployed.

“If the Chinese or somebody else has a highly accurate anti-ship cruise or ballistic missile that can take out a carrier at hundreds of miles of ranges and therefore in Asia puts us back behind the second island chain, how then do you use carriers differently in the future?” Mr Gates asked.

The second chain of islands runs from the Bonins along the Marianas, Guam and Palau, forming a north-south line east of Japan and the Philippines. This line defines what China sees as its “near seas” – waters in which the US navy now frequently operates and are home to US naval bases and allies such as Japan and South Korea.

Adm Willard noted this year that China’s anti-ship ballistic missile was undergoing extensive testing and was close to deployment. Observers believe China started production of missile motors last year and that the Chinese military is preparing a nuclear missile base in the southern city of Shaoguan for their deployment.

Defence analysts have also linked several missile flight tests this year to the new weapon but no conclusive evidence has been available to date.

Adm Willard’s latest comments appear to remove any doubts. The term “initial operational capability” as used by the Pentagon indicates that some military units have started deployment of the weapon and are capable of using it.

Mr Erickson said: “Beijing has successfully developed, tested, and deployed the world’s first weapons system capable of targeting a moving carrier strike group from long-range, land-based mobile launchers.” .

Adm Willard said the new Chinese weapon was still not fully-operational and would probably undergo testing for “several more years”. The key remaining step is a comprehensive test of the entire system at sea, which is much more difficult than test flights over land.

China also needs to deploy more satellites to ensure seamless tracking of a moving target at sea. But defence experts warn that the weapon would immediately be a threat to US carriers because China could make up for a lack in accuracy by launching larger numbers of missiles.

Monday, 27 December 2010


Jayaben Desai, leader of the Grunwick dispute, dies aged 77

The trade unionist's 'strikers in saris' achieved recognition for the rights of Asian female workers

Paul Lewis

Jayaben Desai, the Asian trade unionist whose bold leadership of the Grunwick dispute in the late 1970s produced a landmark in industrial relations, has died aged 77.

Desai led a walkout of the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in the summer of 1976 in an attempt to convince managers to recognise a unionised workforce.

One of the disputes that triggered the walkout involved a 19-year-old male employee, but Grunwick became known for the way in which predominantly Asian and female workers stood up to their employers. The dispute by the women – who became known in the press as "strikers in saris" – lasted more than two years, and Desai's defiant campaign gained national recognition.

After storming out of the processing plants in north London, Desai and her co-workers joined the Association of Professional, Executive, Clerical and Computer Staff (Apex). However they were joined on picket lines by workers from across the labour movement, who coalesced around the Grunwick dispute in solidarity.

As momentum built, there were frequent confrontations between hundreds of trade unionists and police.

Desai's attempt to achieve union recognition for the Grunwick workers was ultimately unsuccessful, ending in a hunger strike outside the headquarters of the Trades Union Congress, which she accused of betrayal, in 1978.

But the strike proved a seminal moment in the British labour movement, drawing attention to the overlooked plight of female migrant workers – and generating admiration for Desai's tenacity.

Desai, who died just before Christmas after several months of illness, was known for her force of character, eloquence and courage. A photograph of her confronting a row of police officers, a handbag dangling from her arm, became one of the iconic images of the 1970s.

Originally from India, she had arrived in Britain eight years previously, after migrating to Tanzania. Perhaps her best-known statement was issued in confrontation with a manager at Grunwick, who she told: "What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. In a zoo, there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are those lions, Mr Manager."

The metaphor was revisited tonight by Jack Dromey MP, who was secretary of the Brent Trades Council during the dispute and a close comrade of Desai. "She was 4ft 11 tall, but an absolute lioness," he said. "A quite remarkable woman with an absolutely extraordinary turn of phrase."

He recalled how Desai stood before a meeting of more than 80 "husbands, fathers and brothers" of women who worked at Grunwick after it was alleged they had been discouraged from joining the picket lines. "I will never forget how she said: 'We, the women, are determined to make a stand and nobody will get in the way of that, including from within our own families."

Desai's own husband, who survives her along with their two sons, is known to be intensely proud of his wife. Her commitment to the cause of women in the trade union movement was unrelenting, even in her old age.

Professor Ruth Pearson from Leeds University, who conducted a research initiative into Asian female strikers, and was in touch with Desai as recently as last year, recalled her support for women dismissed by Gate Gourmet, the airline catering firm with a processing plant near Heathrow.

"At one of the benefits for the workers sacked by Gate Gourmet in 2005, she sent a congratulatory message and a cheque from herself as the strike leader of the Grunwick dispute," Pearson said. "She recognised that because of the actions taken by herself and her co-strikers Asian women today are able to join trade unions, to take industrial action."

Desai's last known public statement came in January this year, in an interview with the Guardian. "I am proud of what I did," she said. "They wanted to break us down, but we did not break."

Mrs Desai and Sons of Malcolm's Sukant Chandan.

A great woman, who I had the honour of meeting. July 2009, Wembley, NW London.

This was a film shoot on a youth-led film project that I co-project managed:

We are laughing as I had to bend down to a more reasonable height alongside Mrs Desai for the pic

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Thursday, 23 December 2010


"Thank God it is them instead of you"

In modern times, we seldom celebrate our colonial mentalities. We tend to hide them away under euphemisms. Christmas charity singles, however, provide a rare peep hole into the decayed core of the former colonial powers: the moral decrepitude still stands, where the empire has fallen. After abdicating all responsibility for why the world population is so polarised and why the Western nations can enjoy times of mass excess and extravagance, we throw on paternal hats and sing some utterly offensive tripe.

Nothing is worse in this respect that Bob Geldoff and Midge Ure’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” A song who’s very title echoes the modus operandi of the Christian missionaries who were instrumental in tearing Africa to pieces. A song that refers to the world’s poorest as “the other ones” and “them” - blatant and unexcused orientalism - from Liberalism’s most compassionate. It beggars belief that in 2010 this is still played, en masse.

Africa, the richest continent in terms of natural resources, is universalised as a basket case, “Where nothing ever grows/No rain or rivers flow”. Now, in defence of Geldoff and Ure (a phrase that will only be used once in this article, I assure you) the song was meant to raise money for the Ethiopian famine of 1984. At this particular historical moment there was a lack of water. However, the writers never specify this. In order encourage charity amongst the population of Great Britain a picture of the whole continent of Africa is painted where it is deprived of snow and running water, where “the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears”. Artistic license is one thing, but what the self-righteous pop stars have done is embedded within the mentalities of the masses a picture of Africa that is in complete opposition to the truth. More harm has been done than good as it has, and continues to, reinforce stereotypes that systematically deprive third world peoples from autonomy. My generation would sing this song in our December assemblies and at our Christmas performances. One hopes this practice does not remain today, though given the single still transmits nationally through all our major radio stations, nothing surprises.

Africa enters the youth consciousness as a place of utter devastation, deprived of any semblance of happiness. “The Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom”. A graphic and horrible metaphor that shows complete ignorance and disregard for the percussive, vibrant and joyful cultures throughout the continent that have spread globally and had an immeasurable impact on our own artistic output.

The song is replete with geographic inaccuracies and inexcusable colonialism. It validates a Victorian “charitable” mentality, where the wretched of the Earth are “raised a glass” for, patronised from afar, while the crimes that are the cause of the devastation are literally whitewashed from history. Those poor, black people, don’t even know it is Christmas! Well this seems quite trivial given us poor white people don’t even confront our own history and instead actively perpetuate it, under the guise of compassion.

The song ends with a declaration: “Feed the world!”, over and over and over again. It kind of reminds me of the resolution that has attempted to get through the UN, again and again and again that states that "proper nourishment" is a human right. The declaration has been continuously blocked, by the US, as to feed the world is to compromise the extravagance of modern Western existence. So, instead, we continue to polarise the world. The rich remain rich, while the poor remain poor. This Christmas, if you’re ‘lucky’ enough to celebrate it keep in mind that opulent, festive meals are provided at the expense of the vast majority of the world. “Thank God it is them, instead of you”.

Merry Christmas


By Daniel Renwick (Aka Frank Natter): Joint organiser of the forthcoming meeting: Haiti Will Rise Again, (Commemoration of Haitian Earthquake), 12th January 2011, Gasworks, Vauxhall 19.00-22.00

Monday, 20 December 2010


Join an ex-footballer's fight to change lives and break gang culture

Morris Samuels decided to tackle street crime head on in Nottingham, but his charity desperately needs help to continue the vital work

16 Dec 2010

It started with a shooting. Danielle Beccan was walking home from the Goose Fair in Nottingham in October 2004 when two men fired from a passing car. The 14-year-old was hit in the stomach and died in hospital. Danielle's only crime was to live in the St Ann's area of the city; the gunmen came from the nearby Meadows district and had driven to St Ann's tooled up and looking for a victim. Danielle was just unlucky: wrong time, wrong place.

Beccan's death was just the latest statistic in the turf and drug wars between rival gangs from the St Ann's, Meadows and Radford areas of inner-city Nottingham. The violence had been escalating since the early 90s; there was a shooting almost every week and Nottingham was getting an unwanted reputation as the UK's gang capital. For Morris Samuels, Beccan's murder was the tipping point.

Samuels had lived all his life in St Ann's and was known as a hard man. He commanded respect. More importantly, though, Samuels was an ex-footballer. He had played for the Notts County junior team and gone on to make a career with semi-professional Ilkeston Town until age and injury caught up with him.

"No one was doing anything to tackle gang crime," he says. "Youth clubs and table tennis don't work with guns and knives. And the police just didn't get it. So I came up with a simple plan: to form a football team from members of all three rival gangs. I reckoned if I could get them playing football together there was a chance they would start talking to one another. And once they were talking to each other, anything was possible."

Samuels called his team Unity and started recruiting players by going down to each of the three estates to try to persuade gang members to give it a go. By 2005 he had 24 lads signed up – 13 from the Meadows, six from St Ann's and the rest from Radford. "I wanted to make the setup as professional as possible," Samuels says. "Much as the lads wanted to play football, they wouldn't have bothered to turn up if I'd only been offering them matches on local park pitches. So I made them all wear shirts and ties to travel – if anyone didn't have them, I bought them for him and if anyone refused to wear them, they got sent home – and we played our first match against Ilkeston Town."

Nathan Kelly was one of the first to sign up. He was 15, had just been kicked out of school for beating up the head teacher and was on a one-way ticket to the Pupil Referral Unit. In his own words he was "a rebel, a total nightmare". The only thing that made him happy was football: so he reckoned he'd check out Unity.

"Being in a dressing room with people I'd have ordinarily wanted to smack was hard at first," he says. "There was a lot of bullshitting going on. But Morris was brilliant at keeping it under control, telling us we were really all the same and that we stood no chance of winning a game if we were fighting amongst ourselves. The rivalry thing has all gone for me now and I've got a job I love, teaching sport in school, working one to one with disabled kids and training to be a gym instructor."

Unity got off to a slowish start as no organisations wanted to get involved. Samuels even stumped up £1,000 of his own money to get the kit. That changed after Unity played a game against Nottingham Forest that made the local BBC news and attracted the attention of Crime Concern and the Rainer Foundation, which have since merged into the young persons charity Catch 22. Unity now runs three programmes – seniors aged 17-25, juniors aged 11-16 and girls aged 11-25 – and has more than 800 young people on its books.

Football is the hook that lures everyone in but it's not Samuels's underlying aim. That is both to break the gang culture and give kids a chance to pick up qualifications and training they were not getting anywhere else. Before every game there is a compulsory session in the classroom, teaching anything from personal and social education – sex, drugs and domestic violence all feature strongly – to maths and English for the younger kids. For the older age group, there are training courses in sport, car maintenance and being a bouncer.

"Obviously we've got a lot of social problems round here so you have to be tactful," Samuels says. "But my basic message is that I will be 100% on the case of anyone who isn't on a course, in training or volunteering. If someone is having problems, I want them to tell me about it. Our work is as much about preventing crime as it is about helping those who have been in trouble."

The numbers back him up. Two-thirds of those who were involved in crime have stopped offending since coming to Unity; 92% of those enrolled in a qualification programme have passed and 61% have gone on to further training, work experience or volunteering. And yes, the football also helps; 78 participants are now earning a wage with semi-professional clubs.

Drop in on Unity's HQ – an office space provided by Connexions in the centre of Nottingham – and you'll find a cross section from across the three estates all looking out for one another. Everyone from 25-year-old Tyeisse, who joined the programme three years ago after coming out of prison, to 19-year-old Chloe, whose personal life is still tricky, to 12-year-old AJ, who has been in trouble at school for bunking off.

But Unity is now a victim of its own success. It has done more than any other organisation to reduce gang culture in the city, but it just doesn't have enough mentors to keep proper tabs on everyone and to intervene if things look like they are going pear-shaped. "We desperately need more money to train people," Morris says. The kids put it somewhat differently. They say: "We need more Morrises. He has been like a father to us." One even calls him his fairy godfather. Though I doubt he says that to his face.

Click here to donate to the Guardian's Christmas charity appeal, changing young lives in the UK

• This article was amended on 17 December 2010 to remove a repeat of the sentence: Two-thirds of those who were involved in crime have stopped offending since coming to Unity.

Friday, 17 December 2010


Sons of Malcolm is not implying Brother Giggs is a revolutionary, but that his story is reflective of many of our young brothers in our communities and we need to be sensitive, listen and understand in order to move our youth and communities forward to liberation.


Spending cuts 'will see rise in absolute child poverty'

Institute of Fiscal Studies analysis shows that government programme will push 200,000 into penury

The government's radical programme to slash spending will see the first rise in absolute child poverty for 15 years, with almost 200,000 children pushed into penury, according to an analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies.

Tax changes introduced by the coalition government will, the leading independent fiscal thinktank finds, increase absolute poverty by 200,000 children and 200,000 working-age adults in 2012-13.

Cuts to housing benefit alone will force a further 100,000 children into poverty.

In the next three years the IFS says average incomes are forecast to stagnate and this, coupled with deep cuts in welfare, will see a rise in relative poverty for children and working-age adults of 800,000 and a rise in absolute poverty for the same group of 900,000.

The institute directly challenges the government's claim that the impact of the budget would have no effect on child poverty.

Sally Copley, head of UK policy at Save the Children, said: "George Osborne promised in his spending review that child poverty would not get worse over the next two years. These new figures show the government will meet this commitment.

"But standing still on child poverty is never good enough and the prospect of it actually rising after 2012 is totally unacceptable."

Absolute poverty, set at 60% of 2010's average income, is used to set legally binding targets in the landmark Child Poverty Act passed this year with cross-party support.

Robert Joyce, a research economist and an author of the report, said: "We find that the coalition government's measures act to increase poverty among these groups slightly in 2012–13, and more clearly in 2013–14. Meeting the legally binding child poverty targets in 2020 would require the biggest fall in relative child poverty after 2013–14 since at least 1961."

Campaigners said the work sounded "an alarm on a future crisis".

Chris Goulden, poverty policy manager at the Joseph Rowntree Trust, which commissioned the research, said that the rise in inequality and impoverishment were mainly caused by pegging benefits to rates less than inflation, freezing child benefit, and the slew of changes to the housing benefits system which affects 4.6m households.

"It is a reversal of fortune for the poor. The coalition have said that the increases in child tax credits will help but that's sticking plaster," said Goulden.

The Treasury questioned the figures, saying that the IFS admitted "considerable uncertainty", which means the "small differences they identify may not be meaningful".

The coalition has queried how poverty should be measured, and a report for it by Labour MP Frank Field recommended augmenting current poverty indicators with a set of "life chances" indicators. Some on the centre-right say these could include reducing the number of households where no one works, or the 350,000 children living with drug-dependent parents.

A Treasury spokesman said: "The government has been clear child poverty isn't just about getting above an arbitrary line, but is about improving people's life chances, as outlined in Frank Field's review. The steps taken to reduce welfare spending are to incentivise work and remove people from getting stuck on benefits.

"Any consideration of the impact of the government's reforms on child poverty should take into account the wider [government] work to encourage work and improve children's life chances."

Neil O'Brien, director of the right-leaning Policy Exchange thinktank, said: "The problem with what the IFS is saying is that the measure they use isn't an indicator of real poverty; it's a measure of inequality. It defines 'poverty' as being below 60% of the average income.

"This is a hangover from the Gordon Brown era. Real poverty isn't the same as inequality. The IFS's definition would mean that there are actually more people in poverty in Britain today than there are in Poland."


The Taliban troop with an east London cab driver in its ranks

Special report: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Afghanistan meets a growing community of part-time expat jihadists

The landscape of Dhani-Ghorri in northern Afghanistan is a quilt of fields outlined by earth berms, poplar trees and irrigation canals. Driving into the district to meet the area's Taliban commander late last month, we passed men and boys who cooked rice in mud kilns, piled sacks of red onions on trucks or followed herds of goats and sheep.

Our escorts were a mix of Afghan ethnicities – Uzbek, Hazara, Tajik and Pashtun – from Baghlan and its neighbouring provinces. Most surprising, though, were the two who said they lived in Britain.

We were asked to wait for the district chief in the house of a burly, bearded man who spoke passable English with a hint of a London accent. For most of the time he lived in east London, he said, but he came to Afghanistan for three months of the year to fight. He was a mullah and had the rank of a mid-level Taliban commander.

"I work as a minicab driver there," he said. "I make good money, you know. But these people are my friends and my family and it's my duty to come to fight the jihad with them.

"There are many people like me in London," he added. "We collect money for the jihad all year and come and fight if we can."

He shared the compound-style house in Dhani-Ghorri with his brothers and sisters and their families. The oldest brother, a senior cleric or maulvi, also lived in London. Of his two younger brothers, one lived in Dubai and the other – a red-bearded young man who sat in the corner flipping prayer beads and whispering – in Norway.

The fighting season was coming to a close, they said, and the four of them were getting ready to return to their civilian lives abroad.

Our host explained the delay in the district chief's arrival: he was resolving a dispute between two villages and would arrive soon.

A succession of bearded farmers who had just finished their work in the fields arrived at the house while we waited, bringing with them a smell of sweat and mud. They chatted about the operation of the day before, when one of their comrades attacked a Nato convoy wearing a suicide vest. He had successfully gained martyrdom by killing himself in the operation, they said.

When Lal Muhammad, the district chief, entered the room, all the men jumped to attention.

Lal Muhammad is a short and stern 32-year-old madrassa teacher. In his crisp blue shalwar qameez and dark brown glasses it was easier to imagine him giving a class in theology than leading men in battle. He sat down with his legs crossed, savouring the silence and his authority. He would explain how in three years his band of Taliban had grown to supplant the government as the real rulers of the district. First, though, he would show me a film on his mobile phone.

The district chief

"We have to document everything," said Lal Muhammad. "We take the film to our leaders in Pakistan to show what kind of work we are doing and take orders." The video showed one of his first operations, when his men had hijacked seven green Afghan police pickup trucks and disarmed dozens of uniformed Afghan policeman. The police lined up along the side of a dirt road, while the star of the scene, Lal Muhammad, dressed again in freshly laundered shalwar qameez, strutted around with the police commander following sheepishly behind.

A policeman emerged from behind a mud wall, handed over his weapons and went to stand with the rest. "If they just surrender like these men did we take their weapons and release them. If they fight back then we kill them."

Three years ago, he and a few other madrassa teachers started fighting small-scale skirmishes against the government.

"There were people in the village and in the madrassa who liked the Taliban and wanted them back, but the government was strong then and they even controlled the countryside. We held meetings with the mullahs of the mosques. They supported us because we were fighting the foreigners, so we collected some weapons."

"Twelve Kalashnikovs," said the burly English Talib.

"In the first two operations the fighters were just madrassa teachers and students," said Lal Muhammad. "We arrested the police, burned their cars and distributed their weapons and the mujahideen started the fight. We met the mullahs again after that and told them we could now defend ourselves. They gave us their blessing."

As Lal Muhammad's reputation grew, others came to join him. "When the old Taliban heard about us they started joining us. Students from madrassa here and from Pakistan came to work in jihad and help us."

Eventually blessings arrived from the Taliban leadership in Quetta and two Komissyons – Taliban councils – were established, one civilian and one military. He continued to teach in the local madrassa not far from the village.

"Most of this area is now in the hands of the Taliban," he said. "Every week we do two to three activities. Sometimes we close the highway and search the cars, sometimes we attack the police and sometimes we attack Nato fuel tankers."

A boy came into the room with a glass of water. Lal Muhammad whispered words into the water and blew into it three times.

"For blessing the water to the people of the house he is a religious man and people love him," said the British Talib.

Lal Muhammad stood up again and the men jumped on their feet. They followed him out into the small dirt lane outside the house where they knelt, washing their face and hands and feet in a small irrigation ditch, then into a one-room mud mosque where he led them in prayer.

The fighters

After lunch, Lal Muhammad took us out into the countryside to inspect his fighters. "He is taking you to see all of this because you are an Arab," the British Talib told me.

We squeezed into the back of an old Toyota with a bespectacled Arabic teacher who jammed a Kalashnikov between his knees and a young farmer who cradled a machine gun. Lal Muhammad sat in the passenger seat and the red-bearded Talib who lived in Norway drove the car.

We sped along a narrow dirt road blaring out Taliban music. The red-bearded Talib sang along, turning to me every few minutes, a big smile on his freckled face, and translating the words: "O martyr, march to the enemy …"

We stopped in a small bazaar between two rows of mud-walled shops. There was a doctor's clinic, a pharmacy, a school. Two women in blue burqas sat on the edge of the road waiting for a taxi and a few children ran around them.

I counted 14 Taliban in dirty tunics, glittering caps and turbans who lounged in the shade of the shops or manned a checkpoint in the road, stopping donkey carts and taxis. The men stood to attention at the presence of Lal Muhammad. They formed a wobbly line under the piercing gaze of their commander, a tall thin man with small hard eyes and a walkie-talkie who was stopping the cars and looking inside.

The second Taliban post was in an Uzbek village. During previous visits to the Taliban in the north I had seen that the movement was predominantly Pashtun, but in the last year Uzbek and Tajik units have started to emerge in Baghlan, Faryab and other provinces.

"They are in control in their areas," Lal Muhammad told me. "We armed them and gave them the weapons. They are independent in their area, but under the leadership of the Taliban movement."

Most of these fighters were young teenagers, but the commander was an old Uzbek who had fought in the civil war in the 1990s. Why was he fighting again? "Because the foreigners are here," he said.

After we left the village, Lal Muhammad told me: "Everywhere you see the Taliban you have to understand that the Taliban grow among the people. We can't survive in an area without the people's support, the mosque is our station, the houses are our station, the madrassa is our station. Each RPG rocket cost us 1300 afghanis ($26). Every day I do operations and use rockets. How could I do that if people weren't paying for us?

"Yesterday there was a suicide car bomb attack. The people in the village bought him the car, not me."

The third outpost was more like an army camp. A hundred men had gathered in an orchard. They were subdivided into smaller groups, each one led by separate commander and based in separate village or a farm. The youngest group was made up of teenage boys from the madrassa armed with ancient second world war-era rifles. They wore black turbans and their eyes were lined with black kohl.

Someone shouted out and quickly the groups dispersed, on foot or on motorbikes. Lal Muhammad stood at the gate shaking hands and accepting greetings.

Back at the compound of the English Talib, many of the commanders who were in the orchard sat around Lal Muhammad. They included Haji Saleh, an old man in his sixties who said he first started fighting the foreigners 31 years ago. That time they were called Russian, he said, but they are the same, all kafirs.

Haji Saleh's job was laying mines. "I go at night to lay mines and traps in the road," he said. He worked with another fighter, Bilal, who was the electronics expert of the group.

Bilal, who was from eastern Afghanistan, was also called Engineer Sahib because he had an engineering degree from a university in Pakistan.

Bilal spent the night teaching his comrades how to bring down helicopters ("Shoot at the rotors. Don't shoot when it's coming at you shoot at it from behind") and told me their comrades in Pakistan supplied them with Google Earth maps that they used to locate government bases and identify targets for their mortars.

Haj Saleh gave Bilal a small plastic landmine, Bilal inserted some metal screw like object and twisted it, then both of them left. When they came back an hour later Bilal's hand was covered with a metallic silver layer that was burning his skin.

After dinner, Lal Muhammad excused himself and left the compound. He slept in a different house every night to avoid assassination attempts, I was told.

Before we went to sleep, the Talib from east London showed me pictures on his mobile phone of friends who had been killed in the fighting. He smiled as he looked at the pictures, but there were tears in his eyes.

The battle

The Americans began their assault in the middle of the night. We were woken at 2am when a man burst into the room shouting: "Where are the rockets? The Americans are landing!"

Somewhere in the darkness outside we could hear the sound of a helicopter landing. The windows rattled and the house shook.

"Where are the rockets?" shouted the man again, his voice trembling with fear and anger.

Machine-gun fire was crackling from all over the village. A second helicopter could be heard circling over the house. The windows rang in resonance with its rotor blades, a low jingling hum that grew louder and louder until it was drowned out by the roar of the rotors.

Bilal, who had been asleep in the corner of the room, threw off his blanket, sprang to his feet and ran out of the house. In the courtyard the burly English Talib stood in the courtyard firing his Kalashnikov into the night air. A white muzzle flash flickered through the window against the wall and lit the room.

When the rockets arrived, the Taliban fired three of them from the road outside the compound. They landed in the distance with a loud thud.

The Americans retaliated with a missile that struck the wall in front of us. Machine guns rattled continuously in the background: the metallic sound of Taliban Kalashnikovs fighting the slower staccato of the American weapons.

Then the Taliban were firing mortars from the yard of our compound, each bomb making a metallic whoosh followed by a thud.

An hour later, I could hear the helicopters circling away and the battle subsided into an intermittent exchange of bullets. The English Talib came into the room again and said Bilal had been captured by the Americans and the Taliban would attack the area where the Americans had landed and try to free him.

The battle resumed, this time from multiple directions as the Taliban pressed the attack. The helicopter gunship returned quickly, flying low and unleashing volleys of cannon fire before circling again for another run. It seemed for a while that the Taliban had stopped fighting apart from few stubborn shooters.

At around 4.30am another helicopter flew in and landed nearby, the vibration snapping open the house's windows so that cold wind and dust filled the room.

The gunfire reached a crescendo as Afghans and Americans emptied their magazines in the same time. Then the helicopter rose and left. The silence that ensued was broken by a hoarse voice calling for prayers and subdued shouts of "Allahu Akbar!"

The battle – one of the many that occur every night in Afghanistan between American special forces and Taliban fighters – had lasted three hours.

The martyr

Even before the Talib with the red beard was declared dead, a woman began to cry, her subdued sob drifting over the silent village. Dawn was beginning to break when the body was brought into the courtyard, wrapped in a red blanket with yellow flowers tucked under the Talib's chin and showing only his face. He was laid on the floor. Someone lit his face features with the light from a mobile phone. Whether it was the weak light or the dust caking his face, the dead man now looked grey.

The crying woman's voice was drowned now by the wails of the others. The dead Talib's younger brother hugged the body and wept.

"His passport was ready," he cried. "He was leaving in three days!"

More fighters, guns slanted over their shoulders, stood in the shadows watching the scene in silence.

The dead Talib's son, a young boy with a white prayer cap, came out of the house, his face wet with the tears that were pouring down his checks. A woman in a blue burqa and red pyjama trousers ran into the courtyard sobbing. She stopped metres from the body, turned and walked away and then turned again and tried to come closer. She stopped again, crying and ran away, the blue fabric fluttering behind her.

The British Talib crouched in a corner against a wall, his face contoured, his mouth quivering, tears rolling down his cheeks and into his beard.

By now the body was surrounded by fighters. They moved their fingers in his hair, wiped his face and kissed his hands. They lifted the blanket to look at the small hole in the side of his head and examine his bloodstained chest.

Now and then the crying younger brother would break off from his obsessive pacing to tuck the blanket under the corpse's chin as if to guard him from the morning chill.

The body was carried into the women's section of the house and the wails were unbearable even for those hard peasant fighters. They shuffled out of the house, some crying, some silent, to stand in the road outside.

More casualties were brought in, including a young boy who lay in the back of a car with his shirt soaked in blood, his hand covering the socket of his right eye which was oozing liquid down his face.

His father was the Arabic teacher, who had also been injured. There was another Talib who had been killed, the men said. By now the red-bearded Talib's son was running around like a mad animal screaming "Revenge! Revenge! By the name of God!"

Around seven in the morning, Bilal arrived at the compound – he hadn't, after all, been captured by the Americans. He ordered the fighters to disperse in case a drone saw them, then turned to me.

"We want you to come with us," he said. "We have a few questions to ask you."


Honeymoon of Conservative-Lib Dem coalition ends in protests

There are times when politics appears to be in suspended animation for years on end, and then there are years when developments tumble over each other in rapid succession. The last 12 months in Britain have been one of those periods of accelerated change, as the election has changed the political hue of the country decisively, the party system has been upended, a new political generation has taken centre stage and reputations have risen and fallen with dizzying speed.

In the space of barely six months, we have seen the end of New Labour and the Blair-Brown era, officially pronounced dead by the party's new leader; the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s; the imposition of the most drastic spending cuts for 90 years; the dramatic rise and fall in the popularity of Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats; and the return of mass student protest to cities and campuses across the country.

It is less than a year since a beleaguered Gordon Brown saw off the last of the comic-opera Blairite coup attempts, but only at the price of concessions to a cuts agenda that suited David Cameron and stalled Labour's poll recovery. Brown's government had been forced by the economic maelstrom of 2008 to move away from New Labour's neoliberalism towards more recognisably social-democratic policies of Keynesian intervention and progressive taxation. But, hobbled by his own record and weaknesses, Brown was unable to turn that shift into a new political narrative, and it was too little, too late to win back the millions of voters who had kept Labour in government from 1997.

Come the May 2010 election, what was remarkable was the signal failure of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to capitalise on that weakness. Despite outspending Labour by two to one, with the media overwhelmingly behind them, a surge of TV debate-driven support for Clegg, an unpopular prime minister and falling living standards, Cameron only managed to win 36% of the vote and the Lib Dems actually lost seats.

Fear of a Conservative government committed to slashing the deficit ahead of economic recovery delivered a last-minute Labour rally and the first hung parliament for a generation. But it was the sure-footed repositioning of Cameron and Clegg that turned their setback into a revival of coalition government after 65 years, underpinned by a comprehensive programme agreed with startling alacrity.

For the Tory leader, the coalition was a masterstroke, marginalising internal opposition to his own brand of liberal conservatism, while entrenching a Conservative-dominated government despite the lack of an electoral mandate. On the Liberal Democrat side, the signals had been clear for some time that the "Orange Book" neoliberal group around Clegg – in contrast with Lib Dem members and voters – had much in common with the free-market, socially liberal Cameron Conservatives.

It may have been a government of multimillionaires, with rightwingers such as George Osborne and William Hague in pole position, and the Lib Dems may have had to stage a bonfire of commitments, from rejection of early cuts to opposition to tuition fee increases, to square the circle, but in the honeyed days of May, the coalition could be seen as something genuinely different. Large sections of the public warmed to the novelty of politicians of different parties working together.

By the time of Osborne's emergency June budget, however, it was already clear that the Tory leadership was determined to use the deficit to advance the Thatcherite goal of shrinking the state – and that the poorest section of the population would shoulder the heaviest burden, despite ministers' insistence that "we're all in this together". That was rammed home in the spending review in October, which unveiled average 19% real-terms departmental cuts, with welfare benefits facing the largest share of a $109.5bn deflationary squeeze.

They were to be combined with a radical acceleration in the privatisation of public services, education and health, going far beyond Thatcher – or, in some cases, the coalition agreement drawn up only a few months earlier. Meanwhile, as Cameron pledged to keep British troops in Afghanistan until at least 2015 after the bloodiest year of the war yet, the prospect of economic stagnation – or worse – grew.

By the autumn, the coalition's honeymoon was over and the political landscape had already been recast. The Conservative lead over Labour had evaporated, Lib Dem support as good as halved and public opinion hardened against the speed, depth and economic danger of government cuts. The Trades Union Congress found a new sense of purpose as unions prepared to make common cause with community and user groups to resist attacks on jobs, living standards and services. And the shifting political tide helped propel Ed Miliband into the Labour leadership on the back of a growing rejection of market orthodoxy and social authoritarianism of New Labour.

In the closing weeks of the year, the decision to cut higher education funding by 80% and treble tuition fees translated into the first real backlash on the streets against the government. Resistance to a programme for which there is no accepted mandate and pressure on the government to change course seem certain to grow. To be effective, this opposition will also need a clear political focus and alternative, at a time when New Labour nostalgics are still acting as a brake on Miliband's leadership. But it is the economy that is likely to be decisive: if growth stalls or even goes into reverse in 2011, the government will pay a heavy political price.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010


"We're from the slums of London, what's gonna happen now, how we gonna pay £9k, how we gonna go to university now, there taking away our EMA's, now what's gonna stop us from dealing drugs on the streets. Nothing!"

[Black (Asian) and working class Youth telling it how it is. (Paraphrased, from bbc news)]

Friday, 10 December 2010


"We're from the slums of London, what's gonna happen now, how we gonna pay £9k, how we gonna go to university now, there taking away our EMA's, now what's gonna stop us from dealing drugs on the streets"

[Black (Asian) and working class Youth telling it how it is. (Paraphrased, from bbc news)]

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


30 years ago today, our Brother, John Lennon passed.

Watch an excellent doc-film about him 'John Lennon vs USA' HERE.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010



WikiLeaks cables are dispatches from a beleaguered America in imperial retreat

4 Dec 2010

There was a tradition in our Foreign Office that a retiring ambassador could blow off steam. In a final, exuberant telegram to Whitehall, he could say exactly what he thought of the country he was leaving, and of the folly of the Foreign Office in ignoring his advice.The best telegrams were treasured by young diplomats. But they began to leak into the press. And a few years ago this privilege was suppressed.

Now the WikiLeaks eruption has smothered the world with the secret thoughts of the state department's ambassadors. Tomorrow's Observer, focusing on China, reveals fascinating data about Chinese "muscle-flexing, triumphalism and assertiveness" (as the US ambassador put it). But with the cables comes a snapshot of the state department itself. It's a unique window on America's search – with diminishing confidence – for a coherent, inspiring account of what the US is trying to achieve in the world.

These diplomats who didn't want us to know their thoughts are not mere cogs in an imperial machine. Many emerge as wise, courageous, patient, likeable men and women– especially the women, who lead so many US embassies. Their view of their host countries is not rosy. You begin to absorb their vision, in which America is the only adult in a world of grasping, corrupt, unreliable teenagers who cannot be abandoned to their own weakness.

The test of an ambassador is telling truth to those who wield the power – having the guts to tell the department that its plan is a delusion. Here is Anne Patterson in Islamabad, discussing Pakistan's support for "terrorist and extremist groups" and telling Washington "there is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to these groups". She states bleakly: "The relationship is one of co-dependency, we grudgingly admit – Pakistan knows the US cannot afford to walk away; the US knows Pakistan cannot survive without our support."

Not all the dispatch-writers are that sound. In Georgia, ambassador John F Tefft was assuring his employers only hours before the bombardment of Tskhinvali that nothing of the sort could happen: that was what they wanted to hear. But then we find Margaret Scobey in Cairo, warning Clinton ("Madame Secretary") ahead of her meeting with Egypt's foreign minister that "he may not raise human rights… political reform or democratisation, but you should". Or Tatiana Gfoeller, ambassador in Kyrgyzstan, who reported with amused disgust the ravings of Prince Andrew as he attacked "these (expletive) journalists, especially from the Guardian, who poke their noses everywhere". There's irony there. Those same journalists would print her own secret words and touch off a palace uproar in London.

Britain doesn't cut a pretty figure in the cables. On the rare occasions when US policies – on cluster bomb storage, on rendition flights through UK territory – meet challenges from the UK, British politicians are assumed to be thinking about voters rather than principles. Monotonously, Ambassador Louis Susman in London writes off Gordon Brown's criticisms of Washington policies as posturing "driven by domestic politics".

And the devastating pages about the "special relationship", published in yesterday's Guardian, reveal a trembling British obsequiousness which the Americans find absurd, even embarrassing. Only last year Richard LeBaron, deputy chief of mission in London, said that the British attitude "would often be humorous, if it were not so corrosive". The Tory cringe, as party leaders prepared to take power, is shown to be as low as the Labour cringe when Tony Blair rushed to offer Britain as a so-called "equal partner" in invading Iraq. William Hague, as shadow foreign secretary, assured the embassy in confidence he considered the US his "other country" and promised "a pro-American regime".

This degree of toadying clearly poses problems for the Americans. The dispatches repeat genuine appreciation of Britain's unique loyalty as an ally. But LeBaron was typically shrewd to call this behaviour "corrosive".

The American diplomats are smart enough to know that buttering up the Americans is a routine which incoming British leaders think they have to perform, and that most of them privately resent it. They do it largely for reasons the state department understands only too well. Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent flies the threadbare rags which are all that remain of the United Kingdom's lost "Great Power" status. But its manufacture and use are in reality dependent on the supply of American technology and American strategic decisions.

But, between the lines, the leaks are telling a bigger, more ominous story. These are exclusively state department documents – not the thoughts of other American power centres with an interest in foreign policy. And these diplomats' reports reveal how far their department has lost prestige and influence. It's a far cry from the days when foreign service giants like Averell Harriman or George Kennan, in the Moscow embassy or in Washington, could issue judgments which would sway a president. Now, though, other agencies – hairier and more shadowy – take it as read that they can require state department officers to carry out their leg work. It's enough to look at the instructions, pretty clearly from the CIA, for US diplomats to spy on their colleagues at the United Nations and even on the secretary-general's office.

Weren't these foreign service men and women humiliated, when they were asked to record the credit card numbers and frequent flyer details of those they worked with? Who asked the embassy in Buenos Aires last year to find out how President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was "managing her nerves and anxiety", what pills she was taking, and "how does she calm down when distressed"? And "what is the status" of her husband's gastro-intestinal ailment and "what are the most common triggers to [his] anger?" There are spies based in most British embassies, usually with "attaché" cover, but at least MI6 does not order diplomats to collect the intimate personal details of its targets. The professions are kept reasonably separate. So they should be.

It's true that the US system of selecting ambassadors has sometimes been baffling to foreigners. Rich businessmen who donate millions to parties have traditionally been rewarded with embassies (the British, less riskily, reward them with peerages). But these dispatches show that the intellectual quality of the "career diplomat" ambassadors remains pretty high. It would be a disaster for the US if the state department became a "penetrated system" allowing other agencies which, since the Reagan presidency, have progressively pushed state aside to gain the ear of the White House.

Enormous damage was done in the run-up to the Iraq war. As Niall Ferguson puts it in the latest edition of his book Colossus, "responsibility for the postwar occupation of Iraq was seized by the defence department, intoxicated as its principals became in the heat of their blitzkrieg". The state department had laboured hard on long-term plans for the occupation. as the fighting ended. But state had to stand by and see its work junked by Donald Rumsfeld and his neocon team around the Pentagon, who convinced President George W Bush that the Iraqis would simply welcome the Americans as liberators.and romp forward to liberal democracy. The tone of the leaked dispatches suggests thatthis shattering blow to the standing and self-confidence of state has still not been repaired.

Behind all these diligent reports glows an evening landscape, in which a declining empire has lost its way. When communism collapsed, the US expected to become the unchallenged global superpower. But instead the US instantly lost control of countless nations and movements stampeding away from cold war discipline. Paradoxically, it was in those cold war years that America had been in charge of most of the world, mostly by consent, and knew why it was in charge. Now that world has burst into a thousand pieces: all sharp, many of them unstable, some of them fearfully dangerous. And the certainty of mission has gone.

So what is America for in the 21st century? The report-writers are confident about its superior wealth, though it is "banked" by China. They are sure about America's superior military strength, though only a fraction of that strength can be brought to bear in "insurgency" wars. But they are strikingly less sure about America's aims.

In the 1990s the "New American Century" neocons proposed: let's use that wealth and power to act as the world empire we really are! Few traces of that remain. Several ambassadors deny they are playing any great game against Russia or China, because great games are played by empires and the US isn't one. Yet several others indignantly reject the idea of "zones of influence" – no firewall must keep out the benevolent "soft power" influence of America. US policy is stuck aground in muddy places: Israel and Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, Cuba and the Caucasus. If it could extract itself from these, would it simply drift "rudderless" (as the ambassador said about Gordon Brown)?

Perhaps not. Two aims do recur obsessively through these reports. One, rooted in American history, is that the independence of new nations must be honoured and protected. The other is the struggle against nuclear proliferation. Preventing apocalypse has become more important than striving for world leadership. This is a diplomacy clearer about what it doesn't want than what it does.

That's a "mission" we can salute. A British ambassador said: "Our duty at the Foreign Office has been to cover Britain's retreat from greatness and to prevent that retreat turning into a rout." One day the state department may say the same about its service to America.

Monday, 6 December 2010



Deaths in police custody since 1998: 333;
officers convicted: none

IPCC study finds failure in care of vulnerable prisoners – and says juries are unwilling to convict police officers

Fri 3 Dec 2010

A total of 333 people have died in or following police custody over the past 11 years, but no officer has ever been successfully prosecuted, according to a watchdog's report.

Prosecutions were recommended against 13 officers based on "relatively strong evidence of misconduct or neglect", but none resulted in a guilty verdict.

Calling for further research, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said juries were unwilling to convict police officers. Len Jackson, IPCC interim chair, said: "It is clear to us there is some real difficulty in this area."

The IPCC had a responsibility to investigate and present a file to the CPS "if we feel there are any matters potentially of a criminal nature", he said. But then it was up to the criminal justice system.

"We have a jury system that is as good as anything in the world, but it is clear that juries quite often find it difficult to convict police officers."

Only in one case was a civilian member of police staff found guilty of misconduct, and sentenced to six months, the IPCC's study into deaths in England and Wales between 1998 and 2010 shows.

It also reveals that 16 people were murdered last year in cases where police had prior contact with the victims. That represents an increase of nine murders in the previous year, though the IPCC said that increase might be explained by better reporting of such cases.

The 16 included seven women who were allegedly murdered by their current or former partner or friend, and four children aged three or under killed by their mothers. In one case, an individual was murdered by a person who was under police surveillance.

Jackson said there were issues which the IPCC would be looking at more thoroughly. "It is our view that at times the way police control rooms grade these calls, or the way police officers, who are often very busy, respond, can have a negative impact. And we have certainly had cases where, had the response been quicker, someone may well have been saved."

Out of the total of 333 deaths, 87 people had been restrained, most commonly being physically held down by officers. In 16 of those cases, restraint was linked directly to the death, and four were classed as "positional asphyxia".

The majority were from natural causes, with nearly three-quarters relating to drug or alcohol abuse. The report questioned whether those arrested for being very inebriated should be taken to alternative facilities, such as the "drunk tanks" introduced in Scotland. It called on the Home Office and Department of Health to pilot facilities with medical care to replace police cells.

Those who died in custody were mostly white (75%), male (90%) and aged between 25 and 44.

The number of deaths each year had fallen from 49 in 1998-99 to 15 in 2008-09, slightly increasing to 17 last year.

Inquest, the independent organisation working to reform investigation into contentious deaths, said the findings were "depressingly familiar".

"The study points to alarming failures in the care of vulnerable detainees suffering from mental health, drug and alcohol problems, many of whom should have been diverted from police custody," said its co-director, Deborah Coles.

The report stated that fewer than half of detainees booked into custody who should have been risk assessed were actually assessed. Incidents where custody officers had not conducted proper checks, or thoroughly roused detainees to check their state, were "prevalent".

In many cases custody officers and staff lacked basic first aid training, it said.

IPCC commissioner Mike Franklin said: "The public focus on deaths in custody has understandably been on the controversial cases where the police may have caused or contributed to someone's death.

"While there were some cases in the study where police failings were identified … these were relatively small in number.

"What emerges most prominently from the report is the medical and mental health needs of a large number of people the police arrest."

First among the questions it raised, Franklin said, was whether custody "is the best place for a large number of the people the police deal with"


Students' power is limited. But their anger and revolt can prove contagious

The protest means more than fees. If they resist education cuts, it would boost opposition to the whole austerity drive

Gary Younge
5 Dec 2010, Guardian

On 1 February 1960 Franklin McCain and three teenage friends from the historically black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, went to the whites-only counter at Woolworths in Greensboro and took a seat.

They were not part of an organisation and had never been politically active before. "I don't think the [established civil rights groups] really understood what the driving force was for this movement," McCain says. "We had four kids here trying to address an unequal system. Just four kids who were somewhat introspective."

The night before they had stayed up until the small hours goading each other into action. They didn't warn anyone because they thought adults would try to talk them out of it. Their attempts, the next day, to get a few people to join them failed. "We just thought it was useless waiting for them to catch up. We didn't have the time to convince people … People needed to believe in it enough to die, they had to walk on the picket lines until their shoes wore out. We wanted to go beyond what our parents had done. And we had nothing to lose."

McCain describes the feeling of sitting at the counter – confronting the oppression of ages as a cop brandished a stick he could not bring himself to use – as one of zen-like serenity. "I had the most tremendous feeling of elation and celebration. I felt that in this life nothing else mattered. Nothing else has even come close. Not the birth of my first son nor my marriage. I had no tensions and no concerns. If there is a heaven, I got there for a few minutes."

And so, from a moment of tranquillity began a turbulent decade of student-led activism, both locally and globally, that produced some of the transformative movements of the last century. The 60s did not invent student radicalism. But it did witness a spike in a centuries-long tradition that has ebbed and flowed from 19th century Russia to Soweto and is surging once again across Europe.

Last week alone saw a wave of occupations and demonstrations in Britain, widespread disruption in Italy as train lines and motorways were blocked, and clashes between Greek students and police outside parliament in Athens.

As these protests intensify – as they are bound to – we can expect them to be routinely disparaged on the right as either privileged kids acting out or innocents led astray by revolutionaries. But there is also a risk that, either through nostalgia or wishful thinking, they might be misunderstood by the left.

There is nothing intrinsic to being a student that makes them radical. Like everyone else their politics are shaped by time and place. During the 1926 General Strike in Britain students were used as scab labour. In Venezuela, they are as likely to be against Hugo Chávez as for him. I entered university four months after Thatcher's third victory and graduated three months after Labour's fourth defeat. It is not surprising students were, if anything, quite conservative.

That students and youth in Europe have erupted at this moment, however, should come as no surprise. More than one in five people under the age of 25 in the EU is unemployed. In Spain the figure is 43%; in Greece 30%; in Italy 26%. Meanwhile the principle that education is a public good, to which all are entitled, all contribute, and all benefit through a more competitive economy, is in its death throes.

In the name of meritocracy Italy is about to slash €26m from its scholarship fund. The British government's latest proposal, giving anyone on free school meals a year's free tuition, is like trying to tackle poverty by cutting coupons: inadequate and ineffective. I would have qualified for that and there's still no way I could have afforded to continue at university.

Nonetheless, there are elements of McCain's recollections that do reveal a propensity among students and youth to militancy. They are more likely to have time, energy, ideas and ideals, and more likely to fight for them because they probably don't have a stake in the system as it stands. Like McCain and his friends they are less likely to have been either worn down or, worse still, corrupted by established institutions and as a result more likely to be passionate, impatient and proactive. It is no surprise that the National Union of Students and the Labour party have kept these ongoing protests at arm's length. Indeed, given their record to date it is hoped that, since they have proved unable or unwilling to lead, they will at least follow.

This is all too easy to dismiss and disparage as a toxic cocktail of naivety and privilege. Such sleights are flawed. First, in Britain at least, the notion of students as a wealthy strata on a three-year hiatus from real life is outdated. A third of students in higher education are from working-class or lower-middle-class backgrounds, and work during term time to pay for basic needs and books and equipment. Just under one in five of those with jobs works more than 17 hours a week. One in five lives at home. Add further education and school students into the mix and you have a demographic that looks more like the characters in The Office than Brideshead Revisited.

Second, even if they were middle class, so what? Beating up on the middle-class does not help the working-class. Indeed, by eliminating the notion that education is a public good you eradicate the primary means by which working-class people can better themselves. They are not just an attack on finances, but on aspiration.

It can never be pointed out too often – if only because it is so frequently ignored – that this situation was not created by excessive public spending but by an international banking crisis brought about by an unregulated binge in the private sector. In a sordid redistribution of wealth from poor to rich, working-class kids will be denied the possibility of a university education because wealthy traders were in denial about economic reality.

So while it's true that others have it worse than students, it also entirely misses the point. Protesting against tuition fees is not a sectional interest. For most, student years mark a transition from youth to adulthood, which means the burden for these increases do not just fall on individuals but families – who will already be suffering from the crisis in others ways. Thatcher's cuts blighted isolated communities, whether they were pit villages or northern cities. These attacks are not just deeper but broader. Clearly, how students' resistance to these cuts pans out will have ramifications for successful opposition to the entire austerity programme. That is reason enough to deserve our support.

But while students can be the spark for the broader struggles ahead, history tells us that they are unlikely to be the flame itself. Students and the young might be the most likely to protest, but they are among the least likely to vote – if indeed they are even eligible to vote – and cannot withdraw their labour to any devastating effect. McCain's stand gave courage to the sharecroppers and domestic workers; the French students in 1968 bolstered the confidence of factory workers. The threat British students pose – much like the financial crisis bringing them on to the streets – is of contagion. That their energy, enthusiasm, militancy, rage and raucousness might burn in us all.


Sons of Malcolm, Beat Knowledge, Frank Natter and many other friends went along with a crew of 20 young people to hear these brothers talk about our culture and how we can reflect on our culture in using it to free ourselves.

Excellent review of the evening by Beat Knowledge HERE.

Hip-Hop scholar, filmmaker and lyricist MK Asante Jr with some of our brothers at the event