Superbly ignored by the media until recently, Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the new flavour of the day in the French presidential campaign. In truth, while trying to account for his dramatic rise in the polls – latest reports put him at 17% of the vote – most commentators could not help pour scorn on the Left Front candidate.
A survey of the main articles recently published in the British media provides a compelling case study of political prejudice and misunderstanding. Mélenchon is described as an “Anglo-Saxon basher with a whiny voice” (the Independent), a “populist” who’s “on the hard-left” (all newspapers) and a “bully and a narcissist, out to provoke” (BBC). More sympathetic commentaries compare him to George Galloway or depict him as a “far-left firebrand”, a “maverick” and the “pitbull of anti-capitalism”.
It is striking that the more favourable assessment of Mélenchon’s politics remains off the mark. Mélenchon is seen as a “lovable but old-fashioned leftwinger”. This fails to capture the essence of his political ambitions. Mélenchon’s rise has nothing to do with “1970s-style politics and nostalgia”, but is linked instead to his resolute take on the current capitalist crisis. He tells audiences that the austerity policies implemented across Europe are not only unfair but also counterproductive (even the Financial Times agrees). Mélenchon’s debating skills serve his cause, but he is also a lettered pedagogue: a dignified politician who has never participated in vulgar reality shows. What is more, Mélenchon is a French republican and a socialist, not a “far-left” or a fringe politician. He spent 30 years in the Socialist party unsuccessfully arguing that it should be a force at the service of ordinary workers, and he was a cabinet minister in Lionel Jospin’s government.
Oratory is politically useless if one does not have an important message to deliver. Mélenchon has one: neoliberalism has failed, so it would be suicidal to persist with its inadequate policies. The French MEP also had a credible programme. In didactically crafted speeches or in media interviews, he radically departs from mainstream politicians by explaining that the economic crisis is systemic, that is to say that it is due to our flawed political choices and priorities. Our societies have never been as productive and wealthy as today, but the majority of the population are getting poorer despite working harder and harder. The problem is not a question of wealth production (as neoliberals and Blairite social democrats would have us believe), but of redistribution of wealth.
In France raging pundits and opponents call the Left Front programme an “economic nightmare” or a “delirious fantasy”. Shouldn’t they instead use this terminology to describe the banking debacle or austerity policies across Europe? Mélenchon’s growing number of supporters view it as common sense and salutary: a 100% tax on earnings over £300,000; full pensions for all from the age of 60; reduction of work hours; a 20% increase in the minimum wage; and the European Central Bank should lend to European governments at 1%, as it does for the banks. Here are a few realistic measures to support impoverished populations. Is this a revolution? No, it is radical reformism; an attempt to stop the most unbearable forms of economic domination and deprivation in our societies. Fat cat bosses may leave France; they will be replaced by younger and more competent ones who will work for a fraction of their wages.
“Humans First!” is more than a manifesto title, it is a democratic imperative: a sixth republic in place of the current republican monarchy; the nationalisation of energy companies (as energy sources are public goods) and, less often noticed, the ecological planning of the economy, the core of Mélenchon’s political project.
Mélenchon has done French democracy a further favour. In a memorable TV debate, he emphatically defeated the extreme right for the first time in 30 years. Concentrating on policy details, Mélenchon demonstrated that Marine Le Pen’s programme was regressive for women. Furthermore, he smashed to pieces the myth of the Front National as a party that has the working class’s best interests at heart. Le Pen appeared lost for words and ill at ease.
Mélenchon’s campaign politicises the young. He appeals to the working class, which, contrary to some claims, has largely shunned Le Pen and which has been abstaining from the vote. For the first time in decades, Mélenchon is helping the left to reconnect with the popular classes. For Mélenchon, free market politics does not work and inflicts unnecessary suffering on the people. No other European politician is better placed than he is to convincingly argue that point.
Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European politics at University College London (UK). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Thousands Rally in France Behind Call for ‘Civic Insurrection’ (commondreams.org)
As secret and unaccountable US and British drone strikes continue in remote corners of the globe, closer to home (but firmly behind closed doors), the drone industry continues to research and develop a drone-filled future.
Over the past couple of weeks, protesters in the UK and the US have gathered to turn the spotlight on the increasingly secret use and development of armed drones. In Bristol, at the beginning of April, the great and good of the drone industry came together at the Annual International UAV Conference to be met with a good-natured, noisy protest. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic at the Creech Air Force base, members of the faith-based group Nevada Desert Experience delivered an ‘Indictment for the Violation of Human Rights’ to the commander of the base. At each demonstration protesters were arrested and jailed.
But it’s not just protesting against the drone wars, that can bring serious trouble. Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, who represent victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan is being denied a travel visa to enter the US to speak at a conference organised by Code Pink and others. Speaking from Pakistan by telephone, Akbar told the Guardian:
“Denying a visa to people like me is denying Americans their right to know what the US government and its intelligence community are doing to children, women and other civilians in this part of the world. The CIA, which operated the drones in Pakistan, does not want anyone challenging their killing spree. But the American people should have a right to know.”
However it is Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who is suffering the most for exposing the drone wars.
In 2010 Shaye revealed that an airstrike that took place in al Majala, Yemen in December 2009 killing 14 women and 21 children was launched by US drones, not the Yemeni air force, thus embarrassing both the Yemeni and US authorities. Later, Shaye also interviewed AQAP leaders including Anwar Al-Awlaki challenging them about their methods.
In August 2010, Shaye was kidnapped from his house by Yemeni security forces and disappeared for a month. He turned up in detention after being beaten and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for associating with terrorists. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have campaigned for his release, and it looked as though in February 2012 he was about to be freed. However a few days before Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to step down as President, Obama called him to “express concern” at the news that Shaye was about to be pardoned. Shaye release was immediately halted and he remains in prison.
- Why Is President Obama keeping a journalist in prison in Yemen? (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- Obama’s personal role in a journalist’s imprisonment (federaljack.com)
- Obama and Shaye: Will the White House Explain its Actions? (motherjones.com)
- Is Barack Obama a Murderous Sociopath? (motherjones.com)
- Pakistani Lawyer Representing Victims of Drone Strikes Prevented From Speaking in U.S. (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Cluster Bombs: Still Legal, Still Lethal (conflictofconscience.wordpress.com)
The truce in Syria is still very fragile and all the influential parties on either side of the conflict should be guided by the interests of the Syrian people rather than their own ambitions, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“Indeed, there are forces which are interested in the failure of the Kofi Annan plan, they were saying that even before the plan was released,” Lavrov stated on Tuesday. “And they are doing their best to make their wish come true through arms deliveries to opposition forces and by encouraging militants’ activities.”
This leads to retaliation measures from the government Lavrov added, “so that things are not going smoothly” for now.
Kofi Annan’s peace plan implies a ceasefire under the control of the United Nations, providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the conflict and starting dialogue between the conflicting sides. The proposal was unanimously adopted by the Security Council on March 21.
The Russian Foreign Minister also said that “some countries, some external forces are not interested in the success of the current peaceful efforts of the Security Council.”
These forces he went on to say are trying to substitute the Security Council with various unofficial formats and are using all tools to convince the Syrian opposition no to cooperate with the government.
Lavrov called this stance “counterproductive” and “regrettable”.
- Syria and the Annan Plan: The Devil in the Details (alethonews.wordpress.com)
French activists participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign over the weekend accused Air France of racism on Tuesday after the airline asked passengers if they were Jewish as part of a strategy to prevent the activists from boarding.
“The racism of Israel and Air France was brought in plain light on Sunday…It was proven that one had to declare themselves Jewish or holder of an Israeli passport to have the right to travel,” the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine 2012 said in a press release on their website.
The activists noted the case of a passenger named as Horia, who had successfully boarded the plane, but was then asked by an air hostess whether she was Jewish before the flight had taken off.
An Air France employee signed Horia’s response on an official document (see below), and was then allegedly told by Air France personnel that she was prohibited to travel to Tel Aviv, according to activists.
Coordinator for the French chapter of Welcome to Palestine 2012, Maximilien Shahshahani, told Al-Akhbar that Air France was colluding with Israel’s secret service, Shin Bet, in determining which activists were not permitted to board Sunday’s flight to Tel Aviv.
“Shin Bit shared a blacklist of names with Air France, but told the airline to double check [others not blacklisted] with a series of questions,” he said.
The questions were also asked of other passengers, Shahshahani said, who were not participating in the Welcome to Palestine campaign.
“We saw another passenger, to which the same questions were asked. The response to the second question was that they were Jewish. The passenger was extremely shocked by the nature of the questions,” he said.
Air France in a statement issued on its website said Israeli authorities demanded that the airline question one of the passengers, without detailing what kind of questions were asked.
“The Israeli authorities requested that one of the passengers be questioned. The answers did not satisfy the Israeli authorities, the passenger had to disembark the flight at their demand,” Air France said.
Hundreds of activists, mostly from Europe, were due to fly into Tel Aviv international airport on Sunday as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of the restriction of movement and travel for Palestinians brought by Israel’s military occupation.
But, as in 2011, Israel threatened airlines that they faced sanctions if they did not prevent activists from boarding their flights, providing them with a list of names.
“You are ordered not to board them [activists] on your flights to Israel. Failure to comply with this directive will result in sanctions against the airlines,” a stern statement from Israel’s Ministry of Interior to airlines, obtained by activists, read.
Dozens still managed to board flights to Israel, with the official website for the French contingent of Welcome to Palestine saying that 40 French activists were detained upon arrival.
Preparations for legal proceedings against Air France are underway, Shahshahani said.
Welcome to Palestine has become an annual campaign, which is part of a growing international movement to highlight the continued suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and Israel’s apartheid policies.
An alleged Air France document showing questions asked of a passenger boarding a flight to Israel on Sunday 15 April 2012. (Photo: Handout – Welcome to Palestine 2012)
- Israel and Air France racism overt (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- Europe’s airlines enforce Israeli travel ban on activists hoping to repair Palestinian schools (altahrir.wordpress.com)
- ‘Flytilla’ for Palestine hit by arrests as Israel clamps down (alethonews.wordpress.com)
About 1,600 Palestinian prisoners have begun an open-ended hunger strike in the Israeli jails across the occupied territories to protest imprisonment without charge and solitary confinement exercised by the Tel Aviv regime.
Palestinian prisoners began the hunger strike on Tuesday, April 17, which marks Palestinian Prisoners Day.
Meanwhile, thousands of people held demonstrations in towns and cities across the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip on Tuesday to express solidarity with the prisoners.
Qadura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, said, “We are united and undivided when it comes to prisoners, and we will stand by them until they get their demands.”
Fares made the remark in an address to a gathering in the northern West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday.
In addition to the West Bank, about 2,000 people marched to the headquarters of the Red Cross in Gaza City and set up a tent in solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers.
The hunger strike in Israeli jails has begun as reports say the Tel Aviv regime is expected to release Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, who went on a hunger strike for 66 days in protest at being held without charge under an administrative detention order.
Adnan’s lawyer said the Palestinian inmate will be released later on Tuesday but it has not been clear exactly when or where he is scheduled to be freed.
The administrative detention, often implemented by the Israeli regime against the Palestinian population, is a sort of imprisonment without trial or charge, allowing regime forces to make arrests without formal charges for up to six months. However, the detention order can be renewed for indefinite periods of time.
According to an April 1, 2012 report published by the non-governmental Palestinian prisoner support and human rights association, Addameer, at least 4,610 “political” Palestinian prisoners are held in Israeli jails.
- 1600 Detainees To Declare Hunger-Strike on April 17 (alethonews.wordpress.com)