Category Archives: Book Review

Q: Why do politicised comedians get sacked from the BBC? A: For criticising foreign policy & Israel

I’ve been reading Frankie Boyle’s latest book “Work! Consume! Die!” & it’s opening chapter deals with Britains foreign policy in a manner in which no other current stand up comic will do.

After all it was Frankie Boyle’s political satire on Israel that got him sacked from the Beeb.

Frankie Boyle criticised the ‘cowardly’ BBC for its Israel joke apology, stating in a full written statement:

“I think the problem here is that the show’s producers will have thought that Israel, an aggressive, terrorist state with a nuclear arsenal was an appropriate target for satire. The Trust’s ruling is essentially a note from their line managers. It says that if you imagine that a state busily going about the destruction of an entire people is fair game, you are mistaken. Israel is out of bounds.

The BBC refused to broadcast a humanitarian appeal in 2009 to help residents of Gaza rebuild their homes. It’s tragic for such a great institution but it is now cravenly afraid of giving offence and vulnerable to any kind of well drilled lobbying.”

The man himself said in a recent interview that: “safe middle-class comedy such as Have I Got News For You, is everything that’s wrong” at the BBC.

I tend to agree with him.

Have a read of what he has to say in the following excerpts from his book, and ask yourself if any of these would ever make it into any of the shows that pass themselves of as political satire comedy programmes.

The content of popular culture today in the mainstream is designed to be unchallenging, corny and weak, so the masses can take their hit without having to think and just like crack, it has an immediate high and leaves you coming back for more.

It is precisely why you get crap like Michael McIntyre and John Bishop being promoted to prime time, as they offer poor observational witterings on banal subjects like the school run. Any content that will challenge your thought process will either be shelved or given the midnight slot.

Work, consume, die, that’s all the system wants from you.

Work like a rat, consume crap that you don’t need, with money that you don’t have and then die.

The Akh is currently away and is working on a plantation picking bananas. He is developing a taste for tamales colorados and returns sometime in January 2012


Filed under Arts & Media, Book Review, Great Britain, Humour, Media Ownership & Control

Manning Marable’s New Biography – “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” & The Allegations That Malcolm was Homosexual

I recently bought the new biography of Malcolm X and was saddened to find unsubstantiated accusations by the author Manning Marable, that the great Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz was a homosexual rent boy.

One of the first books that helped shape the re-politicisation of a young Akh was the autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley, this battered, dog eared, underlined and much lent out copy from March 1992 has been a constant companion on numerous bookshelves over the years.

What Marable’s Book Actually Says:

Because I’m a clarity fanatic, I excerpted what Marable wrote about an indigent, likely drug-addled Detroit Red, circa 1945. It comes from pages 65 and 66; an endnote on page 506 demonstrates how the historian was weighing claims introduced in a 1991 biography by political science professor Bruce Perry.

“…[Malcolm] first returned to New York City and subsequently to Boston, desperately trying to survive through a variety of hustles. It was during this time that Malcolm encountered a man named William Paul Lennon, and the uncertain particulars of their intimate relationship would generate much controversy and speculation in the years following Malcolm’s death. …The ‘Autobiography’ describes sexual contacts with Lennon, except that Malcolm falsely attributed them to a character named Rudy:

[Rudy] had a side deal going, a hustle that took me right back to the old steering days in Harlem. Once a week, Rudy went to the home of this old, rich Boston blueblood, pillar-of-society aristocrat. He paid Rudy to undress them both, then pick up the old man like a baby, lay him on his bed, then stand over him and sprinkle him all over with talcum powder. Rudy said the old man would actually reach his climax from that.

Based on circumstantial but strong evidence, Malcolm was probably describing his own homosexual encounters with Paul Lennon. The revelation of his involvement with Lennon produced much speculation about Malcolm’s sexual orientation, but the experience appears to have been limited. There is no evidence from his prison record in Massachusetts or from his personal life after 1952 that he was actively homosexual. … In his Detroit Red life, he participated in prostitution, marijuana sales, cocaine sessions, numbers running, the occasional robbery, and, apparently paid homosexual encounters.”

This is a blatant misunderstanding of historical research.

Marable Manning was born in 1950…He had to be about 6 years old when Malcolm first joined the Nation of Islam in 1956.

So my first question is, how would he know about Malcolm X’s sexual encounters?

And from which reliable primary source?

Malcolm told him and Alex Haley that he was a homosexual?

I doubt it very much.

Considering Al Hajj Malik Al Shabazz was assassinated many years ago, there’s no way he himself can rebut these spurious allegations. The author of this book Manning Marable also died, days before his book was to be launched, so there will never be any clarity of these allegations.

If you’re not reading the book, then reappraise yourself with Malcolm’s words and actions, from some of the following links;

Manning Marable on “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” 2007

“Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention”: Manning Marable’s New Biography Investigates Conflicted Reality of the Civil Rights Leader

Detroit Red has some good archive footage.

The Legacy of Malcolm X


Filed under Book Review

George Bush, The Saudi King & Turkeys Sent by Allah

George Bush detailed how he bonded with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during a visit to his Texas ranch.

Arriving angry at Mr Bush’s holiday home over the president’s position on Israel and Ramallah, the Crown Prince quickly decided he wanted to leave.

But then he spotted a turkey on the road – and took it as a good omen, a sign from Allah.

Relive this and other gems from the defining moments of the presidency of George Bush, in his memoir ‘Decision Points’, which is due to be published next month.

If anyone can tell me which one of these two turkeys should be served up for christmas, then please do get in touch.


Filed under Book Review, Humour

So Stephen Hawking scientifically proves that God doesn’t exist

Stephen Hawking writes in his latest book The Grand Design:

“just as Darwin and Wallace explained how the apparently miraculous design of living forms could appear without intervention by a supreme being, the multiverse concept can explain the fine tuning of physical law without the need for a benevolent creator who made the Universe for our benefit.”

The Akh doesn’t hold a PHD in the sciences, but I look at it like this – Hawking’s obviously smarter than most of us. So if he says that the universe just created itself out of thin air and for no real reason, meaning we as mankind have no reason for being, ergo there is no god or creator, then who am I to argue with his rationality?


Filed under Book Review, Current Affairs

Still the best Bliar in the business. Reviewing Tony Blair’s Autobiography – The Iraq chapter

I couldn’t help but comment on Tony Blair’s new book, A Journey, extracts of which have been published online here.

But for me, it’s the extracts from the Iraq chapter that caught my sleepy eyes (and not just became A Journey is being published on the day after the last US combat troops left that war-torn country). TB continues to distort, evade, pretend and mislead on the issue of Iraq. He is the ultimate Bliar — and so I couldn’t help but fisk the available extracts from his Iraq chapter.

“I can say that never did I guess the nightmare that unfolded, and that too is part of the responsibility”

Never did you guess?

But why did you have to “guess”?

Six of the country’s top academic experts on Iraq and international security warned TB, in a face-to-face meeting in November 2002, that the consequences of an invasion could be catastrophic. Cambridge University’s George Joffe, one of the six invited to Downing Street, got the impression of “someone with a very shallow mind, who’s not interested in issues other than the personalities of the top people, no interest in social forces, political trends, etc”. Meanwhile, the Joint Intelligence Committee warned TB in February 2003 that the threat from Al Qaeda “would be heightened by military action against Iraq”.

“Why should Saddam keep the inspectors out for so long when he had nothing to hide?”

TB knows perfectly well that Saddam did not “keep the inspectors out”, and nor did he expel them, as TB claimed in the run-up to war in early 2003. The truth is that the UN weapons inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 on the orders of the chief weapons inspector, Richard Butler, in anticipation of the US/UK air attack on Baghdad. Jane Arraf’s CNN report, filed on December 16, 1998, said: “This is the second time in a month that UNSCOM has pulled out in the face of a possible US-led attack. But this time there may be no turning back. Weapons inspectors packed up their personal belongings and loaded up equipment at UN headquarters after a pre-dawn evacuation order. In a matter of hours, they were gone, more than 120 of them headed for a flight to Bahrain.” “Butler ordered his inspectors to evacuate Baghdad,” said the Washington Post on December 18, 1998. While it is true that relations between the Saddam regime and the UN weapons inspectors had already broken down, TB glosses over the fact that the inspection teams had been infiltrated by US and UK intelligence agencies and, in the words of the former inspector and hawk-turned-dove Scott Ritter, “Inspectors were sent in to carry out sensitive inspections that had nothing to do with disarmament but had everything to do with provoking the Iraqis.”

“Even when he let them in, why did he obstruct them?”

Obstruct them?

That wasn’t the view of Hans Blix, the top UN weapons inspector in Iraq, or Mohammed ElBaradei, the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Verifying Iraqi disarmament, said Blix on 7 March 2003, “will not take years, nor weeks, but months.” ElBaradei offered a less specific forecast but nonetheless pointed out that “the recently increased level of Iraqi cooperation should enable us in the near future to provide the Security Council with an objective and thorough assessment of Iraq nuclear-related capabilities.”

“Why bring war upon his country to protect a myth?”

Saddam did not “bring war upon his country” — the US and the UK invaded Iraq, in defiance of international law. And the Iraqi dictator, as we now know, made several desperate, last-ditch attempts to avoid war, including the use of back-channel approaches to (of all people!) Richard Perle.

“The caveats entered by Dr Kay were largely overlooked, including his assertion that Saddam was possibly a greater threat than we had known, a remark seen at the time as inexplicable, given the primary finding.”

Dr David Kay? TB looks for support from a man who, as the Guardian’s Julian Borger once pointed out, was far from impartial: “Before the war, Kay was one of the most fervent supporters of military action.”

“The second report from Charles Duelfer was not published until September 2004. It received far less attention, yet this was the complete analysis”

Yes, and the complete analysis from Duelfer’s Iraq Survey Group concluded that, at most, Saddam’s Iraq had been engaged in “WMD-related programme activities”. Get that, Tone? Not WMDs. Not even WMD programmes. But “WMD-related programme activities”, whatever they happen to be. I wonder: can a WMD-related programme activity be activated within 45 minutes of an order to do so?

“The constraint became even tougher when revelations from Saddam’s son-in-law about his continuing interest in development of WMD were broadcast to the world in 1996.”

TB, like George Bush, trumpeted the alleged “revelations” from Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, in the run-up to war as well (for example, in a speech to the Commons in February 2003). But TB conveniently omits to mention here what Kamal told UN weapons inspectors in 1995, while being debriefed in Jordan (and first reported in Newsweek on 24 February 2003, three weeks before the invasion): “All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed.”

“This conclusion on nuclear weapons was actually endorsed by the Butler Report of July 2004, though that was written prior to the full ISG Report of September 2004. The Butler Report concluded…”

TB chooses to selectively quote the Butler Report. Surprise, surprise! No mention from our former PM of the Butler Report’s conclusions that “more weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear”, and that judgements had stretched available intelligence “to the outer limits”. No mention of the view expressed by Lord Butler himself, in the House of Lords, in February 2007, that TB was, at the very minimum, “disingenuous” about the Iraqi “threat”.

“As Saddam came to power in 1979, Iraq was richer than either Portugal or Malaysia. By 2003, 60 per cent of the population was dependent on food aid.”

No mention here of the sanctions on Iraq, imposed by the United Nations, and enforced by the United States and the United Kingdom. Those sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, and were described by the former UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, Dennis Halliday, as a form of “genocide”. As even the Humanitarian Panel of the Security Council noted in March 1999: “Even if not all suffering in Iraq can be imputed to external factors, especially sanctions, the Iraqi people would not be undergoing such deprivations in the absence of prolonged measures imposed by the Security Council and the effects of the war”.

“Millions were malnourished, and millions were in exile.”

How is that different to the situation produced by TB and GWB? The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq produced, at the height of the conflict, the Middle East’s largest refugee crisis since the Palestinian exodus from Israel in 1948. Inside Iraq itself, according to the UN, more than 1.5 million people remain displaced.

“One statistic above all tells us what Saddam’s Iraq was like. According to the UN, by 2002 the number of deaths of children under the age of five was 130 per 1,000, a figure worse than that for the Congo.”

Again, no mention of the impact of UN sanctions.

“Before anyone says ‘Ah, but it was sanctions’, it should be remembered that Saddam was free to buy as much food and medicine as he wanted”

This is untrue. As Professor Karol Sikora, then the chief of the cancer programme of the World Health Organisation, wrote in the British Medical Journal: “Requested radiotherapy equipment, chemotherapy drugs and analgesics are consistently blocked by United States and British advisers [to the Sanctions Committee]. There seems to be a rather ludicrous notion that such agents could be converted into chemical or other weapons.” Professor Sikora added: “The saddest thing I saw in Iraq was children dying because there was no chemotherapy and no pain control. It seemed crazy they couldn’t have morphine, because for everybody with cancer pain, it is the best drug. When I was there, they had a little bottle of htmlirin pills to go round 200 patients in pain.” As Benon Sevan, the executive director of the UN Office of the Iraq Programme, said in 2001: “The improvement of the nutritional and health status of the Iraqi people . . . is being seriously affected as a result of [the] excessive number of holds placed on supplies and equipment for water, sanitation and electricity.”

“In the Kurdish area, despite Saddam and despite sanctions covering them too, the death rate for children was half that of central and southern Iraq.”

Apples and oranges, Tony, apples and oranges. As a Unicef document in August 1999 on the differences in the levels of child mortality between the autonomous northern governorates in the Kurdish areas and the rest of Iraq pointed out: “… the difference in the current rate cannot be attributed to the differing ways the Oil-for-Food Program is implemented in the two parts of Iraq… We need to look at longer-term trends and factors including the fact that since 1991 the north has received far more support per capita from the international community than the south and center of Iraq. Another factor maybe that the sanctions themselves have not been able to be so rigorously enforced in the north as the border is more “porous” than in the south and center of Iraq.” And as Hans Von Sponeck, the former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq, pointed out in 2001: “The northern part of Iraq, where the Kurds live, is getting a disproportionate amount of oil revenue for the humanitarian program. Thirteen percent of the population living in that area is getting 20 percent of the oil revenues.”

“The origins of this figure lie in the Lancet report published in October 2004 which purported to be a scientific analysis of deaths in Iraq. The figure they gave – 600,000 – led the news and became dominant, repeated as fact.”

“Purported to be”?

What does that mean?

That the Lancet authors were pretending to offer “scientific analysis”? Sorry, are we now supposed to take the word of our former prime minister, a law graduate from Oxford, over the word of a peer-reviewed study produced by world-renowned epidemiologists and published in Britain’s most prestigious medical journal?

“Later the methodology on which this report was based was extensively challenged; its figures charged with being inaccurate and misleading; and the assessment made comprehensively questioned by other publications.”

Eh? Did John Rentoul ghost-write this portion of the chapter? “Extensively challenged”? Here’s Lila Giterman writing on the first Lancet report in the Columbia Journalism Review: “I called about ten biostatisticians and mortality experts. Not one of them took issue with the study’s methods or its conclusions. If anything, the scientists told me, the authors had been cautious in their estimates.” Ronald Waldman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University who worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for many years, called the survey method “tried and true,” and added that “this is the best estimate of mortality we have.” In a letter to The Age, 27 epidemiologists and health professionals defended the methods of the study, writing that the study’s “methodology is sound and its conclusions should be taken seriously.” But, best of all, the chief scientific adviser to TB’s own Ministry of Defence said the survey’s methods were “close to best practice” and the study design was “robust”. Did Number 10 not get his memo?

“Friends opposed to the war think I’m being obstinate; others, less friendly, think I’m delusional.”

No, I just think you’re being dishonest, Tony. Seven years on from Iraq, nothing has changed.

Courtesy of Mehdi Hasan’s blog on the New Statesman

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Filed under Book Review, Great Britain, Iraq, War Crimes

Book Review: “We Are A Muslim, Please”

Zaiba Malik grew up in Bradford, in the heart of the Pakistani community which gave the city one of its nicknames, Bradistan. Her father prayed five times a day and she stayed up with him throughout the night during Ramadan, reading the Qur’an. At school, she was the only girl in her class from a Pakistani family. She left home, went to university and became a journalist.

An excellent 5 part adaptation of the book appears on BBC Radio 4’s “Book of the week” programme and is worth a listen.

Her memoir describes a world already disappearing into social histories. The Pakistani migrants of the 1960s were far from well-off and Malik’s father worked ten-hour shifts at a textile mill. Malik lists the narrow confines of a home life she felt unable to talk about at school: there were no holidays, with the exception of her father’s annual pilgrimage to Mecca; an elderly, disabled uncle lived with the family; and the only time Malik went out at weekends was to visit WH Smith with her father.

Growing up involved a struggle between irreconcilable identities, a process she describes with humour and insight. “I knew I was a Muslim long before I knew I was British,” she writes. “And I knew I was Pakistani long before I knew I was English.”

The family spoke Punjabi at home, shopped at halal butchers and treated authority figures with exaggerated respect. The only visitors to the house were “men with baggy white trousers and little caps and women with baggy white trousers and headscarves”. Older women known as “the Aunties” policed the community, expressing disapproval if they spotted someone’s son or daughter adopting non-Pakistani habits.

Since 7/7, there has been a spate of memoirs about growing up in Muslim communities. This is one of the better examples, and it vividly conveys the secure but stifling atmosphere Malik left behind when she went to college. Her re-assessment of her faith predates 7/7 – it was inspired by her arrest and brutal interrogation when making a documentary in Bangladesh – but she is also motivated by anger towards the four young men who killed 52 strangers in London five years ago. The book includes a letter to the suicide-bomber Shehzad Tanweer, born in the same area of Bradford as Malik.

Obviously the book is about Islam and its role in the lives of 1960s immigrants and their children. Yet there is another dimension to Malik’s experience she barely touches upon, and that is class. My northern working-class family did not have holidays, regarded authority figures with awe and assumed the right to direct children’s lives. Conservative social values are not exclusive to Muslim families. Immigrants have always struggled to make sense of the competing claims of different cultures until the emergence of a successful new middle-class resolves the conflict, but it is to thoughtful people like Malik that the future belongs.


Filed under Arts & Media, Book Review, Identity