This site hosts my writing and media appearances including news about the documentary movie, Accidental Anarchist. I am a former British diplomat who resigned over the Iraq war. I now run the world's first non-profit diplomatic advisory group, Independent Diplomat.
Whenever an international problem starts being called a “process”, one should immediately become suspicious that the problem itself will not be solved. Indeed, the naming of a problem as a “process” is a way to obscure lack of progress with endless anaesthetising conferences, meetings and statesmanlike speeches.
While our attention has been on Libya, the aftermath of bin Laden’s death and a hundred other news stories, there seem to me to have been three other stories playing out that are of considerable significance. They are not headline grabbing, but that does not diminish their importance. They are long-term stories of gradual but dramatic change:
I had not seen this passage until I read it in “Lapham’s Quarterly”, an excellent new journal of history and ideas. It is taken from Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1884). According to Lapham’s Quarterly, this text was not published until 1959. One could hardly find a more eloquent description of the fundamental alienation wrought by work. Work is not spontaneous activity, but belongs to another; it comprises a loss of self.
Below is the summary of my new book, “The Leaderless Revolution”, to be published by Simon & Schuster (UK) in September, 2011. And before it, a very generous quote about the book from a rather better writer than me:
It is now a commonplace to observe that recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world were and are leaderless. In all these cases, no leadership figures have emerged, neither charismatic individuals nor vanguard organisations. These revolutions embody a degree of organisation, including on social media, but not very much; these movements are not top-down, driven by the choices of a small group or individual, or inspired by an ideological rhetoric except the common cry: enough of the old order! Continue reading The Necessity of Leaderless Revolutions→
There was this terrific battle. The noise was as much As the limits of possible noise could take. There were screams higher groans deeper Than any ear could hold. Many eardrums burst and some walls Collapsed to escape the noise. Everything struggled on its way Through this tearing deafness As through a torrent in a dark cave.
I am like many disappointed by the lack of debate about non-violent alternatives to the situation in Libya. No Fly Zones are an extremely risky venture, have no current legal basis, and may backfire. Above all, imposing NFZs, as Defense Secretary Gates has said, means attacking Libya i.e. entering a war. That means killing Libyans.
I’m very grateful to the BBC Doha Debates for inviting me to take part in this debate. I was the second proposer of the motion. And you can see the debate here.
It was a cracking debate, with a very lively and outspoken audience. I was very struck by the passion of the young people taking part, whose views could not have been clearer: we have a right to know the truth.
A fascinating and insightful discussion on Friday at Independent Diplomat here in NYC. The subject was how to use technology to break open that closed practice, diplomacy. Two challenges were clear, and help define the problem:
1. First challenge: to open and improve the current closed practice of state-to-state interaction by promoting transparency and providing technological means (combined with incentives) to encourage and structure that transparency.
Watching the spreading revolt against autocracies in the Middle East – Tunisia, Egypt and tonight Libya – I am struck by how irrelevant is that international body of state governments, the UN. What a pity the UN is as awful as it is, a body all too often deadlocked in stale debate, repeating tired patterns of bloc politics. No one is inspired by it; no one can love it. Populated only by governments both democratic and not, it is run according to that dry calculus of states’ interests, which too often do not accord with the wishes or needs of humanity as a whole. Continue reading A thought experiment in global political revolution→
I attended a conference this week about the impact of technology on social issues. It had many interesting speakers, not least the wonderful people at AccessNow who are doing extraordinary and secret things to help political activists use the web and get the word out despite repression. Above all, it was fascinating to watch people grapple with the seismic impact of technology on the world – but with no clear map to guide them. Many, I’m afraid, turned to familiar prejudices to show the way.
This was the question that occurred to me after listening to Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, and Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, last night at a discussion at Columbia University (well reported by Micah Sifry here).
There were several striking revelations from the discussion, though I am not sure that they were those intended by Rusbridger and Keller.
Amid the sound and fury of the reaction to WikiLeaks, something is missing. Whether hostile or supportive, politicians and commentators on all sides have managed to miss the real point. The contents of the leaked cables should demand a deep reflection on our foreign policy. That this has not happened tells a sorry story about our very democracy.
The following appeared in the Financial Times, which I have long treasured as the most truly subversive of newspapers. This short article provides a rare pleasure – a profound, concise and it appears wholly unintended yet devastating insight into the true nature of the current economic and cultural system (a similar insight is to be found in the revelation that a toothbrush I recently bought came with a CD-rom with which to programme the device). Such signs are perhaps faint signals of the very death of capitalism – or at the least the death of our sense of the absurd. Continue reading The Semiotics of “Pot Noodles”→
I did an interview on the BBC yesterday on Wikileaks, along with Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of the venerable New York Times, which has published a few of the leaked diplomatic cables. Keller made a startling admission – the New York Times took all the cables it intended to publish to the US government to get their permission and edits before the Times published. Extraordinary! Continue reading #cablegate Wikileaks and the Press→
A week ago, it appears that Moroccan forces violently shut down the protest camps of unarmed Sahrawis outside the occupied territory’s capital, Laayoune. The Sahrawis, who numbered approximately 20,000, were unarmed and protesting peacefully. This incident highlights the reality of occupation for Sahrawis in the territory and puts paid to the claims of Morocco’s propagandists that all is well under Moroccan rule. Continue reading The Western Sahara – The Reality of Occupation→