Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Out of Basra

Preparing them for a future they cannot yet imagine…

No, really, how could I make it up? I found this slogan accompanying the photograph above on the home page of Metrix - the private consortium which - I have just learned - won the British government contract earlier this year to develop and run a mega military academy in St Athan, south Wales, as part of streamlining UK’s armed services. The consortium includes a subsidiary of the US company Raytheon(‘customer success is our mission’) which makes cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions, supplies electronic guidance equipment for the British nuclear weapons system Trident and is a favoured US government supplier of arms to Israel.

No surprises there, perhaps, but another long-term partner in the consortium is the Open University (‘study with us and fulfil your potential’) as Brenda Gourley Vice-chancellor proudly announced when opening the new Cardiff office in March as part of the Wales’ assembly government mission for a ‘learning nation'. Gourley also spoke at the OUSA conference 14 April on ‘learning from the past – embracing the future’: ‘Lastly let us not forget our social justice agenda – if we join hands together, we can change the world.’

As the report from a meeting of activists at the Temple of Peace with Cardiff university researcher Stuart Tannock points out: ‘Young people will be trained to in a craft which murders people, destroys environments, has no respect for communities and can lay waste huge areas forever. You have to blink hard to make certain this is actually Wales and not Wonderland.’

While Gordon Brown brings the British soldiers home from Basra it’s clear that no lessons have been learned about how best to prevent conflict, as I predicted when he first took office. Peter Beaumont highlights in The Guardian that youth training opportunities in Iraq, especially in Basra, are now largely provided (for men) courtesy of the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr and restrictions (which didn’t existed before 2003) are placed on women university students regarding dress and behaviour.

Meanwhile, despite Tony Blair’s appointment as special Middle East envoy, his support and influence have been conspicuously lacking in the case of the under 19s Palestine National Youth Football Team. Due to tour the UK for 3 weeks over the British summer and play 3 matches in the north-west of the country as part of a youth project – a visionary educational and bridge-building initiative of benefit to all involved – the team were banned from entry at the last minute by UK government visa restrictions.

Several reasons have been given. The official one from UKvisas (‘making travel and migration work for Britain’) with reference to the British Consulate in Jerusalem ‘which continues to provide a service in Gaza’ explains that some of the team from the Gaza strip did not meet the visa criteria. In fact the authorities were afraid that some of the players would seek asylum in Britain: in other words, ‘they were too poor to come’. Journalist Mark Steel ironically suggests the government were afraid the young people were part of a terrorist plot . Check them out.

As is reflected in the film Goal Dreams, to be screened at the All Wales Peace Festival this month, it’s actually quite difficult to put a national football team together ‘without a recognized homeland, no permanent domestic league, no place to train, Israel air strikes on the Palestine stadium…’

But, never mind, the Israeli football team will be playing at Wembley this weekend 8th September although a vigil against the government’s hypocrisy is being organised and the self-styled ‘world’s greatest football blog’ (edited by an Israeli football fan) doesn’t mention the Palestine team at all.

The United Nations resolution 58/5 entitled ‘Sport as a means to promote education, health, development and peace’ recognizes the power of sport to contribute to human development, touching the individual, community, national and global levels. In particular sports programmes are regarded as a key strategy for addressing the social alienation of disadvantaged youth and helping to fulfil their potential.

As we all know from Hollywood films, sporting activities, like the Open University partnership, can mean working together to change the world. But whatever else young people may learn at St Athan, we can be sure it’s not cricket.

Read the full report on St Athan’s military academy from UK Indymedia here

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