Ali Jameel’s – Pocket Squares

Following on from my blog about the Iraq War, thought I’d share a post from someone who has far greater insight into the conflict than I. My friend Ali Jameel recently posted on his blog a post called Pocket Squares. I have reposted this below:

Pocket Squares

On the 6th of August 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of its neighbor Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against Iraq’s old regime which was close to a total financial and trade ban. This lasted for 13 years. The aim of the sanctions was to force Iraq to withdraw from its neighbor, compensate for everything, and get rid of any weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions were elaborated at the end of the war in 1991 and included the ban of trade.

Obviously, this sanction only affected civilians and when I say ONLY I mean who else would be affected by any sort of punishment? The old regime? They were living the same, maybe even better. The people who were supporting them? Of course not. Only the normal population had their life destroyed and dreams crushed. People can argue over the politics and motivations of sanctions but in the end it killed thousands of people who had nothing to do with the old politics and they didn’t even support old regime but ended up used as hostages.

War can take dreams away from a nation, a small family starting new life, young people planning for their future, from someone who wants to be an artist or dancer; but, there is always that small hope that can make a huge difference deep inside.

This post’s story is about what I collected when I was teenager. Every one of us used collect something when growing up. I knew people collected toys cars, some collected stones and I collected two things: Toto surprise eggs and napkins.

Growing up, napkins weren’t something we would get and use on an everyday bases, let alone throw away. My family – my grandmother, aunt, and mother – used to cut old clothes to use them as napkins. I had a proper fabric one which I remember I got for the first day of Eid. For some reason I started to collect napkins. I remember I had a fancy one that was red on the edges with flowers in the middle. When we would go visiting our relatives and when they had napkins I would take one and put it in my pocket without using it.

I still have that habit, whenever I see a nice unique one in a restaurant or at a friend’s place… Actually, the other day I was with my friends having a BBQ in the sunshine and my friend brought these yellow napkins. My first reaction was; “are we going to use these?” He looked at me and said; of course, that’s what it’s for, which triggered me to tell him them the story which inspired me to write this post.

Now, I have started collecting pocket squares made of fancy materials like silk. I will wear pocket squares with everything. With smart jackets, casual jackets; when I wear a shirt I will just wrap it around my neck or tie it on my wrist.

I think during conflict, we look for these small little things, sometimes  not even made from fabric, but paper, that can make you feel safe and give you hope that life is still safe and you forget about all the dark clouds that are covering your dreams. My dreams led me from paper napkins to silk pocket squares. Maybe others went from toy cars to real ones. At the end of the day war cannot stop what we are passionate about.

Next time when you see a unique napkin or pocket square that you think tells a story, think about me and take it, keep it until you see me to give it to me or just go to your closest post office and post it to me.

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Pocket Squares – Fariba Soltani – https://www.faribasoltani.com; Jacket – COS; Trousers – Zara

 

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Walk 6 Soho

This 6th walk from my 1980’s guidebook is around a neighbourhood the book claims “suffers from its reputation for shadiness.” Soho. I did this walk on Saturday 5 May 2018.

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Outline of walk 6 in the 1980’s AA guidebook

The walk commenced at Piccadilly Circus and continued up Shaftsbury Avenue, names after the anti slavery champion and Victorian reformer Lord Shaftesbury. Then the book took me to Great Windmill Street

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The Windmill theatre famous for its wartime slogan “we never close.”

According to the book this had become a nightclub by the 1980s. In 2018 this appears to still be the case. The tour then took me to Brewer street for a view of ‘The Post Office Tower.’ Thirty years later this is now the BT tower, built in 1964 it was in the 1980s one of the tallest buildings in London and had a revolving restaurant at the top. In 2018 there are many other buildings in London that rival this tower for height. The revolving restaurant closed in the 1980s, presumably just after the book was published. Now for meals with a view you go to the Gherkin, The ShardThe Walkie Talkie Building or countless other roof top bars and restaurants.

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Post of Post Office (now BT) Tower

From here the walk took me to St Anne’s, a 17th Century Church almost completely destroyed during the Blitz in World War 2. The remains including the tower built 1801-03 still remain.

 

From here the walk took me down Old Compton Street, Manette Street and Greek Street (where Piko Consulting UK is registered).

 

From here I walked past The House of St Barnabas, Georgian house and home of the charitable institution formed in 1846 to help the destitute in London.

 

From here the walk continued onto the iconic Soho Square. The name Soho is said to come from the cry of huntsmen unleashing dogs to chase hares, so meaning ‘see,’ and ho ‘after him’.

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Soho Square

After this I continued down Frith Street, the street where John Baird successfully transmitted a picture by wireless in 1926 – which led to the invention of television. Essayist William Hazlitt died at number 6.

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William Hazlitt died here 1830.

The walking tour then heads down Meard Street and onto Berwick Street.

 

Then I headed to Liberty in Great Marlborough Street. Built in 1924, the timbers on the north side of the building are from genuine men-of-war.

 

From here the tour took me to Carnaby Street, famous for boutique fashion houses in the 1960s. By the 1980s the booked seemed to think Carnaby Street was somewhat passé. In 2018, the street still seemed to be a popular place to shop and hangout.

 

From here the book took me back to Piccadilly Circus where the tour ended.

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The Bright lights of Soho

Student Fees

One of the big policies the NZ Labour Party took into the 2017 election was to start reintroducing free education. Labour in the UK took a similar policy into their 2017 election, which is thought to have contributed to the “youth quake” which saw young voters turn out and vote for Labour in that election.

In both cases this represented a significant policy U-turn for both Labour Party’s. In New Zealand user pays education really began when Labour Party Education Minister Phil Goff significantly increased fees 1990. The next National Government in 1992 increased the student loan scheme, which charged interest on money students borrowed even while they were studying. In the UK user pays tertiary education was introduced by the Blair Labour government.

In 2003 Labour had just begun its 2nd term in office. In its first term from 1999 to 2002 Labour had promised to cut the cost to students of tertiary education, and subsequently froze fees at their 1999 rate. In 2002 the promise was watered down to “keep education affordable.” What this really meant was, “allow institutions to increase fees by 5% a year.”

Just as the anti war protests were starting to tail off, the government budget announced the fee Maxima scheme allowing institutions to increase fees within the Maxima. This would be our next campaign on campus.

Institutions had been lobbying for the ability to increase fees since the 1999 freeze. Labour had failed to increase funding to tertiary institutions, citing the money they’d wasted on marketing and other waste. It was true that competition between tertiary institutions had caused significant waste. But even were this to stop, governments still needed to increase funding rather than passing increasing costs onto students.

In September 2003 the Victoria University Council attempted to hold a meeting to increase fees. The University Council decided to meet at 8am on a Friday morning thinking no student would be awake on time…wrong! The Education Action Group  I was responsible for as the VUWSA Campaigns Officer managed to successfully disrupted this meeting. Students’ Association hired a marquee and encouraged students to stay overnight (using the slogan ‘if that’s what it takes we’ll stay all night’). The university council tried to meet, but had to cancel due to the noise from students.

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Nick Kelly, Jasmine Freemantle (VUWSA Women’s Rights officer 2002, VUWSA President 2009 and Scott Trainor VUWSA Activities Officer during the October 2003 occupation of the Hunter Council Chamber protesting fee increases at Victoria University

A fortnight later the university attempted to reconvene, this time on a Thursday afternoon and again were unable to proceed. However they moved to another private room and passed the fee increases. As a result a number of us occupied the University Council chamber over night. The next day were decided to leave and regroup. At 3pm the next afternoon, a much bigger crowd of students returned to the Hunter Council Chamber having heard that fees had increased. The response from the University was to call in the police – who sent a number of vans and about 50 officers to remove us. The Vice Chancellor, Stuart McCutcheon who had been targeted by our campaign with charts of ‘sack McCutcheon’ came in surrounded by a number of cops telling us we had 15 minutes to leave, which after some deliberation we did.

10 minutes after leaving a large order of Hell’s Pizza arrived, intended to feed the crowd of occupying students. A number of us ate nothing but pizza for the next week.

The following week was full of protests and actions on campus. The same week Massey also had fee setting resulting in similar protests. At Vic we famously burnt an effigy of the Vice Chancellor, using my fathers 1970s brown suit.

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At the end of 2003 I ran to re-election as VUWSA Campaigns Officer. As part of my election speech I burnt the Governments Education White Paper. I was re-elected with an increased vote.

The following year, 2004, fee setting protests happened again. The University were far more prepared and had the Hunter Council chamber pretty well locked down prior to the meeting. A year later in 2005 they held the meeting out at a satellite campus out of term time. Despite this we still managed to muster a decent crowd both years. Further the issue of fee increases and student debt remained on the political agenda.

We were able to win a few victories during these years. In 2004 The Massey University Council in Palmerston North voted not to increase student fees, a move described by Education Minister Trevor Mallard as “a bad management decision” (quote from the September 2005 NZUSA Conference at Christchurch College of Education). This no increase result came from a strong campaign to by students in the city, getting support of the local council and community leaders. The following year the government replaced Council members who had voted against the increase, with members who would and did in subsequent years.

 

In the 2005 election opinion polls were very close. Labour really needed to pull one out of the hat to win a third term. In May 2005 a thousand strong protest march was led by Student President Jeremy Greenbrook supported by myself and others demanding the government invest in tertiary education. A few weeks later the government were to respond, announcing in their 2005 manifesto that there would be no interest on student loans not only while students were studying (which had been introduced by Labour in 1999) but for all graduates living in New Zealand. The student and graduate vote probably was one key factor in Labour being elected for a third term.

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2005 Education Minister Trevor Mallard telling Vic Uni staff and students “there will be more money for education this budget, but not for you.” Weeks later the government announced interest free student loans.

The strange thing about a win is that it can then be hard to get people energised to keep pushing. In 2006, the year I was Student President at Victoria University, and in the 2-3 years following  fee protests smaller and far less vocal. We still continued to make the case for free education as this 2006 feature column demonstrates. And the new VUW Vice Chancellor Pat Walsh didn’t fundamentally disagree. In both 2005 and 2006 Victoria University along with a number of others applied to the Tertiary Education Commission to get an exemption from the 5% fee maxima and wanted increases of up to 10%. These applications were declined.

In Labour’s final term it began increasing eligibility to student allowances. However this would be short lived once the global financial crisis hit and then there was a change of government. National had been clear from the outset that tertiary education was not a priority for funding. True to their word, they invested very little in the sector over the next 9 years. Further they introduced a number of other damaging policies such as removing elected staff and student reps, and introducing Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) in an attempt to weakening the student movement.

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Me on a New Zealand University Students’ Association (NZUSA) organised march to parliament in January 2004.
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Veteran Kiwi punk rock legend Chris Knox plays at an education rally at Victoria University, May 2005.

In 2016 Labour announced it would introduce 3 years free tertiary study. As often happened in Labour’s 9 years in opposition from 2008 to 2017, they announced a detailed policy which few people read. The initial media announcement was ok, but the follow through was quite poor. It seemed like this was a fairly decent policy that would never be implemented. However 18 months later, during the election campaign Labour surprised everyone by getting its house in order. New leader, new campaign materials, and amongst other things a clear commitment to free education. And much to many people’s surprise, they won.

User pays was never a good idea. The argument about tertiary education being a private good is pretty unconvincing when there are shortages of a number of qualified graduates. The argument that graduates are paid higher so can pay back the loans may have once been true, but now graduate pay rates are often barely above the living wage. Further Student debt ballooned from 3 billion in 1999 to around 10 billion in 2006 while I was VUWSA President, and kept growing after that. Further, in the economy we are moving into, having a well educated population is essential. Removing barriers to this like crippling student debt is essential.

The Iraq War

I remember when the first Gulf War happened in 1991. Though only young I recall the 5 months from the invasion of Kuwait. The conflict was being talked up, and became inevitable. At the time I didn’t realise Saddan Hussein had been supported and armed by the US up till 1990 during the Iraq/Iran war (I was 8 at the time). It wasn’t till some years later that I understood what had happened to the Kurds after the 1991 conflict, or the crippling sanctions that hurt ordinary people while the regime thrived.

 

In November 2000 I was studying for my economics exam (which I passed), but became distracted by the US Presidential election. This was the night Al Gore won the most votes but Bush Junior won the electoral college. A later recount in Florida and legal action failed to overturn this result despite later evidence that indeed Al Gore had won the state of Florida and that he, not Bush should have been in the White House.

A Bush presidency made the prospect of an invasion of Iraq inevitable. At least that was the general consensus. The 2001 September 11 attacks had nothing to do with Iraq, yet were used as an excuse. As was highly questionable intelligence which in 2016 was found to be flawed information.

In 2003 I was the Campaigns Officer on the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association (VUWSA). In the weeks leading up to university started there were a number of protests in Wellington and throughout the world. I recall one protest on Saturday 15 February 2003. We called a midday rally and had organised a small march against the any attack on Iraq. We expected maybe a couple of hundred people to show up. When over 5000 people arrived at the small park we were meeting at we suddenly faced some logistical issues. I recall vetern activist Jim Delahunty turning to me and saying “this is a good problem to have.”

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One of the many Anti Iraq War protests held in early 2003 in Wellington

At the first Initial General Meeting of the Students’ Association in 2003 we put the Iraq War on the agenda. It had been some years since students had really taken a position on an international issue like this, so we weren’t sure how it would go. The meeting was one of the best attended General meetings in years, and the venue at max capacity. From memory only 2-3 people voted against the anti war motion.

Peace Action Wellington became the coalition group in Wellington Organising against the war. We held regular protest marches, rallies, occupations and other events throughout 2003.

TV reports on Iraq War Protests in 2003

Notable events during the year were the ANZAC Day protests where I and a number others laid an anti-imperialist wreath, an act which caused no small amount of controversy. Another was when the US Ambassador came to speak on campus, and student activists shut down the event so he was unable to speak. I and other activists then were filmed by local and international TV crews burning US flags (8 years later when I finally travelled to the US I was concerned I may not be let in, I was).

As a socialist activist and friend of mine Dougal McNeill said of the protests later: “mass movements shoot up like a rocket, and fall like a stick.” Out of the anti war movements in Wellington, and internationally a layer of activists were politicised and went on to do other things. But the movement itself, or at least the mass protests didn’t last that long. Though opposition to the Iraq invasion continues to be very widespread.

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2003 Vic Uni protest against the Iraq War. Crosses were placed on the Hunter lawn to represent those killed in conflict. A letter was sent to the Student Magazine Salient the following week asking why we’d used crosses to represent the dead in predominately Muslim Country – the letter was signed “Cat Stevens”

This is not to say that the 2003 protests against the Iraq Invasion achieved nothing. Bush and Blair were probably never going to change their minds about the invasion. But the strong public opposition helped create the space where the New Zealand (Labour) Government broke with its traditional US, UK  and Australian allies and didn’t send combat troops. Internationally the Iraq war did impact on domestic politics, and continues to today. In the US, Obama’s 2008 election pledge to pull troops out of Iraq almost certainly helped get him elected. 8 years later Trump claimed the Iraq invasion was one of the worse decisions ever made, despite him personally supporting it in 2003.  In the UK, Blair’s legacy never recovered. Today even Labour MP’s sympathetic to the Blair project like Chuka Umunna say the invasion of Iraq was wrong.

The Iraq invasion removed Saddam Hussein, but life for people in Iraq did not improve. The rise of Isis, horrific terror attacks on civilians, extreme poverty and political and economic instability have continued Iraq’s suffering for the last 15 years. Further, this invasion contributed to the wider instability in the Middle East and growing hostility towards the West. The invasion of Iraq was wrong, and has caused long term harm. Bush and Blair’s legacy will forever be tarnished by this act, and deservedly so.

I am proud that I was part of the global opposition to this invasion, and would do so again.

 

University and Student Politics

For those lucky enough to attend university, the experience is often in their formative years. For me as an 18 year old from Upper Hutt, attending university was both an exciting and slightly daunting prospect. Its no secret that I had struggled through secondary school, and my grades by no means guaranteed me university entrance. But I wanted to go. My parents and most of my extended family had attended. And I had dreams of what I could do as a student political activist. So I studied hard, pushed myself and did my final school exams. On a family holiday, in Thames Coromandal in January 2001, I called the exam hotline and to find out my results.found out how I. When my family asked how I’d done I replied that I only got two C’s (the minimum for university entrance is 3 C’s). After a moments awkward silence I replied “and got three B’s.”

Fast forward 5 years to 2006. I’d been elected President of the Students’ Association, representing 20,000 student at my university as their association leader. I was managing roughly 30 staff, a million dollar budget, sitting on the university governance board and was the public face of the elected student executive.

Somewhere along the way I also gained a university degree.

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Tim Beaglehole (later University Chancellor) inspects the VUWSA banner held up by Jeremy Greenbrook and I, 2003 student fee protest.

My time as an undergraduate took me from being a long haired pimply teenager with an occasional tendency for cross dressing and a bogan rock obsession, to being a leader, a out the box thinker and a someone who had the courage of his convictions. From being turfed out of the labour party and engaging in more leftist politics, effigy and flag burnings, university registry occupations, mass anti war protests and even a couple of arrests (no charges), they were a colourful few years.

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2002 Salient Editor Max Rashbrooke and 2003 VUWSA President Catherine Belfield-Haines enjoying a beer at Eastside, the student bar.

But university wasn’t just about being a political activist. I represented students on faculty boards and committees. I was a class representative supporting students having difficulties during their studies. In 2005 I ran the university foodbank, helping a number of students in serious financial need. I also helped organise a number of student orientation events, seeing a number of world class acts perform on campus (possibly even enjoying a beer or two with some of the performers).

 

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2003 VUWSA Exec retreat. Having our photo with the Ohakune Carrot

The next few posts in the ‘why’ series of this blog are going to be about my time and university.

Below are some of the reports and items in Salient and other publications during my time at University, specifically while I was on the Students’ Association Executive:

2003: VUW students vote against invasion of Iraq

Student Representative Council (SRC), an explanation

Nick TV Interview: 2004 TV report on University Library Services

Handbook Diary Blurb: Welfare Vice President

President’s Column: Happy New Year

President’s Column: And we’re off

President’s Column: No more fees

Salient reports on ‘The Mighty Starlet’ getting clamped

President’s column: Successes

President’s Column: Interesting Times

Salient report on Student Job Search being kicked out of the student union building

President’s Column: Where did all the protests go?

Salient report on constitutional changes

Salient Report: Student leaders speak for tenancy bill

President’s column: Freedom of press

Salient report on campus redevelopment

President’s Column: Should VUWSA be politically neutral

Salient report on me getting a haircut

President’s Column: Australs and Politics

President’s Column: 123 and a bit…

Media release: students suffer still

Salient Report: University blocked from raising fees by 10%

Salient report: University try by raise fees to 10% again

President’s Column: Survey’s and Blogs

President’s Column: Universal Truths

Fees debate – My view on users pays

Fees debate: Vice Chancellor Pat Walsh defends the university position

President’s Column: VUWSA Budget

Salient report on financial review

Salient report on bar prices

Salient report on student levy increase

President’s Column: The deed is done, nearly.

Salient: What is the right wing?

Salient report on student fees forum

President’s Column: Victories and Uncertainties

Salient report on fee increases

Salient report on executive turnover

President’s Column: I love student politics

Truce between university and VUWSA declared

President’s Column: VUWSA Presidency

Salient Mayoral election survey 2007

Open letter on VUWSA change proposal

Salient report on my (very brief) trespass from the university.

2005 VUWSA Annual Report

2006 VUWSA Annual Report

2012 VUWSA AGM minutes

 

Walk 5 Bloomsbury and Holborn

I completed the 5th of my 12 1980s AA guide walking tours of London on 25 March 2018:

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This walk started at Holborn Station and took me to Bloomsbury square, which according to the guide book “derives from the medieval manor of Blemund’sbury.”

The tour then took me down Great Russell Street past one of my favourite museums:

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The British Museum, you can spend all day there and still only see half of it.

The tour then took me to Russell Square, the largest of the Bloomsbury squares and surrounded by London University.

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Statue of Francis Duke of Bedford, 18th century Whig politician

After this the tour took me to Gordon Square, associated with a number of 20th century writers such as Virginia Woolf. House number 46 was home of 20th century economist John Maynard Keynes:

Next stop was Tavistock Square. Here I found statues for Mahatma Gandhi and Virginia Woolf:

From here I continued through the streets of Bloomsbury:

The tour then took me to Coram’s Field, the grounds of the Foundling Hospital established in 1729.

The tour then took me down Doughty Street and past the formers residence of Charles Dickens:

After this the tour took me past Gray’s Inn

Finally the tour ended at the Holborn Bars, where the silver griffins mark the start of the City of London.

The Rolling Stones

I consider it an objective truth, the Rolling Stones are the greatest rock n roll band in human history.

In 2006 when I was Student President at Victoria University I wrote the following in the column in Salient:

And finally…THE ROLLING STONES ARE COMING TO WELLINGTON!

The Rolling Stones are the greatest rock and roll band in human history, and on April 18th they are playing in Wellington. This will probably be one of the last chances we get to see these legends (though people have been saying this for about 30 years). Should be an absolute cracker….

And an absolute cracker they were.

A week later Keith Richards suffered a serious head injury in Fiji and fears were the world may never see him or the stones perform again. Thankfully this wasn’t the case.

Fast forward 12 years, and this is still the case.

On Friday 25 May, at the London Stadium, I for the second time in my life saw the greatest rock n roll band in human history. Now in their mid 1970s these guys still rock hard. Jagger has all the moves, and the band still play mean rock n roll.

These were the photos. If you want to view the clips I took from the gig you can see them on my Facebook Page (if you are a Stones fan, I’ll add you as a friend…if not what is wrong with you?!?!).

Who knows whether this will be the last time I see the Stones. I hope not. One hopes that medical science has found a way to make the remaining band members immortal (sadly we lost Brian Jones 49 years ago). Maybe they can just keep endlessly touring the globe playing their classics.

But in case this is not to be, then do yourself a favour and go see the Rolling Stones while they are still touring.