20/01/2012 Newsnight


Jeremy Paxman has a report on the Free Syrian Army operations inside Damascus. Immigration and benefits. And Voltaire's love of England in his own words.

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Tonight, how President Assad's armed opponents are operating


inside Syria's capital. Our reporter slips his minders and


discovers the forces opposing President Assad are established


inside Damascus, and anxious for outside intervention. TRANSLATION:


They tricked the Arab League, we don't have any hope in the Arab


League, or even in the UN Security Council. We just want a no-fly zone.


Three words, to guarantee a headline. But is the truth more


complicated? Can a decent welfare state exist, alongside mass


immigration? And some breaking philosophy news,


Voltaire famously said, if God didn't exist it would be necessary


to invent him. It turns out it was the British who helped to invent


Good evening. There were more protests in Syria tonight against


the regime of President Assad, and one pro-Assad demonstration inside


Damascus. Protests after Friday prayers have become a regular,


weekly event, our reporter, who has just returned this evening from the


country, has discovered something more, that armed opponents of


President Assad's regime are now established inside the Syrian


capital. Under the almost all-seeing eyes of


President Assad, we stole away from our Government minders, taking a


tortous route through the back streets.


-- torturous route through the back streets. We found the drum beat of


revolution just a few miles from the Presidential Palace. Every


night they gather secretly here, in the poor Damascus districts, the


atmosphere almost festive. They are not so much demanding freedom, as


asserting it. Taunting the President that his day is coming


soon. They welcome any western help. But


they are cheering their own military force, the Free Syrian


Army, Government soldiers who have defected. They are stationed in the


shadows all around, protesting this protest.


TRANSLATION: The people here feel safe because of the Free Syrian


Army. What happened was that some honourable Government soldiers came


over to our side. For example, in this street, one soldier saw the


security forces behind him and the people in front, but instead of


shooting them, he shot in the air and then fled to a house. Now if


the army comes, they shoot on the army to give people time to escape.


They are renouncing the Free Army's victory in repelling Government


troops from the town of Zabadani this week. But here we are not safe.


We are told to leave quickly. The police are coming.


Guiding our escape, lights, held by soldiers of the Free Army. At night,


this dark Labyrinth is a no-go zone for the security forces, a pocket


of liberated territory inside the capital. The uprising, as you can


see, is very determined, but it is very localised. That was a fairly


small demonstration that had to break up very quickly, and people


are moving away very fast now, along specially-chosen alleyways


where they feel safe. It is a scene the Arab League monitors, who have


been in Syria for the past month, will never have witnessed.


TRANSLATION: They tricked the Arab League, they took them to another


distinct and told them it was here, so they weren't able to see the


demonstration here, or even the army stationed nearby. We don't


have any hope in the Arab League, or even in the UN Security Council.


The uprising has lasted ten months already, and they haven't done


anything. We just want a no-fly zone, so that honourable soldiers


feel safer coming over to our side. Around the next corner, we find


volunteers, setting off to smuggle medical supplies across the


Government lines to Zabadani. TRANSLATION: This is medication for


Zabadani for the injured. We are trying our best to support them


with food, needles, pills, everything they need. TRANSLATION:


We are setting off now, we don't get into Zabadani until 6.00am,


using mountain roads, because the main roads are controlled by police


and Government thugs. We have to go on foot, all we can do is take the


supplies from one village and give them to another. Because we aren't


getting any help from the outside world. If the security see us they


will kill us straight away. It is safer for us to move on too.


Crossing the city to an elaborately arranged rend day have you with


another opposition -- rendezvous with another activist. He says


these are the blood stains after being attacked after a


demonstration by a group of soldiers armed with guns, sticks


and a knife, and electric cattle prod. Tran They were beating me, I


tried to pro-- TRANSLATION: They were beating me, I tried to protect


myself. I swallowed the SIM card I filmed the demonstration on. They


gave me four strikes in the solar plex sis, I couldn't breathe and my


face went blue. They said let's leave this dog to die. It would


have been too dangerous to go to hospital. A friend who is a doctor


treated me at my house. After ten months, what has the opposition


really achieved, if its supporters still live in constant fear? The


answer, they say, is their minds have been set free. TRANSLATION:


The most beautiful thing is, if a man is free for one day, he will


sacrifice his life for that freedom. Our generation were born into


dictatorship, into the regime of the President and his father. But


the first time we went out on to the streets, without anyone


ordering us to. The first time we chanted "freedom", something broke,


and we can't go back. That's the first thing the


revolution has taught us. It's broken the fear inside us.


Outside, on the bustling streets of Damascus, activists like him must


blend into the crowd. You will see no evidence of an uprising here,


there may be many opposition supporters passing by, or there may


be none. Is this just a veneer of normality, covering a fatally


weakened system, that is about to collapse, or is it what it appears


to be, the sign of a still well functioning society, largely


untouched by a few pockets of revolt? Stop people at random, and


everybody gives roughly the same answer. TRANSLATION: Our leader is


unique, he has given us safety and security. Even if we have another


leader, it is not going to be the same. He gave us a salary bonus and


safety. The protestors who go out, they call for freedom, they don't


even know what freedom means, they are mad. TRANSLATION: Freedom and


democracy already exists, those people who are in the streets are


not helping. They have a bad influence on the economy and


society. TRANSLATION: For sure there is a conspiracy in this


country, there is a secret hand from outside the country, something


has happened, not the people, nor the security are involved here.


Look in Damascus, there is no demonstration, our country is


secure, they took the security. Are those the voices of conviction?


Or the voices of fear? As in any dictatorship, there is no means of


knowing. For all the courage of the revolutionaries, the Syrian


dictatorship facing a world unable or unwilling to intervene, still


has the upper hand. Ace mentioned earlier, Tim has just


got back this evening from Damascus. What does it feel like, does it


feel like a country on the brij? doesn't really feel -- brink? It


doesn't really feel, now like a country consumed in chaos. There


are some pockets of disquiet, some big pockets, like the city of Homs.


When we went on the Government tour of Homs, we had to go on a round


about route to avoid opposition gunfire, we couldn't have the


planned meeting with the governor, it was too risky to go to the


governor's residence. That was when you were in the hands of the


Government? Yes, in the pocket of Homs we are talking about a very


big pocket. There are little pockets, about this little district


of Damascus this film was B but most of Damascus, most of the


country, the shops are packed, it is living a normal life. You aren't


even seeing, except perhaps on Friday, which is high tension, you


aren't even seeing that many roadblocks or soldiers around.


you willing to give a guesstimate of whether we are talking about


dozens of many defecting, hundreds, thousands? You are certainly


talking athletes hundreds, probably more than that. It is -- Talking at


least hundreds, probably thousands. It is the weapons they have


defected with and psychalogically they are more important, they might


begin to be armed by outside sources, at the moment it is a liek


lightly armed force. That guy you were interviewing in the mask,


talking about the Arab League mission, great disappointment to


the protestors, do you know whether it will stay there or not? They


meet on Sunday, the Arab League, they will have to decide. Qatar,


small but rich, has been the most hawkish, and said simply, the


mission has failed. There should be armed Arab intervention. I think


there will be really no other call for that. Qatar will be on its own


in that. It is pretty certain that the mission will continue. Syria


said that is OK. It will be beefed up, it will get more technical help,


it certainly needs it. When I was out in the monitors, well


intentioned, maybe, but amateurish in their approach T will go on. If


the Arab League mission doesn't go on, the only alternative form of


intervention is the United Nations. It is very hard to see with Russia


and China against how any form of intervention through the UN could


possibly work. There are over 370,000 people


claiming benefits in this country, who were not born in this country.


What are we to make of the relose of these previously unknown


figures? They have been held to prove that this country's welfare


system, paid for by British tax- payers, of course, has made it a


magnet for called benefit tourists. Yet the truth, unsurprisingly, is


more complicated. It is a highly- charged issue, we will discuss in a


molt. First David Grossman reports. Three words set to get a heated


debate flowing. Today the Government gave us its best guess


of foreign-born benefits claimants, it is 371,000. This is all about a


system people can have confidence in, the tax-payers feel they have


confidence in. I want to make sure we have all the safeguards against


benefit tourism, people coming here to claim. I want to make sure we


are paying out money to those people, and only those people


entitled to it. We were left a chaotic system by the previous


Government, this is about sorting it out. What have we learned from


today's information? For a start, while 6.6% of the working migrant


population claims benefit, a lot more, 16.6%, of the British-born


population claim. It was it was spun in the Telegraph article as


something that has arisen from people arriving in the backs of


lorries, students and benefits' tourists. This is a context very


firmly set in. When we actually found when we looked at the figures,


is migrants do, there are about 5.5 million people claiming benefits at


this particular point in time. So that migrants representation of


just over 6% was rather low. So where have these people come


from? Well, 17% are from the EU, excluding the new mainly eastern


European accession states, 8% come from the accession states like


Poland and Lithuania. It is a fact that because we have left poor


countries into the European Union, we have given them unlimited rights


of free travel within the countries, and use of our health system, our


benefits' system and schools. The vast majority of fair-minded people


would say f people from Poland want to work in this country and we have


jobs for them, fine, surely they shouldn't be able to claim benefits


on day one, coming into this country, that is not right. But the


biggest group, 34%, come fromation and the Middle East. -- come from


the Middle East. 27% from Africa, consequence according to some of a


non-selective immigration policy. You can't blame that on the last


Labour Government t goes back to the late 1940s and 50, we felt we


had an imperial obligation to those in the empire or former empire. We


put no restrictions at all, unlike Canada who have a brutal form of


restrictions, you have to have a PHd before you can get in there.


That is why some believe that immigration and welfare benefits


are so closely linked in the public consciousness, because so many


immigrants are low-skilled, competing with the low-skilled


British-born for the jobs. Labour accuses the Government of leasing


these statistics, purely as a diversion from its poor immigration


record. The Government said it would cut net migration into the


country. The Prime Minister said no ifs or buts, it would go below


100,000, the figures have gone up. The diversion from last year, we


saw a number of people arrested at our borders and deported, we saw


those numbers go down. Last summer we saw, Damian Green, decided no


longer to finger print people caught as illegal immigrants. We


can't specify who they are. Many voters, though, would say the


fact that immigrants are legally entitled to benefits, is not the


same as saying they are morally entitled. This raises all sorts of


political questions about what qualifying contribution society


should require. The recent case of the Big Issue seller in Bristol,


who won her case for being classified as self-employed, which


means that she can qualify for benefits, things like that get a


lot of publicity. We have to a much clearer sense of progression from


coming to this country to qualifying for benefits.


This combination of words, then, is particularly potent now, during


austerity. When one of the major political themes is, the parties


promising to end something for nothing.


With us now is Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, a new


think-tank dealing with migration issues, and Harriet Sergeant,


journalist, and author, and fellow of the Centre for Policy Studies.


How sensitive an issue is this? Extremely sensitive. People feel


very strongly that if you come to this country, you come here because


you want to work. That is what we are told immigrants come here to


work. They shouldn't be here to claim benefits. That is precisely


what the figures suggest? But, I think those figures are, I mean


those figures are, I read that report, and I I have to say I


wasn't entirely convinced. I have read at least three other reports


in the last month, that have given different figures and different


interpretations. I think the interest figure, which doesn't


appear in this report, is that national insurance numbers, you


actually don't have to, they are not checked. Your immigration is


not checked when you are handed your national insurance number.


Which, as we know, is the gateway to all benefits. How sensitive an


issue is this? It is a sensitive issue, it is a good thing the


Government has gone and decided to find out what is going on. They


decided to be vigilent about immigration, very vigilent about


benefit claimants, benefit tourism, and so on. One hopes they will be


relieved that they couldn't find very much of T the headline of this


report is "migrants half as likely to claim benefits as anybody else".


We now know that on education, on health, on benefits migrants,


overall, are net contributors, are putting in more than they are


taking out. I don't agree with that at all. This is absolutely not true.


That is what the figures show? Those figures are an extrap laigs


of one small, 9,000 people. They don't cover the fact that we don't


know national insurance numbers. You have to look at schools in


London to know it is not true. Primary schools are very heavily


burdened at the moment. That is a different issue. Let's stick to


this question, if we can, please, of the welfare state and


immigration. Is a welfare state, of the kind we have got used to in


this country, compatible with high levels of immigration? The short


answer is immigration and the welfare state are compatible. There


is a problem with sustaining people's willingness to pay for a


welfare state, which is, if you get a politics of them and us, where


the people who pay for it, feel they aren't the people who get


something out. That is a colour blind issue, that is not about


immigration status, that is whether people feel if people are willing


to contribute or to work. If someone comes to pay and work and


pay national insurance, people support, that not a British-born


person who is not challenged to work. Immigration plays into it,


but isn't the biggest issue at all. Can it be made to work? I don't


think so, I have lived in the Third World, he see the tremendous


sacrifices people make to get housing, education and healthcare.


A lifetime of work to acquire those things for their children. They


hear there is a country offering all these things free, of course


immigration is going to be a pull. Now you are arguing that benefit


tourism exists, when that isn't what this report seems to suggest?


I take issue with the figure of this report. They are the


Government figures. There are two things people say, they take our


jobs or come for the benefits, they can't be doing both. The Government


has found they come for our benefits isn't happening, it is


half as likely. They found two weeks ago that under certain


circumstances in a downturn, you do want to worry about the impact of


jobs. What is the most famous part of the British stay, the National


Health Service, which wouldn't have survived without immigration. At


the same time the population pressures on it will worry people


if we don't manage population, so we deal with the local pressures in


your area. We know there is national gain and we can sort it


out. I did a report on national health as a draw for immigration. I


have to say I didn't start to do, with the intention of doing that


report. But I kept on interviewing doctors. This is in the south-east,


in the London area, not the rest. Not at that point to the rest of


the UK. They said never mind what you are asking us about, the real


problem that we have is we have so many people in our hospitals who do


not deserve to be here. They were telling me this was a scandal.


are not ill? They were ill, but they were not British subjects,


they had come in order to get the National Health Service. It is a


huge draw. This whole issue becomes much more difficult, much more


urgent, doesn't it, at a time when we are short of money? Yes. That


will continue for a good while yet? That is why people are very


concerned about how it is managed, they have anxieties about their


local surgeries and schools, and so on. The Government has found


migrants are net contributors. can't carry on, do you think we can


carry on as we are? People are keen to see the numbers reduced a bit,


but in ways that are sensible. you think we can carry on as we are


going now? People want reductions, but not the sort of things that


will damage the economy. Do you think we can carry on as we are


now? We will get numbers down because of the recession, but


people don't want to cut out care and health workers we need. That is


not what we are talking about? numbers will go down a bit. The net


immigration figure is up, because immigration fell because of the


weak pound. We have had, over the last, since 2004, we have had


600,000 young, skilled, nobody is saying about the quality. Excellent


young people coming in from Eastern Europe. At the same time we have


had youth unemployment rise in this country by 450,000. If people come


into this country, they work and they pay their taxes, why aren't


they entitled to benefits? There is another one of these many reports


giving contradictory figures out this month, which actually points


out how many people are fail to go get jobs. Mostly these are young


people? That is why I asked you a question of principle. The


principle I'm asking about, if people come to the country, they


work, they pay taxes, are they entitled to claim benefits or not?


For how long, one week after they arrive in this country. What is


your view? At the moment you can get a British citizenship after


five years, why not after five years. You would accept that,


wouldn't you? If they were in work. People want to treat different


cases differently. If we think someone is persecuted as a refugee


they need full support to be a member of society. If people get


citizenship we believe in equal citizenship, we care about


integration, it becomes an economic migrant for a short-term, you


shouldn't be entitled to means- tested benefits. People don't get


them f you are from outside the EU you are not entitled them until you


become a citizen. As a citizen we believe in treating you fairly and


equal. That is British policy. I should apologise for a couple of


I had sis in the piece, it is David Goodyard.


Who is the greatest 18th century French philosopher, we are always


asking ourselves in the Newsnight office on a Friday afternoon. The


answer is actually Voltaire, not least because he appreciated


England as a haven of free thought, openness and tolerance, unlike his


native country. In France they kept locking him up. In Britain he was


free to say what he liked. It also turned out, after discoveries of


letters by an Oxford professor, that he was rather well connected


here. Did England make him? Can it be true, that we simple


British folk have something in common with fancy French thinkers?


France soir Voltaire was a philosopher, poet, the first


literary superstar. I do not drag a great name about with me, but do


honour with I have. He raised his cane, I drew my sword, she fainted.


As a young man, Voltaire spent some time in this country. Where,


according to this painstaking reconstruction, children taunted


him, with heart-breaking chance of "-- chants of "frogy Frenchman".


Children I might have not been fortunate enough to be born among


you. But that didn't put him off. He lived on this street in central


London. Newly discovered letters show Voltaire taking to his adopted


home with a real voi of life. He sounds almost -- joy of life. He


sounds almost home sick of England when he writes to an English Lord


This is a breath and better letter in which Voltaire thanks the Lord


for the many weekends he spent in - - bread and butter letter in which


Voltaire thanks the Lord for the many weekends he spent in his house.


It shows him in an important literary circle where he would have


met Pope and Swift. He thanks him for the time he spepbts in the


library, you catch Voltaire -- spent in the library, you catch


Voltaire working in the library, a nice little insight. He was always


a social climber in France and England. He always liked to meet


the high and mighty, the people with titles. But one of the reasons


that he did that, was that if you were a writer, especially in France,


where there was no copyright law, you had to find people who would be


patrons. Voltaire fitted so well in here, he aing gla sized his name,


Reveals. Our French philosopher found out how to keep one the


Jones's and the Smiths'. But can England claim him? Can we claim him


as one of our own? We can, it was while he was here and went back to


France, he wrote probably his most important work, which is about a


series of letters about England. When he comes to England as a young


man, he learns about Lock, Newton, in the 1940s he writes very


extensively explaining and conveying to the French, and then


through the French to the rest of Europe, the importance of Lock's


fis lol fee, and the porpbs of -- philosophy, and the importance of


free thinking, and not approaching problems with a closed mind. You wo


imagine Voltaire's letters did a -- you would imagine Voltaire's


letters did a not for the enfant cordial, but it didn't. Voltaire


encouraged lots of people to go to England on holiday they went and


got laughed at. At the time, even the most snobbish English gentlemen


dressed up as a country gent, going hunting, the French would turn up


with their perfumeed wigs and handerchiefs, and the Londoners


would laugh at them. They blamed Voltaire for that. Perhaps it is


not surprising that Voltaire was accommodating with the old


adversary across the channel. This is a man on his death bed asked to


announce the devil, and he replied, "this is no time to make new


enemies"! That's all from Newsnight tonight,


I leave you in the company of the great R & B singer Etta James, her


death in California was announced today. She was 73, here she is at


the jazz festival in 1979. # Rock me baby


# Rock me all night long # Rock me baby


# Rock me all night long # Rock me baby


# Like my bake ain't got no bone # Roll me baby


Jeremy Paxman has a report on the Free Syrian Army operations inside Damascus. Immigration and benefits. And Voltaire's love of England in his own words.

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