Ferguson protests: Justice denied yet again

November 25, 2014 at 6:20 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, posted by JD, protest, Racism, the cops, United States)

This report comes from the (US) International Socialist Organisation and is the best coverage of the Ferguson protests I’ve yet been able to find:

A grand jury wouldn’t indict Mike Brown’s killer, but the angry protests in Ferguson and beyond show the struggle will go on. Nicole Colson and Alan Maass report.

Mike Brown (Elcardo Anthony)

Above: Mike Brown

DARREN WILSON has gotten away with murder–and the American injustice system sent the message once again that Black lives don’t matter.

It was long after dark on November 24 when St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch marched to the microphone and announced that a grand jury had refused to indict the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer on any charge at all for killing 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.

This was the result that millions of people expected, but it was shocking anyway: A white cop who shot more than a dozen bullets at an unarmed African American teenager, killing him, was not only off the hook, but was being portrayed as a victim.

After days of rising tensions as the long-awaited grand jury decision didn’t come, people in Ferguson and around the country erupted in bitter protest. Even while Barack Obama followed McCulloch onto the airwaves to make his own statement urging peace, police fired their first volleys of tear gas and smoke grenades in Ferguson.

The media bemoaned the “violence” in Ferguson when a police car was wrecked and local businesses set on fire–without the slightest recognition of the violence that African Americans living in a city like Ferguson endure on a daily basis, directly at the hands of racist police and indirectly as a result of endemic poverty and unemployment.

Tory Russell, the co-founder of Hands Up United, responded firmly when asked in a CNN interview if he was “urging calm” after the decision. Russell replied, “I am urging calm. I’m urging calm for the police officers to not pepper spray me, tear gas me, mace me and shoot rubber bullets…People need to urge the police to be calm. Stop hurting kids, stop traumatizing our communities.”

The media vultures had their cameras trained on Ferguson, but there were angry demonstrations around the country after the grand jury decision was announced. In Chicago, hundreds of protesters took over Lake Shore Drive. In Oakland, Calif., in the largest protest in the Bay Area, the hastily organized solidarity demonstration drew more than 1,000 people who marched through downtown and later blockaded Interstate 580, one of the major routes through the city. Nearly a thousand turned out to Times Square.

There will be more protests today and in the days to come. We need to make sure everyone who was outraged by Mike Brown’s murder and inspired by the rebellion in Ferguson against racism and police violence raises their voices and sends a message: We won’t forget Mike Brown–and our struggle for justice will continue.

Read the rest of this entry »

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The politics of privilege-checking

November 19, 2014 at 4:40 pm (Anti-Racism, class, Feminism, LGBT, liberation, multiculturalism, post modernism, posted by JD)

This article is republished from the website of the American International Socialist Organisation, a group once associated with the British SWP, but who broke their links with them some years ago. I think it’s an important contribution to the debate around identity politics, ‘intersectionality’ postmodernism and the relationship between class and oppression. It’s a longish piece, but quite accessible and well worth taking the trouble to read – JD:

Sharon Smith is author of the forthcoming Women and Socialism: Marxism, Feminism and Women’s Liberation [1] and Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States [2]. At the Socialism 2014 conference last June, she spoke at a session that took up the discussion about the politics of privilege theory and the practice of privilege-checking.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

I THINK it’s important to make clear at the outset of this presentation that recognizing and appreciating the degree of gross inequality in capitalist society–which is a necessary feature not only of exploitation, but also of oppression–is much more important than the term you use to describe it. That is, whether you call it “privilege,” or “benefits” or “advantages” is not the main issue.

The only way we can hope to build a movement that fights oppression in all its forms, and also includes all oppressed people within it, is not by minimizing the degree of oppression that exists, but by recognizing its many manifestations–no matter which oppressed group you are discussing.

It is also the case that a solid proportion of people, especially young people, who have become radicalized in recent years have done so precisely because of their recognition of and opposition to oppression–be it racism, sexism, LGBTQ oppression, disability oppression or any number of other forms of oppression that exist today.

This makes sense. On the one hand, the dramatic growth in class inequality since 2008 has led to a sharp rise in class-consciousness–most recently demonstrated by the Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011. But this class-consciousness is mostly limited to anger at class and social inequality–without an obvious connection to a working-class strategy to transform society.

This is completely understandable, since anyone in the U.S. who became politically aware after the mid-1970s will have had little to no opportunity to experience firsthand the solidarity that is palpable among workers who are fighting shoulder to shoulder in an open-ended mass strike. So while the misery caused by the system is obvious to all those who are radicalizing today, the potential power of the working class is not.

Recent generations of young radicals have often gotten their first introduction to the issue of combatting oppression through reading the very influential Peggy McIntosh essay of 1989, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

The best thing about this essay is that it forces its white readers to appreciate the many manifestations of racism in everyday life. But the essay itself primarily focuses on individual awareness, rather than putting forward a particular strategy for ending racism. I also find that it tends to conflate the meaning of “white” people with white middle-class people, without actually integrating a class analysis.

For its intended purposes, though, this essay raises awareness and does some good–mainly arguing that white people looking at themselves in the mirror should realize the many ways that people of color are victimized in ways that white people do not experience. And McIntosh certainly doesn’t call for privilege-checking as a strategy for social change. This strategy arrived to the radical left much later on. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ignorance and self-righteousness will not help the anti-racist cause

October 2, 2014 at 7:48 am (Anti-Racism, Art and design, censorship, Free Speech, immigration, Jim D)

Spot the similarities:

1/ From BBC News (East):

Banksy mural showing pigeons in Clacton 

Banksy anti-immigration birds mural in Clacton-on-Sea destroyed

New Banksy mural painted on park wall

A new Banksy mural showing a group of pigeons holding anti-immigration banners has been destroyed following a complaint the work was “racist”.

The mural in Clacton-on-Sea – where a by-election is due to take place following the local MP’s defection to UKIP – appeared this week.

It showed four pigeons holding signs including “Go Back to Africa”, while a more exotic-looking bird looked on.

The local council, which removed it, said it did not know it was by Banksy.

Tendring District Council said it received a complaint that the mural was “offensive” and “racist”.

The artist, who chooses to remain anonymous, posted pictures of the work on his website earlier.

But by the time it had been announced, the mural had already been removed due to the complaint received on Tuesday.

******************************************************************************************************

2/ From politics.co.uk

Thin-skinned anti-racist protestors shut down an anti-racist exhibit

 
flexible

By Ian Dunt 

 

The closing down of the Barbican’s Exhibit B event marks a significant moment in the rise of censorship in Britain. We have now become so sensitive, so uninterested in the purpose of a work of art, that we are closing down exhibits intended to support our own politics. We are censoring ourselves.

 What an extraordinary point to have reached. Self-professed anti-racist campaigners shutting down an anti-racist exhibit because it features images of racism. Two hundred of them blocked the entrance and the road leading to the building. Organisers cancelled last night’s performance and then confirmed the remaining performances would be cancelled as well.

 

One wonders how else we are supposed to dramatise racism without featuring images of it? Should 12 Years a Slave have been banned too? It was hardly an easy watch.

The black performers in Exhibit B stand perfectly still, in chains, in a reference to the ‘human zoos’ of the Nineteenth Century. There are also exhibits featuring modern-day asylum seekers, with accompanying text describing them as “found objects”

This is how the actors themselves described it:

“Each audience member walks in alone into the exhibit, and each performer is exhibited in their own tableau vivant. Each performer is instructed by Brett to look into the eyes of each audience member. On arrival, at the first tableau, most people don’t even recognise that human beings are standing there. For a moment, particularly for the first few, we are objects.

“Then, our eyes meet.

“In that moment when our eyes meet, we cease to be objectified and become human. Some people literally jump back. Some break into tears; others immediately look away. Others still gaze deeper as their eyes well up.

“As they move through the exhibit, we watch them and witness anger, grief, pity, sadness, compassion. Above all, we witness a dawning of awareness. This is why we keep doing this, and would keep on doing it, if we could.”

I haven’t seen the exhibit. I can’t, because the protestors have managed to shut it down. But even without having seen it, it is quite clear that it was an anti-racist event, conceived by someone challenging racism and performed by those who shared his vision. It was trying to draw links between the injustices of the past, which we understand to be so, and those of the present, which are still subject to debate. The Guardian, that bastion of racism, called it “unbearable and essential”.

It is perfectly obvious the Barbican would never put on a racist event. It would be almost impossible to smuggle a racist piece of theatre, TV or visual art into modern Britain. So the ultra-sensitivity which has overcome our political debate feeds not on racism, but on the use of shock in art. The same applies in journalism. Demands for ‘trigger warnings’ are fired off angrily every time something even remotely emotive is published online.

For whole sections of the left and right, offence is something to be wallowed in, to be savoured. It is as if they are dedicated to seeking out and exploiting opportunities for it.

And yet, there is precious little support for actually tackling the brutality of Britain’s immigration and asylum system. Earlier this month Rubel Ahmed died in a British immigration detention centre. Authorities say he took his own life. Fellow residents say he was crying out in pain and no-one came to help. Either way, he was a victim of an immigration system which locks up the most vulnerable people in our society without them having committed a crime. And yet when protests are organised against it, the numbers are far fewer than the 22,000 who signed a petition attacking the Barbican for Exhibit B.

The modern censorship movement dresses itself up in compassionate clothing, but it is fundamentally selfish. It does not care about the world. It cares only about its own feelings.

The protestors who shut down Exhibit B should be ashamed of themselves. They act against their own principles, while doing nothing to help those who might actually need them.

* depressing, self-righteous rubbish in the Morning Star

* A more intelligent view from Catherine Bennett in the Observer

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The Anti-Anti-Semitism of Fools

September 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, left, posted by JD)

Cross post By Eric Lee

I have just come back from attending a large demonstration in central London [on Sunday -JD] protesting the rise of anti-Semitism in the UK.

The demonstration was organised by a new group called the Campaign Against Antisemitism. It was backed by all the major Jewish organisations in Britain, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and many others. Nearly a thousand people signed up to attend the demo on Facebook; it looked to me like there at least that number there. The crowd seemed overwhelmingly Jewish.

Now if this had been a demonstration against racism, organized by the leadership of the Black communities in Britain, I can guarantee you that a wide range of Left groups would have been there to show their solidarity. You would have found assorted Trotskyists and others selling their newspapers, handing out leaflets and showing that they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with an ethnic minority group struggling against racist assaults, while busily trying to recruit new members.

But at this demonstration, I didn’t see a single left group of any kind with an obvious presence. There may have been individual socialists – like myself – there; but there were no banners, newspapers, or flyers.

The Jewish community seemed to be very much on its own. As if it alone could sense the danger.

On the face of it, this is odd. The rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and across Europe is well documented. Even the Muslim Council of Britain seems to acknowledge this problem in the joint declaration it issued last week together with the Board of Deputies calling for a joint fight against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

The eloquent Owen Jones addressed the problem in a recent column for the Guardian. Entitled “Anti-Jewish hatred is rising – we must see it for what it is”, Jones wrote that “there really is plenty of antisemitism that must be confronted.” And he then went on to point to rising anti-Semitism on the far Right in Greece. And Jew-hatred among the far-Rightists in Hungary. And of course anti-Semitism on the French far Right, in the form of the National Front.

But not a word about anti-Semitism in the UK. And of course no mention of anti-Semitism in Muslim communities, or the Left.

Jones is possibly unaware of the long history of anti-Semitism on the Left, a history that goes back to very earliest days of our movement. August Bebel, the great leader of German Social Democracy, famously called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools”. (Some scholars think that the quote is wrongly attributed to Bebel, but no matter – it was widely known more than a century ago.)

Classic anti-Semitic ideas like exaggerated notions of Jewish power and wealth grew in the fertile soil of the Left long before the Palestinian issue ever arose. Left anti-Semitism pre-dates the recent Gaza war by at least a century. It may flare up when the guns are firing in Gaza, but it is always there, a low flame that doesn’t extinguish.

People like Owen Jones, and many of those on the British Left who were so notably absent from today’s demonstration, seem prepared to see anti-Semitism everywhere but in front of their noses.

Their opposition to Jew-hatred may be called the “anti-anti-Semitism of fools” as it has nothing in common with a real fight against anti-Semitism.

As a result, they leave the Jewish community alone – or drive it into the arms of right-wing demagogues who are happy for any excuse to bash the Muslim community or the Left.

And it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Left should be in the forefront of the fight against anti-Semitism, should embrace that fight and claim it as our own. We should be helping to build widespread public support for that fight, and providing it with analysis and programme.

Instead, the Left sits by the sidelines, its head in the sand, muttering about “Golden Dawn” in Greece rather than actually fighting the poison of anti-Semitism here in the UK, and here on the Left.

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Protest against IS and the genocide of the Yazidis! Support workers, women and oppressed minorities in Iraq!

August 21, 2014 at 7:36 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, AWL, Human rights, internationalism, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, secularism, solidarity, terror, women)

6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).

mount sinjar

A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar

Facebook event

The organisers say:

“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism

“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”

***

Other sponsoring organisations

Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
Workers’ Liberty

For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708 

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James Garner, civil rights activist

July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am (Anti-Racism, cinema, civil rights, good people, Jim D, RIP)

This hasn’t been mentioned in any of the obituaries that I’ve read in the UK media … but now I’ve found something about it in the Washington Post.

James Garner with Diahann Carroll at the March on Washington 1963. Now that's a man. RIP

Nice to know he really was a good guy (is that Nina Simone he’s holding hands with?)

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James P. Cannon: A Blood Transfusion

April 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm (Anti-Racism, class, history, James P. Cannon, posted by JD, Racism, socialism, solidarity, United States, workers)

Claiming rights as Americans

Back in March, the sometime-socialist Seymour posted this piece of far-right apologia (and rank anti-Semitism) on his blog. He has since received a resounding rebuke, and replied – characteristically- with childish, yah-boo petulance  predicated upon the idea that long words equal serious thought. If I thought it would do this buffoon any good, I’d dedicate the following elementary lesson in the socialist attitude to race, to him:

The veteran Trotskyist James P. Cannon, writing in the US Socialist Workers Party’s paper The Militant, in May 1947:

Things are not exactly what they used to be in South Carolina. The mob of 31 white men who lined the Negro Willie Earl, and admitted it with ample detail in signed statements, were put to the inconvenience of a trial in court. That is something new. But it turned out to be a very small point, for the lynchers were all triumphantly acquitted and the dead man is still dead. That’s the same old story. Lynch law is still riding high; the courtroom “trial” only added a touch of mockery.

Well, that’s one way of handling the race problem and advertising the American way of life to the benighted peoples of the world, who were looking in and listening in through the press and the radio, and it may be safely assumed that the lesson will not be lost on them.

But I have seen it done another way — here in America too — and perhaps it would be timely now to report it as a footnote to the South Carolina affair. This incident occurred at Sandstone prison during our sojourn there in the fall of 1944. I wrote about it at the time in a letter, as fully as I could in the rigidly restricted space of the one sheet of paper allowed for prison correspondence. This left room only for the bare facts, a strictly news report without amplification. But I believe the factual story speaks well enough for itself as then reported, without any additional comment.

Here is the letter:

“I have seen a triumph of medical science which was also a triumph of human solidarity here at Sandstone. When I went up to the hospital at ‘sick call’ one day to have my sore toes dressed, I immediately sensed that something was missing, something was wrong. There were no nurses in evidence; the door of the doctor’s office was locked; and the other convicts on sick call were standing in the corridor in oppressive silence. The reason soon became manifest. Through the glass door of the record office, and beyond that through the glass door of the operating room, we could see the masked doctors and nurses moving back and forth around the operating table. Not a sound reached us through the double door. Now a doctor, now a nurse, moved in and out of view, only their heads, rather their drawn faces, showing, like figures on a silent movie screen.

“The word was passed along the ‘line’ in hushed whispers: a colored man was dying. A desperate emergency operation was failing; the poor black convict’s life was slipping out of the doctor’s hands like a greased thread. But we could see that the doctors were still working, still trying, and one could sense the unspoken thought of all the men on the line; their concern, their sympathy, and in spite of everything, their hope for their comrade on the operating table.

“After what seemed an endless time, the prison pharmacist who was assisting in the operation came out through the double door into the corridor. His face was a picture of exhaustion, of defeat and despair. There would be no ‘sick call’ he said: the doctors would not be free for some time. The case of the colored man was apparently hopeless, but the doctors were going to make one final desperate effort. They were sewing up the abdominal wound on the slender, practically non-existent chance that by blood transfusions, they could keep the man alive and then build up his strength for the shock of another stage of the complicated and drawn-out operation.

“Then came a new difficulty. The sick man’s blood was hard to ‘type’. The blood of the first colored fellow-convicts who volunteered was unsuitable. But the sick Negro got the blood he needed just the same. The white convicts rose up en masse to volunteer for transfusions. I think every man in our dormitory offered to give his blood. The sick man hung between life and death for weeks; but the life-giving fluid of the white convicts, steadily transfused into his body, eventually gave the strength for a second, and successful, operation.

“I sae him line up with the rest of us for the yard count yesterday, this Negro with the blood of white men coursing through his veins, and I thought: The whites, over the centuries, have taken a lot of blood from the blacks; it is no more than right that one of them should get a little of it back.”

(NB The US Socialist Workers Party, of which Cannon was leader, has nothing to do with the UK group of the same name).  

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Remembering the Holocaust via hip-hop (!)

January 27, 2014 at 12:16 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, Education, genocide, history, Jim D, solidarity, youth)

This project – a collaboration between the Cincinnati youth arts centre ‘Elementz’ and the (Reform synagogue) Temple Sholom – may seem a strange way of remembering the Holocaust. Some might even consider it inappropriate. But it’s clearly well-intentioned and seems to be raising awareness amongst these young people. It’s also in marked contrast to the trend in some “radical” circles these days to down-play Holocaust remembrance, or dismiss it as an “industry” or a pro-Zionist conspiracy.

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The ‘New Statesman’ addresses anti-Semitism

January 26, 2014 at 7:22 pm (Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, Jim D, Middle East, New Statesman, palestine, Pilger, populism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)

Here’s something you won’t often read at Shiraz or hear from me: I recommend you to buy this week’s New Statesman.

New Statesman
.

Perhaps intended to coincide with Holocaust Memorial Day, the current issue carries two articles on anti-Semitism: Anthony Clavane on anti-Semitism and the left, and Andrew Hussey on Dieudonné and the re-emergence of the “negationist” tradition in French politics. Both are very informative and well-argued pieces, but their real significance is that they appear in the New Statesman at all. In recent years the magazine’s anti-Zionism has often taken on a strident tone and in the case of regular contributor John Pilger, veered dangerously close to outright anti-Semitism. And, of course, back in 2002, under then-editor Peter Wilby, the magazine brought out its infamous “A kosher conspiracy” edition. An apology was eventually extracted from an initially defiant Wilby, but the wretched man continues to contribute a regular column.

The present issue is not yet available online, so I’m reproducing an excerpt from Clavane’s piece, including a reference to the “A kosher conspiracy” row:

Criticising Israel, as many Jews do, and Zionism as an ideology, which a much smaller number but still a significant minority of the community does, are perfectly valid positions. Publishing an anti-Zionist cover story featuring a golden Star of David stabbing a pliant Union flag with the headline “A kosher conspiracy?”, as the New Statesman (then under different ownership and editorship) did in 2002, is not. It should not have to be spelled out, though this magazine’s then editor did so in a subsequent apology, that all principled critics of Israeli policies should avoid using anti-Semitic images and narratives. They should not, as the BBC’s Tim Llewellyn once did, accuse American politicians such as Dennis Ross of hiding behind “a lovely Anglo-Saxon name”. (Llewellyn went on to say that Ross is “not just a Jew, he is a Zionist … a Zionist propagandist”.) They should have no truck with vile anti-Jewish calumnies, including the blood-libel slur, routinely rehearsed in anti-Zionist Arab textbooks.

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File:NewStatesmancover.jpg
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“The Zionist lobby,” Dieudonné told the Iranian-funded Press TV, “have taken France as hostage and we are in the hands of ignorant people, who know how to structure themselves into a Mafia-like organisation and…have now taken over the country.”

As Dave Rich at the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors anti-Jewish attacks in Britain, explains: “this is not the anti-Zionism of people who think that the Palestinians get a raw deal from Israel: it is the anti-Zionism of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy theory that believes Jews pull all the strings.”

“We need to keep things in perspective,” warns David Feldman, of the Pears institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism. “we have experienced the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, with Jews prominent in many places [in finance]. Yet in contrast to the situation 80 years ago, few radicals have proposed anti-Semitic explanations.”

As Jonathan Freedland, who writes a weekly column in the Guardian and a monthly column in the Jewish Chronicle, points out, so far only “a few marginal political voices” on the British left have flirted with anti-Semitic tropes. However, after a property website owned by a Jewish businessman withdrew its sponsorship of West Brom on 20 January, and then the FA announced it was charging Anelka, the liberal-left commentariat was presented with a perfect opportunity to take a stand against such tropes. Yet more silence. In fact, it was left to the right-wing controversialist Rod Liddle to condemn the striker’s “repulsive” support for his Jew-baiting friend.

“On this issue,” Freedland told me, “all anti-racists of good conscience should have leapt in. Dieudonné is aligned with the far right. He’s had criminal convictions for anti-Semitism. My worry is that, as time passed before the FA’s announcement and the lack of outrage continued, it didn’t send out a strong message about anti-Semitism

“The quenelle was a previously obscure gesture in this country and now it’s known. So this is the moment to make the point that no self-respecting person on the left should accept a supposedly ‘anti-establishment’ position which in fact says it’s the Jews who are ‘the establishment’.”

Anthony Clavane’s latest book is “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?” (Quercus £6.99)

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Racism; Censorship; Disunity

January 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm (academe, Anti-Racism, censorship, Feminism, Free Speech, intellectuals, murder, post modernism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, relativism, strange situations, tragedy, truth, women)

Read this piece. Think about it. Share it:

Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)

By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):

On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:

Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.

That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):

This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.

Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

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On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »

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