Sarah Khan on ‘Trojan Horse’

July 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm (Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, communalism, Education, Islam, islamism, misogyny, reblogged, relativism, religion, religious right, sexism, women)

This article first appeared at the Telegraph‘s website. It makes a refershing change from the waffle and evasion that’s been published in the Graun on the same subject. I do not have Sarah’s permission for republishing this, but it’s so good I thought it simply deserved the widest possible audience, and I suspect most Shiraz readers don’t read the Telegraph in either print or electronic format:

Trojan Horse plot: we must not excuse bigots on the grounds that they are Muslim

Bigotry is bigotry, whether it’s religious or not.

By Sarah Khan, director of Inspire

As a Muslim, I object to hardliners and apologists who try to excuse bigotry on the grounds that it’s “Islamic”
One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”

Let’s be clear. These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.

How did it come to this? Part of the reason is the lack of a clear understanding within society of what actually constitutes anti-Muslim prejudice which is then manipulated fully by Muslim hardliners who know this only too well and who gleefully run circles around liberals. But another reason is also because of the confusing messages that are emitted which treat Islam and all Muslims as if they are a homogenous block, and the refusal by Muslims in authority to call out bigotry when they see it being committed by Muslims themselves. Despite their attempts of speaking out in favour of Islam, they refuse to separate the bigoted views of some Muslims from Islam itself.

Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”

For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such. Yet predictably, Muslim representative bodies like the MCB at best sound wishy-washy, and at worst continue to defend and justify such bigotry under the guise of “conservative Muslim practice.”

H/t: Howie

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Unions vote against ending austerity in 2015

July 23, 2014 at 8:51 pm (Champagne Charlie, Cuts, grovelling, labour party, unions, Unite the union)

We’re reproducing another article by Jon Lansman of Left Futures. A behind-the-scenes supporter of Shiraz, who holds a senior position in one of the major unions, recommends Jon’s stuff as the best informed and most incisive commentary there is on the Labour-union link. This secret Shiraz-supporter particularly likes the way Jon brings out the fact (ignored by the likes of the Socialist Party and the SWP) that the trade union leadership is 100% complicit in all the Labour leadership’s “betrayals.”

Embedded image permalink

Above: Unite funds the People’s Assembly, but Len votes for austerity at Labour’s NPF

The climax of Labour’s formal policy process this weekend which had involved 1,300 amendments from local parties to eight policy documents, filtered down and composited by 77 regional representatives, was a debate on austerity. That’s fitting given that it is the foundation of the Coalition’s disastrous economic policy and, unfortunately, in a lighter version, of Ed Balls’s approach too.

What was less fitting, indeed shocking, was that it was a debate in which George McManus, the Yorkshire constituency representative moving the amendment, was given just one minute to speak, and Ed Balls the same. George made a great speech which you can read below. Ed’s speech consisted of a list of those who had withdrawn their amendments in favour of the “consensus wording” as if that was a sufficient argument for the perpetuation of austerity (and he ran over his time). There were no other speakers. The vote was 127 to 14 against the proposal that Labour’s policy be amended to read:

We recognise that the cost of living crisis is inextricably linked to government’s self-defeating austerity agenda. That is why we will introduce an emergency budget in 2015 to reject Tory spending plans for 2015-16 and beyond and set out how we will pursue a policy of investment for jobs and growth.”

Those voting against included some people representing the seven CLPs and numerous NPF members who had submitted almost identical wording and many more who essentially agreed with the amendment including representatives of all major trade unions (I’m told media and entertainment union BECTU voted for). After the vote, some of them, including leading MPs and trade unionists admitted their continuing support. They nevertheless felt compelled to vote against their own preferences and the policies of their unions. Continue reading →

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The Guardian now recognises the truth of ‘Trojan Horse’! Will the NUT and SWP follow?

July 21, 2014 at 11:47 am (apologists and collaborators, Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, Education, Guardian, Islam, islamism, misogyny, Racism, relativism, religion, secularism, sexism, SWP)

The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.

Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt  upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.

Clearly it's time for Government to have a serious rethink about the role of religion in the education sector. Here's our position:

Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”

This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School  (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised  by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.

Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of  the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.

Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of  Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”

Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”

Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”

Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”

So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?

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Not an inch to Tory Europhobia!

July 1, 2014 at 1:14 pm (Champagne Charlie, David Cameron, Europe, internationalism, labour party, Murdoch, populism, Racism, reformism, Tory scum)

Above: the Europhobes’ last bogey-man

The Tory braying over Cameron’s “brave”/”principled” (etc, etc) stand against Jean-Claude Juncker is as preposterous as it is cynical. It’s quite clear that though some swivel-eyed backwoodsmen may take Cameron’s talk of “principle” at face value, the whole ridiculous charade has been a cynical exercise dreamt up by Lynton Crosby, to appease xenophobes within and without having to propose any specific policies or, indeed, actually do anything in particular other than vote against the “federalist” bogey-man.

The identification of Juncker as the embodiment of everything to be hated and despised about the EU is simply a re-run of the little-England hate-fest whipped up in the late-eighties and early-nineties by the Tories and the Murdoch press against Jacques Delores. Of course, Delores was a social democrat who really did stand for a (limited) extension of the ‘Social Europe’ agenda, including things like the Working Time Directive and the Acquired Rights Directive (aka TUPE). Juncker, on the other hand, is a mainstream centre-right politician with no interest in furthering  ‘Social Europe’ or enhancing workers’ rights in any way. But for the Tories, that’s not the point: he’s a “federalist” bureaucrat and an enemy of “reform” in Europe. What exactly this “reform” that Cameron keeps banging on about, is, remains largely unspecified, but when pushed, the Tories point to the Working Time Directive – that outrageous piece of foreign interference that denies all true English people their inalienable right to work more than 48 hours per week (unless they sign a chitty saying they want to).

So you don’t need psychic powers to know what the Tories mean when they talk about “reform” in Europe: dismantling the Social Europe agenda, removing the limited rights and protections that workers have achieved in Europe and – of course – restricting the free movement of labour within Europe. In other words, a thoroughly reactionary anti-working class agenda, spiced up with xenophobia and outright racism.

Junker is no friend of the working class, even to the extent that Delores was. But what the hell was Labour doing joining in with the Tories in demonising him? It’s also disappointing to see some usually thoughtful leftists and internationalists making concessions to this nonsense.

For once, the Graun‘s Polly Toynbee, not often someone we quote with approval here at Shiraz, has got it right (apart from her softness on the Lib Dems):

 There is no middle way on this one. Its [ie Labour's] stand must be: “This is the moment to choose: Vote Ukip or Tory if you want Out; vote Labour (or Lib Dem) for In to save British jobs.” Immigration drives much popular anti-Europeanism, so Labour has no choice but to say immigration is the price for prosperity. Time for gloves off with Ukip voters. Stop pretending a Ukip vote is respectable and call Faragists out as job-destroying racists and xenophobes. Explaining the decision to deny a referendum requires a bolder pro-EU message, and a more abrasive anti-Ukip and anti-Tory warning.

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Birmingham NUT on ‘Trojan Horse’

June 27, 2014 at 8:48 pm (Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, Education, islamism, unions)

Shiraz Socialist reproduces this resolution exactly as it was circulated by Birmingham NUT:
File:NUT logo.png

Resolution passed at Birmingham NUT Exec meeting 12 June

We recognise that the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair has been politically charged and that the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove has made numerous attacks to further his agenda:

We strongly oppose all of these attacks. We say to Gove: ‘Hands Off Birmingham Schools’ . We welcome and support the ‘Hands Off Birmingham Schools’ campaign. 

It is vital that the BANUT is CLEARLY seen to be opposing the Islamophobia that a large section of Birmingham’s citizens (and NUT members) are feeling. That includes making public statements that clearly reject the Islamophobic nature of the discourse. Within this context we believe that Ofsted reports have been politically charges and we reject the notion that they could possibly be fair and unbiased reporting of the schools.

However, while taking account of the government’s motivation we do not base our response on it., we make our own critical assessment of the evidence presented in the reports which includes:

a) The role of governors.

b) The role of school management.

c) Curriculum and equality issues.

To ignore or downplay these issues, insofar as the evidence is accurate, or to fail to put forward an effective strategy to deal with them, including within the Hands Off Our Schools campaign, would be to depart from NUT principles.

We therefore resolve:
i) to seek and evaluate further evidence from our members in the schools and from other sources in the community;
ii) where poor practice exists, to work with staff in these schools to adopt better policies such as those agreed with the local authority.
iii) where point (ii) is insufficient to deal with the problem, to support intervention by the local authority.
iv) to raise and seek support for these concerns and actions within the Hands Off Our Schools campaign.

4. We reject Gove’s solution, which is to force Saltley to become a sponsored academy and to transfer the four academies to be run by new sponsors.

We therefore state that it should be the role of the LA, not Gove or Ofsted, to deal with any issues at the schools in question or elsewhere in Birmingham.

7. BANUT needs to act collectively with its members and others such as Birmingham Trades Council, and should, amongst other actions:
a) send a questionnaire to members in all the affected schools.
b) convene a meeting/meetings with members in all the affected schools.
c) consider holding a Special General Meeting.
d) encourage twinning arrangements between schools.
e) Support meetings in localities.
f) Hold a public meeting.
g) Support any action against racism that arises in reaction to this matter.
h) Encourage parents to participate with our ‘Stand Up For Education’ campaign.

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“Reyaad, I’m dying for you”

June 25, 2014 at 8:33 am (Champagne Charlie, iraq, islamism, Middle East, religion, terror, tragedy)

This is so desperately sad that I thought twice about publishing it. But it’s important to be aware of the immediate human consequences of young men being seduced by a fascist ideology – especially as some idiots seem to wilfully misunderstand what’s going on.

From the Daily Telegraph:

By Tom Whitehead

Young British jihadist Reyaad Khan was told he was “killing his parents” and had turned them against Islam, the Daily Telegraph can disclose.

His uncle texted the fanatic pleading with him to come home because he was tearing his family apart.

The stark message also warned Khan that his father would “pray he went to hell” if he did not come home.

The desperate attempts to get Khan back emerged as his mother Rukia made an emotional plea to her son to come home.

She also pleaded directly to terror group Isis to send her son back to her before she “died”.

Khan’s family said they were in shock when they discovered he had gone to Syria and believe he has been “brainwashed” by extremists, either over the internet or in Cardiff

He disappeared in November after telling his family he was going to Birmingham for talks.

He phoned his uncle, who asked not to be named, to reveal he was actually in Syria and asked him to “tell his mother”.

The uncle then embarked on a series of text message exchanges trying to persuade his nephew to return.

In one, he wrote: “I must let you know that you are killing your parents with worry and stress to the level that they hate Islam.

“Blame Islam for their son.”

He told him that his father had said “If you do not come back he prays for you to go to hell.

“Your dad curses you in a way you would not believe and hates the mosques.”

But Khan simply replied: “I’m fine. No reception, I cannot speak.”

The uncle told the Telegraph: “I was shocked and told him he should be here. I said to come back home now. I said ‘come home, you will kill your mother’.”

The uncle said he could not tell Khan’s mother at first “because she would have collapsed”.

She was devastated by the news and was “acting mad and screaming”, he said. “She was blaming everyone.”

In her own tearful appeal, Mrs Khan said: “Reyaad, please come back home. I’m dying for you. You’re my only son. Please come back Reyaad.”

She also begged Isis: “Please send my son back home. He is my one and only son. I and my family need him back. Please just send my son back to me before I die and it is going to be too late for Reyaad, he’s going to regret it for the rest of his life.

“Please send my son back to me and his family. We all need him.”

She told Sky News: “He is honest, always caring for his family, he always wanted to be there for them. He was one of the best boys a mother could ever have or want.

“I think they are brainwashed into thinking they are going to help people. I don’t know who it is but there is someone behind them keeping these young, innocent boys, brainwashing them into thinking they are going to help people. There is someone behind them, I don’t know who.”

The mother said the actions of her 20-year-old son had hugely impacted on her family.

“It is absolutely devastating. It has turned our lives upside down. I can’t sleep or eat, I am very ill,” she said.

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Miliband and the Sun: WTF does he think he’s playing at?

June 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm (Champagne Charlie, labour party, Murdoch, plonker)

I voted for Ed Miliband  to be leader of the Labour Party. I have continued to defend him in arguments with disappointed friends and colleagues. When Eric Lee wrote this, I was inclined to think he (Eric) was either pulling our bell-ends, or had gone a bit bonkers. But now I’m not so sure…

Ed Miliband

Even Ed’s harshest critics tend to concede that he’s bright. So WTF is he doing endorsing Murdoch’s rag? Surely he (and/or his small army of advisers and spin-doctors) should have realised this would antagonise pretty much the entire population of Liverpool, most traditional Labour supporters and disillusioned ex-Liberal-voting Guardianistas: in other words a hefty chunk of the very voters Labour will depend upon at the next general election.

What a complete and utter plonker.

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D-Day: part of the anti-fascist struggle

June 6, 2014 at 7:01 pm (anti-fascism, Champagne Charlie, Europe, France, hell, history, imperialism, liberation, solidarity, war)

Ernest Mandel once proposed that World War Two should be seen as, simultaneously, an inter-imperialist dispute and an anti-fascist struggle. The two elements are difficult to disentangle, even in retrospect, but both should be recognised and, insofar as we can, distinguished between. D-Day was, I’d contend, indubitably part of the anti-fascist struggle. The young workers who fought and died then, and the dwindling band of elderly survivors, deserve our profound respect and gratitude.

Max Hastings (yes, I know he’s a Tory, but he’s also a damned good military historian), wrote in his superb book on WW2, All Hell Let Loose (Harper Press 2011):

Meticulous planning and immense armaments promised Overlord‘s success, but the hazards of weather and the skill of the German army fed apprehension in many British and American breasts. The consequences of failure must be appalling: civilian morale would plummet on both sides of the Atlantic; senior commanders would have to be sacked and replaced; the presige of the Western Allies, so long derided by Stalin for feebleness, would be grievously injured, likewise the authority of Roosevelt and Churchill. Even after three year’s attrition in the east, the German army remained a formidable fighting force. It was vital that Eisenhower should confront von Rundstedt’s sixty divisions in the west with superior combat power. Yet the invaders were supported by such a vast logistical and support ‘tail’ that, even when they reached their maximum strength in 1945, they would deploy only sixty American and twenty British and Canadian combat divisions. Air power, together with massive armoured and artillery strength, was called upon to compensate for inadequate infantry numbers.

[...]

For the young men who made the assault on 6 June 1944, however, such grand truths meant nothing: they recognised only the mortal peril each one must face, to breach Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The invasion began with drops by one British and two  American airborne divisions on the night of5 June. The landings were chaotic but achieved their objectives, confusing the Germans and securing the flanks of the assault zone; paratroopers engaged enemy forces wherever they encountered them with an energy worthy of such elite formations.

Sgt. Mickey McCallum never forgot his first firefight, a few hours after landing. A German machine-gunner mortally wounded the man next to him, Private Bill Atlee. McCullum asked Attlee ‘if he was hit bad’. The soldier replied, ‘I’m dying Sergeant Mickey, but we’re going to win this damn war, aren’t we? You damn well A we are.’ McCallum did not know where Atlee hailed from, but thought his choice of words suggested an east coast man. He was passionately moved that this soldier, in his last moments, thought of the cause rather than himself. In the hours and days that followed, many other such young men displayed similar spirit and were obliged to make a matching sacrifice. At dawn on 6 June, six infantry divisions with supporting armour struck the beaches of Normandy across a thirty-mile front; one Canadian and two British formations landed on the left, three American divisions on the right.

Operation Overlord was the greatest combined operation in history. Some 5,300 ships carried 150,000 men and 1,500 tanks, scheduled to land in the first wave, supported by 12,000 aircraft. On the French coast that morning, a drama unfolded in three dimensions such as the world would never behold again, British and Canadian troops poured ashore at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, exploiting innovative armoured technology to overwhelm the defences, many of them manned by Osttruppen of Hitler’s empire. ‘I was the first tank coming ashore and the Germans started opening up with machine-gun bullets,’ said Canadian Sgt. Leo Gariepy. ‘But when we came to a halt on the beach, it was only then that they realized we were a tank when we pulled down our canvas skirt, the flotation gear. Then they saw we were Shermans.’ Private Jim Cartwright of the South Lancashires said, ‘As soon as I hit the beach I wanted to get away from the water. I think I went across the beach like a hare.’

The Americans seized Utah, the elbow of the Cherbourg peninsula, with only a small loss. ‘You know, it sounds kind of dumb, but it was just like an exercise,’ said a private soldier wonderingly. ‘We waded ashore like kids in a crocodile and up the beach. A couple of shells came over but nowhere near us. I think I even felt somehow disappointed, a little let down.’ Further east at Omaha beach, however, Americans suffered the heaviest casualties of the day — more than eight hundred killed. The German defending unit , while no elite, was composed of better troops than those manning most of the Channel front, and kept up vigorous fire against the invaders. ‘No one was moving forward,’ wrote AP correspondent Don Whitehead. ‘Wounded men, drenched by cold water, lay in the gravel … “Oh God, lemme aboard the boat,” whimpered a youth in semi-delirium. Near him a shivering boy dug with bare fingers into the sand. Shells were bursting on all sides of us, some so close that they threw black water and dirt over us in showers.’

A private soldier wrote: ‘ There were men crying with fear, men defecating themselves. I lay there with some others, too petrified to move. No one was doing anything except lay there. It was like mass paralysis. I couldn’t see an officer. At one point something hit me on the arm. I thought I’d taken a bullet. It was somebody’s hand, taken clean off by something. It was too much.’ For half the morning, the Omaha assault hung on the edge of failure; only after several hours of apparent stalemate on the sands did small groups of determined men, Rangers notable among them, work their way up the bluffs above the sea, gradually overwhelming the defenders.

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Mickey Rooney – as Puck – bows out

April 8, 2014 at 1:50 pm (Champagne Charlie, cinema, film, Guardian, Marxism, RIP)

Thanks to the Guardian (and how often do we say that here?) for reminding us of this remarkable Mickey Rooney performance from 1935:

The Graun even manages to find a Karl Marx connection;

In 1935 the late Mickey Rooney played Puck in Max Reinhardt’s movie of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critical opinion was mixed – as it was for the audacious casting of James Cagney as Bottom. But, in his indomitable way, Rooney captured the manic mischief of a character who has one of the Bard’s great lines – “Lord, what fools these mortals be” – and who should be taken more seriously than he sometimes is. Shakespeare’s is only the most famous incarnation of one of English folklore’s great creations, “the oldest Old Thing in England” as Kipling’s Puck describes himself. As Puck, the Hobgoblin or Robin Goodfellow, the laughing sprite is a great subversive, as Karl Marx recognised when he wrote about “our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that worthy pioneer – the Revolution”. It’s not often you get Mickey Rooney and Karl Marx in the same sentence, but Puck makes all things possible.

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The Graun on Britten: political idiots hail a political idiot

November 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm (apologists and collaborators, Beyond parody, Champagne Charlie, crap, grovelling, Guardian, history, jerk, middle class, music, relativism, stalinism, truth, USSR)

Today’s Graun carries an editorial about a man who wrote some fine music but who was (to be charitable) an idiot when it came to politics. Maybe because his execrable political opinions quite resemble those of many Graun journalists and (no doubt) readers, it’s an almost laughable piece of hagiography:

Benjamin Britten at 100: voice of the century

Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality 

Imagine an English classical music composer who is so famous in his own lifetime that his name is known throughout the country, who is the first British composer to end his life as a peer of the realm, a composer from whom the BBC uniquely commissions a prime-time new opera for television, and whose every important new premiere is a national event, a recording of one of which – though it is 90 minutes long – sells 200,000 copies almost as soon as it is released, and a musician whose death leads the news bulletins and the front pages.

Next, imagine an English classical composer who is a gay man when homosexuality is still illegal, who lives and writes at an angle to the world, who can compose strikingly subversive music, who is passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes.

Now, imagine an English composer who in many estimations is simply the most prodigiously talented musician ever born in this country, who wrote some of the deepest and most rewarding scores of the 20th century, who set the English language to music more beautifully than anyone before or since, who almost single-handedly created an English operatic tradition and who, all his life, saw it as his responsibility to write music, not just for the academic priesthood or for the music professionals but for the common people, young and old, of his country.

Benjamin Britten, who was born in Lowestoft 100 years ago, was not just some of those multifarious things. He was all of them. And he was much more besides – including a wonderful pianist, the founder of the Aldeburgh Festival, and arguably the 20th century composer who is best served by his own extensive legacy in the recording studio. He was also, as many have written, a difficult and troubled man – even at times a troubling one.

Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality. In his 1964 Aspen lecture, Britten said: “I do not write for posterity.” In fact, he did. In his lecture he said he wanted his music to be useful – a noble aim for an artist. He said he did not write for pressure groups, snobs or critics. He wrote, he said, as a member of society. His job was to write music that would inspire, comfort, touch, entertain and “even educate” his fellows. Britten spoke – and composed – as a serious man of his serious time. Impressively, much of that endures. If we seem today to have let some of Britten’s ideals slip, that may say more about our shortcomings as a culture than about Britten’s greatness and achievement, then and now.

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

Bearing in mind that “visitor to the Soviet Union” is  Grauniad-speak for “willfully blind apologist for mass-murder”, just how many non-sequiturs can you spot in the following:

“…passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes”
..?

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