Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970′s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).
As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.
Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:
* ”These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”
* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”
* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point. Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.’”
From the Washington Post
By Max Fisher, Published: August 21 at 2:49 pm
The alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb, where opposition activists say that more than 1,000 civilians have died from exposure to an unknown toxic gas, would be the deadliest but far from the first such incident in the country’s civil war. Still, there’s something different about this one.
The many, many photos and videos showing the attack’s apparent toll, including rooms full of dead children, can be overwhelming, of a scale and horror difficult to fully comprehend. You may have watched, or tried to watch, the video of a health worker helplessly applying a respirator to a child’s gasping mouth, or of young men sprawled across the floor of a makeshift hospital. But if you can bring yourself to see only one such video, you may wish to make it this footage, posted by Syrian activists late Tuesday:
The video, allegedly taken just a few hours after the chemical weapons incident, shows a health worker attempting to comfort a young girl who’d purportedly survived the attack and is clearly in hysterics. It’s not clear whether her behavior is a result of chemical exposure, as some speculate, or of simple terror. She says only, over and over, “I’m alive, I’m alive.”
There’s no blood or death here; this girl’s experience does not reveal the extent of Tuesday’s loss of life or necessarily show us the symptoms of chemical weapons exposure. What it does show is an experience much more common in Syria, of surviving. For all the people who are killing and dying in the country, it’s easy to forget that most Syrians are doing neither but, like both the little girl and the health worker in this video, trying to endure the suffering around them.
Images of dead bodies and convulsing chemical weapons victims represent an important part of what’s happening in Syria, but for many outside observers , they can be so shocking as to alienate. Anyone can recognize and understand a frightened child.
Update: A longer version of the video, embedded below, shows the girl identifying herself as Younma. The health worker says she’s been psychologically traumatized by the death of her parents. Younma, who begs for her parents, appears at one point to be attempting to convince the health worker that she is still alive.
Elmore Leonard died today, aged 87.
The New York Times obit is here.
If you’ve never read his stuff, start with Get Shorty and/or Rum Punch (both filmed, Rum Punch as Jackie Brown).
Here he is on his famous (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) ’Ten Rules of writing’:
Here are the ‘Ten Rules’:
- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
He added: “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”
* Excerpted from the New York Times article, ‘Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.’
Above: the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerian on right) immediately before the bombs went off
There’s something thoroughly distasteful about the way elements of both left and right attempt to use terrorist incidents to bolster their predetermined agendas. Fox News (etc) will immediately point the finger at Islamists. Socialist Worker (UK) and their ilk will respond by reminding us that it’s not always Islamists who do these things, usually name-checking Timothy McVeigh and/or Anders Behring Breivik and concentrating upon the dangers of “Islamophobia.” As far as I’m aware, the “blowback” explanation/justification for terrorism is the exclusive preserve of a certain kind of leftist but I may even be wrong about that.
So I’m not about to draw sweeping conclusions from the revelation (to be aired on BBC Panorama tonight) that one of the (suspected) Boston bombers was simultaneously a militant Islamist and a subscriber to publications espousing white supremacy and anti-government conspiracy theories.
According to the BBC, Tamerian Tsarnaev possessed articles arguing that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing were US government conspiracies, and another on “the rape of our gun rights.”
He also possessed material condemning US drone attacks and the plight of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
I opened by criticising those who use terrorist outrages to justify a simplistic political agenda, so I’ll try to avoid doing that myself. The motives of the Tsarnaev brothers are not obvious, and mental health may well be a factor. They were not members of any Islamist network. As ethnic Chechens, they spent their early years in a troubled and violent region. In the US, Tamerian lived a relatively comfortable and apparently conventional life, but seems to have become a militant Islamist when his boxing ambitions were frustrated due to his lack of citizenship.
The BBC quotes a friend of the brothers, saying: “He (Tamerian) just didn’t like America. He felt like America was just basically attacking all Middle Eastern countries…you know, trying to take their oil.”
And on the all-important (but too often overlooked) distinction between Islam and Islamism, it’s worth noting the words of Nicole Mossalam, spokesperson for the mosque that Tamerian occasionally visited:
“As far as connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity .. all these were pretty much lacking.
“I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience.”
* Panorama – ‘The Brothers who Bombed Boston’ will be screened tonight, Monday 5 August on BBC One and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.
The kneejerk reaction to violent crime often seems to be a call for illiberal restrictions on freedoms. Arguing against such responses can be difficult, particularly when the crime is the sickening murder of a small child. But the message in the Guardian editorial (31.05.13 in print edition) does, I think, need to be firmly resisted.
“Internet pornography is usually abusive and often violent. Mark Bridger, convicted yesterday of the murder of April Jones, had compiled a store of it. Pornography is easily and freely accessible, and at most requires only a credit card.”
The editorial goes on to describe the apparent link between pornography and violence. There are correlations between all kinds of activities and negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean a ban is always the answer. Pornography comes in many different forms. Either the content or the production may be exploitative, certainly. It would be good to tackle the factors which drive people to seek work which exploits them – which is not to say that all who are involved in the industry are exploited (or exploiting). To claim that pornography, all pornography, is an ‘incitement to hate’ seems over the top. (Otherwise surely there’d be a lot more hate around the place.)
Taking measures to prevent children accessing pornography is fine, and obviously child pornography should be clamped down on ruthlessly. But measures such as those suggested in the Guardian’s editorial – such as preventing UK credit cards being used to view pornography on line – seem like a massive over-reaction.
NB: since the print version of the Guardian editorial appeared, it has been amended online, and the following addendum has been posted:
• This article was amended on 31 May 2013 to clarify that the intention of the editorial was to propose restrictions on violent and abusive pornography, as opposed to pornography in general. The original also incorrectly stated that it was Dutch members of the Pirate party who brought down attempts to insert a proposed ban on pornography into European equal rights legislation.
Remind you of anything?
This, for instance:
Socialist Worker, Sat 15 Sep 2001
The full horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Tuesday who was responsible. If it was people from the Middle East it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the US and other governments. The tragic scenes in New York and Washington are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the US state.
US president George Bush spoke of terrorist outrages on Tuesday. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. Ten years ago his father sent hundreds of US planes to bomb Iraqi civilians night after night during the Gulf War. They killed over 100,000 civilians and conscripts—’collateral damage’ in the US’s war for oil.
Two years ago the US and NATO bombed towns and cities in Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that bombs were about to drop on them as did those who died in the US this week. And the US, backed by Tony Blair, imposes a murderous embargo on the people of Iraq, backed by frequent bombing raids.
In Israel the US supports Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Israel has murdered over 600 Palestinians in the 11 months of the intifada (uprising). Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to turning a hijacked airliner into a suicide bomb instead. It is not a method that can break US power. Some military officials would have suffered from the explosion at the Pentagon. But many more innocent civilians were killed in New York and Washington. Tuesday’s suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
Aisha Harris, writing at Slate, is worried by the media coverage of Charles Ramsey:
“Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a ‘colorful’ style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class…
“…It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto, socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Gary Younge at the Guardian takes the opposite view:
“Millions in America talk like him. But rarely do we hear them unless they are on Maury, Jerry Springer or America’s Most Wanted, the butt of some internet joke or testifying to a shooting in their neighbourhoods. Working-class African Americans are generally wheeled on as exemplars of collective dysfunction. So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present…
“…Unvarnished and un-selfconscious, charming and compelling, he reminds me of none so much as Muhammad Ali in his prime, who said: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky.
“I’m looking forward to getting used to Charles Ramsey.”
If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen the film of Mr Ramsey in full flow, you can judge for yourself:
P.S: now there’s a song as well.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
The acronym TL:DR might have been invented for the prolix Glenn Greenwald, but I’ve decided to try to answer Jim’s challenge at the end of his post of April 23 and see what Greenwald might be getting at here. Is it, as Jim was inclined to think, just ‘incoherent gibberish’?
To my slight annoyance, I think Greenwald may have some fraction of a point. I suspect that, rather than having a well worked out and coherent definition of terrorism which we apply impartially to every possible case, many of us may decide whether or not something is a ‘terrorist’ act for less objective reasons. And it can’t be denied that the words ‘Islamic’ and ‘terrorism’ are often associated together.
It is for this reason, Greenwald argues, that people have been quicker to use the word ‘terrorism’ about the Boston bombers than about, say, the Aurora cinema shooting. He cites Ali Abunimah’s argument that the ‘terrorist’ label may not be an accurate one:
“Abunimah wrote a superb analysis of whether the bombing fits the US government’s definition of “terrorism”, noting that “absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted ‘in furtherance of political or social objectives’” or that their alleged act was ‘intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.’”
But even Greenwald himself can’t avoid the evidence that at least one of the brothers was very likely influenced at some level by an ideology with clearly defined goals:
“All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism”
He tries to argue that just because someone is strongly Muslim that does not mean that the acts of violence he commits inevitably spring from his faith, asserting that “the mass murder spree by homosexual Andrew Cunanan was not evidence that homosexuality motivated the violence.” This is a pretty weak argument because there is no pattern of terrorist acts committed in the name of homosexuality, no series of YouTube videos encouraging such crimes.
But Greenwald perhaps misses a trick here:
“It’s certainly possible that it will turn out that, if they are guilty, their prime motive was political or religious. But it’s also certainly possible that it wasn’t: that it was some combination of mental illness, societal alienation, or other form of internal instability and rage that is apolitical in nature.”
It may not be appropriate to draw such a clear distinction between mental illness on the one hand and politics and religion on the other. Alienated and unstable people may be attracted to extreme ideas or ideologies
A pretty obvious focus for a disturbed young man who happens to be Muslim is jihadist extremism. Now if your focus is instead, say, the Knights Templar or fantasy role playing games and you go on a random killing spree, then no one is going to link your acts to videos preaching violence in the name of your pet obsession. So – to sum up – the unhinged actions of a deranged young Muslim are more likely to associate themselves with an ideology linked to several recent politically motivated and well organised acts of terror –and thus Greenwald may be correct, in a sense, in arguing that Muslims are more likely to be labelled terrorists.
As a general rule, it’s the political right who object to attempts to explain crime by reference to the social, economic or political context in which it occurs. This is, they say, to make excuses and to let evil people off the hook. Individuals must be accountable for their actions and distractions like poverty and unemployment should not enter into the equation.
Shahnaz Nazli, a teacher at a girls’ school in the Northwestern Khyber district of Pakistan, was murdered earlier this week. Officially, the motorbike-riding killers are “unknown” but they are clearly the same brand of gynaephobic fascist bastards who tried to kill Malala Yousufzai. The killing was quite widely covered by the likes of CNN, but I could find nothing in the Guardian or on the main liberal-leftist websites.
Can it be that sections of the Western liberal-left have come to simply accept that this kind of thing is inevitable in certain cultures? Or that sections of the so-called “left” even harbour a degree of sympathy with the Taliban as some kind of “resistance” movement?
Maybe Nick Cohen has a point.
And this book is essential reading.