This is from Amandla! magazine. Achcar is associated with the ‘Mandelite’ United Secretariat of the Fourth International, but tends to have saner views on ‘imperialism’ than the majority of that tendency. He didn’t, for instance, simply denounce the Libyan rebels for calling for and accepting western support. In this interview on Syria he’s good against conspiracy-style ‘anti-imperialism’ on the left, the difficulties of post-civil war state formation owing to the centrifugal nature of the uprisings, and the reactionary character of the Muslim Brotherhood. He seems to think that Islamism will have difficulty becoming hegemonic because of its lack of socio-economic solutions. Let’s hope he’s right about that. http://www.amandla.org.za/amandla-magazine/current-issue/1706-amandla
H/t: Liam McN
Interview with Gilbert Achcar, academic, writer, and activist, Professor at the Development Studies Department at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London (SOAS).
Amandla!: What would you say to those who argue that the Syrian uprising may be an opening for imperialist interests in the region?
GA: We have to distinguish between two aspects of the question. One aspect hints at the kind of conspiracy theory among those that call themselves anti-imperialist and tend to see the hand of imperialism behind everything. But believing that the United States is behind this massive uprising in the region is senseless. The fact is that the US has been confronted with a major dilemma: recent events came at a point when US influence in the region was at its lowest since the first war on Iraq in 1991, and at a time when it the US was preparing for its final withdrawal from Iraq without having accomplished any of the invasion’s goals. On top of that, uprisings overthrew faithful allies of Washington, including Egypt’s Mubarak, a key strategic partner in the region. To think Washington would have wished for this is ridiculous.
Actually, these events were so overwhelming that Washington rapidly understood it couldn’t oppose the tide; it had to pretend to welcome it in the name of the ‘democratic values’ to which it supposedly adheres. It had no choice but to renew the old alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood that existed until the 1990s, on which it now bets today, in the same way that it relies on the Emir of Qatar to play the go-between.
In Syria, we see Washington’s great quandary. As in Libya, it refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests (although it intervened directly in Libya, by bombing). The result is a total disproportion in weaponry and training between the regime’s forces and the insurgency, even though the insurgency encompasses a much larger section of the population. The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have had the insurgency received weapons. And the cost is terrible and tragic because of the loss of thousands and thousands of lives. The war is devastating Syria to the point that the insurgents are convinced – for good reason – that Washington and the western powers are happy with the conflict because ultimately it will create a weak, post-Assad Syria, which the US and Israel believe to be in their interests.
A!: What are the specific formations that are acting in Syria right now? Is there a class basis to the uprising?
GA: It’s not a class uprising in the sense that it has any form of clear-cut class consciousness. But the uprising started with a peripheral movement in poor rural towns, and the poorest, most downtrodden sections of the population were the insurgency’s initial force. The bourgeoisie as a whole is very afraid of the whole movement and the chaos that it creates. So there is no doubt that the uprising is a popular movement.
But because of the historical failure of the left in the region, we have a massive uprising without any capable left-wing leadership. It’s a very decentralised type of uprising with all sorts of groups waging a common fight against the regime. Read the rest of this entry »
“I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people” - “The Last Letter from the Bund Representative with the Polish National Council in Exile”.
From the Economist blog:
By GG, Jerusalem, Warsaw
THE 19th of April 1943, exactly 70 years ago, saw the first insurrection against the Nazis in occupied Europe: the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The event symbolises both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering. For Poland, its anniversary is also a resonant event in the country’s ongoing reconnection with its Jewish heritage and fight against anti-Semitism.
Last week, more than a hundred volunteers showed up to work on cleaning and restoring the dilapidated Jewish cemetery, perhaps the strongest visual testament to the fact that this city was once one of the largest Jewish centres in the world – and is no more. Almost none of them were Jewish. They told me they had come out of a sense of duty.
The event had been listed on a website devoted to the anniversary commemorations, which are extensive. From now until the May 16th when the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was destroyed, marking the end of the uprising and effectively of all Jewish life in Warsaw, the city hosts ceremonies, exhibitions, concerts and lectures devoted to Poland’s Jewish heritage.
The new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is co-ordinating much of the proceedings. It has used the occasion to officially open as an educational centre even though its permanent exhibition is a year away from being ready evidently hoping its impressive architecture and cultural programme will trump the dubious symbolism of its emptiness.
The guest of honour is Simcha Rotem (Wikipedia entry here), nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. At 89, he is the only former member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB) still in good enough health to make the trip. I met him in Israel, where he has lived since shortly after the war, last month. Though tired and in low spirits, he told our correspondent he had decided long ago that if he could possibly make it to this anniversary, he would, regardless of what kind of commemoration was planned for the sake of the memory of his comrades who are no longer alive.
Some of those comrades did live for years after the war though—thanks to Kazik. His is an astonishing story of courage and luck in hellish circumstances. As a 19-year-old, fair-haired ruffian from the Warsaw district of Czerniaków, Kazik did not look Jewish. For that reason the insurgent leader, Marek Edelman, chose him to go to the Aryan side and try to organise a rescue operation for the Jews trapped in the ghetto, already in flames.
After a week on the Aryan side, Kazik finally found two sewer workers who thanks to much goading with vodka in one hand and a pistol in the other, showed him an underground route back into the ghetto. Emerging on Zamenhofa street, he found nothing but smouldering ruins.
It’s at that point that Simcha Rotem’s testimony ends Claude Lanzmann’s epic documentary, Shoah: he believes he is the “last Jew” and has nothing left to do but wait for the Germans. But that is not what he did.
Returning to the sewers, he hears voices: a dozen or so fighters. They say there are more hiding elsewhere, and he tells them to gather and make their way through the sewers to a manhole under Prosta Street, just outside the ghetto.
Simcha Rotem to this day does not know exactly people he saved: “A few dozen. Do you think I had time to count them?” he exclaims. After meeting the group in the sewer, he had returned to the Aryan side and organised for two vans to pick up the survivors at dawn. Only one van arrived, at 10am, and its driver had to be held at gunpoint to prevent him from driving off while the Jews were coming out of the manhole.
After it seemed that no-one else was emerging from the manhole, Kazik told the van to move off. Against all the odds, the few dozen made it to safety the forests north of Warsaw. Yet some had remained underground. Simcha Rotem has had to live with the idea that perhaps he could have done better. But today he says he feels it was the only decision he could make in the circumstances: “The Germans were 100 metres away. It was broad daylight. It was now or never.”
Asked whether his memory of that moment is still vivid today, Simcha Rotem is almost offended: “It is not the sort of thing a person could forget”. His anger at the Nazis is still very much alive, too: “I regret in a way that we didn’t get revenge on the SS. Because they were not conscripts, they chose to do what they did. So they were murderers. And murderers should be hanged. They were not people, but animals walking upright.”
Fear that the world could forget the horror of the Holocaust, or that it could happen again, animates those who do remember it ever more as their numbers dwindle. Irena Boldok, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto aged eight or nine, gives talks in schools and elsewhere as a member of the Children of the Holocaust association. She speaks gloomily about the experience: “some of them understand, not many. It’s hard to talk to fourteen-year-old kids. It is like a history lesson for them.”
According to the Polish psychologist Barbara Engelking, one reason the ghetto uprising did not happen sooner is that Jews in the Warsaw ghetto maintained the illusion that they might live: the death camps were simply beyond human imagination. With fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, marking the anniversaries of its key events becomes an ever more important way of ensuring that we don’t forget something that was so unthinkable at the time.
Prof Norm reminds us that:
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the attack on Halabja :
On March 16, 1988, 5,000 Kurds died in the city and 10,000 were injured after a seven-hour bombardment by Saddam Hussein’s jets and artillery. The population was blanketed with blood, nerve and blister agents in the worst chemical attack on a civilian population since the Second World War.
The poet Choman Hardi has written this poem, ‘Yek deqiqe bo Halabja’, to commemorate the dead. On her Facebook page she says that the poem is ‘dedicated to the memory of the victims who, because of circulating images of their mutilated bodies, seem to have disappeared from our consciousness as human beings, their value seems to be reduced to their victimhood.’
Justice delayed is justice denied.
Associated Press reports:
A new report is expected to lay bare the extent of responsibility that successive Irish governments must accept for what went on in Magdalene laundries.
An 18-month investigation into the Catholic-run workhouses will formally reveal state involvement and knowledge of the harrowing life women in the institutions endured between 1922 and 1996.
A committee chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, who has since resigned from politics, spent 18 months establishing the role official Ireland played in the for-profit Church-run operation. Survivors have been campaigning for the last 10 years for an apology from state and Church and a transparent compensation scheme.
Over the 74 years, thousands of single mothers and other women were put to work in detention, mostly in industrial for-profit laundries run by nuns from four religious congregations. Each woman had her Christian name changed, her surname unused and most have since died.
James Smith, associate professor at Boston College and member of the Justice for Magdalenes (JFM) advisory board, said: “I hope the Government listen. The women can no longer be held hostage to a political system. Time is of the essence, it is the one commodity many of these women can ill afford.”
Survivors have called for a transparent and non-adversarial compensation process for all to be set up, with pensions, lost wages, health and housing services and redress all accounted for.
Mr Smith said: “Until there is an apology – I have met so many women who will not come forward, and have no intention of engaging in any process – they might still not come forward, but other women might come forward if they get an assurance that they were wronged.”
Religious orders the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity ran laundries at Drumcondra and Sean MacDermott Street in Dublin, the Sisters of Mercy in Galway and Dun Laoghaire, the Religious Sisters of Charity in Donnybrook, Dublin, and Cork, and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Limerick, Cork, Waterford and New Ross.
JFM is aware of at least 988 women who are buried in laundry plots in cemeteries across Ireland and therefore must have stayed for life. Mass graves have been identified in Mount St Lawrence Cemetery in Limerick, Glasnevin in Dublin, Sunday’s Well in Cork and at sites in Galway.
The inquiry into the Magdalene scandal was finally prompted by a report from the United Nations Committee Against Torture in June 2011. It called for prosecutions where necessary and compensation to surviving women.
The Irish blogger Bock The Robber has been covering this scandal for several years. Here’s what s/he wrote in June of last year:
As usual, it has taken outside pressure to force acknowledgement of the imprisonment, torture and degradation inflicted on Irish women by this State and by the nuns who carried out the abuse. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has published a report condemning Ireland for a crime. Women who had children outside of marriage, or who might simply have been perceived as having a bright, cheerful spirit, were abducted by State agents and imprisoned for ever more.
The disgracefully-misnamed Magdalene laundries broke the spirit of thousands of women, enslaving them for the financial gain of warped, sexually-frustrated nuns who inflicted their vindictive self-hatred on these helpless prisoners.
Ireland being what it is, the government excluded the nuns’ gulags from the terms of reference of the Ryan report, no doubt hoping that the problem would go away as the former prisoners became older and more frail, but there it still is, an indictment on the confessional nature of this State from its foundation.
Let nobody tell you that the nuns and the priests and the brothers saved the State money by imprisoning these people.
They did not.
The religious orders made a handsome profit from their prisoners, through slavery. And if they got a little sexual kick along the way, so much the better.
We have to acknowledge that the nuns who ran these prisons were deeply disturbed individuals, but their disorder seems to be widespread, and not just among those who controlled the Magdalene laundries. There’s a creepy commonality in the stories told by women who attended nun-run schools, of violence, vindictiveness and small-minded cruelty.
The motif of the keys is the one that stands out most strongly. Many women, including members of my own family, and also survivors of the laundries, describe being struck on the knuckles with bunches of keys by enraged nuns. And this punishment always seems to have been administered coldly.
What was wrong with these women that made them so cruel, so callous and so angry?
In my opinion, it isn’t natural to live your entire life without sex, and I think the experience derailed them, but maybe that’s just me being a dirty bastard. I don’t think so, though, and neither did the old women I grew up among who used to say the same thing, in less explicit terms.
I think these nuns, and all the other hated torturers in the schools and the laundries were so cruel because they were completely screwed up by being who and what they were. And I think they took it out on the poor unfortunates who fell into their insane grip.
The sooner the crime of the Magdalene laundries is exposed, the better. There are still nuns out there, walking around, who tortured, beat, enslaved and humiliated other women in the name of Christianity. They should be held accountable now.
We have to exorcise all the ghosts haunting modern Ireland, until we finally acknowledge the disgrace that happened after independence, where absolute power was handed over to one church.
Until we do that, Ireland will never achieve maturity as a nation.
Previously : The Magdalene Laundries
All Bock posts on the Ryan Report
All Bock posts on the Murphy Report
Adapted by JD from an article on the Workers Liberty website
For the next few days at least, the Russian city called Volgograd since 1961 will revert to its previous name: Stalingrad. Today is the 70th anniversary of the Red Army’s final victory over the German invaders, after a battle that had raged for six cruel winter months at the cost of nearly 2 million lives.
In London, a lavish “Victory at Stalingrad 70th Anniversary Night” is being organised by Philosophy Football (an enterprise run by former Communist Party activist Mark Perryman) and the Hope Not Hate anti-fascist group.
The keynote speaker will be Seumas Milne, associate editor of the Guardian and unreconstructed Stalinist hack (and cheer-leader for Islamist fascism -JD).
Stalingrad, between August 1942 and February 1943, was a turning point of World War Two. So were some British victories in North Africa, and US victories in the Pacific, around the same period.
More than those other victories, Stalingrad is still used to cast credit on the political leaders of the winning side, in particular Joseph Stalin himself and his marshal Georgi Zhukov.
At the time, as Antony Beevor reports in his book Stalingrad (by far the best popular account) : “The triumph of the Red Army boosted the status of the [Communist] Party member and attracted fellow-travellers in droves. Even conservatives could not avoid praising the heroism of the Red Army. In Britain, King George VI commissioned a Sword of Stalingrad to be forged for presentation to the city”.
The Trotskyists of the Workers’ Party USA wrote (Labor Action, 1 February 1943): “Many minds have lost their balance and many eyes have acquired an unusual degree of starriness as a result of the recent Russian military victories. People who had clearly seen, or had begun to see, the tyrannical and anti-labour character of the Stalin regime… are now allowing themselves to be hypnotised into passive acceptance of the Stalinist dictatorship, because the Russian soldiers fight with ability and heroism…
“It is not the Russian soldiers alone who have displayed heroism and enthusiasm. It is a depressing fact, but a fact nevertheless, that on many occasions the German soldiers have displayed the same qualities. And the Greeks, and the British, and the Americans, and many others. Yet who would dare say that the countries for which all those soldiers fight have engaged in just and progressive wars?…
“Because the Russian soldiers fight well, does that in any way change the fact that Stalin is one of the bloodiest dictators of modern history, that he is the grave-digger of the Russian Revolution and the aborter of many other revolutions? Does that change the fact that he is the murderer of the Old Bolsheviks… that he has enslaved the Russian workers, that he has deprived them of every possible liberty and democratic right?”
As Beevor states: “The newspaper reports which claimed that frontoviki (rank and file Russian soldiers) eagerly discussed the heroic leadership of Comrade Stalin in their trenches, and went into the attack with the battle cry ‘Za Stalina!’ (‘For Stalin’) were pure propaganda. Yury Belash, a soldier poet, once wrote a verse:
“To be honest about it —
in the trenches the last thing we thought about
Until later, maybe. The Russian command’s enforcement was brutal — it executed about 13,500 troops during the battle, for indiscipline — but at the height the soldiers’ life expectancy was so low, and their acceptance that they had to fight the anti-Slav racist Nazi-commanded army so full, that many reckoned they had little to lose.
“For a young Soviet citizen [newly conscripted to Stalingrad]. the most shocking experience was… the frank speaking of frontoviki on political subjects. Many expressed themselves in a way that prompted new arrivals to glance over their shoulders in alarm. They declared that life after the war should be different. The terrible existence for those who worked on collective farms and in factories must be improved, and the privileges of the nomenklatura restricted” (Beevor, p.288).
The Stalingrad victory, however, helped Stalin stabilise his regime, and soon to extend its model to the countries of Eastern Europe which came under the control of the Russian army as it pushed the German army into retreat.
The desperate courage and unimaginable sacrifices of Soviet soldiers and civilians in this terrible battle deserve to be remembered and honoured. But it would be an obscenity to use their momory to attempt to rehabilitate the prestige of Stalin – the brutal tyrant whose incompetence, complacency and alliance with Hitler between August 1939 and the invasion itself, came close to handing victory to the Nazis. As Nikolai Levichev of the left-liberal Just Russia party told the Guardian, Russia won the battle “despite rather than thanks to” the leadership of Stalin, whose errors multiplied the Soviet losses.
The “War to End War” 28 July 1914 – 11 November 1918
Above: the final scene from Oh! What A Lovely War (1969, dir Richard Attenborough)
“But perhaps in addition to the illusion that the war would be a short one, the illusion which received the most bitter blow, even though it was to be revived hopefully by President Wilson in 1918, was the belief that international relations could be conducted on a rational basis in which the intersts of the various nations could be made to harmonise with each other without the need of armed conflict. It was this illusion that had governed Grey’s diplomacy and his attempt to mediate between the continental powers in the last days of July 1914; and it was a similar belief that inspired the leaders of the Second International when they came to Brussels in the hope of finding a way to demonstrate that the international solidarity of the European working class was stronger than the division between their capitalist rulers. The ideological assumptions on which European liberalism had rested were already breaking down before 1914. The war was going to hasten this process in the field of practical politics and everyday social and economic life. The war destroyed the political, economic, social and territorial structure of the old Europe and neither conservatism nor liberalism nor even socialism were ever going to be the same again. From the standpoint of sixty years later [in the 1970's - JD] there is all too much truth in the prophesy made by Jean Jaurès in 1905: ‘From a European war a revolution may spring up and the ruling classes would do well to think of this. But it may also result, over a long period, in crises of counter-revolution, of furious reaction, of exasperated nationalism, of stifling dictatorships, of monstrous militarism, a long chain of retrograde violence.’”
-From Europe Since 1870 by James Joll
This article by Seumas Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. It is not available anywhere else online (as far as I can tell), nor is it included in the new book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. We publish the piece as a service to the international workers’ movement and in the interests of the study of moral and political bankruptcy.
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930′s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950′s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,ooo were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991, they yielded new data that most reputable scholars consider to broadly confirm Robert Conquest’s position if not (quite) the figure of 20 million deaths directly resulting from Stalin’s rule and policies.
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
According to his friend, Kingsley Amis, when his (Conquest’s) publishers asked him to expand and revise The Great Terror, Conquest suggested the new version of the book be entitled I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.
Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the massacres (designated as genocide by the UN General Assembly), at Sabra and Shatila. These were two mainly Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of West Beirut, set up in the aftermath olf the 1967 war, and at the time under the control of Israel following their penetration into Lebanese territory, the evacuation of PLO forces and the declaration of a supposed “ceasefire.”
Although Israeli forces did not carry out the massacres, they resulted from an alliance between Israel and the Lebanese Phalangists – a Christian semi-fascist party and militia. Israel supplied the Phalangists with money and arms. Israel’s aim was to drive the Palestinians out of Beirut by means of terror directed against civilians – women, children and the aged.
The decision to move into West Beirut was taken by Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Defence Minister Ariel Sharon, in violation of of the “ceasefire” and, indeed, of promises made to the US after the PLO evacuation.
Sharon and Israel’s Chief of Staff, Rafael Eitan decided that Phalangist forces should storm the two camps and assigned the operation to to Eli Haqiba, a senior Lebanese security official at a meeting at which Fadi Afram, Commander of the Lebanese forces, was also present.
On Thursday 16th September, the Phalangists attacked, watched by the Israeli army, which had surrounded the camps. In the chilling words of one account*, It was “a three-day orgy of rape and slaughter”. The Israelis provided the attackers with lighting, bulldozers and maps. Palestinians who manged to escape were captured and returned to the camps by Israeli forces. By the end of the third day, bodies were everywhere: “Many of the victims had been mutilated by axes or knives; others had their heads smashed, their eyes removed, tyheir throats cut and the skin had literally been stripped from their body. Severed limbs lay strewn about the floor and others had been disembowelled.”
Shatila camp, Beirut, 20 September 1982 (Photo: UNRWA/Beirut)
The exact number of victims is not known and probably never will be, not least because the Lebanese authorities refused to co-operate with the Red Cross and would not open mass graves. The likely figure is between 3,000 and 3,500, about a quarter of whom were Lebanese and the rest Palestinian.
The Israeli public was horrified when reports began to come through and 30,000 Israelis marched in Tel Aviv, demanding the resignations of Begin and Sharon.
In 1983 the Kahan Commission of Inquiry into the Events at the Refugee Camps in Beirut, established by Israel to investigate the events, found Sharon to be “unfit for public office”. He was elected Prime Minister in February 2001.
On this day we must remember and honour the victims. And we must redouble our efforts for the only just settlement of the whole Israel/Palestine tragedy: two states for two peoples.
* ‘War Crimes and Atrocities’, by Janice Anderson, Anne Williams and Vivian Head, published by Futura, 2007.
“What should we learn from the case of Shafilea Ahmed? At first glance, it might seem simple. A young girl is murdered by by her father because she refuses to submit her sexuality to his law.”
So begins a piece in today’s (print) Guardian by Jaqueline Rose, professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London. For a professor of English, Rose’s language is (to me, at least) remarkably opaque and the point(s) she is seeking to make almost impossible to discern. That first paragraph, is however, the only section of the article with which a reasonable person can simply and without reservation agree. But the words “at first glance” are a giveaway: Rose doesn’t really think the case is that clear-cut at all.
I take it that readers are familiar with what Rose calls “the case of Shafilea Ahmed”, but for anyone who isn’t, here’s a painfully detailed and accurate account of her tragic life and terrible death.
I also take it that readers (well, most readers anyway) will agree with me that while it’s clearly important to examine the social and cultural background to the murder, it would be an obscenity to attempt to use it to score points or to whip up hostility towards Asians and/or Muslims in general. I may be missing something, but I’m not aware of anyone (even the usual suspects of the right-wing press) doing that, despite Barbara Ellen’s strange, illogical and irrelevant defence of “liberal lefties” in the Observer this Sunday.
In the light of the undeniable fact that Shafilea’s death did not come out of the blue and that social services and police had plenty of warnings that something was badly wrong in the Ahmed household, the suggestion that misplaced cultural sensitivity and/or fear of the accusation of racism may have been factors in her death, cannot be dismissed. Sarah Khan, director of ‘Inspire‘, a Muslim women’s rights group, is clear on this:
“It has been suggested that south Asian women are more likely to suffer severe abuse, and over a longer period of time than white women. They also experience higher rates of suicide and self-harm. Ethnic minority women can face multiple barriers and injustices: racism in society, and misogyny within their homes and communities. And ‘community leaders’, through their denial and inactivity, can compound this victimisation and marginalisation.
“A lack of will by public bodies to address these issues compounds their suffering, increases their vulnerability and results in them being less likely to seek help. They feel they’ve been systematically ignored and forgotten by mainstream feminist organisations and the state itself. I’ve been asked: ‘Are we any less British because of our ethnicity, our colour or our faith?’ Unfortunately, in 21st-century Britain, this seems to be precisely the case.”
Let’s hope that these wise words carry the day, and that Shafilea’s death will lead to real action in support of all abused women in Britian – and not least British Pakistani women trapped in their homes and subjected to the cultural norms of Mirpuri villages.
What Asian women can most certainly do without is the evasive, insulting, pseudo-academic relativist waffle of Jacqueline Rose, who ends her Guardian piece with the following truly extraordinary passage, which I had to read several times before working out exactly what is being said:
“Recognising this complexity might also be a way of avoiding the most obvious cultural cliches that attach to the idea of ‘honour’ crimes. Repeatedly the prosecution insisted, with a certain relish, that this was a case of a Pakistani family refusing to accept the reality of modern life – one more migrant family failing to keep up with the times. Without question Shafilea wanted educational, sexual and professional freedom as a woman. Going to university allowed Alesha fully to recognise that life in her family was ‘wrong’. We can support those freedoms – and celebrate the justice Shafilea has now received – without using the case to stigmatise a minority community, or as proof that west is best. Rather than attribute a crime like this to backwardness, we would do better to see how deeply it is woven into the fabric of migration and modernity in which all of us are implicated.”
Frankly, words fail me. Fortunately, a Guardian/CIF reader has provided an appropriate response:
“No this will not do, the people who are implicated in this are the parents of Shafilea and the disgraceful hand wringing by the authorities which allowed her father to get away with murder for so long.
“To try and apportion any of the blame onto the rest of us is utterly perverse and flies in the face of any reasonable examination, blame the parents & blame the authorities but don’t dare try and put any of the blame on the ordinary citizen or indeed the huge majority of migrants who would have no truck with these so called honour killings or would tolerate members of the same family getting away with murder.”