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.’
Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ’Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
From the archives: Galloway’s boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, bloody butchers.
Matgamna on Galloway, May 2003:
There is a strong case for dismissing the charges made by the Tory Daily Telegraph and others against George Galloway, of having been a bought and paid-for agent of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq – namely, the character and bias of those baying for the blood of an MP who has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the recent US-British war with Iraq.
The Telegraph has published documents which appear to show that Galloway had been taking at least £375,000 a year from Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Ba’ath regime in Iraq.
He is being investigated by the Charities Commission for his use of moneys collected by the “Mariam Appeal”, which he founded.
The putrid Sun has joined in the outcry against Galloway; the News of the World has unearthed a story involving Galloway in sex and conspicuous consumption in Cuba. And so on.
On principle, no-one should trust those who are in full cry against Galloway.
Galloway’s recent associates in the campaign against Blair’s and Bush’s war have defended him. The editor of Tribune, Mark Seddon, wrote in the Times. Tony Benn has indignantly defended Galloway against the charge that he is corrupt and paid by Saddam Hussein.
Socialist Worker has said: “The pro-war press owners are trying to smear George Galloway MP and, through him, the anti-war movement… Even if every word the Telegraph alleges were true it still would not justify the paper’s headline.”
The Stop The War Coalition “publicly expresses its full support for George Galloway and regards the attacks on him – which he has announced he will challenge in the courts – as a politically-inspired witch-hunt”. Tariq Ali, the grizzled but still determinedly, perennially trendy anti-war campaigner, has appeared on TV to defend Galloway.
Yet if Galloway has been a paid agent of the Iraqi regime, it would make political sense out of something that, otherwise, is incomprehensible. How could Galloway, an old-style Scots tankie Stalinist who still mourns the collapse of the USSR, identify with the Saddam regime which, among other things, has repressed and massacred the Communist Party of Iraq?
In political terms it is a sin against nature for someone with Galloway’s background to hold the Saddam regime in anything other than wholehearted loathing. Galloway started out as a Stalinist critic of Ba’athist Iraq. As he sometimes reminds us, he denounced the massacre of Kurds at Halabja in 1988. To oppose the 1991 or 2003 Gulf wars he need not have made any shift to “softness” towards the Iraqi Hitler in Baghdad.
Yet, for a decade now, Galloway has got himself described in Britain as “the MP for Baghdad Central”, or (by a Government minister last year in the House of Commons) as an “apologist and a mouthpiece” for Ba’athist Iraq.
In January 1994, Galloway appeared before the butcher of Iraqis and Kurds, the initiator of the very bloody eight-year war with Iran, the invader of Kuwait, and, his voice and body-language conveying respect and awe, told him: “Sir we salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability… We are with you. Until victory! Until Jerusalem!”
In 2002 he interviewed Saddam Hussein and came out to tell the world (Mail on Sunday, 11 August 2002) that the “shy” dictator with the “gentle handshake” loves British chocolates. In 1998 he told the New Worker, newspaper of the unrepentantly Stalinist New Communist Party, that: “The politicised people – which are quite widespread; the mass organisations and the Ba’ath Party which is extremely well-organised and deeply rooted now in Iraq… [have] high morale. High levels of motivation and mobilisation. A high spirit of resistance. Certainly an acute consciousness of who the real villains of the piece are…”
The situation was spoiled by “the vicious effect of elements of the Iraqi opposition, who should know better. They’ve so poisoned the well of potential good-will to the Iraqi people in this country…
“We have a situation where sections of the Iraqi Communist Party, for entirely understandable reasons – they’ve been subject to massive repression – have allowed themselves to be put into a pro-imperialist position… The Iraqi Communist Party and CARDRI (Campaign Against Repression and for Democratic Rights in Iraq) have ended up defending imperialism”. (8 August 1998).
Galloway has occasionally said that he is against “dictatorships” like Saddam Hussein’s, but it has been something perfunctory, “for the record”, with no consequences for his championing of Saddam’s Iraq.
If Galloway did all that for money, then something otherwise politically incomprehensible makes good, though disgusting, old-fashioned sense. Otherwise, you have to look for an explanation in terms of a peculiarly twisted psychology. You have to speculate about the shifts an old-style Stalinist has been driven to in order to gratify his taste for boot-licking and kow-towing to “strong”, “courageous”, “indefatigable”, powerful, bloody butchers.
Of course we don’t know whether what the Daily Telegraph says about Galloway is true or not. Galloway has, it seems, now accepted that the documents were found in the Baghdad building: he only denies that what they say is true. He has threatened the Daily Telegraph with a libel suit, though so far – and he has been notoriously quick on the draw with libel suits – only threatened.
For the politics of the affair as they affect the left and the fake left we do not have to wait for a libel court to pronounce. In his public self-defence Galloway has made available facts about his affairs which would shame and embarrass, if they were capable of shame and embarrassment, those who put him up on the platforms of the anti-war movement.
How was the paper East, which Galloway published for a period in the 1990s, financed? By the Pakistani government, for its own political ends, or so several newspapers have reported without Galloway contradicting them.
Were the funds donated to the “Mariam Appeal” – which appealed for funds to provide medical assistance for needy Iraqis like the little girl with leukemia after whom it was named – used to finance Galloway’s globe-trotting? Yes, replies Galloway, most of the funds were used for “political campaigning”, like his trips to Iraq (“maybe 100″ of them in 1993-2002, so he told Islamonline.net).
Was the Mariam Appeal used to channel Iraqi-originated money? Galloway has responded by stating that the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and a businessman in Jordan with Iraqi links, provided most of the funds.
Did Galloway, as the Telegraph documents say, meet a junior Iraqi intelligence agent? Why should I do such a thing, responds Galloway, when I had access to the top leaders in Baghdad. He tells us that he spent Christmas Day recently as the guest of Saddam Hussein’s deputy Tariq Aziz. And so on.
Even if there was nothing financially corrupt in Galloway’s relations with the Iraqi regime, even if he was not a venal self-server but only a confused and disoriented Stalinist moron, the story he tells in his defence against the Telegraph’s charges pose a major question for his associates on the left.
What were you doing working with such a man, whose general attitude towards Saddam Hussein’s quasi-fascist Iraqi government you knew perfectly well? Have you forgotten who and what you are in politics – you who call yourselves “Marxists”, “socialists” and “Trotskyists”? Don’t you care? Have you lost your political wits?
Or is it that you think that someone whom junior minister Ben Bradshaw, in the House of Commons, plausibly calls a “mouthpiece” and an “apologist” for the Ba’athist regime is nowadays just one more variety of bona fide left-winger?
For example, who is Tariq Aziz? He has been Saddam’s lieutenant for decades, during which time Saddam Hussein has done far worse things to the peoples of Iraq – in the first place to the Iraqi working class – than Hitler did to Germans, not excluding Jewish Germans, before World War Two. Saddam and Tariq Aziz imposed and maintained a totalitarian regime that systematically deprived the people living under them of all civil rights, uprooted and destroyed the elements of an independent working-class movement, killed hundreds of thousands of Kurds…
Who in Hitler’s entourage would have been the equivalent of Tariq Aziz? Rudolf Hess? Martin Bormann? Josef Goebbels? Hermann Goering? Joachim von Ribbentrop? What would you think of a 1930s socialist – or for that matter a 1930s Liberal or Tory – who would reply to the charge that he had contact with a lowly Nazi agent by boasting that he couldn’t need such contacts because he had been Hess’s, or Bormann’s, or Goebbels’, or Goering’s, or Ribbentrop’s guest over the Christmas of 1938 or 1939? Would you have him on your anti-war platforms?
What would you think if he replied to accusations that he had received money from the Hitler government by saying that his political campaigns had instead been financed by, say, the Japanese government, or Mussolini, or Franco?
We were right to oppose the war. But our opposition should have been – and, so far as we could control it, should have been seen to have been – opposition to our own ruling class on the basis of independent working-class “third camp” rejection of Saddam Hussein no less than of Bush and Blair. “No to war, no to Saddam”.
Put at its weakest, the attitude of those who controlled the anti-war movement has been that it was perfectly all right to associate with the man widely identified as “the MP for Baghdad Central”. They saw nothing wrong in letting the anti-war movement be identified as a pro-Iraq movement, or in making it easy for such as the Daily Telegraph to smear us with George Galloway.
Of course, the same people saw nothing wrong in linking arms with the Islamic fundamentalist organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), a front for the Muslim Brotherhood.
And it was not just in the anti-war movement. On 10 April the Socialist Alliance trade union committee (members of the SWP and Workers’ Power, and Alan Thornett of the ISG) decided that at trade union conferences this summer the Alliance should focus on getting in on fringe meetings led by Galloway.
There is a mystery in all this – a real and not a rhetorical mystery, that we are at a loss to understand. Why?
Nine years ago (27 January 1994) our predecessor Socialist Organiser carried an editorial entitled “The Old Left Continues To Rot”, in response to two events. One was the crazy suggestion by the black MP, the late Bernie Grant, that black people in Britain should be given money to persuade them to accept voluntary “repatriation”. The other was George Galloway’s appearance before Saddam Hussein – recorded by the BBC – to tell him how admirable he found his “courage”, etc.
Galloway’s performance in the presence of the mass murderer Saddam Hussein seemed to us to be an extreme case of a Stalinoid who had lost even the few political marbles he had had as an admirer of the USSR. We wrote: “Galloway should be thrown out by his local [Labour] party”.
Not quite a decade on, broad swathes of the erstwhile Marxist left have tainted themselves with what was then only the Galloway syndrome.
In the build-up to war, Tony Benn went to Iraq – initially employed by a never-launched TV company in which Galloway was involved – and delivered the sort of innocuous, respectful questions to Saddam Hussein that allowed him to come back to Britain with what was nothing other than a “party political broadcast” for Saddam.
Nobody will be able to accuse Benn of being a hired mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein. We do accuse him of contributing, through political foolishness, to the rot in the left that has progressed astonishingly in the last nine years.
Nine years ago, in political terms, George Galloway was an aberration, a freak. The left did not follow his lead, but tolerated him when it shouldn’t have. We commented: “It is possible for the honest left to get into such a state that nothing creates an impression… Standards collapse. Hopes of anything better go…
“Nobody knows what ‘left’ is any more, so anything goes. Judge not lest ye be judged! Do not react, lest that be ‘witch-hunting’, and lest ye too be witch-hunted….
“With that approach, the regeneration of the left will prove impossible”.
Today the left which then culpably tolerated Galloway is not too far from identifying with him. For example, in response to a protest from Workers’ Liberty against the Socialist Alliance trade union committee’s decision, the committee’s secretary writes: “I completely disagree with your assessment of Galloway’s politics on Iraq. I agree with him considerably more than I agree with your organisation…”
Whatever the jury and judge in an eventual Telegraph libel case may conclude about Galloway’s motivation in championing Saddam’s Iraq, the “left” described here is not bought. It is suicidally confused.
In regard to Iraq, there is an element of inverted chauvinism expressed in the attitude: “This is a Third World country. What else can you expect?” The same attitude finds expression within Britain in a manipulative, superior attitude to the Islamic population here – the view that they can only be approached and mobilised through their own reactionaries, the Muslim Brotherhood. What better can you expect?
We are faced here with a political, moral, and intellectual collapse of the old left, and with the cumulative result that the “left” no longer knows quite what its own identity is. How and why has this happened?
Isn’t it that much of the left, or more accurately the pseudo-left, no longer defines itself positively, in terms of what it is for? No longer measures political organisations, classes and regimes by how they relate to what we ourselves fight for?
Instead, the “left” defines itself negatively, by what it is against. It is against capitalism. Against imperialism. Against America. It is on the side of whomever at any given moment is against them – on the side, even, of those who are worse. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was certainly worse.
Of course socialists could not have had any confidence in, or given support to, the US and Britain. But still less could we give anything like support to the quasi-fascist regime in Baghdad.
Again and again the post-USSR left – the pseudo-left, the fake left – lets itself be pushed by its antagonism to the dominant powers into supporting worse. If going for “the best” can sometimes be the enemy of going for the merely better, here opposition to the bad, to the enemy at home, to the immediate enemy, becomes, again and again, support for the worse overseas!
It happened in the Afghan war of 2001, when in antagonism to the Americans Socialist Worker let itself half-apologise for the Afghan Taliban regime’s treatment of women (6 October 2001).
Most terribly, it happened in 1999 with the Balkans war. Opposition to “imperialism” – to one imperialism – led the fake left to line up with the primitive Serbian imperialism at the point where it was trying to sweep Kosova clean of its Albanian population (90% of Kosovars).
Never mind the unproven charge that George Galloway took money from Saddam Hussein. Socialists, or even half-decent liberals, who do not feel embarrassed by the things George Galloway admits to, who do not feel shame at having had Tariq Aziz’s Christmas house guest on their anti-war platforms – those socialists have lost the plot. To call them socialists without some qualifying adjective like “fake” is now an abuse of language..
Comrade Clive, an occasional contibutor to our comments boxes, has given me permission to republish two emails he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in July 2005, as part of an internal discussion within the AWL. He has asked me to emphasise that these were his immediate reactions, written before the full details of what had happened, emerged. They were also quite hurriedly written and not intended, at the time, for publication. By the way, if some of what Clive writes here seems strangely familar, it may be because in the recent debate here at Shiraz, sparked by the recent ’Hitchens’ post (10 September, below), I have shamelessly plagiarised these two emails from Clive…
12 July 2005
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islmists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all.
14 July 2005
I think the fact that it has turned out that the perpertrators (of 7/7 – JD) were British Asians throws a lot of this into very sharp relief.
Racism and imperialist wars, Fallujah and so on, of course must have played a part in what made these kids want to be suicide bombers. But since the vast, overwhelming, incalculably larger number of people who have been victims of racism or outraged by imperialist wars, have not chosen to become suicide bombers, it is surely an ‘explanation’ of their state of mind or their actions only in the most fantastically minimal sense. And that, surely, is another way of saying that it isn’t an explanation at all.
Yet these generalities are repeatedly presented in the liberal media – a stack of articles in the Guardian for instance – and by the SWP, George Galloway and all, as the explanation for what has happened. Moreover, anyone who questions this is ‘in denial’, as Gary Younge puts it, about the Iraq war. The ‘blowback’ argument is presented as if it’s the height of worldly sophistication, political courage, straight talking, and what have you. In fact it’s so simplistic as to verge on an insult to the intelligence.
Apart from that, its inescapable logic is to ask you to have sympathy with the bombers or their supposed cause, and to shift the blame to the government. I won’t repeat everything I’ve already said about that.
If you want an explanation about the first ever suicide bombers in the UK, you surely need to look at the ideology and MO of the type of organisations that recruited them, brainwashed them and sent them to their deaths. You need to look also, sadly, at the prevailing culture within (some) Muslim communities, the ‘narrative’ youth are being told, which might allow al-Qaeda-type groups to prey on them.
This is very uncomfortable, even to think about. But it seems to me it must be true that poisonous stuff has been coming out of some mosques, maybe not just the Abu Hamza-period Finsbury Park variety, but softer versions also.
And worse: the left is not only not in a state to do anything about this problem (ie: to fight al-Qaeda type groups and the softer versions of them), but has morphed into part of the problem. The left talks about these movements as if they didn’t need to be be fought and as if to fight them is ‘racist’, etc, etc, etc.
“An appaling episode of serious, gratuitous violence on civilians which resulted in the death of one man and injuries to others.” – Sir William Gage, Inquiry Chairman.
Anti-semitic attacks in Britain in 2009 reached their highest level since they were first recorded in 1984. Reported and verified attacks (physical, verbal abuse, bullying of schoolchildren, desecration of graves, etc) on Jewish people, properties and symbols because they were Jewish, numbered 924 – a 55 per cent increase on the previous peak of 598 attacks in 2006.
This dramatic increase in racist violence and abuse, recorded by the Community Security Trust (a Jewish organisation: how long before the usual suspects start questioning its bona fides ?), has passed with little mention in the media. To its credit the Morning Star (Feb 6-7) carried the story, noting that “almost a quarter of the incidents included references to the invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces in January 2009.”
Tellingly, however, the Star (paper of the British Communist Party and still quite inflential within the Britsh trade union movement) quotes one Paul Collins from the (stridently anti-Zionist) Jewish Socialist Group who, after a perfunctory standard-issue condemnation of anti-semitism, then goes on at much greater length about the crimes of Israel and those (like Gordon Brown) who support it.
Come to think of it, the Star article’s headline, “Israel’s Gaza attack leads to hate crime rise” almost suggests that Israel is responsible for anti-semitism, not the anti-semites themselves.
Anti-semitism is unique amongst good liberal/leftish folk in being the only form of racism not to be denounced out of hand – the only racism where context is considered relevant and condemnation is softened with a degree of understanding. Sometimes this can be as crude as ‘they’ve brought it on themselves’ – meaning ‘by their support for Israel.’
Barbara Ellen, writing in the Observer makes a further point:
“…it’s almost as if some people are unaware of how easy it is to slip into antisemitic stereotypes. There’s just this jumble of alleged Israel/Jewish paranoia (“They’re constantly harping on about being victimised”), as well as the spurious feeling that: “They can look after themselves – aren’t they all rich and powerful and best mates with Stephen Spielberg?”
Then there were the comments on the Chilcott inquiry by former British ambassador to Libya Oliver Miles in the Independent on Sunday (22 November):
“(not much attention) has been paid to the curious appointment of two historians (which seems a lot, out of a total of five), both strong supporters of Tony Blair and/or the Iraq war…Both Gilbert and Freedman are Jewish, and Gilbert at least has a record of active support for Zionism.” This classic example of conpiracy theorising was – predictably – backed up by veteran public school anti-semite Richard Ingrams in the Independent of 28 November in an article entitled “Will Zionists’ links to Iraq invasion be brushed aside?”
Incidentally, I draw your attention to Miles’ use of “Jews” and “Zionism” as virtually interchangeable terms; Ingrams has made it clear before now that he takes the same approach, though like most modern-day anti-semites he usually restricts his remarks to “Zionists.”
In this atmosphere, the wise words of Marxist academic Moishe Postone, interviewed by Martin Thomas in the present issue of the AWL’s paper ‘Solidarity’ are timely, to say the least:
“…More generally that ideology (percieved control by the “Jewish / Israel Lobby” of US foreign policy, etc – JD) represents what I call a fetishised form of anti-capitalism. That is, the mysterious power of capital, which is intangible, global, and which churns up nations and areas and people’s lives. The abstract domination of capitalism is personified by Jews. This approach might also explain the spread of anti-semitism in the Middle East in the past two decades. I don’t think it is a sufficient explanation only to point to the suffering of the Palestinians. Economically, the Middle East has declined precipitously in the past three decades. Only sub-Sharan Africa has fared worse. And this has occured at a time when other countries and regions , thought of as part of the Third World fifty years ago, are developing rapidly. I think anti-semitism in the Middle East today is an expression not only of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but also of a hightened general sense of helplessness in the light of these global developments.
“On the German right a century ago, the global domination of capital used to be considered that of the Jews and Britain. Now the left sees it as the domination of Israel and the United States. The thought pattern is the same.
“We now have a form of anti-semitism that seems to be progressive and ‘anti-imperialist;’ which is a real danger for the left.
“Racism is rarely a danger for the left. The left has to be careful not to be racist, but it isn’t an ongoing danger because racism doesn’t have the apparent emancipationary dimension of anti-semitism.”
Read the rest here.
Yeah we know we can’t have a better world
But at least we can be right
- The Indelicates, ‘The British Left in Wartime’
Following on from Comrade Denham’s post, I’ve been pondering one of the more confused of the antiwar arguments: the legality or otherwise of the Iraq war. The idea that the invasion was wrong because it was ‘illegal’ is frequently levelled, often by people who have a negligible understanding of international and war crimes law, and sometimes by people who belong to political groups dedicated to the armed overthrow of parliamentary democracy. If the war had been declared ’legal’; if some attorney general had said, ‘Yes, this is okay, go for it’ would the antiwar faction have turned round, admitted fault and supported the war? If we’re going to talk legality, surely war is a crime in and of itself.
But the charge of illegality serves one purpose – to turn an argument about human rights, democracy and the responsibility to protect into an argument about boxes checked, hoops jumped and resolutions passed. It allows you to sidestep the complex issues of solidarity and internationalism and to retreat into a position of abstract judgement. But it can also make you look incredibly silly, as George Monbiot is finding out with his ludicrous ‘Arrest Blair’ campaign, the object being to make a citizen’s arrest of Tony Blair for war crimes. (Why does no one try to citizen-arrest Omar al-Bashir or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?) Unfortunately the law is a double-edged sword and Norman Geras has passed on words of caution from a legal professor:
What Monbiot is urging would still be a tort. Even though he is not suggesting imprisoning Blair, what he is suggesting would be a tortious battery, as it is an intentional unauthorised touching without consent. (In many day-to-day touchings – e.g. tapping someone on the shoulder to get their attention – there is implicit consent, but not with regard to what Monbiot suggests, as Blair would obviously not consent to it.)
Amusingly, if someone did act in this way as a result of Monbiot’s urgings, Monbiot would also be liable, as he would have procured the wrong and the wrongdoer’s actions would also be attributed to him. I would suggest, as well, that his employer, the Guardian, would be vicariously liable for Monbiot’s wrongdoing.
For the record, I do think there is a case for trying people in the Blair and Bush administrations for war crimes, but it would rest on the complicity in the torture of detainees, rather than the facilitation of a war that, despite everything, got rid of one of the worst fascist dictatorships on the face of the planet, and gave Iraqis the right to vote and hope for better times.
The antiwar faction is currently trying to turn Chilcott into a show trial – it will not happen. Blair is too clever and confident to let this happen. And yet the antiwar movement has won the argument. Liberal interventionism is discredited. It is dead. Pacifists are right to claim that the general public is against going to war. This is not so much out of concern for the welfare of soldiers and civilians, but from a resentful feeling that money should not be spent on foreigners when there are troubles enough at home. (I’ve heard people explain their opposition to government aid for Haiti in these exact terms.)
I repeat, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, Noam Chomsky and all the other isolationists and doctrinaire pacifists have won this argument. There is neither the cash nor the political will nor would there be the public support for an attack on Iran or Sudan, no matter how many times John Pilger says it’s going to happen. R2P is fucked. Leaders of fascist states all over the world can breathe easy in the knowledge that they can do anything they like to people – absolutely anything – as long as they keep it within their borders.
Well what did his critics expect? An admission that he’d got Iraq terribly wrong? Blair breaking down in tears and begging forgiveness from Rose Gentle? A confession that he’d personally sexed up the dodgy dossier and/or grabbed Lord Goldsmith by the testicles the better to concentrate the attorney general’s mind on the legality of the invasion ?
Dream on. As the Graun editorial rightly states today, “There is a planet, some way removed from the real one, on which Tony Blair lives. He invited the Chilcot inquiry to join him on it yesterday. On this alternative earth, certainties dissolve and falsehoods become truths. Facts are transformed into opinions and judgements turn into evidence. Success and failure are both the same…
“Tony Blair is not exactly mad because of this, though his critics like to claim it, and nor is he plain old dishonest Bliar, as the familiar banners outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference hall put it yesterday. The key is not that he knows one truth and tells another, but that he sees things differently to others, in rthe broadest and most contrasting of ways. This allows no room for subtlety, or detail, or even facts.”
I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment of Blair’s extraordinary performance yesterday, and a pretty fair assessment of a man who is the ultimate relativist: for him, the concepts of truth and lies are not absolutes, governed by objective reality, but entirely subjective matters, governed by whatever Anthony Charles Lynton Blair Esq happens to believe at any given moment.
Unfortunately, the Graun‘s coverage seems to be largely made up of comments from the tyrants’ friend G. Galloway MP, and other sworn enemies of democracy and human rights. Funny how the anti-war “left” in Britain and the US today, increasingly resembles the isolationist, pro-appeasement right of yesteryear.
Mind you, many of those individuals (Clare Short , John Cruddas, Peter Wilby) and publications (the New Statesman and the Graun itself) who now denounce Blair as a madman/liar/warmonger/poodle/megalomaniac, etc, etc, would not hear a word against him when he seized the leadership of the Labour Party in 1994 and wagged their ”realist” fingers at those of us who expressed doubts, telling us that we were infantile ultra-leftists, who needed to come to terms with the modern world of Blairite compromise and consensus.
Blair, it is clear, is incapable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, fact and opinion, disarmament and regime change. But he said one – just one – true thing yesterday: Saddam Hussein was, indeed, a “monster” and the world and (especially) the peoples of Iraq are well rid of him. Sadly, that’s not something that the likes of George ‘Haw Haw’ Galloway, Lindsey German and the isolationists of the ‘Stop The War Coalition’ can accept. Which is why their morality and veracity is at least as flawed as Bliar’s.
I sent this letter to the ‘Morning Star’ (the newspaper closely associated with the old, Stalinist, Communist Party of Britain, and also with a layer of the trade union bureaucracy), today:
I was disappointed to find the ‘Star’ giving uncritical coverage for two days running (Feb 25 and 26) to a film (“progressive force.“) that appears to portray the Iraqi resistance as a
From the two articles, I gather that the central thesis of the film is that “the vast majority of the resistance is a nationalist, popular resistance by Iraqis who have no relationship with the former regime.”
Whilst it is true that the “resistance” has many components, that assessment flies in the face of what socialists, secularists, women’s and gay organisations – all of which have been brutally attacked by the resistance – have to say. Even female dancers have been murdered by the resistance, for being “pornographic”. The best evidence available (more reliable than the testimony of eleven people featured in the film, anyway), is that the “resistance” comprises loyalists of the old regime, an unknown number of foreign jihadists, straightforward criminals and some (like the Mahdi Army) who combine conservative Shia with an element of nationalism.
None of these forces can be described as any sort of national liberation movement.
Most extraordinary of all was the ‘Star”s failure to mention the resistance’s savage attacks on trade unionists, including Hadi Salih, the international secretary of the , who was horribly tortured before being shot dead by ex-Ba’thist assassins on 4 January 2005. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is never a good slogan – and especially not in Iraq.
For a good, working class pre-emptive rebuttal, read this.
Long-time readers will be aware that this blog has historically been critical of prominent pro-war left site Harry’s Place, whilst nevertheless continuing to link to it and regarding it as an important part of the political blogging landscape. We have attracted criticism from members of the SWP and others for that stance, and I for one do not envisage it changing. That having been said, I cannot let some of their recent output pass without comment.
Harry’s Place has for a long time had very obviously different politics amongst its various posters, as indeed we do here. There is nothing wrong with that – blogging is not like party politics, still less like hard-left party politics, and there is no need for any one blog to have a set political “line” on any one issue. However, Harry’s Place at its inception had carved itself out a very deliberate niche as an advocate for the use of military force to ensure workers’ rights around the world. Whilst I do not agree with them over the war in Iraq, I do not think that anyone could deny the power of the single, raised ink-stained finger picture that marked the first Iraqi general election, nor the righteous fury of the writing which underlay it. It’s in the archive on their site, somewhere.
So, what has happened recently? In place of all this, we have increasingly bilious attacks on essentially random individuals who oppose Israel’s gross and nauseating military actions in Gaza, which do not even make the pretence of protecting democracy for the Palestinian people. We have attacks on the protests against those military actions and in my view, intimations of anti-semitism. I have attended three such demonstrations in the past fortnight, one in London, one in Coventry and one in Birmingham, and the idea that their tone was an anti-semitic one is quite simply arrant nonsense. I myself was sickened by the “We are all Hezbollah” chants that could be heard on London demonstrations against Israel’s war in the Lebanon – the protests that I have been on categorically did not have that tone, and anyone who says that they did was either watching something else, is desperate to fill out a pre-existing narrative or is simply an outright liar. Further, as people who constantly ask why Israel is held to different standards than other democracies (a contention which is often spurious: imagine what would have happened if the UK launched air strikes against the Shankhill Road in the 1980s), perhaps these supporters of Israel’s actions would like to explain why they seem always to be automatically willing to offer any Israeli administration a blank cheque to do anything at all when it is attacking Arab civilians?
Another thing, which has been particularly galling, is the recent descent into red-baiting. I have already blogged about the bizarre McCarthyism which surrounded the apparent attempt to get Owen Hatherley sacked from the New Statesman for writing a review of Lenny Seymour’s book that didn’t accord with David T’s (or Oliver “I’m left-wing, honest” Kamm’s) opinions. I fully endorsed Lenny Seymour’s comments at the time, and I gladly do so again here. For those who do not remember what they were, this summarises them quite well:
Describing the reviewer, Owen Hatherley, as the “Dilpazier Aslam” of the New Statesman (recalling a case in which a trainee journalist was fired from The Guardian, having written an article that included praise for Hizb Ut-Tahrir while he was a member of said organisation), the post on Harry’s Place claims that Owen Hatherley is a member of the Socialist Workers’ Party. He is not, and never has been. But it is on the basis of this single fabrication that the author of the post launches a lengthy diatribe effectively demanding that the New Statesman publish a correction and fire the reviewer. It is a small irony that, while in effect demanding a purge on the basis of an invention, David T fantasises that it is SWP members who are ‘totalitarian’.
More recently there was this, with an even more blantant exhibition of the most disgusting red-baiting from one “Lucy Lips”. In reference to people of “far left” views getting democratically elected to positions and putting their politics up for discussion, she says:
This is why the far Left needs to be kicked out of all elected positions in the Union movement. They’ve no interest in pay and conditions. They’re happy to wreck a union, as long as it helps them to recruit. They’re waiting for the Revolution, after all.
If that isn’t a classic 1950s-era “reds under the bed” style tissue of lies and paranoia then I don’t know what is. Political arguments aside, as someone virtually whose entire family in some way was born, bred and worked on the left of the labour movement, I find it personally insulting to see some superannuated metropolitan middle-class tosser (forgive me if you’re a destitute M & S worker Lucy, but somehow I doubt it) chooses to tell me what our movement can and cannot discuss in our own forums. And if you don’t like your union officials then vote them out without indulging in McCarthy-style ideological purges. Anyone who does not support that basic level of labour movement democracy is scum pure and simple, and that is the impression which the author gives to me in that post.
And finally we have the ultimate descent into utter Bullingdon crap, with a post taking the piss out of a middle-aged woman’s looks. “LOL TROTZ!”. Jeezus, next week it’ll be “Hey, that Roosevelt, get him and his funny wheelchair!”, “LOL HAWKING!” and “Pavarotti was fat! LOL OPERASINGERZ!”. Either that or a guest post by Roy “Chubby” Brown – hey don’t laugh, I’m sure he probably wants to Defend Freedom too.
Maybe it’s a case of watching Shachtman’s descent (from fascinating dissident left-winger to outright supporter of the political right) in fast-forward from the comfort of my living room. Or maybe they just always were the political equivalent of American Dad mixed up with Beavis and Butthead. Either way I won’t pretend that it isn’t deeply disturbing to see a group of people engaging in tactics worthy of the lowest form of witch-hunting pondlife whilst claiming overtly that they are doing so in the interests of pursuing a progressive political agenda.
Guys, I hope this recent spate of behaviour represents a loss of political bearings and not a display of your true colours. Sort your shit out.