A view from Pakistan by Pervez Hoodbhoy:
Why Does Malala Yusufzai’s Nobel Bother So Many On The Left?
Take Arundhati Roy. For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, her shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing…
Arundhati Roy’s charm and lucidity have iconized her in the world of left-wing politics. But, asked by Laura Flanders what she made of the 2014 Nobel Prize, she appeared to be swallowing a live frog:
“Well, look, it is a difficult thing to talk about because Malala is a brave girl and I think she has even recently started speaking out against the US invasions and bombings…but she’s only a kid you know and she cannot be faulted for what she did….the great game is going on…they pick out people [for the Nobel Prize].”
For one who has championed people’s causes everywhere so wonderfully well, these shallow, patronizing remarks were disappointing.
Farzana Versey, Mumbai based left-wing author and activist, was still less generous last year. Describing Malala as “a cocooned marionette” hoisted upon the well-meaning but unwary, Versey lashed out at her for, among other things, raising the problem of child labour at her speech at the United Nations: “it did not strike her that she is now even more a victim of it, albeit in the sanitized environs of an acceptable intellectual striptease.”
But hang on a bit! This “kid” and “cocooned marionette” did not achieve world-wide admiration for opposing US-led wars or child labour or for a thousand and one other such good-and-great things. The bullet that smashed through her skull came because she opposed the Pakistani Taliban’s edict that all education for girls must end forever in the Swat valley after 15 September 2009, and her vigorous campaign for every girl child’s right to education.
It is perfectly clear why Malala has had to be damned to eternity by her left-wing critics: she has been photographed in the company of men judged to be villains: Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Ban Ki Moon, Richard Holbrooke, and others. It is also obvious that she could not have won the Nobel peace prize—which is always an intensely political affair—but for support from the highest quarters in the western world. Consequently many on the left have easily dismissed her condemnation of drone strikes in Pakistan, as well as the $50,000 from her Nobel Prize money which she gave for rebuilding Gaza schools, as thin ploys aimed at image building.
Unsurprisingly leftist critiques of Malala’s Nobel have been eagerly seized upon by right-wingers in Pakistan, helping seal the narrative for many of my countrymen and women. For cultural and religious reasons, as much as for political ones, they have already come to loathe the West even more than arch-enemy India. In the weeks after she was shot, several students at my university told me they see Malala Yousafzai as Malala ‘Dramazai’, an ‘Illuminati Psy Op’, and a willing tool of the West who is out to badmouth Pakistan and make it appear unreasonably dangerous. Many doubted that she had been shot at all—the Taliban know how to kill.
Pakistan’s officialdom also harbours a hidden, but deep, hostility to her. Although the government officially acclaimed the Prize, a resolution to honour Malala was unsuccessfully moved last week by the opposition in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s provincial assembly. Instead the KPK assembly passed another resolution to press the US government to free the “daughter of Pakistan”, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a convicted Al-Qaida affiliate who is now serving out her 86-year sentence atFort Worth, Texas. Mainstream Urdu newspapers describe Malala as a poster girl of the West, and a Trojan horse for introducing secularism in Pakistan.
I have no expectations from the millions of my conspiracy obsessed fellow Pakistanis. But have Malala’s left-wing detractors—including those who I have long respected for their outspokenness in opposing multiple forms of oppression and imperialist wars—ever really bothered to know why she was shot?
In the following, I have translated and condensed a 9-page pamphlet entitled Aqeedon ka Tasadum explaining why Malala had to be killed. Written in Urdu and signed by the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, it was circulated shortly after the shooting:
Preamble: This is a war of two faiths, Islam versus kufr (unbelief). On the one side there is true education and modesty; on the other is nudity, music, dancing, and disgraceful gyrations. On the one side there is respect for the veil; on the other are those females who appear on TV and give interviews to men who are not relatives. In fact they dare to mock the Taliban and mujahideen who seek to prevent nudity, lewdness, and Westernization. So here is why this so-called Malala, a pawn of Western interests and secular forces, had to be brought to justice:
First, is Malala a child? No! She was born on 18 July 1998, which makes her 15 years and 4 months old. She had crossed puberty and shown the signs. Thus she had to be treated as an adult woman responsible for her deeds.
Second, is the killing of women allowed in Islam? Yes! After the conquest of Mecca, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had personally ordered several women to be killed, including by stoning to death. Hazrat Ali too had declared as correct and justified the strangling of a Jewish woman who had verbally abused the Holy Prophet (PBUH).
Third, what does Pakhtun culture say? Although some media commentators claim that killing girls is against our culture, this is nonsense. If a boy and girl are even suspected of doing something together, it is common to kill both.
Fourth, was Malala guilty? Yes! This so-called innocent “child” actually wrote a diary under the false name of Gul Makai, and daily criticized us in it. She called Obama her ideal, and preferred the secular education of Lord Macaulay to Islamic education.
Fifth, was Malala unarmed? No! She was armed with the pen, a weapon sharper than the sword, with which she daily defamed Islam and Muslims. She portrayed the Taliban as beastly savages. This is why we rightly punished her.
Conclusion: By focusing on Malala this filthy (Pakistani) media shows it is prostituted to the Americans. It says no words of protest against the strip-searching and incarceration of the daughter of Islam (Dr Aafia Siddiqui). It makes a false hero out of one who deserved what she got.
A puzzle: why does such savage bestiality often find no, or only cursory, reference in today’s left-wing discourses? Boko Haram’s sex captives, ISIL’s beheadings, Taliban suicide attacks against civilians, and scores of atrocities by multiple Islamic groups should appal and disgust all those who believe in human equality, decency, and freedom. The Left is most certainly built upon these strong moral foundations, so why the near silence?
The explanation has two parts. First, a portion of the Left has a wholly negative view of western agendas, uncritically rejecting everything as self-serving and hypocritical. Second, many progressives today do not wish to leave a comfort zone where all global problems can be safely blamed on to the West. Having two baddies—America and Islamism—threatens to muddy up the waters. They would prefer to keep life simple.
But shouldn’t one be a little cleverer, more discerning? It is doubtlessly true that the pursuit by the United States of its strategic and economic interests fed and fuelled the rise of violent Islamism through its multiple wars and interventions, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US continues to be the principal protector and ally of Saudi Arabia—which has long funded jihadists across the globe. It stokes anger through its unconditional support for aggressive Israeli expansionism. In such situations it is right and proper to condemn the US and fight back.
At the same time, one must recognize that western culture and politics have changed in important ways. This is not because of the Obamas, Bushes, or Blairs but owes instead to a protracted, centuries-long struggle by the working class and activists. No longer can any western country afford to be seen as a merciless colonizer, or to freely militarily ravage and economically plunder as in past centuries. Constraints on their still callous corporate and political elites have steadily grown. Therefore western agendas and interests can sometimes be intelligently leveraged for furthering what is important for peoples everywhere: education, peace, female emancipation, freedom of thought and action, labour rights, and all that the Left holds important. Malala has played this game with the West well, giving us hope that in these bleak times there are still some among us who have their heads screwed on right.
A young Pakistani progressive, Ghausia Rashid Salam, departs from common opinion by paying her this tribute:
“We should be honoured that Malala emerged from our country, because we know better than any white man, better than any South Asian, what Pakistan is, and what life here is like. We know, better than anyone else in the world, how resilient you have to be to emerge from a life under the Taliban and not give up fighting for your rights, or the rights of others. We should be happy that the Western world can see for itself the brutal conditions we, and other parts of the world, live in, because the more fortunate parts of the world need to check their damned privilege and start making genuine efforts to bring change.”
It is surely time for one-track leftists to learn that we live in a multiple-tracked world, to recognize that there can be more than one baddie, and to resist from simplifying at the cost of accuracy. Else they do grievous wrong to all.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches physics in Lahore and Islamabad. This article first appeared on telesur
The Left Unity conference on Saturday is debating Kurdistan. There is a motion which describes ISIS as having “progressive potential” because it breaks down the imperialist-drawn boundaries of Middle Eastern states and literally – literally – calls for support for a caliphate in the region, describing this as representing “internationalism”, “protection of diversity and autonomy”, “accountability and representation” and “effective control of executive authority”. I honestly don’t think I’ve misrepresented it. Luckily there are a number of other decent motions supporting the Kurds and working-class and socialist forces, including one which highlights the nature of Western imperialism but argues for the Kurds’ right to get weapons and air support in their battle against ISIS (not proposed by Workers’ Liberty funnily enough).
NB: the motion, in pdf form, is p.41, amendement Ba2
By Eric Lee (cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website)
At the 1 November demonstration in Trafalgar Square in support of besieged Kobane, it struck me that the speakers — and more broadly, the left — were not singing from the same page.
On the one side there were those who were demanding that Britain and NATO do more to help the Kurds fighting against the Islamic fascists of IS. For example, Peter Tatchell led the crowd in chants demanding that David Cameron authorise the dropping of more aid to the Kurds, including weapons.
There were calls for Turkey to be suspended from NATO because it, unlike other NATO countries, was not prepared to help the Kurds.
And more generally most of the speakers especially the Kurdish ones, had not a critical word to say about the USA, the West, NATO or imperialism. Everyone was focussed on the evil that is “Islamic State”.
On the other side, some of the far-left speakers went overboard in denouncing NATO, the USA and the West, going so far as claiming that IS was a creation of NATO and Washington.
This was particularly the case with a spokesman for the “Stop the War Coalition” — an organisation whose presence at the event surprised many of the participants.
The Coalition’s website has almost nothing at all about the war taking place today in Syria and Iraq and indeed the only reference to it is video of George Galloway denouncing the support NATO is giving to the Kurds. Galloway also voted against this support in the Commons.
It seems to me that elements of the British far left find themselves in a bit of a bind.
On the one hand, there’s this extraordinary, inspiring resistance movement in Kobane, which has captured the imagination of many who would normally be the natural constituency for the left. The people on the ground, fighting IS, belong to a movement which was seen, until recently, as part of the broad international left.
Obviously they deserve our support — and yet that seems to mean supporting the US and British air strikes, supporting NATO.
To get around this, the far leftists have decided on the “ISIS is NATO” line, which is an extraordinary position — one is almost at a loss for words to describe it.
For those not understanding how IS could be both under NATO attack and simultaneously a creation of NATO, some of the speakers went so far as to say that IS was using American weapons
The implication was that America gave them weapons.
This is, of course, utter nonsense. The American weapons that have fallen into the hands of IS were taken from the retreating Iraqi army. Taken — not handed over as a gift by the Americans.
One of the anti-NATO, anti-American tirades came from an organisation I’d not previously heard of called the Revolutionary Communist Group. (I’m sure that specialists will know the entire history of this micro-sect, but for me it was new.) And groups like this, which get invited to speak at mass rallies, give only a very small piece of their line because they’d be booed off the stage if people knew what they really believed.
The RCG’s speaker shouted the usual stuff about solidarity with the Kurds, but a quick glance at their website shows that they are in fact enthusiastic supporters of the bloody Assad dictatorship and its army. The same Syrian army that abandoned Kobane — an army that no Kurd wants to have back. But there was no mention of that to the largely Kurdish crowd in Trafalgar Square.
So what are people like this, who support Assad and Saddam, who demonize NATO and the USA, doing at these rallies?
They’re there because they can’t afford not to be there. To have nothing to say when the battle of Kobane rages would be unacceptable; they must somehow show solidarity with the embattled Kurds.
But they oppose the very thing — NATO air support — that has made that battle possible. The tide may be turning in Kobane because of US bombing and air drops.
On the ground, some Kurds have been heard chanting “Long live Obama!” How embarrassing for the anti-Americans on the far left.
These people with their crazy views, denouncing the essential support given by the west to the Kurds, praising Assad and Saddam, have no place at Kurdish solidarity rallies. They are there purely to cover their tracks, to provide themselves with some kind of moral cover as IS continues with its murderous rampage across Syria and Iraq.
We should give them no platform.
The November 6 London Review of Books has published Patrick Cockburn’s latest article, ‘Whose Side is Turkey On?’. Now, as I support the struggle of the Syrian Kurds, led by the PYD and its armed militia, the YPG, against ISIS’ genocidal siege, I have no interest in defending Turkey’s shabby role in this, even if I think both the US and Turkey, in their current difference on this issue are both being totally cynical in their different ways. So this critique will not deal with these issues.
Unfortunately, the angle from which Cockburn criticises Turkey is full of the same contradictions that significant parts of the left espouse, basked in an overall hostility to the Syrian revolution. Valid criticism of Turkey’s sabotage of the defence of Kobani – connected to Turkey’s own oppression of its Kurdish minority – is mixed in with criticism of Turkey for allegedly wanting to help overthrow the Syrian tyranny of Bashar Assad. As if there were something wrong with wanting the overthrow of a tyrant who has burnt his whole country, sending 1.5 million Syrian refugees into Turkey.
Indeed, the fact that Turkey plays an otherwise positive role (for its own reasons which I can’t go into here) in allowing Syrian resistance fighters to cross the border is labelled “facilitating ISIS”, as if the Syrian rebellion has anything to do with ISIS, its vicious enemy. Don’t get me wrong – Turkey may well be facilitating ISIS around the Kurdish regions of the north-east for specifically anti-Kurdish regions, but that simply has nothing to with its *rightful* facilitation of the anti-Assad rebellion elsewhere.
Unless one held the view that only the Syrian Kurds had the right to resist massacre, torture, ethnic cleansing and so on. After all, the Syrian rebellion, based largely among the vast impoverished Sunni Arab majority, has faced a regime that makes ISIS’ tyranny appear amateurish in comparison, and considering how barbaric ISIS is, this is a big claim, yet one that is simply empirically true.
Indeed, and I digress a little here – not understanding that it is the Syrian and Iraqi Sunni Arab populations that have been bombed to pieces, ethnically cleansed, dispossessed physically, politically and in every other way, by both the American invasion of Iraq and the Assad regime’s burning of its whole country to keep a narrow mega-plutocracy in power, is one of the keys to the left’s misunderstanding of many of these issues. It is the Sunni Arab populations of both countries that have suffered a decade-long apocalypse, not, overall, the Shia, Alawites or Kurds.
Who arms “jihadis”?
Referring to the “coalition” that the US has built to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Cockburn writes:
“When the bombing of Syria began in September, Obama announced with pride that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Turkey were all joining the US as military partners against Isis. But, as the Americans knew, these were all Sunni states which had played a central role in fostering the jihadis in Syria and Iraq.”
Ah, no, they didn’t actually. And just because Cockburn continues to make that assertion, always evidence-free, doesn’t make a non-fact a fact. Actually, only less than 5 percent of ISIS funds came from outside donations at all, and of that, what came from the Gulf certainly didn’t come from the regimes (http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/06/23/231223/records-show-how-iraqi-extremists.html?sp=/99/117/). Read the rest of this entry »
AWL statement: Solidarity with democratic and socialist forces resisting ISIS! Mobilise for 1 November!
Above: Muayad Ahmed, secretary of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq
From the Workers Liberty website:
Solidarity with democratic, workers’ and socialist forces in the Middle East resisting ISIS! Mobilise for 1 November!
The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty conference (London, 25-6 October) sends solidarity to democratic, working-class and socialist forces resisting ISIS in Kurdistan, Syria and Iraq, including our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan and Iraq.
We support the people of Kurdistan in their fight for self-determination and self-rule. More broadly, people in Kobane and elsewhere are fighting a life and death battle to defend basic human freedoms, particularly freedom for women.
We are supporting and mobilising for the international day of action on 1 November. We call on the British and international left to get off the fence and support these mobilisations.
Even when they may aid a liberation struggle, we do not endorse or have trust in bombing or the sending of ground forces by the US and its allies, or by Iran. The US has bombed ISIS units attacking Kobane; but it helped create the conditions for the rise of ISIS; it continues to ally with a variety of reactionary regimes and forces in the region; and by its very nature it acts for reasons that have nothing to do with democracy or liberation.
We protest against the Turkish government’s undermining of the fight against ISIS, motivated by fear of a challenge to its rule in Kurdistan.
We call for the free movement of refugees, including their right to come to the UK.
We will build solidarity with democratic forces in the region – but particularly working-class and socialist organisations. We will continue to work with our comrades in the Worker-communist Parties of Kurdistan, Iraq and Iran; the Iranian Revolutionary Marxists’ Tendency; and Marksist Tutum in Turkey – and the workers’ and people’s organisations they are building. We invite others on the left and in the labour movement to work with us to build solidarity with these comrades and with the class-struggle left throughout the Middle East.
This Saturday, please do anything you can to support the Rojava Kurds and their allies fighting for Kobanê. Biji Kurdistan!
Above: the Ottawa ISIS supporter
In the light of Rhodri Evans’s shrewd analysis of how ISIS has forced the ‘anti- imperialist’ left to re-examine its stance on Islamist terrorism, I was about to comment upon how ‘blowback’ has been absent from most of the liberal-left’s response to events in Canada…
…when this wretched article appeared in today’s Independent.
The BTL comments are, in the vast majority, superb in their contempt for this shit. Sarah AB also does a very good fisking job, over at That Place.
James Bloodworth has also done an excellent job over at the Spectator, fisking the creepy ‘blowback’ promoter Glenn Greenwald and more or less writing the article I was going to come up with. So he’s saved me the trouble … here it is:
Anti-NSA crusader Glenn Greenwald published an article on Wednesday morning where he explained that the recent murder of a Canadian soldier by a radicalised Muslim convert was down to Canadian foreign policy. The important sentence in Greenwald’s piece is this one:
‘A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it.’
To put it another way, it was inevitable that the jihadists would come after Canadians, given that Canadians had meted out some fairly ripe treatment to the jihadists – first in Afghanistan and now against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (I’m being generous to Greenwald here, I grant you).
Read the rest here
Letter published in todays’s Morning Star:
Secular, progressive Kurds in need of left
I salute the heroic struggle of the secular, progressive Kurds of the YPG (People’s Protection Groups) as they battle to defend Kobane from fascist murderers equipped with much heavier and more modern weapons.
The Turks and the Western leaders appear prepared to let the fascists wipe out the Kurdish fighters — people like me and you, people of the left — including the women who save the last bullet for themselves rather than fall into the hands of the fascists.
It seems to me that there is a cynical plan in place. If Kobane falls, there will be crocodile tears about massacres and the drums will start beating for a ground war and the gruesome cycle starting all over again.
There is, of course, an alternative.
The Kurds are once again victims of the same kind of geopolitics which denied them a homeland when the Sykes-Picot agreement was drawn up at the end of the Ottoman empire.
With modern weaponry they could defend their own communities successfully — they certainly have the fighting ability to do so.
But the Turks and the Western powers are scared of their left-wing radicalism and their desire for an independent homeland.
And, sadly, many on the left turn their backs. They can’t bring themselves to support fellow progressives desperate for military aid in fighting fascism, because they see that in some way as “supporting imperialism.”
The Kurds are crying out for support, for Western governments to help them.
They demonstrate with banners saying “Your silence is killing us.” They are right.
This is Guernica, this is Madrid. These are our comrades. But where is the left? Where are the thousands who rightly throng the streets in support of another stateless, oppressed people in Palestine? Where is the Stop The War Coalition? Why the silence? Why, why, WHY?
ATTILA THE STOCKBROKER
JD adds: Very interesting article on the Kurds, intervention and the European left, by Yasin Suma, here
I have been asked, by a regular reader, to carry more material explaining our position on antisemitism – and, in particular our allegation that a lot of contemporary antisemitism comes from the “left” and takes the form of Palestinian solidarity (a cause that, in principle, Shiraz supports). I intend to write at some length on this subject soon, but as a starting point I’d refer readers to Galloway’s recent refusal to support Palestinian statehood (and his explanation, here) and the following account of a meeting at Oxford University. Note that one of the main speakers is an Oxford academic who frequently writes for the liberal-left Guardian. In other words, these people are not fringe elements within the pro-Palestinian movement in the UK. Support for the total destruction of Israel (ie the Hamas position) and casual comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, are now commonplace in the pro-Palestine movement. Even placards stating “Hitler was Right” are allowed on pro-Palestine demos, apparently unchallenged by the organisers or other marchers. As usual, when we re-publish material, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all the article’s contents or endorse all the politics of the author.:
15 October 2014:
Tonight I had the misfortune to attend the inaugural Palestine Society event here in Oxford. I went with Sapan and Jonathan out of a mixture of open mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
What I heard and saw genuinely shocked me. I’ve heard a lot in my time but this was by far the worst event I have ever attended. I can only describe it as a two hour hate fest of the variety described in George Orwell’s ’1984.’ It went from the downright idiotic to the explicitly anti-Semitic – and often both. I heard a girl complain about the evils of ‘Zionist’ control in her native America – she even attacked ‘Zionists’ for controlling the make up she wore! No one challenged this girl’s delusions: they only reassured her that fighting Zionism must remain paramount. I heard numerous people glorify the ‘right of the resistance’ and reject non-violent tactics, even including an Oxford academic on the panel (Karma Nabulsi).
I had a question of my own. I read to the panel a quotation from John Molyneux, a theorist from the Socialist Workers’ Party;
“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”
I then added – “I’d be interested to know what the members of the panel think about this mode of analysis. Do they support what I consider to be a totally irrational – and dangerous – position?”
Not only did the panelists evade my question – Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi and Barnaby Raine – to my horror, they actually agreed with its sentiment. Mr Raine, a student at Wadham College and a student activist, mocked me by saying that “anyone would stand up for the oppressed against an oppressor.” It should also be noted that Mr Raine noticeably hesitated when I put up my hand – he looked everywhere around the room before reluctantly taking my question. This person excuses the most morally reprehensible actions. He practically fetishises totalitarianism.
It got worse. Near the end of the talk, a local PSC activist defended Molyneux’s remarks by arguing that he’d rather be a Medieval, backward Chassidic Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto than a cultured German in a Nazi uniform. A sizable proportion of the room – hundreds of people – applauded this awful anti-Semitic distortion of history and trivialization of the Holocaust.
I am aware this status is long and most students couldn’t care less about student politics. However, I think it’s important that all students know that here, in 21st Century Britain, at one of the best universities in the world, political extremism is flourishing. Whereas far right fascists are, rightly, tarred and made into social pariahs, their equivalents on the far left get away with it time and time again. These are the totalitarians in our midst.
I have done what I can. I tried exposing rampant anti-Semitism in the Palestine Society at the start of this year and I was treated with ridicule. It’s time to take this stuff seriously. I saw many freshers at this event – freshers whose minds have been poisoned and given a wholly false narrative which demonises one people at the expense of the other, one that demonises the forces of peace and rewards the actions of hate and terrorism. I saw a room of intelligent, perhaps highly naive students, express the most hideous and morally warped trash. I saw no effort to condemn outright anti-Semitic prejudice when it was expressed. I saw pure intellectual fascism – people attending a talk to confirm their prejudices, and actively ostracising those that disagree with them.
I cannot think of a worse introduction to Oxford for incoming students to this University. Anyone who genuinely cares about Palestinians – whether in the West Bank or Gaza, or elsewhere in the Middle East or the diaspora – should stay the hell away from Oxford University’s Palestine Society. And remember that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.