Russell Brand: poseur, prat…or person of principle?

October 24, 2013 at 9:09 pm (anarchism, BBC, celebrity, Jim D, libertarianism, middle class, New Statesman, revolution, strange situations, television, wild man)

Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.

Judge for yourself…

…and feel free to let us know what you think.

Permalink 23 Comments

Learn to live with terrorism – the Simon Jenkins way!

September 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm (apologists and collaborators, Beyond parody, Champagne Charlie, Guardian, intellectuals, jerk, libertarianism, relativism, terror)

1/ Whatever you do, don’t “over-react”: that’s the cause of terrorism in the first place.

2/ Don’t gather together in crowds.

3/ Don’t hold marathons.

4/ Do not build shopping malls, hotels or churches.

5/ Don’t overdo surveillance.

6/ Keep a “sense of proportion”: defending yourself only invites retaliation.

You think this is a joke? It’s not.

Update Rosie:-

7/ Keep calm and carry on.

8/ Run about waving your arms and screaming.

Permalink 3 Comments

Interview with Alex Gibney, director of ‘We Steal Secrets': Assange as “puppet master”

July 17, 2013 at 12:20 am (celebrity, cinema, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, Human rights, internet, Jim D, libertarianism, mental health, misogyny, protest, snooping, terror)

From Flavorwire

Flavorwire Interview: ‘We Steal Secrets’ Director Alex Gibney on Julian Assange and the Wikileaks Backlash to His Film

By Jason Bailey on May 22, 2013

In his riveting new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, director Alex Gibney (the prolific Oscar winner behind Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer) tells two stories: the thriller-like ascendency of the organization and the troubling questions it asks about government transparency, and the crumbling of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which plays like something out of Greek tragedy — the transformation of an admirable idealist to a paranoid propagandist, injecting his own legal woes into the lofty aims of his organization, and conflating them. Gibney was unable to procure an interview with Assange; “Julian wanted money,” Gibney explains in the film, though Assange was willing to exchange his interview for information on the other people Gibney was talking to. (UPDATE: The organization has disputed this claim. Mr. Gibney notes that they’re working from an “incomplete and inaccurate transcript based on non-final version.”) The filmmaker refused, and We Steal Secrets has been under fire from Wikileaks supporters since it was unveiled at Sundance last January. I asked Gibney about that backlash, the importance of the story, and related troubling matters of transparency in the Obama administration

Flavorwire: When and how did you first become aware of Assange and Wikileaks, and when did you decide you wanted to make this film?

Gibney: I first became aware of him through the collateral murder thing when it was posted on the website before the Afghan and Iraq war logs, and I took note of it as a kind of cool new publishing mechanism for this kind of material. I thought, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I read the piece by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and then it really exploded, obviously, when the Afghan and Iraq war logs broke, and then the state department cables. It was after that that [producer] Marc Shmuger called me and said, “Would you be interested?” Frankly, I was busy doing some other things. I was just following it as a civilian because I was interested in it and I couldn’t resist. I said, “Yeah, sure. If you can raise the money, I will do it.” Then he went to Universal and we got the money, and off we went.

I really admire the fairness of the film — it champions what Wikileaks is about, while being deservedly critical of Assange himself, or at least the recent iteration of him. How closely does the evolution of the narrative within the film mirror how your own feelings evolved about the story?

I think it did evolve and it did change, and frankly, while we were following the story, the story changed. When we came onto it, Assange was still living in the Norfolk mansion, not yet in self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, so a lot of things were yet to happen. Based on Raffi’s piece in The New Yorker and my first meeting with Assange, I liked him a lot, and I thought it was a pretty simple David and Goliath story. At the same time, it was kind of peculiar because when I came into the story, in media terms, he was becoming a kind of Goliath, he meaning Assange. He was surrounded with a number of lawyers and agents and press people that I had to wade through. It was like trying to talk to a movie star, and so that I think also was tough. I wish I’d met him when he was in Iceland.

Walk me through your communications with Assange during the production — and if you’ve had any since.

One of my executive producers, Jemima Khan, put up some of the bail money for Assange, and so that helped to plug me into his group. And so from the very start, I approached him and told him I wanted to talk to him. I think I may have put him off in the sense that most people [who] were coming to him wanted to make some kind of a deal, like, “Give me access and I’ll go raise the money to make a film about you,” and then Julian would put conditions on the access. I came to him and told him that I was making the film whether he participated or not. I didn’t put it in a crude way — I just said, “I’m doing the film now, I hope you’ll participate.”

I don’t think he liked that very much. He likes to have control. He likes to feel like he’s the puppet master, so nevertheless, I hung on and kept trying over the course of time. You know, he did agree — I have a number of emails saying, “Yeah, sure, we agree to the interview, let’s do it,” and then later on, he decided not to agree. I kept going, so I kept making the film even as I kept trying to get him to talk and [it] was very late in the game when we were close to finishing that I tried one last time and he said, “Well, let’s talk about it.” So I flew over from New York to England and went and visited him at this Norfolk estate that is owned by Vaughan Smith and we had this six-hour conversation where we explored whether or not he would do the interview.

I walked through it, but he wanted certain guarantees, like he wanted to know if he could see cuts. I said, “Look, I don’t do that. That’s not how it works. I don’t work for you.” And then he responded huffily, “Well, I don’t work for you either.” I said, “Yeah, I know, I get it!” I think he wanted a spin doctor. He wanted to be able to say or believe that he could control the message and the messenger. And while I told him that I really wanted his unvarnished views about these issues and really wanted him to dig into detail into the story… ultimately, editorial control rested with me. End of story.

Have you heard anything from him or anyone that’s still in the organization since? Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 1 Comment

Victor Serge: ‘Memoirs of a Revolutionary’ and other gems

January 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm (history, libertarianism, literature, Marxism, publications, socialism)

From Richard Greeman
Subject: Victor Serge

Dear Friends,

Interesting news for fans of Victor Serge, the Franco-Russian novelist
and revolutionary (1890-1947).

• In Mexico, a trove of Serge’s Notebooks has recently come to light
and are now published in France, beautifully edited, by Agone in
Marseille, 65 years after Serge’s death.

• Meanwhile, in the US, the first complete English translation of
Serge’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary: 1905-1941 was published last year
by NY Review of Books Classics. Peter Sedgwick’s original translation,
cut by 1/8 in the 1963 Oxford edition from which all others were
copied, has now been restored by George Paisis. In addition to
Sedgwick’s Introduction and a Foreword by Adam Hochschild, the NYRB
Classics edition includes a Glossary, which I prepared to help readers
cope with all those Russian names. Unfortunately, my Postface, “Victor
Serge’s Political Testament” was omitted by mistake. I attach it
below.

• Finally, for those who live in the NY area, I will be hosting a
class on Serge at the Brecht Forum this Spring and Fall, starting with
public lectures on Feb. 2 and 9 co-sponsored by NYRB Classics and
Haymarket Books.

Victor Serge’s Political Testament

‘What would Victor Serge’s political position be if he were alive
today ?’ During the 60-odd years since Serge’s untimely death, this
question – a priori unanswerable — has been asked (and answered) many
times — on occasion, as we shall see, by self-interested politicos
and pundits. The consensus among these postmortem prophets is that
this hypothetical posthumous Serge would have moved Right, along with
ex-Communists like Arthur Koestler and the ‘N.Y. Intellectuals’ around
the Partisan Review. It is of course, impossible to prove otherwise,
but the fact remains that throughout the Cold War neither the
CIA-sponsored Congress for Cultural Freedom nor any other conservative
anti-Communist group ever attempted to exploit Serge’s writings, which
continued to speak far too revolutionary a language and remained
largely out of print. Nonetheless, the spectre of an undead Right-wing
Serge continues to haunt the critics, and there are reasons why.

To begin with, in January 1948, a month after Serge’s death, that
great confabulator André Malraux launched macabre press campaign
claiming Serge as a death-bed convert to Gaullism. The sad fact is
that six days before he died, Serge had sent a grossly flattering
personal letter to Malraux, begging the support of de Gaulle’s once
and future Minister of Culture (and Gallimard editor) to publish his
novel Les Derniers temps in France. Desperate to leave the political
isolation and (fatally) unhealthy altitude of Mexico for Paris, Serge
indulged in an uncharacteristic ruse de guerre, feigning sympathy for
Malraux’s ‘political position’ — according to Vlady, at his urging.
Serge’s ruse backfired. His letter and the news of his death reached
Paris simultaneously, and Malraux seized the moment by printing
selected excerpts and leaking them to C.L. Sulzberger, who published
them in the N.Y. Times — thus recruiting Serge’s fresh corpse into
the ranks of the Western anti-Communist crusade.

Aside from this letter, there is zero evidence in Serge’s writings,
published and unpublished, of sympathy for Gaullism or Western
anti-Communism — quite the contrary. In 1946, Serge sharply
criticized his comrade René Lefeuvre, editor of the far-left review
Masses, for publishing an attack on the USSR by an American
anti-Communist: «If the Soviet regime is to be criticised, » wrote
Serge, « let it be from a socialist and working class point of view.
If we must let American voices be heard, let them be those of sincere
democrats and friends of peace, and not chauvinistic demagogues; let
them be those of the workers who will succeed one day, we hope, in
organising themselves into an independent party. » A few months later,
Serge followed up : « I understand that the Stalinist danger alarms
you. But it must not make us lose sight of our overall view. We must
not play into the hands of an anti-Communist bloc […] We shall get
nowhere if we seem more preoccupied with criticising Stalinism than
with defending the working class. The reactionary danger is still
there, and in practice we shall often have to act alongside the
Communists. »

To complicate matters even further, in the course of a fraternal
discussion with Leon Trotsky over Kronstadt and the Cheka in 1938, the
‘Old Man’ unjustly (on the basis of an article he hadn’t read),
portrayed Serge as abandoning Marxism along with Stalinism and
drifting to the Right. Nonetheless Serge, despite political
differences of which the reader of these Memoirs is aware, continued
to defend Trotsky to his death, helped expose Trotsky’s murderer, and
collaborated with Trotsky’s widow, Natalia Sedova, on The Life and
Death of Leon Trotsky. Yet generations of Trotskyists have reflexively
handed down Trotsky’s caricature of Serge as a ‘bridge from revolution
to reaction’ — an accusation apparently confirmed by the ‘Gaullism’
charge.

More recently Serge’s posthumous rightward drift has been alleged on
the basis of his guilt-by-association with erstwhile U.S. leftists and
socialists who subsequently moved Right. (Of course Serge’s main
political associations were in Europe, a fact this argument ignores).
One recalls that in Mexico Serge lived by his pen (like Marx in exile
who wrote for Greeley’s N.Y. Herald Tribune) writing news articles in
English for the Social-Democratic press (the staunchly anti-Communist
Call and New Leader) as well as think-pieces for the Partisan Review
(whose editors had supported his struggles to survive in Vichy France
and Mexico). Many of these ‘N.Y. Intellectuals’ did indeed move
rightward, beginning with James Burnham in the 1940s. Thus Serge, it
is argued, ‘would have’ moved Right too. Yet, not long before he died,
Serge vigorously attacked Burnham, writing: “The paradox that he has
developed, doubtless out of love for a provocative theory, is as false
as it is dangerous. Under a thousand insipid forms it is to be found
in the Press and the literature of this age of preparation for the
Third World War. The reactionaries have an obvious interest in
confounding Stalinist totalitarianism – exterminator of the
Bolsheviks – with Bolshevism itself; their aim is to strake at the
working class, at Socialism, at Marxism, even at Liberalism…”

All this would be just a sad footnote were it not that the posthumous
image of a right-wing Serge, based on the old ‘Gaullism’ and ‘NY
Intellectualism’ arguments, was still being agitated as late as 2010.
To lay this ghost once and for all, let us quote Serge’s last
significant political statement, generally considered his ‘political
testament.’

‘Thirty Years After the Russian Revolution’ was dated August 1947 and
published in Paris by La Révolution proletarianne in November 1947,
the month of his death. There Serge writes: “A feeble logic —
pointing an accusing finger at the dark spectacle of the Stalinist
Soviet Union — deduces from this the bankruptcy of Bolshevism, hence
that of Marxism, hence that of Socialism […] Aren’t you forgetting the
other bankruptcies? Where was Christianity during the recent social
catastrophes? What happened to Liberalism? What did Conservatism –
enlightened or reactionary– produce? Did it not give us Mussolini,
Hitler, Salazar, and Franco? If it was a question of honestly weighing
the many failures of different ideologies, we would have our work cut
out for us for a long time. And it is far from over …”

As far as capitalism is concerned, Serge concluded: “There is no
longer any doubt that the era of stable, growing, relatively pacific
capitalism came to an end with the First World War. The Marxist
revolutionaries who announced the opening of a global revolutionary
era—and said that if socialism did not establish itself in at least
the great European powers, another period of barbarism and a “cycle of
wars of war and revolution” (as Lenin put it, quoting Engels) would
follow — were right. The conservatives, the evolutionists, and the
reformists who chose to believe in the future bourgeois Europe
carefully cut into pieces at Versailles, then replastered at Locarno,
and fed with phrases dug up at the League of Nations — are today
remembered as statesmen of blind policies….

The Marxist revolutionaries of the Bolshevik school awaited and worked
toward the social transformation of Europe and the world by an
awakening of the working masses and by the rational and equitable
reorganization of a new society. They expected to continue working
toward the time when men would take control over their own destinies.
There they made a mistake — they were beaten. Instead, the
transformation of the world is taking place amidst a terrible
confusion of institutions, movements and beliefs without the hoped-for
clarity of vision, without a sense of renewed humanism, and in a way
that now imperils all the values and hopes of men. Nevertheless the
general trends are still those defined by the socialists of 1917–20
toward the collectivization and the planification of economies, the
internationalization of the world, the emancipation of oppressed and
colonized peoples, and the formation of mass-based democracies of a
new kind. The alternative was also foreseen by the socialists:
barbarism and war, war and barbarism — a monster with two heads.

As Peter Sedgwick put it in 1963: ‘Whatever else they may be, these
are not the words of a man of the Right, or of any variety of
ex-revolutionary penitent.’

Richard Greeman

Permalink 4 Comments

Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article on guns in America

December 16, 2012 at 10:38 am (insanity, libertarianism, mental health, murder, United States)

BATTLEGROUND AMERICA

One nation, under the gun

Just after seven-thirty on the morning of February 27th, a  seventeen-year-old boy named T. J. Lane walked into the cafeteria at Chardon  High School, about thirty miles outside Cleveland. It was a Monday, and the  cafeteria was filled with kids, some eating breakfast, some waiting for buses to  drive them to programs at other schools, some packing up for gym class. Lane sat  down at an empty table, reached into a bag, and pulled out a .22-calibre pistol.  He stood up, raised the gun, and fired. He said not a word.

Russell King, a seventeen-year-old junior, was sitting at a table with  another junior, Nate Mueller. King, shot in the head, fell face first onto the  table, a pool of blood forming. A bullet grazed Mueller’s ear. “I could see the  flame at the end of the gun,” Mueller said later. Daniel Parmertor, a  sixteen-year-old snowboarder, was shot in the head. Someone screamed “Duck!” Demetrius Hewlin, sixteen, was also shot in the head, and slid under the table.  Joy Rickers, a senior, tried to run; Lane shot her as she fled. Nickolas  Walczak, shot in his neck, arm, back, and face, fell to the floor. He began  crawling toward the door.

Ever since the shootings at Columbine High School, in a Denver suburb, in  1999, American schools have been preparing for gunmen. Chardon started holding  drills in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, when twenty-three-year-old  Seung-Hui Cho, a college senior, shot fifty-seven people in Blacksburg.

At Chardon High School, kids ran through the halls screaming “Lockdown!” Some  of them hid in the teachers’ lounge; they barricaded the door with a piano.  Someone got on the school’s public-address system and gave instructions, but  everyone knew what to do. Students ran into classrooms and dived under desks;  teachers locked the doors and shut off the lights. Joseph Ricci, a math teacher,  heard Walczak, who was still crawling, groaning in the hallway. Ricci opened the  door and pulled the boy inside. No one knew if the shooter had more guns, or  more rounds. Huddled under desks, students called 911 and texted their parents.  One tapped out, “Prayforus.”

From the cafeteria, Frank Hall, the assistant football coach, chased Lane out  of the building, and he ran off into the woods.

Moments later, four ambulances arrived. E.M.T.s raced Rickers and Walczak to  Chardon’s Hillcrest Hospital. Hewlin, Parmertor, and King were flown by  helicopter to a trauma center at MetroHealth Medical Center, in Cleveland. By  eight-thirty, the high school had been evacuated.

At a quarter to nine, police officers with dogs captured Lane, about a mile  from the school.

“I hate to say it, but we trained for exactly this type of thing, a school  emergency of this type,” Dan McClelland, the county sheriff, said.

Danny Parmertor died that afternoon. That evening, St. Mary’s Church opened  its doors, and the people of Chardon sank to their knees and keened. At the town  square, students gathered to hold a vigil. As night fell, they lit candles. Drew  Gittins, sixteen, played a Black Eyed Peas song on his guitar. “People killin’, people dyin’,” he sang. “People got me, got me questionin’, Where is the  love?”

Russell King had been too badly wounded. A little after midnight, doctors said that they couldn’t save him…

… Read it all here

Permalink 5 Comments

A right to bear arms?

December 15, 2012 at 9:59 am (children, crime, insanity, Johnny Lewis, libertarianism, mental health, murder, rights, United States)

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” -Second Amendment, the U.S. Constitution

todays paper

Whatever the merits of such notions about personal and national security (they are, to say the least, highly questionable in this day and age), it is important to note that the only kind of militia the Second Amendment expressly regards as consistent with security is a “well-regulated” militia. One may rationally and reasonably conclude that this applies both to an organized militia and an unorganized one. Otherwise, an armed citizenry consisting of men and women using guns for presumed high purpose according to their respective dictates of personal whim and political fancy is the stuff from which anarchy could result, and in turn the tyranny against which the private possession of guns is supposed to protect Americans.

The right to keep and bear arms (a term that connotes a military purpose) stems from the English common law right of self-defense. However, the possession of guns in the mother country of the common law was never an absolute right. Various conditions were imposed. Britain today has one of the strictest gun laws in the world.

There is nothing absolute about the freedoms in our own Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech is not freedom to shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is not freedom to have multiple spouses, or sacrifice a lamb in the local park, as religiously sanctioned practices. Similarly, whatever right the Second Amendment protects regarding the private possession of guns, for whatever definition of “militia,” is not an absolute right. It must serve the overall public interest, including (from the preamble of the US Constitution) the need to “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare.” Whatever right there is to possess firearms is no less important than the right of every American, gun owners included, to protection against the possession of guns by persons who by any reasonable standard lack the crucial credentials for responsible gun ownership.

- From a 1977 article by David J.Steinberg, Executive Director, National Council for a Responsible Firearms Policy:  “Does The Second Amendment Mean What It Says?” 

- Socialists debate gun control here: http://www.workersliberty.org/node/4681

Permalink 2 Comments

Terry Liddle: farewell, Comrade

November 22, 2012 at 6:56 am (atheism, good people, libertarianism, secularism, socialism)

“Comrades when I’m dead and gone, no more than dust on the breeze
I beg you grant me one last wish, comrades do this for me please
Raise a glass of the blood red wine or a mug of the barley brew
Bid farewell to your comrade, one of the foolish few
Who thought we could rearrange the world, dreamed we could make all things new.”

Bruce reports:

Terry Liddle (above) died on November 17th aged 64. Comrades may remember Terry as active in the Socialist Alliance and its successor groups.

Terry’s political career started in the YCL (Young Communist League)  in the early 60s followed, I think, by a brief stint in the Healyites. When I first met him  in about 1968, he was involved in one of many attempts to take over the rump ILP (Independent Labour Party). He was a libertarian socialist who subsequently joined a variety of Council Communist groups.

He spent most of his activity in recent years on secularist / atheist activities, setting up the Freethought History Research Group.

He had been ill for a long time.

Nice tribute from Coatesy, here

Jim D adds: Terry wrote poetry and, in one of his poems (‘Death Song’, quoted from above) calls on his comrades to raise a glass of wine or ale to his memory when he dies and is no more than “dust on the breeze.” I’m doing exactly as he instructed, right now.

Permalink 24 Comments

Charlie Hebdo, “Muslims” and free speech

September 28, 2012 at 12:01 am (anti-semitism, AWL, Cross-post, France, Free Speech, Islam, islamism, libertarianism, media, publications, Racism, religion)

A discussion piece, cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website and the paper Solidarity: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/09/25/charlie-hebdo-muslims-and-how-defend-freedom-expression

By Yves Coleman

The author is a French socialist activist, involved in publishing the journal Ni Patrie, Ni Frontières (No Fatherlands, No Borders).


“If you insult Muhammad, it is as if you insult my own mother.” (A participant, during a debate on Radio Tropic FM, September 20, 2012.)

It all began with excerpts from a stupid video posted on the Net.

Then a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, intervened. This weekly publication has always been characterized by its bad taste, rude machismo supposed to be funny and popular, and its cheap anti-racism. This typical French form of pseudo anti-racism has a peculiarity: it conveys all racist or anti-Semitic clichés under the pretext of attacking… racism. This position makes ist “humor” often perfectly acceptable to extreme right people. One example is the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo: it shows a Jew with a traditional hat pushing a wheelchair in which sits a Muslim (or Muhammad?), with the subtitle “Untouchables” – which is also the title of a French film which won great popular success and was supposedly anti-racist. A first-degree understanding of this cartoon encourages the reader to think that Jews and Muslims are exempt from criticism in France, which obviously implies that:
– that Catholics (culturally dominant in France) are much more tolerant than the supporters of the other two religions of the Book
– French Jews, even if they are a small minority, form a powerful “lobby” (a thought which was also expressed by the Tropic FM “Muslim” listener quoted before)
– And finally, that “Muslims” have installed a reign of terror in France through their intellectual terrorism, their physical threats or even attacks.

JUMPED

In fact, Charlie Hebdo has only jumped on the opportunity given by The Innocence of Muslims to reinforce the “critical” current which tends to present all Muslims as fanatics or terrorists.

Fifteen years ago, the newspaper Charlie Hebdo was considered by the anti-globalization left, as a rare example of the “free press” (according to Serge Halimi, director of the Left anti-globalization monthly Le Monde diplomatique).

When this weekly came under the leadership of a former stand-up comedian and playwriter (Philippe Val), who became a vulgar court philosopher close to Sarkozy, of course radicals and left-wing people found that publication was no more trendy. And especially because a feminist reformist, Caroline Fourest, started writing in Charlie Hebdo, criticizing all religions, all fundamentalisms, including Islamic fundamentalism and therefore criticizing Tariq Ramadan, an anti-globalization and left icon for a while. Anti-Semitic “jokes” made by the cartoonist Sine (who had a long experience in anti-semitic remarks) allowed a false debate to take place between Sine supporters (supposed to be left, even far left minded) and Philippe Val supporters or Charlie Hebdo readers, supposed to be all Sarkozysts and “Islamophobes”. The terms of the debate were faked because none of the two camps really opposed BOTH anti-Semitism (including when presented as “anti-Zionism”) and anti-Arab racism, even when it was concealed under a criticism of Islam. Finally, Sine was sacked from Charlie Hebdo and created his own satirical monthly, Val was appointed to manage a public radio station, where he soon distinguished himself by firing an two anti -Sarkozyst stand-up comedians (Didier Porte and Stephane Guillon), and Charlie Hebdo continued its muddled comments on all kinds of subjects.

It is obvious that the new issue of Charlie Hebdo devoted to caricatures of Muhammad or of Muslims (the previous issue with similar content, around the time of the “Danish cartoons” row in 2006) provoked an arson attack on its office, the protection of the police and several trials for “Islamophobia”) had only one main objective: to create the buzz in order to sell more copies of this weekly, taking advantage of the atmosphere created by the reactions to The Innocence of Muslims. “Freedom of speech” had nothing to do with this provocation.

In addition, we know that, during the recent years, in France as well as in Europe, the extreme right hides its fascist and racist ideas under the banner of the freedom of expression, and a critique of “political correctness gone mad”, etc. So we must be conscious that freedom of expression often becomes an often adulterated commodity in certain hands.

At the same time, a tiny number of Muslims have fallen into the trap: they wanted to organize demonstrations, all banned by the “Socialist” government.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the National Front, took the opportunity to call for a ban on hijabs and yarmulkes on the streets.

FALSE DEBATE

In short, a new false debate was launched by the media, amplified by radio and community media, where we were required to take stands: either on the side of all “Muslims”, whatever their orientation was (Muslims whose religious representatives called to ignore the provocation and not to demonstrate) or the side of Charlie Hebdo, supposedly the main voice of the “Islamophobic” left.

Yet there is a plethora of more important matters today than discussing the opportunity to publish cartoons of a prophet-warrior who died 15 centuries ago. The wave of layoffs, rising unemployment, lack of teachers in schools, repression against undocumented people, policing of all those who receive welfare, increase of productivity and of accidents, increase of suicides related to the deterioration of working conditions, harassment organized by foremen and bosses, etc.., all these topics deserve hundreds of articles, dozens of radio and TV programms, and thousands of discussions.

But the media prefer to organize false debates with their auditors or with confused Islamophile or Islamophobic intellectuals, almost never inviting atheists or rationalists to express their views, to discuss the only topic of interest for them: freedom of expression.

The opinion expressed by the listener whose quote begins this article, and many other views expressed on the Net, are perfect examples of the current ideological confusion.

Personal insults against individuals are dealt within the frame of bourgeois justice. People who are insulted can complain if they feel defamed. And there is an entire legal arsenal for this purpose. No need to add more to these laws.

You can also use a quick solution, as seemed to suggest the quoted listener (i.e., to smash the face of the person who insulted your mother or religion) but is this really the best solution?

Finally, one can imagine how it could work in another society, where in the neighborhoods, in the schools, or companies, general assemblies, committees of residents or workers would meet to resolve such disputes without going by judges and lawyers … But this would imply that participants agree to settle their dispute by accepting a collective, non-violent solution.

Freedom of expression, contrary to what the Tropic FM listener believes, has nothing to do with a trivial personal insult. Freedom of expression depends on a fragile collection of collective rights that regulate all media, from a simple leaflet to a TV progamme, newspaper or book, but also the right to protest and organize – collective rights which have been won after decades of struggle by the working class and other democratic forces.

This freedom of expression is reduced to a minimum in the Western world, not because of some protests made by fundamentalist Muslims or some Islamist attacks, but because of the mighty power of capitalists. The banking, finance and industry magnates who control the media rarely encourage freedom of expression. And ther words of workers, unemployed and exploited are almost never heard, or filtered by journalists who carefully respect the interests of their masters.

The situation is also not so much better in the so-called left parties or large unions.

It is well known how the French Communist Party defamed, denounced to the cops and bosses, punched or sent to the hospital hundreds of Trotskyist and anarchist activists for decades. When it did not murder them, as it happened under the German Occupation, under Stalinism in the Eastern bloc, or during the Spanish Civil War.

We know that the French Socialist Party gives power and freedom of speech only to individuals coming from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.

REFLECTED

 This is reflected in the media which are linked to this party, in the social composition of its MPs, Senators and Ministers, in its current implementation of austerity, in its anti-immigrant policies carried out under the previous government, its support to the police forces, French armed interventions abroad, etc.

We know that the unions muzzle speech and freedom of action of workers hostile to their bureaucracies, when they do not exclude them, plain and simple.

We also know how the small pseudo left-wing and anti-imperialist group called “The Indigenous of the Republic” with the help of some intellectuals (Said Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian) recently prevented Caroline Fourest, a secular, anti racist and left-reformist feminist to talk and criticize the National Front at the Communist Party “fête”, on September 16, 2012, all that in the name of anti-fascism … and fight against Islamophobia. (To check the falsity of these two lies, one only needs to read Fourest’s book against Marine Le Pen or the one where she interviews Taslima Nasreen and expresses a much more moderate view than Nasreen!).

So let us be wary, too, about left or extreme left groups who want, in the labor movement, trade unions, or in the street, to impose their ideas with clubs or fists whenever it suits them. Or those who claim to defend freedom of expression, but are unable to practice it in their own unions and political organizations and their publications.

About the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, some “Muslims” wanted to have both the right to express their indignation in the street against the newspaper and also to protest against The Innocence of Muslims. The French government has banned several demonstrations, and the few which have been organized have been spectacular failures (from one to 150 protesters, according to the cities), showing that the vast majority of “Muslims” did not fall into the trap, even if they were offended by the film and/or the magazine.

As a supporter of freedom of expression, I do not see why I should support any ban by the French State. These demonstrations should be allowed to proceed without being banned by the state, whatever one thinks of their dubious or reactionary political or religious content. And activists should also have the right to protest against these demonstrations (it is symptomatic that the only “Muslim” demonstrator sentenced to prison after the September 15 demonstration has explained he wore a telescopic club to defend himself against… Jews. A typical example of the delirious anti-Semitism inspired both by Koranic anti-Judaism, fascist anti-Semitism and extreme right anti-Zionism.).

As a rationalist atheist, I do not see why I should support those who want to introduce in France a law against blasphemy, or limit the freedom of expression with regard to the criticism all religions, including Islam.

We know that both the Organization of the Islamic Conference (which includes 57 states), the United States and the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations want France to adopt new laws against blasphemy. We know that French government is regularly criticized as “anti -religious”, “Islamophobic”, because of the laws against the headscarf or niqab, and that they pretend that the Church of Scientology is persecuted in France.

SECULARISM

The French state uses secularism when it suits its interests for domestic policy issues; it finances Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim cults, in several French departments.

It maintains Catholic churches, and its finances (religious) private instruction throughout the country. We have no reason to support the French government but we must also oppose all those who would like to impose laws restricting criticism of religions, supposedly because it offends believers, god or the prophets.

Similarly, without supporting a publication like Charlie Hebdo in its quest for sales and publicity, I see no reason to support those who want to destroy its headquarters, or physically threaten its cartoonists or journalists, or want them to be condemned by the bourgeois judicial system because of their bad taste and/or “blasphemy.”

As an atheist, I can only oppose any law against blasphemy, any restriction to the criticism of religions, if a government, left or right, wants to impose them in France.

Meanwhile, we should also denounce anyone, including in the Left, who is critical of one religion (Islam) while remaining silent or very secretive about other religions, so he can present as progressive his anti-Arab racism, or his support to French, European or American interventions in Africa, Libya or Afghanistan.

We must denounce Iran’s trial to recover the initiative it lost since, in Tunisia and Egypt, dictators were overthrown by the people, or are highly contested. Iran where a religious foundation linked to the regime immediately took advantage of the The Innocence of Muslims to increase the price on Salman Rushdie’s head.

We must denounce the National Frront attempt to participate to this debate in order to stir up hatred against the Arabs, whether Muslim or not, and against Jews, two elements of the National Front political patrimony.

Finally, we must denounce the obvious diversion organised by all media about these non-events. Several facist groups (including l’Oeuvre française et les Jeunesses nationalistes) organize a “ride” to Paris with buses and a “nationalist rally” on 29 September 2012, but the media have not shown any interest for this demo. Yet the themes of the meeting of 28th and demo of the 29th should alert all those so-called advocates of freedom of expression: Promotional material for the event calls for a “General mobilization of all the French patriots and nationalists. After the French natives revolt in Lyon, let’s participate to the French march on the capital! Against lawless areas, against the government’s anti-national policy, against anti-white racism: We want to be masters in our fatherland! Against immigration-invasion governments hirelings, against the violation of our interests by US-Zionist and euro-globalist forces, against foreign preference: let’s struggle to give France back to the French and become masters in our homeland! “

This disgusting prose is a significant example of the xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and fascistic form of anti-Zionism which flourish on the internet at every minute.

National, cultural and religious identities are being promoted by states, churches and all sorts of fascist and populist demagogues. But neither Muslim nor non-Muslim workers  lose their free will, intellectual independence or critical faculties just because they are exposed to vicious hateful propaganda.

Workers have a choice: either they support their exploiters and their demagogic leaders who claim to share the same faith and/or culture, or they unmask all the political uses of their beliefs and background.

As atheists and non-believers, we must also stand against all left or right, populist or fascist currents who claim the heritage of the Enlightenment or human rights to better hide their reactionary or obscurantist projects!

NB: The term “Muslim” is put in quotation marks in this article, because journalists, demographers, sociologists and many radical, left-wing or anti-globalization activists generally stick the religious label of Muslim on the front of all those who come from countries where Islam is the state religion, or whose families are practicing islam, or simply those whose names sound “Arab”, as if there were no atheists among these so-called “Muslims.”

Permalink 10 Comments

Open letter to the Editor of the Morning Star

September 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, democracy, Feminism, Free Speech, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, libertarianism, media, misogyny, politics, religion, Russia, secularism, stalinism, thuggery)

Dear Mr Bagley,

You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.

On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:

” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”

The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.

But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.

But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.

Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed  to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”

Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?

But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:

EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;

OR it was edited out by the Star itself.

If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.

I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :

Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.

A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.

This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:

  • What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
  • In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
  • If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
  • As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done – assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.

“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.

The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.

It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.

It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.

This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace — almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.

Yours

Jim Denham

(Unite member)

Permalink 26 Comments

Assange: bleating fantasist, groveller, hypocrite and charlatan

August 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm (anarchism, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Asshole, conspiracy theories, Free Speech, Jim D, libertarianism, London, media, populism, United States)

“But, now that we are all at last preparing to act, a new form of social organisation is essential. In order to avoid further uncertainty, I propose my own system of world-organisation. Here it is.” He tapped the notebook. “I wanted to expound my views to the meeting in the most concise form possible, but I see that I should need to add a great many verbal explanations, and so the whole exposition would occupy at least ten evenings, one for each of my chapters.” (There was the sound of laughter.) “I must add, besides, that my system is not yet complete.” (Laughter again.) “I am perplexed by my own data and my conclusion is a direct contradiction of the original idea with which I start. Starting from unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that there can be no solution of the social problem but mine”  – Shigalev, a character in Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed.

Anyone foolish enough (in the light of his pompous bleatings today) to take the self-important charlatan Assange at his own, inflated, estimation, should ponder the man’s willingness to grovel before autocrats and denounce their opponents to them, his evident belief that he should be above any law, his support for, and employment of, a notorious anti-semite and neo-Nazi, his crude sexism (whether or not he’s actually a rapist)…but most of all, this (from the Daily Tech):

David Leigh of England’s Guardian newspaper has leveled a shocking accusation against Mr. Assange in the special.

He recalls a meeting he was invited to about the publication of the war memos. He remembers pleading with Assange to redact the names of tribal elders and U.S. informants who were exposed cooperating with the U.S. and could be the subject of deadly retribution. He comments, “Julian was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them. And we said: ‘Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.'”

“And he said: ‘These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.’ And a silence fell around the table.”

Mr. Assange seemingly denied the allegation calling it “absolutely false… completely false.”

But he qualifies, “We don’t want innocent people with a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt.”

The possibility is left open that Mr. Assange views U.S. allies (such as cooperating tribal leaders) as culpable accomplices, and is obfuscating the fact that he indeed wishes them ill.

It is unknown whether the publications have caused any deaths, but Newsweek reported last year that the Taliban, a violent Jihadist fundamentalist insurgency in Afghanistan, were using the war memos as a rally cry. Allegedly they brutally murdered a tribal elder, whom they claimed the leaked documents exposed, and promised more executions.

PS: just a few things the reptillian attention-seeker had to say in the course of his bleating from the balcony today, are true – that Bradley Manning, Pussy Riot and the jailed Bahraini dissident Nabeel Rajab must be supported. They’re genuine heroes and victims. But as Bob points out, Assange’s attempt to identify himself with these honourable dissidents, may be yet another example of the man’s overweening cynicism.

PPS: it goes without saying that the UK government’s ludicrous and empty semi-threat to withdraw diplomatic immunity from the Ecuadorian embassy has only aided Assange’s claim to be some kind of “victim,” and provided grist to the mill of the the populist demagogue Correa’s “anti-imperialist” posturing.

Permalink 9 Comments

Next page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 512 other followers