Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.
We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…
By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)
Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?
Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.
When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.
The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.
From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.
Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.
I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?
Remind you of anything?
This, for instance:
Socialist Worker, Sat 15 Sep 2001
The full horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Tuesday who was responsible. If it was people from the Middle East it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the US and other governments. The tragic scenes in New York and Washington are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the US state.
US president George Bush spoke of terrorist outrages on Tuesday. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. Ten years ago his father sent hundreds of US planes to bomb Iraqi civilians night after night during the Gulf War. They killed over 100,000 civilians and conscripts—’collateral damage’ in the US’s war for oil.
Two years ago the US and NATO bombed towns and cities in Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that bombs were about to drop on them as did those who died in the US this week. And the US, backed by Tony Blair, imposes a murderous embargo on the people of Iraq, backed by frequent bombing raids.
In Israel the US supports Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Israel has murdered over 600 Palestinians in the 11 months of the intifada (uprising). Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to turning a hijacked airliner into a suicide bomb instead. It is not a method that can break US power. Some military officials would have suffered from the explosion at the Pentagon. But many more innocent civilians were killed in New York and Washington. Tuesday’s suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
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.
Tonight’s opening episode (9pm, BBC 2) of Stephen Poliakoff’s Dancing On The Edge promises to usher in a great series, with a cast including John Goodman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jacqueline Bissett. Apparently, it’s about the tribulations of a black jazz band feted by the upper class in 1933 London and very loosely “inspired” by what happened to the Duke Ellington band when they visited Britain that year.
Here’s what the Duke himself (always rather impressed by royalty and the the British upper classes) wrote about that visit in his book Music is My Mistress (published in the UK in 1974):
We were absolutely amazed at how well informed people were in Britain about us and our records. They had magazines and reviews far ahead of what we had here and everywhere we went we were confronted with facts we had forgotten and questions we couldn’t always answer. Nevertheless, the esteem our music was held in was very gratifying. A broadcast we did for the BBC provoked a lot of comment, most of it favourable. Constant Lambert, the most distinguished British composer of that period, had written an appeciation of our early records years before.
Lord Beaverbrook, who owned one of the most important London newspapers, threw a big party to which the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Kent were invited. We were invited too and Jack Hylton’s Empress Club band played until we got through at the Palladium. It was all very colourful and splendid. Members of the nobility, Members of Parliament and delegates to the imperial conferences, all in informal dress, mingled happily. There was a generous buffet and the champagne flowed freely.
Prince George, the Duke of Kent, requested ‘Swampy River’, a piano solo I had a hard time remembering, but I was flattered, especially to have him leaning over the piano as I played it.
Later, the Prince of Wales had some kind words to say to us. When he suggested we had a drink together I was surprised to find he was drinking gin. I had always thought gin as rather a low kind of drink, but from that time on I decided it was rather grand. He liked to play drums, so he paid Sonny Greer a lot of attention, too. This is how Sonny remembers the evening:
‘As soon as we got the band set up, the Prince of Wales came over and sat down beside me Indian fashion. He said he knew how to play drums, so I said “Go ahead!” he played a simple Charleston beat, and he stayed right by me and the drums throughout most of the evening. People kept coming up and calling him “Your Highness” but he wouldn’t move. We both began to get high on whatever it was we were drinking. He was calling me “Sonny” and I was calling him “The Wale”.’
I think the Prince of Wales really did like us, because he came to hear us again at Liverpool, when he was up in that area for the races at Aintree. He was loved by the day people and the night people, rich and poor, the celebrities and the nonentities. He was truly the Billy Strayhorn of the Crown princes.
Here’s the band slightly earlier (1930, to be precise), playing ‘Old Man Blues’:
Incidentally, does anyone recognise the chord sequence?
Yes, I know the London “tube” / Underground is stressful, should be free and is a paradise for gropers (especially during rush-hour), but still: it’s a wonder, isn’t it? And the first such underground system of its kind, anywhere.
It also has a tradition of employing a well-unionised , political and militant staff.
So let’s celebrate the 150th birthday of ’The Tube’ with this recently restored 1928 Brit film, ‘Underground‘:
Cathy and Jill report :
At least 10,000 people marched on Saturday (24 November) through central Lewisham, in terrible weather, to stop the closure of the A&E, maternity and other departments at the local hospital.
This was very much a demonstration of the local community but will have drawn in people from around south London who also face cuts in their NHS services proposed by government-appointed Special Administrator after South London Heath Care Trust went bust.
The root of the problem is the massive, long-term payments a neighbouring Trust has had to fork out to PFI contrators. Everyone in south London and not just Lewisham are set to pay the price. Unless we stop the NHS bosses and the government who have devised cuts so that they can continue to pay out to the PFI profiteers.
This demonstration was fantastic start, but there is not much time. Anyone wishing to get involved in the campaign to discuss and work out how to take further effective action and link up around London should come to the next public meeting.
7pm, Wednesday 28 November, Broadway Theatre, Catford
And the next action:
6pm, Tuesday 4 December Converge on Kershaw (the special adminstator) Calabash Centre, George Lane, SE6
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
As long as they are following a legitimate course of study, have the appropriate qualifications (including a good command of English of course) and have no criminal propensities – international students should be welcomed with open arms to the UK. As well as bringing important income to universities, they also bring different perspectives and experiences which enrich the student experience for all.
The Coalition government has sometimes seemed determined to do whatever it can to make life difficult for universities, and its grudging attitude towards foreign students is just one example of this trend:
However it is not as yet clear, to me, what to make of the recent news that London Metropolitan University is no longer to be allowed to sponsor students from outside the UK.
If concerns over issues such as students taking on too much paid work or not having an appropriate level of English were raised six months ago and have not yet been addressed – perhaps the decision is not unreasonable, although it is clearly going to cause huge stress to many students who have done nothing wrong. However the fact that this story was leaked to the Sunday Times, before London Met itself was notified, reinforces suspicions that supporting the university, and its many students, is not a top priority for the government. However, that does not mean that London Met is beyond criticism, by any means.
Here’s a statement from London Met Unison:
“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.
OK it’s a bit of an exaggeration…
…but only a very little bit of one.