Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:
The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.
It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”
And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:
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.
We have deliberately refrained from commenting on this most serious matter until now, mainly because of lack of first-hand information and a reluctance (unlike, for instance, Socialist Unity) to engage in tittle-tattle. However, journalist Laurie Penny, on the New Statesman website, has now placed the matter very much in the public domain. By republishing her article we do not mean to endorse everything she (or ‘celebrity member’ China Mieville) say/write: here’s what she’s written:
What does the SWP’s way of dealing with sex assault allegations tell us about the left?
When it comes to sexual violence, why should progressive organisations be held to different standards?
How do we deal with sexual violence on the left? Here’s a case study.
The Socialist Workers’ Party, for those who aren’t familiar with it already, is a political organisation of several thousand members which has been a prominent force on the British left for more than 30 years. They are at the forefront of the fight against street fascism in Britain, were a large organising presence in the student and trade union movement over the past several years, and are affiliated with large, active parties in other countries, like Germany’s Die Linke. Many of the UK’s most important thinkers and writers are members, or former members.
Like many others on the left in Britain, I’ve had my disagreements with the SWP, but I’ve also spoken at their conferences, drunk their tea, and have a lot of respect for the work they do. They are not a fringe group: they matter. And it matters that right now, the party is exploding in messy shards because of a debate about sexism, sexual violence and wider issues of accountability.
This week, it came to light that when allegations of rape and sexual assault were made against a senior party member, the matter was not reported to the police, but dealt with ‘internally’ before being dismissed. According to a transcript from the party’s annual conference earlier this month, not only were friends of the alleged rapist allowed to investigate the complaint, the alleged victims were subject to further harassment. Their drinking habits and former relationships were called into question, and those who stood by them were subject to expulsion and exclusion.
Tom Walker – a party member who walked out this week in disgust – explained that feminism “is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters…. it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender.”
In a brave and principled resignation statement published yesterday, Walker said that:
“. . . there is clearly a question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the left. I believe the root of this is that, whether through reputation, lack of internal democracy or both, these are often positions that are effectively unchallengeable. Not for nothing have recent sex abuse allegations in the wider world focused on the idea of a ‘culture of impunity’. Socialist Worker has pointed to the way that institutions close up to protect powerful people within them. What is not acknowledged is that the SWP is itself an institution in this sense, with its instinct for self-protection to survive. As previously mentioned, its belief in its own world-historic importance gives a motive for an attempted cover-up, making abusers feel protected.”
Members are now leaving the organisation, or being expelled, in large numbers after the case came to light at the party’s conference and transcripts of the discussions were leaked online.
The writer China Mieville, a longstanding member of the SWP, told me that, like many members, he is “aghast”:
“The way such allegations were dealt with – complete with questions about accusers’ past relationships and drinking habits that we would instantly, rightly denounce as sexist in any other context – was appalling. It’s a terrible problem of democracy, accountability and internal culture that such a situation can occur, as is the fact that those arguing against the official line in a fashion deemed unacceptable to those in charge could be expelled for ‘secret factionalism.”
Mieville explained that in his party, as in so many other organisations, the power hierarchies which have facilitated problems such as this have been controversial for a long time.
“Many of us have for years been openly fighting for a change in the culture and structures of the organisation to address exactly this kind of democratic deficit, the disproportionate power of the Central Committee and their loyalists, their heavy-handed policing of so-called ‘dissent’, and their refusal to admit mistakes ,” he told me. “Like the current situation, a disaster catastrophically mishandled by the leadership. All of us in the party should have the humility to admit such issues. It’s up to members of the SWP to fight for the best of our tradition, not put up with the worst, and to make our organisation what it could be, and unfortunately is not yet.”
The British Socialist Worker’s Party is hardly atypical among political parties, among left-wing groups, among organisations of committed people or, indeed, among groups of friends and colleagues in having structures in place that might allow sexual abuse and misogyny by men in positions of power to continue unchecked. One could point, in the past 12 months alone, to the BBC’s handling of the Jimmy Savile case, or to those Wikileaks supporters who believe that Julian Assange should not be compelled to answer allegations of rape and sexual assault in Sweden.
I could point, personally, to at least two instances involving respected men that have sundered painfully and forever friendship groups which lacked the courage to acknowledge the incidents. The only difference is that the SWP actually talk openly about the unspoken rules by which this sort of intimidation usually goes on. Other groups are not so brazen as to say that their moral struggles are simply more important than piffling issues of feminism, even if that’s what they really mean, nor to claim that as right-thinking people they and their leaders are above the law. The SWP’s leadership seem to have written it into their rules.
To say that the left has a problem with handling sexual violence is not to imply that everyone else doesn’t. There is, however, a stubborn refusal to accept and deal with rape culture that is unique to the left and to progressives more broadly. It is precisely to do with the idea that, by virtue of being progressive, by virtue of fighting for equality and social justice, by virtue of, well, virtue, we are somehow above being held personally accountable when it comes to issues of race, gender and sexual violence.
That unwillingness to analyse our own behaviour can quickly become dogma. The image is one of petty, nitpicking women attempting to derail the good work of decent men on the left by insisting in their whiny little women’s way that progressive spaces should also be spaces where we don’t expect to get raped and assaulted and slut-shamed and victimised for speaking out, and the emotions are rage and resentment: why should our pure and perfect struggle for class war, for transparency, for freedom from censorship be polluted by – it’s pronounced with a curl of the upper lip over the teeth, as if the very word is distasteful – ‘identity politics’? Why should we be held more accountable than common-or-garden bigots? Why should we be held to higher standards?
Because if we’re not, then we have no business calling ourselves progressive. Because if we don’t acknowledge issues of assault, abuse and gender hierarchy within our own institutions we have no business speaking of justice, much less fighting for it.
“The issues of democracy and sexism are not separate, but inextricably linked,” writes Walker. “Lack of the first creates space for the second to grow, and makes it all the more difficult to root it out when it does.” He’s talking about the SWP, but he could be talking about any part of the left right now, in its struggle to divest itself of generations of misogynist baggage.
Equality isn’t an optional add-on, a side-issue to be dealt with after the revolution’s over. There can be no true democracy, no worthwhile class struggle, without women’s rights. The sooner the left accepts that and starts working the enormous stick of priggishness and prejudice out of its collective backside, the sooner we can get on with the job at hand.
“Again, nothing infuriates the current crop of evangelical atheists more than the suggestion that militant unbelief has many of the attributes of religion. Yet, in asserting that the rejection of theism could produce a better world, they are denying the clear evidence of history, which shows the pursuit of uniformity in word-view to to be itself the cause of conflict. Whether held by the religious or by enemies of religion, the idea that universal conversion to (or from) any belief system could vastly improve the human ot is an act of faith. Illustrationg Nietzsche’s observations about the tonic properties of false beliefs, these atheists are seeking existential consolation just as much as religious observers” - John Gray in the New Statesman, 30/11/12)
Here at Shiraz, we’ve previously had occasion to identify him as probably the most profoundly reactionary writer in respectable, mainstream journalism today. Gray can be difficult to follow precisely because his writing is vague, evasive and often illogical. In the New Statesman article from which the quote at the top of this piece is taken, for instance, it is difficult to discern even what he understands by the word “toleration” (as opposed, for instance, to “indifference”) and why he seems to think that irrational beliefs are a positively good thing. His repeated approving references to Nietzsche do, however, provide a telling clue.
Like Nietzsche, Gray despises humanity in general, and enlightenment humanism in particular. I’m not sure whether Gray would share his hero’s dismissal of democracy (“liberal” / “bourgeois” or otherwise) in favour of the artistocratic ideal of the Übermensch. Gray certainly seems attracted to Nietzsche’s emphasis (present from the first in in Die Geburt der Tragödie) on the unconscious, voluntaristsic ‘Dionysian’ side of human nature, as opposed to the rational ‘Apollonian’ side. Also, like Nietzsche, Gray is in fact an atheist, but seems to regard this as being entirely unconnected to any rational belief system, and simply a personal judgement that the ignorant masses cannot be expected to understand.
Gray’s contempt for humanism (and humanity) was well expressed in an earlier piece he wrote for the New Statesman:
“The idea that humankind has a special place in the scheme of things persists among secular thinkers. They tell us that human beings emerged by chance and insist that ‘humanity’ can inject purpose into the world. But, in a strictly naturalistic philosophy, the human species has no purpose. There are only human beings, with their conflicting impulses and goals. Using science, human beings are transforming the planet. But ‘humanity’ cannot use its growing knowledge to improve the world, for humanity does not exist.” - John Gray, ‘Humanity doesn’t exist’, New Statesman (10/02/11)
I’m not arguing, by the way that Gray’s views shouldn”t be published, or are unworthy of debate. I would question, however, what such an enemy of the Enlightement is doing as lead book reviewer in a publication whose strap-line is “Enlightened Thinking for a change.”
By the way, Nietzsche’s thinking contains an essential contradiction (explained by Antony Flew, thus): “Of course, Nietzsche goes on to use his views about the essentially ‘falsifying’ nature of language, and therefore of rational thought, to give theoretical backing to his favourite belief in the superior veracity of action and ‘will’. But here the central paradox in Nietzsche’s theory of knowledge emerges: he cannot himself, in all consistency, take that theory too seriously.”
Or as a letter to the New Statesman in response to Gray’s article, put it: “It is amusing to read yet again a rational man, John Gray on this occasion (‘Giant Leaps for mankind’, 30 November), arguing rationally for how very irrational we all are.”
Ophelia (“Butterflies and Wheels’) Benson on Gray, here
Assad-apologist and professional conspiracy-theorist John Pilger, in a typically incoherent ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ rant (New Statesman, 20 June 2012), suggested that the anti-Assad rebels, in an attempt to discredit the regime, were responsible for the Houla massacre:
“The threats against Syria, co-ordinated in Washington and London, scale new peaks of hypocrisy. Contrary to the raw propaganda presented as news, the investigative journalism of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung identifies those responsible for the massacre in Houla as the “rebels” backed by Obama and Cameron. The paper’s sources include the rebels themselves. This has not been completely ignored in Britain. Writing in his personal blog, ever so quietly, Jon Williams, the BBC World News editor, in effect dishes his own ‘coverage’, citing a western official who described the “psy-ops” operation against Syria as ‘brilliant’. As brilliant as the destruction of Libya, and Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
Now Der Spiegel has fully investigated all the claims, and interviewed witnesses. Spiegal‘s concusion is clear: the regime’s army, probably working with the shabiha militia, carried out the massacre. Then some very poor residents of Houla were brought to Damascus and paid to back up the regime’s version of events (see Witness VI, below):
A Syrian Bloodbath Revisited: Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre
By Christoph Reuter and Abd al-Kadher Adhun
It was a fatal miscalculation, as Colonel Sayyid was forced to realize during the last few minutes of his life. According to statements by his surviving wife and daughter, he was in his room on the second floor when he overheard the murderers in front of the house as they agreed bring out the women first and then kill everyone. He told his wife and children to run. “I’ll try to stall them,” he said. He succeeded, but paid for it with his life.
The Houla massacre at the end of May, which claimed the lives of 108 village residents, according to the United Nations, including 49 children and 34 women, most of them murdered with hatchets, knives and guns, shocked the world. UN observers were able to gain access to the site of the carnage, where they could see the bodies and independently confirm what had happened there. The Syrian ambassadors to the UN and 12 countries, including Germany, were expelled. On June 1, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the Syrian regime and its shabiha militias for the massacre, with Russia and China voting against the resolution. The government in Damascus, however, blamed the incident on “terrorists” and denounced what it called a “tsunami of lies” over the massacre.
But then views began to shift. As time passed, the UN began to question its original findings. On June 27, the Human Rights Council discussed a report prepared by its Syria commission, which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to determine who had committed the massacre.
On June 8 and 14, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily, published two reports based on the statements of anonymous eyewitnesses, who claimed that members of the armed opposition had committed the massacre and then blamed it on the regime. According to the reports, 700 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had come to Houla from various towns to kill families that had converted to the Alawite or Shiite faiths and had not joined the rebellion. At the beginning of June, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a member of German parliament for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), pursued the matter and sharply criticized the rebels for what he called “massacre marketing.”
Since May 26, when Alex Thompson with Britain’s Channel 4 television station joined UN observers in Houla for a few hours, no foreign journalist had been in the town to examine the site and speak directly with surviving members of the massacred families and eyewitnesses of the attack.
Now, though, a SPIEGEL team has managed to visit the place where the massacre occurred: Taldou, the largest of four widely scattered villages that form the Houla municipality. Getting there was complicated; the Syrian regime doesn’t want any foreign journalists in the country, especially not in Houla.
The region is also surrounded by a ring of Alawite villages, where the Syrian army has established bases from which it continues to fire at Houla with tanks and artillery. The regime provides arms to the villages, which in turn supply the pro-regime shabiha militias, which have set up checkpoints on area roads and are participating in attacks.
Taldou itself, home to more than 15,000 people before the revolution, is under the control of its own residents. They have formed a unit of the FSA, which protects them from smaller attacks, but not from bombardment. Parts of the village, including one of the areas where the massacre took place, remain inaccessible, because they are within the range of army snipers positioned on a ridge outside the town.
The SPIEGEL team spent two days in Taldou, where it was able to move about freely, interview surviving members of the Sayyid and Abdul Rassak families and speak with witnesses. Some of the witnesses spoke on camera, while others wanted to remain anonymous, because they still have relatives in prison or in cities controlled by the regime. To prevent collective memories from interfering with their own experiences, the witnesses were interviewed individually and asked what they had seen and heard.
After Friday prayers on May 25, the residents of Taldou formed their usual protest marches against the regime. But then, in the early afternoon, army forces began heavily bombarding the village from several surrounding bases. FSA units launched counter-attacks on a number of army checkpoints. Witnesses, though, say that there were hardly any FSA fighters in Taldou on that afternoon, which is why the advancing death squads faced no resistance. It was still broad daylight when the first wave arrived.
On the afternoon of May 25, Mohammed Faur Abdul Rassak was on his way to his house on Sadd Street, which intersects with the side street where the massacre victims lived. He had called his house after hearing rumors that shabiha groups from several surrounding localities, including the exclusively Alawite village of Fullah, were on their way to Taldou. “They are forming groups,” his father had told him, saying that there was a lot of shooting and that people were afraid to leave their houses. “Shortly after five, I was near our house, where you can see the road to Fullah on the hill. About 10 cars and at least 400 men were approaching on that road. Some were wearing military uniforms, while others were dressed in civilian clothing. Some had long beards and shaved heads. Some of the men were wearing red armbands.
A second group, consisting of about 30 men in uniform, came from the waterworks where the military is based. I approached my house slowly and hid on Sadd Street. From there, I watched as the men quickly dispersed and first posted a man with a machine gun in the intersection, so that they could monitor the area. The two groups probably met there. I saw four or five men, dressed in civilian clothing and uniforms, go into each house. They were carrying Kalashnikovs, and whenever they went into a house I would hear a few shots a short time later. Some soldiers saw me, so I ran away, about 400 meters (1,312 feet) from the site. I heard other shots at about 7 p.m., but it sounded more like they were celebrating. When it seemed to be over, someone gave me a ride on his motorcycle, and we found 12 bodies from the Samir Abdul Rassak family in the first house we entered.”
From his house on Sadd Street, Jihad Raslan, an officer who had been on home leave for the previous four days, saw armed men in civilian clothes and uniforms approaching an olive grove between the Alawite village of Fullah and Taldou at about 6:30 p.m. “I saw more than 100 men, but it was hard to tell. The shelling had subsided. I carefully left my house to see what was happening. A woman, who was walking toward me from the west and recognized me, called out: ‘They’re killing people!’ Around six, I saw another woman with gunshot wounds lying on the street, and she said: ‘They’re going into the houses and killing!’
I waited and continued to see people running away until 7 p.m. Half an hour later I went out with a flashlight, because the electricity had been shut off. Then I went into three houses in a row. In the first house, the house of Samir Abdul Rassak, one woman was dead and there were several women and children with gunshot wounds in another room. I saw Mustafa Abdul Rassak lying in a huge pool of blood, still breathing, in front of the second house; the dead family was inside. And there were more than 20 bodies in the third house, which belonged to Abu Shaalan Abdul Rassak. I helped put the bodies in cars and take them to the mosque, and then I took my own family to safety.”
Lieutenant Malik Baqur, an acquaintance of Jihad Raslan, was in his cousin’s house on Sadd Street when he heard that armed men were coming down from Fullah to Taldou. “Until six o’clock, there was so much shelling that I was afraid to go outside. At about 5:30 p.m., I saw 40 men in uniforms and civilian clothing going up to Fullah. Most of them were walking, but they were behind a silver pickup with a machine gun mounted on the bed. I had seen it a few days earlier at the checkpoint that had been set up in Fullah sometime earlier. I was standing a little higher up and could see the men until they were about 100 meters from the village.
Then I ran into Raslan, and we went into the houses together and saw the bodies. Some had had their skulls split open as if they’d been hit with a butcher’s hatchet, while others had been shot in the head, execution style, with a small hole in the front and bigger hole in the back. I counted 17 bodies all over the place in Mustafa Abdul al-Rassak’s house.”
Other survivors saw the group coming from Fullah, and they too remember similar details, like the red armbands that an old woman who wanted to remain anonymous saw: “The soldier in a green uniform who came down was wearing it. All the doors were open, because we still thought it was going to be a raid, like the ones that had already happened several times before. My daughter-in-law told him that there were only women and children here, and that our men were working in Lebanon. I was standing behind the door when he came in and started shooting right away.”
It was the mistaken belief that the murderers were merely there for a raid that cost so many people their lives — and also saved the lives of others, like Mustafa Abdul Rassak. He had hidden in an abandoned chicken farm 50 meters behind the house, because he was afraid of being arrested as a rebel.
After the first wave of the massacre in the late afternoon, there was another wave in another part of Taldou between about 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Because it was dark by then, none of the survivors saw where the killers had come from. But given that the houses were between two army checkpoints, it would have been almost impossible for rebels to move easily from house to house and shoot the residents without clashing with soldiers.
It was late in the evening, and 11-year-old Ali Adil Sayyid had been kept awake for hours by the sound of nearby shelling. “I heard voices outside at about 11 p.m. ‘Turn off the light! Open the door!’ they said. But the electricity was off, anyway. I heard them hitting the bottom of the door, but then they left.
I woke up again just before 4 a.m., when men came into the house. My brother and I were lying in the living room. When my sister Rasha tried to run away, one of the men shot her. My brother Adil was still sleeping when a man shot at him. A piece of Adil’s head was missing after that. The man also shot at me, but he didn’t hit me. I rolled over on my side and played dead. Then the men took two TV sets, our washing machine and the computer. I heard the sound of a BMB outside” — a type of armored personnel carrier used by the Syrian army.
According to Ali, his severely wounded brother Nadir “was still making noises, as if he had the hiccups. Then he died.”
Ali Adil Sayyid, the only surviving member of his family, is a distant relative of Abdulmuti Mashlab, a member of the Syrian parliament. This circumstance prompted UN observers to make the assumption that people were killed because of their family ties to a regime official. But Mashlab, says Ali, was merely the uncle of his uncle’s wife. Ali says that he and his father had gone to many demonstrations until last fall, “and we always bought kebabs and cola first!” But his father was arrested in November, “and he was afraid to go after that.”
The family of Muawiya Sayyid, the retired police officer, lived a few houses down the street. His daughter Maryam Sayyid was standing at the window inside the house, “when a group of soldiers approached from the waterworks for the first time, at about 4:30 p.m. They were shooting into the air and they banged against our door, but when no one responded they kept going. We felt safe. My father had been in the police for 30 years, most recently as a colonel. Nothing had ever happened to us in previous raids.
My brother was also in the house. He was a soldier and he had a broken leg, so he couldn’t move. They didn’t give him any time off for four months, because he was from Houla, which made him suspicious.
He had only been allowed to return home because of his broken leg. But we weren’t afraid of the army. And if they were terrorists, how could they get here through the two checkpoints? What we were afraid of were the shells that had been raining down nearby for hours. It was still light outside, and our house is the last one on the street, so we were afraid to run away.
At about 6 p.m., we heard a tank on the street and men on a car who were chanting: ‘Shabiha forever! With our blood and our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Bashar!’ We had never heard that before.
We were in the house, with my father in the room facing the street and everyone else in the room facing the back. At about 11 p.m., we could hear voices through loudspeakers, saying: ‘All lights out! Including candles!’ I went to my father in the other room. He had just heard the men standing downstairs in front of the door, and saying that they would take the women first and then kill everyone. I asked him what we should do. He said: ‘Go! I’ll go outside and try to stall them.’
There were 15 of us. We couldn’t take Ahmed with us, because he was too sick. But we were so afraid and in such a hurry that we forgot Sarah, my 8-year-old sister. She was sleeping. When I realized that, I went back to the house with my sister-in-law. We heard the men saying: ‘We want the women!’ My sister-in-law said: ‘There’s nothing we can do. They’re going to die.’ She pulled me back, and we fled.”
Maryam Sayyid’s mother, Hana Harmut, had remained in the house a moment longer and, in the darkness, didn’t see where the others had gone: “I returned to the back of the house, where I head the voices of the men inside. I heard Ahmed shouting, and then I heard Sarah as she woke up, started crying and loudly shouted ‘Mama.’ I heard my husband shouting: ‘Not Ahmed! Not Ahmed!’ Then there were a few shots. I don’t know how many. Then it was quiet for a little while. And then I heard noises that sounded like they were tearing apart the kitchen. Maybe they were looking for knives.
All I could think was that I had to get away from there, so I hid in a nearby barn where they normally keep the animals. I could hear the men until two or three in the morning, and then it became quiet again.”
The Sayyid family was neither overly prominent in the opposition, nor did it support the regime. The survivors believe that the father’s first name, Muawiya, was one of the reasons the Sayyids were targeted. Muawiya was also the name of a caliph who, more than 1,300 years ago, fought against the imams whom the Shiites consider to be their saints, and whose deaths are still ritually mourned today. The name is very offensive to radical Shiites and, to a somewhat lesser extent, to Alawites, who are part of the same religious group. And it certainly wouldn’t be the name of a man who had converted to Shiite Islam.
According to survivors, all of them residents of Taldou and other parts of Houla, there are no Shiite or Alawite families in Houla, nor were there any there before — just as there are no Sunni families in the surrounding Alawite villages. Although there were occasional marriages between Alawite and Sunni families in the past, the wife, say local residents, always moved to the husband’s village and converted to his faith.
But what about the anonymous eyewitnesses who had been quoted as saying that the victims of the Houla massacre were not Sunnis and members of the opposition at all, but were supporters of the regime?
Colonel Mohammed Tayyib Baqur, who served in the Syrian army for two-thirds of his life and deserted a few weeks ago, worked most recently in the political division of the Defense Ministry. He now reports that, on May 28, he received a call from Jamil Hassan, the head of Syrian Air Forces intelligence and one of the leading members of the regime: “He told me to come in on June 2. He pointed out that I was from Houla, and that an international conspiracy against Syria was underway. For that reason, he wanted me to find a few people, as poor as possible, from Houla or the surrounding area. I was to bring them to Damascus so that they could circulate the regime’s version of the massacre. He said that the people from Houla would be paid, and so would I. Then he called his office manager and told him to give me 25,000 Syrian pounds.” This is the equivalent of slightly more than €300 or roughly $385.
After 35 years in the army, says Baqur, he realized that the time had come to change sides. “I didn’t want to be part of it anymore, so I brought my family to safety and fled.”
If the rebels had truly committed the massacre, why has the army continued to fire at and shell Taldou for months, including the days when the SPIEGEL reporters were there? And if the FSA was behind the massacre, why did a large number of army officers from Houla defect to the FSA afterwards?
After the massacre, Taldou residents buried the dead in a square in the center of the village. They say that there were more bodies than the 108 counted by the UN observers. Although this can no longer be verified, it makes sense, because many of the bodies could only be recovered days after the troops had withdrawn.
It is now mid-July, and a few courageous workers are still shoveling new soil onto the graves, now that the ground has subsided. They want to replace the bricks that had been scattered around the site with a border of stones. At least it should look dignified, says one of the men. But it isn’t a good idea to stand around for too long, he warns. “Sometimes the soldiers fire rockets at this spot from the waterworks.”
A few streets away, on Taldou’s ruined main square, where the army had maintained a checkpoint that it only abandoned six days after the massacre, there is some graffiti on a wall that local residents say was written by the soldiers: “Don’t be too upset! Sometimes the dogs dance on the lion, but they don’t even know that he is the lion.”
The name Assad means lion in Arabic.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Will Pilger now admit his mistake, apologise to his readers for misleading them, and to the Syrian rebels for libelling them? Don’t hold your breath -JD
The New Statesman has not always been noted for its balanced coverage of Israel/Palestine, but the current issue is worth reading for a discussion of the ‘two-state solution’ and other related questions.
Leader: Now is not the time to give up on a two-state solution
The window of opportunity for a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been narrowing. Should the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, endorse the conclusions of the Levy report, he could close it for good. The report, produced by a government-appointed panel led by the former Supreme Court justice Edmund Levy, argues that Israel’s presence on the West Bank does not constitute an occupation and, therefore, that the 121 Jewish settlements in the region are legal under international law. The acceptance of the report by the Likud-led government would formalise the de facto annexation of the West Bank and make the creation of a viable Palestinian state impossible. Israel would then be forced either to grant full citizenship to its Arab population or, in the words of its former premier Ehud Olmert, “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights”.
Speaking in 2007, Mr Olmert presciently added: “The Jewish organisations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents.”
Many Jewish Americans, 78 per cent of whom voted for Barack Obama in 2008, are struggling to reconcile their historic support for Israel with their dismay at its disregard for liberal norms. In response to the Levy report, 40 Jewish Americans associated with the Israel Policy Forum, a centrist body founded in 1993 with the support of the then Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, wrote to Mr Netanyahu warning him that, if endorsed, the report will “add fuel to those who seek to delegitimise Israel’s right to exist”.
Even if, as seems probable, Mr Netanyahu rejects the commission’s findings, the two-state solution remains imperilled. In defiance of the UN, the US and the EU, the Likud-led government has continued to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the point where there are now more than 550,000 settlers there, controlling 42 per cent of the land and representing nearly 10 per cent of the Israeli Jewish population. With every new settlement that is constructed, the possibility of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state recedes further. It is in this context that an increasing number of figures on both sides have abandoned the principle of “two states for two peoples” in favour of that of one binational, secular state. In his review on page 40 of Peter Beinart’s book The Crisis of Zionism, which charts the former New Republic editor’s progressive disenchantment with Israel, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes: “The settler and Palestinian populations are now so mixed up that a rational and fair partition is practically impossible.” In addition, as the Palestinian-American author Ali Abunimah points out on page 25, a recent poll found that 36 per cent of Israelis and 31 per cent of Palestinians support “one state for two people in which Arabs and Jews enjoy equality”.
Yet while the proposal of a one-state solution has considerable rhetorical appeal, it is no less fraught with difficulty. To suppose that Israelis and the Palestinians could live side by side in one state is to indulge in liberal utopianism. As Jonathan Freedland writes on page 22, “It suggests that two nations that could not negotiate a divorce should get married instead.” Most Israelis and Palestinians will continue to support a two-state solution as the means for both sides to preserve the right to national self-determination. There is no mandate for a one-state solution, whether it be a “greater Israel” or a binational state.
At least rhetorically, Mr Netanyahu has accepted as much. In 2009, he declared that he was willing to see the establishment of a Palestinian state, albeit one barred from having an army and controlling its airspace. Two factors in particular mean that he must now live up to his word. The first is what Mr Netanyahu once called “the demographic threat”: the likelihood that the number of Arabs in Israel and the occupied territories will exceed the number of Jews in the next two decades. Should this landmark be reached with a Palestinian state still unestablished, Israel’s discrimination against its Arab population will be the subject of even greater outrage. The second is the Arab spring and the potential for it to undercut Israel’s status as a bulwark of multiparty democracy in the region.
If Israel is to achieve the two-state solution that its ultimate security depends on, the expansionist settlement programme must be reversed and Mr Netanyahu must negotiate with the Palestinians – who have not been well served by their own leaders over many years – in something approaching good faith.
The present issue also carries pieces by Jonothan Freedland backing ‘two-states’, Ali Abunimah backing ‘one-state’ and Geoffrey Wheatcroft on (amongst much else) why Vladimir Jabotinsky and not David Ben-Gurion, is the true voice of Zionism.
Unfortunately, these articles are not (yet) available online (though I will link to them as and when they are), so for the very first time I’m recommending people to go out and buy the New Statesman.
P.S: since this piece was first posted, the articles by Freedland, Abunimah and Wheatcfoft have appeared on the New Statesman‘s website and links are now provided, in the text above.
From the New Statesman of 9 July. An important debate in which the NS‘s self-righteous outgoing Political Editor is shown up for the lightweight, superficial bullshitter he is, by someone who really knows what they’re talking about; Hasan opens the exchange:
Assalam alaikum. Your new memoir, Radical, exploring your journey from Hizb ut-Tahrir activist to self-professed “liberal Muslim”, is bold, fascinating and, at times, insightful.
To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of your work – and I am still bemused by the view in some circles that former extremists are the best (the only?) people qualified to identify and tackle extremism.
Nonetheless, you should be applauded for trying to answer one of the most uncomfortable questions of our time: what is it that turns a tiny minority of ordinary, young, Muslim men into fanatical, cold-blooded killers?
It is undoubtedly the case that what you refer to as a “stifling, totalitarian victimhood ideology” often plays a role in the transformation. But I worry that, in your understandable attempt to denounce and deconstruct the “Islamist narrative of a clash of civilisations”, you downplay the role of foreign policy issues (from the invasion of Iraq to the occupation of Palestine to the west’s support for Arab dictators) as drivers of radicalisation.
Would you accept that those neoconservatives who deny a link between, say, foreign occupations, on the one hand, and radicalisation and terrorism, on the other, are being dishonest? The empirical evidence is clear: the US political scientist Robert Pape, who studied every known case of suicide terrorism between 1980 and 2003, has concluded that the “specific secular and strategic goal” of suicide terrorists is to end foreign military occupations. “The tap root of suicide terrorism is nationalism,” he wrote; it is “an extreme strategy for national liberation”.
You denounce those on the “regressive left”, such as the Guardian columnist Seumas Milne, who dare to join the dots between the west’s wars and Islamist extremism. Forget Milne. Consider instead the verdict of Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit and the author of three acclaimed books on al-Qaeda. “I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to blow themselves up because my daughters go to university,” Scheuer told me in an interview last year. “People are going to come and bomb us because they don’t like what we’ve done.”
Is he wrong?
As Amnesty’s UK director Kate Allen noted in her preface to Radical, it is a story about racist violence and a struggle for human rights, just as much as it is a story about the impact of a divisive ideology. Rather than explicitly prescribe factors that cause extremism, I chose to bring them out through the means of storytelling, so that readers could step into my world.
I have attempted to strike a balance between the two extremes of the neoconservative right, which tends to blame Islam itself for an increase in Islamist-led violence, and the regressive left, which tends to blame only foreign or domestic western government policy. The fact is that human beings are complicated animals. Unlike water, we don’t all boil at 100° Celsius. No catch-all cause of extremism can be identified. It is best to approach this subject with some general principles in mind that inevitably contribute to the phenomenon – grievances, identity crises, charismatic recruiters and ideological narratives.
It matters not whether the grievances are real or perceived. The perception of a grievance is sufficient to act as an agitating force. Where policy is wrong, such as with the invasion of Iraq, it should be changed to protect our own values rather than to succumb to the demands of terrorists. Where policy is right but perceived as wrong, more needs to be done to engage the aggrieved parties, as citizens and not as segregated communal blocs.
One million Britons marched against the Iraq war. Of these, a tiny minority, from within the non-Iraqi British Muslim communities, reacted with violence on 7 July 2005. To interpret this simply as a “nationalist struggle” to remove occupation ignores the blatantly obvious fact that, first, the terrorists were not Iraqis, they were British-Pakistanis (though British Iraqis have lived here for a long time); second, the vast majority of the Stop the War protesters were non-Muslims, yet only a handful from among a minority of Muslims reacted to the war with terrorism. Even though occupation may have caused agitation among the 7 July bombers, these northern-born lads with thick Yorkshire accents confessed in their suicide tapes to considering themselves soldiers with a mission to kill our people (Britons) on behalf of their people (Iraqis). The prerequisite to such a disavowal of one’s country of birth is a recalibration of identity; this is the undeniable role of ideological narratives.
I’m glad we seem to be in agreement on this: yes, radicalisation is as much a product of foreign policy “grievances” as it is one of a hate-filled “divisive ideology”. I am delighted to see the head of the Quilliam Foundation, “the world’s first counter-extremism think tank”, taking a much more nuanced approach to Islamist-inspired violence than some of its well-known outriders (step forward, Michael “Islamism Is Nazism” Gove). For far too long, the debate over the “root causes” of terrorism has been dominated by simplistic assumptions, sweeping generalisations and lazy stereotypes.
So here’s my confusion. In your memoir, you write that David Cameron’s speech on extremism in Munich in February 2011 was the result of a meeting you had with him in Downing Street and that it “included almost all of my suggestions”. Yet this was a speech as inflammatory as it was superficial, peppered with stereotypes and straw men. On the day that the English Defence League marched against Muslims living in Luton, Cameron bizarrely decided to blame the rise of Islamist-inspired violence in the UK on “segregated communities”, “the doctrine of state multiculturalism” and “the passive tolerance of recent years”. Conveniently, he had little to say about the well-documented links between “our” foreign policy and “their” violent extremism.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the Prime Minister’s now-notorious address was his enthusiastic endorsement of the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation, which states that young Muslims start off alienated and angry, slowly become more religious and politicised, and then almost automatically turn to violence and terror. Or, as Cameron put it, “As evidence emerges about . . . those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called ‘non-violent extremists’, and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence.”
But this claim has been contradicted by the PM’s own officials. In July 2010, a leaked memo prepared for coalition ministers on the cabinet’s home affairs subcommittee concluded that it was incorrect “to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence . . . This thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.”
Isn’t it time we ditched the unhelpful and discredited analogy of the conveyor belt? Shouldn’t we be more rigorous in our analysis of the radicalisation process and less obsessed with “non-violent extremists” – who, by definition, pose no physical threat to us?
This extremism agenda must remain non- partisan, my friend. To be fair to the coalition, its policy has been to try to turn the Bush-era doctrine on its head. Instead of developing a state-heavy response to terrorism, while tolerating non-violent extremism in civil society, this government has tried to curtail state-led excess, while doing more to focus on civil society responses to non-violent extremism. Consequently, legality and civil liberties are better protected now than they were during the Bush era. Obviously there is still much more that can be done.
I’m glad that the Prime Minister’s Munich speech addressed non-violent extremism and I’m proud to have influenced this. I agree that raising multiculturalism in the speech was an unnecessary distraction. But the desire was to highlight non-violent extremism, because in recent years it had been such a taboo, unlike complaining about grievances, which Britons have a long tradition of doing.
Non-violent extremism may not pose a physical threat but that doesn’t mean it is not a challenge requiring a robust policy response. Casual racism in society poses no direct physical threat, but we can all recognise that where it spreads unchecked, without a civic challenge, it is an unhealthy phenomenon. Islamism – which can advocate anti-democratic views, divisive sectarianism and ideas that discriminate on grounds of gender and sexuality – is analogous in this respect to racism. This does not mean we ban such ideas, but it does mean that, as with racism, we require a popular civil society approach in challenging them.
I agree there is no conclusive evidence that extremism is a “conveyor belt” to terrorism, just as there is inconclusive evidence to the contrary. In such cases, common sense surely should prevail. To become a jihadist terrorist, one first becomes an Islamist, though not all Islamists will go on to violence. Joining militant racist groups like Combat 18 seems unlikely if one is not first exposed to a level of racist rhetoric.
However, ultimately, this entire issue is a red herring. Whether or not there is a “conveyor belt”, we must surely agree that the spread of extremism in societies is unhealthy for integration in its own right. Just as many on the left challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology, many on the right challenge Islamist ideology but neglect anti-Muslim hatred. I value consistency. Why not challenge both?
“An unnecessary distraction”? The Prime Minister’s decision to bolt a supposedly nuanced analysis of counter-extremism and radicalisation on to a conservative critique of “state multiculturalism” was reckless, irresponsible and inflammatory.
Above all, it lacked a factual basis. Multiculturalism has little, if anything, to do with the rise of Islamist-inspired terrorism. Otherwise, how would you explain the presence of extremist groups inside monocultural societies such as Saudi Arabia or the Gaza Strip?
Remember: the 7 July bombers were, by any conventional definition, integrated into wider British society. None of the four spoke English as a second language; one of them was a convert to Islam. The ringleader, Mohammad Sidique Khan, once nicknamed “Sid”, was a teaching assistant who had refused to have an arranged marriage. Shazad Tanweer, the Aldgate bomber, was an avid cricketer who worked part-time in his father’s fish-and-chip shop. Their actions were horrific and unforgivable but their grievances were political, not cultural.
You asked why some on the left “challenge anti-Muslim hatred while they object to challenging Islamist ideology” and you issue a call for consistency. But are you really comparing like with like? Mainstream Muslim groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) may have their flaws and limitations, but is it fair or accurate to compare them to the hate-mongers and bigots of the British National Party or the EDL? How does such a divisive, such a black-and-white, approach to engaging young, politically active British Muslims help to build the bonds and civic relations that you say you cherish? Isn’t it a dangerous mirror image of the terrorists’ own “with-us-or-against-us” mentality?
To be honest, the analogy between racism and Islamism that you constantly invoke in your writings and public appearances worries me. We’re all clear about what racism is and why it is so offensive and abhorrent. But what is “Islamism”? How do you define it? Here is a term so elastic that it stretches from the elected, pro-western AKP government in Turkey to the anti-western barbarians of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan; it is a deeply contested idea. And what defines this new and equally nebulous phrase: “non-violent extremism”? Are the Haredi Jews of north London “non-violent extremists”? How about Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, who compared the introduction of gay marriage to the legalisation of slavery?
Or is the expression, as I suspect, just the latest code for referring to politicised Muslims with whom we might disagree?
If monocultural Saudi and Gaza harbour “extremist” groups, this is an argument against you. It is obvious that divided, monocultural areas in Britain are bad for integration, regardless of one’s view on multiculturalism. I did not compare the MCB with the BNP. A more accurate comparison would be between my former group Hizb ut-Tahrir and the BNP. My critique of the MCB is far more nuanced and involves my views on the unhealthy nature of communalist identity politics, and my preference for the citizenship model over the “umbrella” model, except in dealing with narrow religious matters.
Arguing that challenging Islamist extremism through civic activism is divisive and isolates angry young British Muslims is as absurd and insulting as saying that challenging racism is divisive and isolates the angry young white working class. Either challenging (without banning) racism and Islamism is correct, or appeasing both racists and Islamists is correct. It is an offence to Islam and to Muslims to pander patronisingly to anti-Semitic, or anti-woman, or homophobic, or bigoted sectarian views when they emanate from brown Muslims – as if that’s just our culture anyway – but simultaneously be forthright in challenging white racism.
I am also very surprised to read that you claim there’s a consensus around racism as you try to prove that there’s no such thing as non-violent extremism. I have been raised on a diet of racist hammer and knife attacks. I can tell you, as someone who’s lived it, unlike some champagne socialists: “we” are not “all clear” on what racism is and “why it is abhorrent”. And, speaking in the context of rising right-wing extremism across Europe, we have certainly not overcome it.
Likewise, just because we are not all clear what Islamism is, that does not mean it doesn’t exist. Islamism is the desire to impose an interpretation of Islam over society as law. By definition, this raises urgent questions about human rights, and usually it is we Muslims who are the first victims of Islamism. Absurdly, this is excused by the regressive left as if brown culture were discriminatory anyway – a poverty of expectations. Yes, Islamism is diverse, but so was communism. Stalin killed Trotsky. Is this proof there’s no such thing as communism?
Tunisia’s post-Islamist Ennahda party recently went through its own “Clause Four” moment when it ditched a condition that its interpretation of sharia must be the source of law. Tunisian civil society (all Muslims) pressured Ennahda for reform – which is exactly what I endorse. Were Tunisians being divisive and anti-Islam?
Naturally the term “non-violent extremism” should not be used to dismiss politicised Muslims with whom we disagree. After all, you’re a politicised Muslim and I’m quite evidently disagreeing with you. When the abhorrent views I’ve listed are subscribed to by Christians or Jews, I have indeed labelled them as extremist, too. While the regressive left is inconsistent, I believe the best way to address this issue is to reverse the neoconservative model; that means we must jealously guard the civil liberties of extremists, yet at the same time challenge non-violent extremism in society through grass-roots civic action, rather than exploding bombs and grossly violating human rights.
Maajid Nawaz is chairman of the think tank Quilliam and the author of “Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening”, newly published by W H Allen (£12.99)
The New Statesman has long been telling us that the Afghan war is “unwinnable” and that a Taliban “victory” is inevitable, if not actually desirable
Take this, from the (print edition) of 17 August 2009, (front cover: “AFGHANISTAN: THE LOST WAR“), for instance:
Our military presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem, not the solution
Britain should follow Canada’s lead and set a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is time we acc… (the NS electronic version ends there, but my guess is that its something like “accepted the inevitable and set a date to get out”).
By Staff blogger Published 13 August 2009
On 8 August, Private Jason Williams was killed by a roadside bomb in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The 23-year-old member of the 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment could have saved himself, but heroically he had returned to the battlefield to recover the body of a fallen Afghan comrade. Williams became the 196th fatality for British forces in Afghanistan since 2001.
Are we winning this war? Not even the generals who have been in charge seem to think so. In March, the outgoing commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, told the BBC that “we are not winning” in the struggle against the resurgent Taliban. In October last year, the then commander of British forces in Helmand, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, went further: “We’re not going to win this war.”
Their pessimism has been borne out by events. The latest UN figures suggest that violence in Afghanistan has reached its highest level since the Taliban were toppled in 2001, with the number of civilians killed so far this year up by a quarter compared to the same period last year. In July, there were more than ten attacks every day in Helmand alone. A secret Afghan government map, leaked this month, shows that half the country is either at high risk of attack by the Taliban and other insurgents, or is under “enemy control”.
So, after eight years of fierce fighting, with billions of pounds squandered and tens of thousands of coalition and civilian casualties, have we reached a dead end?
And what of the Afghan people, so often ignored in the rows over body armour, Land-Rovers and helicopters for “our boys” on the battlefield? As Stephen Grey points out (page 18), “no one has suffered more from this war than the civilians in whose fields it has been fought”. In spite of mounting casualties on all sides, British troops, like their American counterparts, continue in their Sisyphean task of trying to pacify Afghanistan.
“Again and again,” writes Grey, “politicians and generals have repeated the big lie, talking of tipping points and endless progress.” Take Operation Panchai Palang, or Panther’s Claw. The largest military offensive launched by the British army since it took over responsibility for security in Helmand in 2006, it was declared a success by the Prime Minister last month. But it required 3,000 British troops to defeat 600 Taliban fighters. And, with 22 deaths, July became the bloodiest month of the eight-year conflict for British troops – provoking renewed calls for withdrawal at home, where polls suggest a majority of the public remains opposed to the conflict, and to sending additional troops to Helmand.
Over time, the UK and US governments have offered increasingly bewildering justifications for war: counterterrorism, counter-narcotics, nation-building, liberating women, spreading democracy. Now, to bolster support, British ministers are following US attempts to assert a single, overarching mission. Early this month, the armed forces minister, Bill Rammell, stated: “Our troops are in Afghanistan to keep our country safe from the threat of terrorism . . . To prevent al-Qaeda having a secure base from which to threaten us directly.” He was echoing a speech by President Obama in which he declared that the “clear and focused” goal is “to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent its return to either country in the future”.
Obama’s new mission statement may seem sound, but it is unconvincing. First, the idea that al-Qaeda needs a “secure base”, or safe havens, from which to plot or prepare terrorist attacks is as outdated as it is simplistic. Since the collapse of its Afghan headquarters in late 2001, al-Qaeda has metastasised from a centralised, hierarchical organisation into a decentralised, largely self-sustaining movement, dispersed across the world.
The London bombings of 7 July 2005 took place four years after British and US forces had toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroyed al-Qaeda training camps there. The 7/7 bombers were made in England, not Lashkar Gah.
Second, denying al-Qaeda safe havens in neighbouring Pakistan has not required US or UK forces to occupy the lawless frontier provinces of that country – or, for that matter, to occupy Somalia, Yemen or any of the other Muslim nations accused of harbouring terrorists or hosting terrorist training camps. So why should denying al-Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan require an indefinite military occupation by British or American troops?
Third, a large-scale and long-term ground presence of western troops only exacerbates Islamist terrorism. Occupation, as the misadventure in Iraq has so clearly demonstrated, has the disastrous effect of giving jihadists a powerful recruiting tool that they are quick to exploit. Fourth, though al-Qaeda does pose a security threat to Europe and the United States, the Taliban pose no comparable threat. Unless and until Taliban guerrillas establish a foothold in New York or London or Berlin, and continue to remain confined to the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, their threat to UK national security will remain several notches below that of al-Qaeda or even, say, the Real IRA.
Thus, there is no reason why disrupting or defeating al-Qaeda requires a perpetual war and occupation. Indeed, sending extra troops to fight in Afghanistan, as President Obama has already done and Mr Brown plans to do in the near future, will not win the war, end the conflict, or guarantee our security. Our leaders should reflect on the lessons of history: from Alexander the Great to the Soviet Union, Afghans have been fighting invaders for more than 2,000 years. Not for nothing is their country known as the “graveyard of empires”.
Afghanistan does not need a military surge, but a political surge, centred around persuading the more moderate members of the Taliban to lay down their weapons and enter government. The former commander of British forces in Helmand, Ed Butler, tells us (page 24) that we missed a crucial opportunity to talk to the Taliban in 2006. Why wait any longer? Moreover, we need to engage not simply with factions within the Taliban, but also with Afghanistan’s influential neighbours Iran, Russia and China, so that they, too, have a vested interest in securing peace and stability in the region and preventing Afghanistan’s descent into chaos. But, above all, Britain should follow Canada’s lead and set a date for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Our military presence is part of the problem, not the solution. It is time we accepted that we are losing this war.
Now an unnamed ”senior commander” of the Taliban (unnamed because he’s in fear of his life, naturally) and representative of the “moderate” wing of these rural fascists has granted their UK mouthpiece the NS, an exclusive interview in which he states that the war is, indeed, “unwinnable”…for the Taliban.
What a disappointment that must be for the New Statesman, the (so-called) Stop The War Coalition, Seumas, Tariq, and all other self-hating, relativist, western lovers of the Taliban and their poetry. And what a relief to at least 50% of the Afghan population.
“You know that I have long held the opinion that a Labour Left which accepts you as any sort of leader, or even as a member, is a Left that lacks purpose, standards, memory, self-definition and proper self-respect” – Sean Matgamna, Open Letter to Ken Livingstone, 2010.
The net finally seems to be closing on Ken Livingstone. For decades, this strutting shyster and shameless charlatan has somehow ‘got away with it’ in the eyes of much of the ‘left’ (from the liberal-left Guardianistas to the ‘far- left’ of the Socialist Action and Socialist Worker variety).
Some of us, like Sean Matgamna of the AWL, rumbled Livingstone early on and had no hesitation in denouncing him for what he was (and remains): a posturing, fake-left gobshite willing to grovel to the powerful and, indeed, anyone, no matter how reactionary, who might do his career some good.
But, astonishingly, most of the ‘left’ and much of the trade union movement has continued to be taken in by (the future) Lord Redken of Gobshite. Their chummy approach is summed up by the fact that they feel themselves to be on first name terms with him – he’s always “Ken” to these idiots.
Even when he sank as low as anyone who claims to be a socialist can sink, and called for scabbing, the Livingstone ‘brand’ has remained strangely unsullied. Until now.
It turns out that this champion of the poor and oppressed, this scourge of the ruling class, is nothing but a dirty, hypocritical, two-faced tax-dodger. Most of us first heard about this last Sunday from Nick Cohen’s column in the Observer. Cohen, an honest left-wing journalist has been one of the very few writers in the mainstream liberal-left media, to have consistently attacked Livingstone in recent years, and for the right reasons. But Cohen’s understandable hatred of the man has led him to an unfortunate political conclusion with regard to the forthcoming London elections: “I will vote for Labour assembly members, then Green, Lib Dem or something equally silly for mayor, and offer no second preference. If Johnson wins by one vote, I’ll say that was Labour’s fault for putting forward Livingstone, not mine. We own the politicians. They don’t own us.”
The AWL, which has been denouncing Livingstone for even longer than Cohen, still calls for a Labour vote in the mayoral, as well as GLA, elections;
Vote Livingstone… very critically
By Andrew Smith
Ken Livingstone has aligned himself with the Occupy movement and attacked the tax-avoiding rich. Now, however, it seems he is one of them himself.
There has been a minor scandal in the media because Livingstone and his wife set up a company to channel money from his media appearances and speeches — allowing them to avoid the 50% income tax rate and pay 20% corporation tax instead.
It’s right that there should be a scandal. It’s a shame it’s so far mostly limited to the press, and limited to the issue of tax-dodging. The real issue here is that Livingstone is a very rich man trying to get richer — not the kind of individual who can seriously represent working-class London.
Nor is it “just” a matter of personal wealth. It’s his policies. In 2008, when Labour chancellor Alistair Darling proposed a trivial tax on foreign financiers, and was backed by the Tories, Livingstone opposed the move. While as London Mayor he never offended the City, or property-developers, he did go out of his way to attack the unions on London Underground.
Livingstone’s record and his policies on a whole range of issues — not just basic “class struggle” ones, but his links to reactionary semi-Islamist forces — rule out the idea that he is a serious left-winger, let alone a socialist. This is abundantly obvious, if you don’t close your eyes to it. Go on Livingstone’s campaign website, for instance, and you immediately confronted with a special page featuring an image of policeman’s helmet and a pledge to increase police numbers.
Unfortunately a huge swathe of the left is closing their eyes. Livingstone’s union backing is — so far — completely uncritical, while the SWP seems to have only published one sentence on the election: “We will be backing Labour’s Ken Livingstone for London mayor” (of course, the SWP sees Livingstone’s Islamist links as a virtue).
We should still work for a Labour victory — despite Livingstone.
However inadequate from a working-class socialist point of view, Livingstone’s policies are different from Johnson’s. He says he will cut fares and reinstate EMAs for London college students. He has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. He opposes more cuts than Johnson does, anyway, and has even supported some strikes.
These differences reflect the underlying reality that Livingstone is the candidate of the labour movement. The fact that the labour movement does not have the political will to impose a better candidate — a candidate who is not a friend of the City and who has not openly encouraged RMT members to scab on their strikes — or even to put more pressure on Livingstone is a reflection of our weakness. We seek to address that.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is openly and unreservedly a servant of the ruling class, committed to class warfare against the working class and the labour movement. He opened his campaign with an Evening Standard interview pledging to bring in driverless trains and smash the Tube unions.
A victory for Labour in the mayor and GLA elections will be a blow, however limited, against the Tory government. We should not trust Livingstone an inch, and organise to exert the maximum pressure on him. But we should do that while working for a Labour election victory.
NB: Even one of Livingstone’s closest media allies is now being mildly critical…but his no.1 cheer-leaders on the ‘far-left’ remain diplomatically silent. The tragedy is that a whole generation of socialists have been encouraged to have illusions in Livingstone, and many are now left very disillusioned indeed.