It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.
Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.
Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.
The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.
Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including - as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates - the Guardian itself:
Dear Alan Rusbridger,
The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.
On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).
Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.
“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.
Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”
And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.
The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….
The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.
All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.
The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.
Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.
Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?
The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.
The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.
Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.
The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.
These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.
For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.
The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.
The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.
Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:
Republished from Thompsons’ Labour & European Law Review:
A new report by the TUC to mark the one year anniversary of the introduction of tribunal fees has found that they have had a devastating impact on access to justice for working people.
Since July 2013, workers who have been sexually harassed, sacked because of their race, or bullied because of a disability have been forced to pay £1,200 for their claim to be heard by an employment tribunal. Those seeking to recover unpaid wages or holiday pay have to pay up to £390.
The report – What Price Justice? – analysed government statistics for January to March 2014, which revealed a 59 per cent fall in claims, compared to the same quarter in 2013. During these three months just 10,967 claims were received by employment tribunals compared to 63,715 for the same quarter in 2013.
The TUC analysis of the statistics found that:
- Women are among the biggest losers – there has been an 80 per cent fall in the number of women pursuing sex discrimination claims. Just 1,222 women took out claims between January and March 2014, compared to 6,017 over the same period in 2013.
- The number of women pursuing pregnancy discrimination claims is also down by over a quarter (26 per cent), with just three per cent of women seeking financial compensation after losing their jobs.
- Race and disability claims have plummeted – during the first three months of 2014 the number of race discrimination and sexual orientation claims both fell by 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
- Disability claims have experienced a 46 per cent year-on-year reduction.
- Workers are being cheated out of wages – there has been a 70 per cent drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage.
- Claims for unpaid wages and holiday pay have fallen overall by 85 per cent. The report says that many people are being put off making a claim, because the cost of going to a tribunal is often more expensive than the sum of their outstanding wages.
- Low-paid workers are being priced out – only 24 per cent of workers who applied for financial assistance to take claims received any form of fee remittance.
- Even workers employed on the minimum wage face fees of up to £1,200 if a member of their household has savings of £3,000.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour.
“Tribunal fees are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights. The consequence has been to price low-paid and vulnerable people out of justice.”
Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors said: “The statistics set out in the TUC report make it absolutely clear that the introduction of Tribunal fees have deterred workers from seeking legal redress as a result of unlawful conduct in the workplace. The fees are one of a number of attacks on working people which have been introduced by the Coalition Government. This has left workers in the UK more vulnerable than their counterparts across the EU”.
To read the report, go to: http://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TUC_Report_At_what_price_justice.pdf
Regulars will know that although I take the Graun every day, its editorial line and a lot of its columnists infuriate me. So credit where its due: the paper’s role in exposing the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the first place, and its dogged pursuit of the truth over five long years has been superb. The Graun is largely responsible for the criminal Coulson being brought to justice – something that would never have happened if matters had been left up to the Metropolitan Police (who now have serious questions to answer about their own cosy relationship with News International).
The star of the Graun‘s team on this story has been, since he first broke it in 2009, the relentless Nick Davies, who this week crowned his achievements with a magisterial and surely definitive account of the trial itself, closing with this quietly devastating conclusion, the full meaning of which is unmistakable when read in context:
It seems to have become forgotten, conveniently by some, that before the Old Bailey trial two former newsdesk executives, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, pleaded guilty, as did the phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire and a former reporter, Dan Evans, who confessed to hacking Sienna Miller’s messages on Daniel Craig’s phone.
Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter and news editor, pleaded guilty after the police found the tapes he had of Blunkett’s messages in a News International safe.
In the trial, Coulson was convicted of conspiring to hack phones while he was editor of the News of the World. The jury was discharged after failing to reach unanimous verdicts on two further charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office faced by Coulson and Goodman.
But Brooks was found not guilty of four charges including conspiring to hack phones when she was editor of the News of the World and making corrupt payments to public officials when she was editor of the Sun. She was also cleared of two charges that she conspired with her former secretary and her husband to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking in 2011.
The jury at the Old Bailey returned true verdicts according to the evidence. They were not asked to do more.
Superb stuff, and I only wish I could leave it at that. But yet another example of the Graun at its stupid, relativist worst has been drawn to my attention by Comrade Coatesy: a vile piece defending a vile man and a vile organisation, the writing all the more objectionable because of its post-modern pretentiousness. At least it didn’t appear in the print edition, but was evidently considered suitable for publication at the cess-pit that is Comment Is Free.
Above: Michael Coren exposes himself as a stupid bigot, even in this friendly interview
Standpoint magazine, a publication supposedly dedicated to enlightenment values, seems to be increasingly in thrall to religion – or at least to Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. The mag maintains a hostility to Islam that I would describe as “healthy” but for the evident fact that it takes such a sympathetic line on other religions.
Last month’s edition carried a particularly crude and self-righteous attack on Richard Dawkins, penned by one Michael Coren (billed by Standpoint as “a broadcaster and columnist in Canada”). A clue as to where Mr Coren was, so to speak, coming from, might have been picked up from his comments about Catholic child abuse (involving “at most 3 per cent of clergy” and “the vast majority of cases were in the past”) as well as his approving reference to a particularly silly quote from the Catholic fake-”Marxist” Terry Eagleton. Oh, go on then: read it for yourself here.
Matters were made worse by the fact that the magazine (as part of its regular “Overrated … underrated” feature, compared Dawkins unfavourably to the egregiously overrated misanthrope and ontonologist, C.S. Lewis.
I intended to write in, mainly to point out Lewis’ grotesquely inflated reputation and all-round unpleasantness, but of course didn’t find the time. The eulogy to Lewis remains unanswered, but I’m pleased to note that at least two Standpoint readers have rallied to the defence of Dawkins and their excellent letters are worth reproducing here (especially as they don’t appear on the mag’s website):
Michael Coren’s foam-flecked hatchet-job on Richard Dawkins (Overrated, November) is one of the most singular examples of the pot calling the kettle black that I can ever recall reading.
He castigates Dawkins for having “this selfish, perhaps genetic, need to be noticed.” This is rich coming from a notoriously abrasive, attention-seeking controversialist who has regularly appeared on shouty talk shows on North American television such as Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions.
Having sneered at Dawkins for having “suburban” views, he proceeds to accuse him of being “snobbish”, albeit in a context which suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of the word.
He claims that Dawkins would be anonymous were it not for his “ostentatious” atheism. His own Catholicism, as expressed in books entitled Why Catholics are Right and Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, is no less ostentatious. Dawkins’ followers, he alleges, often act in a “cult-like manner”. What is the Catholic Church if it is not a cult? (OED: “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object”.)
Dawkins, he further alleges, “is a man happy to silence those with ehom he disagrees”. Has no pontiff ever done this?
If Coren doesn’t enjoy the experience of being “ridiculed with contempt” by the likes of Dawkins, the remedy is in his own hands: he can refrain from slash-and-burn polemics in trying to defend the indefensible.
Martin Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire
So for Richard Dawkins to expect that the prevalence of abusers in the Catholic clergy might be less than 3 per cent was for him to operate with a “deeply flawed premise”.
I am sure that Dawkins will have no difficulty in lowering his future expectation so that it more accurately reflects the empirical evidence. And he might do so even though “the vast majority of cases were in the past” because it is not as if they could be anywhere else.
However, for my own part, I think I shall abstain from expecting that an Emeritus Fellow and retired Professor for Public Understanding of Science be at the “cutting edge” of evolutionary biology. I would not wish to incorporate a false premise into my own arguments.
R. Thomas, Newcastle upon Tyne
I thought some readers might be interested in an exchange of views, involving myself, on the subject of whether it is accurate and/or politically useful to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state. What is particularly significant is not so much the content of the debate – most of which covers well-trodden ground – but the fact that it appeared in the Morning Star, a publication which has hitherto presented the ‘fact’ of Israeli ‘apartheid’ as a given, and never (to the best of my knowledge) carried any debate on the question on its letters page, or anywhere else. Regulars will be aware that the Morning Star is not my favourite publication, but it is to their credit that they published my first letter on the subject and also then gave me the right of reply to two critical responses. My letters were edited, though not in such a way as to misrepresent my views, and I presume the two critical replies may well have been as well. I reproduce them all exactly as printed, apart from a couple of minor corrections to spelling and grammar.
Because the Morning Star revamped its website in September, no record of the editorial that gave rise to my first letter remains there, and I have not kept a copy. I have been able to track down the opening lines from elsewhere on the web, and these should give you a flavour of what sparked it all off in the first place. I took a conscious decision to restrict my response to the question of ‘apartheid’ and not comment on the rights and/or wrongs of the BBC’s “censorship”:
More Zionist Bias at Beeb
BBC4 is screening a Nigel Kennedy concert this evening in which he speaks up for Palestinian rights, but the national broadcaster has decided to censor his remarks.
The August 8 Proms concert featured Kennedy and the Palestine Strings, a group of young Palestinian musicians from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
The violinist paid tribute to his fellow musicians, telling the audience: “it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music making that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for things to happen.”
His comments were carried live on BBC Radio 3, but a pro-zionist campaign campaign of pressure has led to … (from MS Editorial, August 23)
JD: 1st letter:
Your editorial More Zionist Bias at Beeb (M Star August 23) is mistaken. Nigel Kennedy’s concern for the Palestinians is laudable but his use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel is highly contentious.
“Apartheid” was not simply a term of abuse, but had a definite class content.
It was a peculiar system in which a white caste, intertwined with the capitalist ruling class, denied the black majority elementary rights in order to enforce their super-exploitation.
The answer was a single state with equal rights for all. For democrats there could be no question of national or collective rights for the whites as distinct from individual equal rights after the overthrow of apartheid.
The Israelis are not a narrow caste and Israel is not an apartheid state but a nation – one that denies rights to the Palestinians but a nation nonetheless.
Iraq, Iran and Turkey are not “apartheid states” because they oppress the Kurds and Russia is not an “apartheid state” because of its occupation of Chechnya.
Israel is a national entity not simply a settler-caste. Within Israel the great majority of the working class is ethnically “Jewish” and their view matters.
They do not have the right to oppress Palestinians but they do have the right to their own national identity.
That is why in Palestine, unlike in South Africa, the best immediate settlement is two states.
Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in many areas of life. But the situation more resembles the discrimination faced by ethnic minority people in Britain or the US than it does apartheid South Africa.
Some techniques used by Israel against the Palestinians resemble those used by the apartheid-era South African regime but the social and political realities are fundamentally dissimilar.
Recognising that should not lessen our hostility to oppression of the Palestinians. But to call it “apartheid” is politically illiterate, alienates many Jewish people and serves no useful purpose in building solidarity with the Palestinians — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Letter from Stephen Smith
I was puzzled by Jim Denham’s assertion (M Star August 30) that the term “apartheid” wasn’t appropriate to describe Israel.
Given that it means “separate development” in Afrikaans, it is a good fit for a state which segregates citizens in every conceivable way on the basis of their ethnic origin.
Apartheid did indeed have a class dimension but even a cursory glance at the extreme poverty experienced predominantly by Palestinian Arabs signposts economic disadvantage based on ethnic origin as a feature of Israeli and Palestinian life.
Jim describes Israel’s “ethnically Jewish” working class yet inexplicitly excludes non-Jewish working people in Israel, largely working class Arabs denied the same rights and status as other Israeli workers.
If that isn’t apartheid, I’m not sure what is.
Desmond Tutu noted in 2002 that this situation “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa…the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.
“Many South Africans are beginning to recognise the parallels to what we went through.”
Far from being “politically illiterate,” both Nigel Kennedy and the Morning Star’s editorial (M Star August 23) hit the mark.
It is the bitterest of ironies that a nation forged in response to the greatest crime against humanity is one of the perpetrators of the very ethnic division and hatred standing in the way of the peace, justice, prosperity and equality that could resolve this conflict. — STEPHEN SMITH Witney
Letter from John Nicholson
I presume you published the letter from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (M Star August 30) in support of the Israeli state in order to provoke responses.
That may be permissible in journalistic terms.
However it is not a good justification for a left newspaper to give any coverage at all to these views.
If anything what the Israeli state is perpetrating on the Palestinian people is worse that apartheid — Palestinian refugees who have no right of return to their homes in villages which Israel demolished. Palestinians living within Israel with substantially fewer social, economic and political rights than their Jewish neighbours, and Palestinians in Gaza who are contained within what is effectively a very concentrated concentration camp, in increasingly severe deprivation and subject regularly to annihilation from Israel’s bombs.
And meanwhile our government — and the EU — gives support to Israel, not least by contracting with the appalling G4S which is integrally involved in the Israeli prisons and detention centres where Palestinians, including children, are illegally held and ill-treated. — JOHN NICHOLSON Manchester
JD: 2nd letter
Since neither Stephen Smith nor John Nicholson (M Star September 3 and 7-8, respectively) address the central point of my first letter (M Star August 30) about Israel and apartheid, let me spell it out.
Israel was given its character by Zionists’ refusal to use Arab labour. Whatever we think of that, it was the opposite of the form of exploitation on which apartheid South Africa was built.
As a result, in Israel there is a large, powerful Jewish working class and the Histadrut trade union that organises Jewish and Arab workers.
In apartheid there was no major white working class, just a tiny and massively privileged labour aristocracy.
The Israeli Jewish workers’ movement must be crucial in the fight for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine tragedy in a way that was simply not the case with white workers in South Africa.
Socialists should support Palestinian and Jewish activists in fighting for workers’ rights, democracy, secularism and the right of all peoples to self-determination.
In the immediate term that means the struggle for two states. I’m afraid that many of the people who insist on describing Israel as an “apartheid state” don’t really want that. — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Highgate Sage Ali Speaks on Syria.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged with some very minor changes and a new title from Tendance Coatsey)
In his latest foray (LRB 28th of August) Tariq summed up [his view of] the Syrian situation:
The aim of the ‘limited war’ as set out by the United States and its European vassals is simple. The Syrian regime was slowly re-establishing its control over the country against the opposition armed by the West and its tributary states in the region (Saudi Arabia and Qatar). This situation required correction. The opposition in this depressing civil war needed to be strengthened militarily and psychologically.
Ie: the present war is essentially driven by anti-Iranian forces,
Ever since the war and occupation of Iraq, the Arab world has been divided between Sunni and Shia components. Backing the targeting of Syria are two old friends: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both want the regime in Iran destroyed. The Saudis for factional reasons, the Israelis because they’re desperate to exterminate Hizbullah. That’s the endgame they have in sight and Washington, after resisting for a bit, is playing ball again. Bombing Syria is the first step.
In lines that may well have been an attempt to rival Dean Swift he outlined the position of the United Kingdom:
It’s foolish to get too worked up about Britain. It’s a vassal state, de facto governed by a National Government that includes Parliamentary Labour. Its political parties have accepted permanently situating themselves in the ‘posterior of the White House’. Cameron was gung-ho for a war some months ago. When the US went cold on the idea, Downing Street shut up. Now they’re back in action with little Ed saying that he backs the war ‘reluctantly’, the most pathetic of positions. Conservative backbenchers are putting up a stiffer resistance. Will more Tories vote against than Labour? We shall see.
Ali [had earlier] described how his position evolved until September 2012 as follows (in Counterpunch),
From the very beginning, I have openly and publicly supported the popular uprising against the family-run Baathist outfit that rules Damascus.
But, as in Egypt, once the euphoria of the uprising and its success in getting rid of a hated despot evaporates, politics emerge. What is the strongest political force in Syrian politics today? Who would be the largest party in parliament when free elections take place? Probably the Muslim Brothers and in that case the experience will be educative since neo-liberalism and the US alliance are the corner-stone of the Turkish model that Morsi and other colleagues in the region seek to emulate. For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world. We may not like it (and I certainly don’t), but that battle has been won by the Brotherhood. Their future will depend on their ability to deliver social change. The Egyptian and Syrian working class have played a huge part in both uprisings. Will they tolerate neo-liberal secularism or Islamism for too long?
A NATO intervention would install a semi-puppet government. As I argued in the case of Libya once NATO entered the fray: whoever wins the people will lose. It would be the same in Syria. On this I am in total accord with the statement of the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees published on 29 August 2011.
What will happen if the present situation continues? An ugly stalemate. The model that comes to mind is Algeria after the military, backed strongly by France and its Western allies, intervened to stop the second round of an election in which the FIS were going to win. This resulted in an attritional civil war with mass atrocities carried out by both sides while the masses retreated to an embittered passivity.
This is why I continue to insist that even at this late stage a negotiated solution is the best possible way to get rid of Assad and his henchmen. Pressure from Teheran, Moscow and Beijing might help achieve this sooner than the military posturing of Sultan Erdogan, his Saudi allies and their surrogates in Syria.
ln criticising this position. the Syrian Leftist site, Syrian Freedom for Ever, claimed that:
“TARIQ ALI says we are witnessing in Syria a new form of re-colonisation by the West, like we have already seen in Iraq and in Libya.
Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, “composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”, or the Assad regime.
The only way forward, in the interests of all Syrians, says Ali, is negotiation and discussion. But it is now obvious that the West is not going to let that happen because they are backing the opposition groups who are against any negotiation.”
What remains of this at present?
With greater confidence Ali now observes that:
Every single Western intervention in the Arab world and its surrounds has made the conditions worse. The raids being planned by the Pentagon and its subsidiaries in Nato are likely to follow the same pattern.
Having, in the past, praised Boris Yeltsin as a democratic socialist (1) , and voting Liberal Democrat in the 2005 General Election (2), Tariq Ali is famed on the left for his canny nose for the Zeitgeist: that is, his capacity for getting things completely wrong.
The Morsi outcome could be classed in the thick file of Ali’s efforts in this direction.
Now that said many of us will find that Ali’s geopolitical analysis fairly convincing (Robert Fisk says as much).
That he was wrong about the British Parliament and Labour’s willingness to defy Washington puts him the company of thousands, to no disgrace.
Vassals, little Ed, posteriors, and pathetic as they all may be, they didn’t act in the predicted way.
They may continue to show some independence, though this is less certain.
But there is not a word in Ali’s analysis about the fate of the Syrian democrats opposed to Assad.
Or how any democratic forces can be supported.
Not a dicky bird.
That really sticks in the craw.
(1) Ali’s Revolution From Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (1988) is also dedicated to Yeltsin, whose “political courage has made him an important symbol throughout the country.”
(2) “In the tightly fought battle for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, the Liberal Democrats have received the support of prominent writer and film maker Tariq Ali, who says he will be backing the party in the forthcoming General Election. Mr Ali, who lives in the constituency, is a long-time critic of the Government over the war in Iraq” (here). The Liberal Lynne Featherstone, won the constituency
Guest post Pink Prosecco.
On Socialist Unity I have just read what struck me as a sensible and sympathetic review by Phil B C of Laurie Penny’s new book Cybersexism.
Before long John Wight (above – note left hand), scourge of moralisers, is muscling in below the line:
“There is nothing wrong with a good filthy fuck. Men and women are primal animals and lust is both healthy and entirely natural.
What is unnatural is the demonisation of sex.
I think this latest moral panic over porn is exactly that: an artificially whipped up moral panic with a political objective at its heart.”
Actually, Wight has said many stupider things, and this made me laugh:
“I don’t [know] about you, but the last thing I think about while approaching orgasm are “workers’ rights”.”
Then I noticed that there were no (identifiable) women commenting on this lively thread. I had a look at all the other posts currently in play, ten in total, attracting (so far) 182 comments and there were no identifiable women commenting there either. Funny that.
A discussion piece, cross-posted from the Workers Liberty website and the paper Solidarity: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2012/09/25/charlie-hebdo-muslims-and-how-defend-freedom-expression
By Yves Coleman
The author is a French socialist activist, involved in publishing the journal Ni Patrie, Ni Frontières (No Fatherlands, No Borders).
“If you insult Muhammad, it is as if you insult my own mother.” (A participant, during a debate on Radio Tropic FM, September 20, 2012.)
It all began with excerpts from a stupid video posted on the Net.
Then a French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, intervened. This weekly publication has always been characterized by its bad taste, rude machismo supposed to be funny and popular, and its cheap anti-racism. This typical French form of pseudo anti-racism has a peculiarity: it conveys all racist or anti-Semitic clichés under the pretext of attacking… racism. This position makes ist “humor” often perfectly acceptable to extreme right people. One example is the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo: it shows a Jew with a traditional hat pushing a wheelchair in which sits a Muslim (or Muhammad?), with the subtitle “Untouchables” – which is also the title of a French film which won great popular success and was supposedly anti-racist. A first-degree understanding of this cartoon encourages the reader to think that Jews and Muslims are exempt from criticism in France, which obviously implies that:
- that Catholics (culturally dominant in France) are much more tolerant than the supporters of the other two religions of the Book
- French Jews, even if they are a small minority, form a powerful “lobby” (a thought which was also expressed by the Tropic FM “Muslim” listener quoted before)
- And finally, that “Muslims” have installed a reign of terror in France through their intellectual terrorism, their physical threats or even attacks.
In fact, Charlie Hebdo has only jumped on the opportunity given by The Innocence of Muslims to reinforce the “critical” current which tends to present all Muslims as fanatics or terrorists.
Fifteen years ago, the newspaper Charlie Hebdo was considered by the anti-globalization left, as a rare example of the “free press” (according to Serge Halimi, director of the Left anti-globalization monthly Le Monde diplomatique).
When this weekly came under the leadership of a former stand-up comedian and playwriter (Philippe Val), who became a vulgar court philosopher close to Sarkozy, of course radicals and left-wing people found that publication was no more trendy. And especially because a feminist reformist, Caroline Fourest, started writing in Charlie Hebdo, criticizing all religions, all fundamentalisms, including Islamic fundamentalism and therefore criticizing Tariq Ramadan, an anti-globalization and left icon for a while. Anti-Semitic “jokes” made by the cartoonist Sine (who had a long experience in anti-semitic remarks) allowed a false debate to take place between Sine supporters (supposed to be left, even far left minded) and Philippe Val supporters or Charlie Hebdo readers, supposed to be all Sarkozysts and “Islamophobes”. The terms of the debate were faked because none of the two camps really opposed BOTH anti-Semitism (including when presented as “anti-Zionism”) and anti-Arab racism, even when it was concealed under a criticism of Islam. Finally, Sine was sacked from Charlie Hebdo and created his own satirical monthly, Val was appointed to manage a public radio station, where he soon distinguished himself by firing an two anti -Sarkozyst stand-up comedians (Didier Porte and Stephane Guillon), and Charlie Hebdo continued its muddled comments on all kinds of subjects.
It is obvious that the new issue of Charlie Hebdo devoted to caricatures of Muhammad or of Muslims (the previous issue with similar content, around the time of the “Danish cartoons” row in 2006) provoked an arson attack on its office, the protection of the police and several trials for “Islamophobia”) had only one main objective: to create the buzz in order to sell more copies of this weekly, taking advantage of the atmosphere created by the reactions to The Innocence of Muslims. “Freedom of speech” had nothing to do with this provocation.
In addition, we know that, during the recent years, in France as well as in Europe, the extreme right hides its fascist and racist ideas under the banner of the freedom of expression, and a critique of “political correctness gone mad”, etc. So we must be conscious that freedom of expression often becomes an often adulterated commodity in certain hands.
At the same time, a tiny number of Muslims have fallen into the trap: they wanted to organize demonstrations, all banned by the “Socialist” government.
Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the National Front, took the opportunity to call for a ban on hijabs and yarmulkes on the streets.
In short, a new false debate was launched by the media, amplified by radio and community media, where we were required to take stands: either on the side of all “Muslims”, whatever their orientation was (Muslims whose religious representatives called to ignore the provocation and not to demonstrate) or the side of Charlie Hebdo, supposedly the main voice of the “Islamophobic” left.
Yet there is a plethora of more important matters today than discussing the opportunity to publish cartoons of a prophet-warrior who died 15 centuries ago. The wave of layoffs, rising unemployment, lack of teachers in schools, repression against undocumented people, policing of all those who receive welfare, increase of productivity and of accidents, increase of suicides related to the deterioration of working conditions, harassment organized by foremen and bosses, etc.., all these topics deserve hundreds of articles, dozens of radio and TV programms, and thousands of discussions.
But the media prefer to organize false debates with their auditors or with confused Islamophile or Islamophobic intellectuals, almost never inviting atheists or rationalists to express their views, to discuss the only topic of interest for them: freedom of expression.
The opinion expressed by the listener whose quote begins this article, and many other views expressed on the Net, are perfect examples of the current ideological confusion.
Personal insults against individuals are dealt within the frame of bourgeois justice. People who are insulted can complain if they feel defamed. And there is an entire legal arsenal for this purpose. No need to add more to these laws.
You can also use a quick solution, as seemed to suggest the quoted listener (i.e., to smash the face of the person who insulted your mother or religion) but is this really the best solution?
Finally, one can imagine how it could work in another society, where in the neighborhoods, in the schools, or companies, general assemblies, committees of residents or workers would meet to resolve such disputes without going by judges and lawyers … But this would imply that participants agree to settle their dispute by accepting a collective, non-violent solution.
Freedom of expression, contrary to what the Tropic FM listener believes, has nothing to do with a trivial personal insult. Freedom of expression depends on a fragile collection of collective rights that regulate all media, from a simple leaflet to a TV progamme, newspaper or book, but also the right to protest and organize - collective rights which have been won after decades of struggle by the working class and other democratic forces.
This freedom of expression is reduced to a minimum in the Western world, not because of some protests made by fundamentalist Muslims or some Islamist attacks, but because of the mighty power of capitalists. The banking, finance and industry magnates who control the media rarely encourage freedom of expression. And ther words of workers, unemployed and exploited are almost never heard, or filtered by journalists who carefully respect the interests of their masters.
The situation is also not so much better in the so-called left parties or large unions.
It is well known how the French Communist Party defamed, denounced to the cops and bosses, punched or sent to the hospital hundreds of Trotskyist and anarchist activists for decades. When it did not murder them, as it happened under the German Occupation, under Stalinism in the Eastern bloc, or during the Spanish Civil War.
We know that the French Socialist Party gives power and freedom of speech only to individuals coming from the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie.
This is reflected in the media which are linked to this party, in the social composition of its MPs, Senators and Ministers, in its current implementation of austerity, in its anti-immigrant policies carried out under the previous government, its support to the police forces, French armed interventions abroad, etc.
We know that the unions muzzle speech and freedom of action of workers hostile to their bureaucracies, when they do not exclude them, plain and simple.
We also know how the small pseudo left-wing and anti-imperialist group called “The Indigenous of the Republic” with the help of some intellectuals (Said Bouamama and Pierre Tevanian) recently prevented Caroline Fourest, a secular, anti racist and left-reformist feminist to talk and criticize the National Front at the Communist Party “fête”, on September 16, 2012, all that in the name of anti-fascism … and fight against Islamophobia. (To check the falsity of these two lies, one only needs to read Fourest’s book against Marine Le Pen or the one where she interviews Taslima Nasreen and expresses a much more moderate view than Nasreen!).
So let us be wary, too, about left or extreme left groups who want, in the labor movement, trade unions, or in the street, to impose their ideas with clubs or fists whenever it suits them. Or those who claim to defend freedom of expression, but are unable to practice it in their own unions and political organizations and their publications.
About the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo, some “Muslims” wanted to have both the right to express their indignation in the street against the newspaper and also to protest against The Innocence of Muslims. The French government has banned several demonstrations, and the few which have been organized have been spectacular failures (from one to 150 protesters, according to the cities), showing that the vast majority of “Muslims” did not fall into the trap, even if they were offended by the film and/or the magazine.
As a supporter of freedom of expression, I do not see why I should support any ban by the French State. These demonstrations should be allowed to proceed without being banned by the state, whatever one thinks of their dubious or reactionary political or religious content. And activists should also have the right to protest against these demonstrations (it is symptomatic that the only “Muslim” demonstrator sentenced to prison after the September 15 demonstration has explained he wore a telescopic club to defend himself against… Jews. A typical example of the delirious anti-Semitism inspired both by Koranic anti-Judaism, fascist anti-Semitism and extreme right anti-Zionism.).
As a rationalist atheist, I do not see why I should support those who want to introduce in France a law against blasphemy, or limit the freedom of expression with regard to the criticism all religions, including Islam.
We know that both the Organization of the Islamic Conference (which includes 57 states), the United States and the Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations want France to adopt new laws against blasphemy. We know that French government is regularly criticized as “anti -religious”, “Islamophobic”, because of the laws against the headscarf or niqab, and that they pretend that the Church of Scientology is persecuted in France.
The French state uses secularism when it suits its interests for domestic policy issues; it finances Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim cults, in several French departments.
It maintains Catholic churches, and its finances (religious) private instruction throughout the country. We have no reason to support the French government but we must also oppose all those who would like to impose laws restricting criticism of religions, supposedly because it offends believers, god or the prophets.
Similarly, without supporting a publication like Charlie Hebdo in its quest for sales and publicity, I see no reason to support those who want to destroy its headquarters, or physically threaten its cartoonists or journalists, or want them to be condemned by the bourgeois judicial system because of their bad taste and/or “blasphemy.”
As an atheist, I can only oppose any law against blasphemy, any restriction to the criticism of religions, if a government, left or right, wants to impose them in France.
Meanwhile, we should also denounce anyone, including in the Left, who is critical of one religion (Islam) while remaining silent or very secretive about other religions, so he can present as progressive his anti-Arab racism, or his support to French, European or American interventions in Africa, Libya or Afghanistan.
We must denounce Iran’s trial to recover the initiative it lost since, in Tunisia and Egypt, dictators were overthrown by the people, or are highly contested. Iran where a religious foundation linked to the regime immediately took advantage of the The Innocence of Muslims to increase the price on Salman Rushdie’s head.
We must denounce the National Frront attempt to participate to this debate in order to stir up hatred against the Arabs, whether Muslim or not, and against Jews, two elements of the National Front political patrimony.
Finally, we must denounce the obvious diversion organised by all media about these non-events. Several facist groups (including l’Oeuvre française et les Jeunesses nationalistes) organize a “ride” to Paris with buses and a “nationalist rally” on 29 September 2012, but the media have not shown any interest for this demo. Yet the themes of the meeting of 28th and demo of the 29th should alert all those so-called advocates of freedom of expression: Promotional material for the event calls for a “General mobilization of all the French patriots and nationalists. After the French natives revolt in Lyon, let’s participate to the French march on the capital! Against lawless areas, against the government’s anti-national policy, against anti-white racism: We want to be masters in our fatherland! Against immigration-invasion governments hirelings, against the violation of our interests by US-Zionist and euro-globalist forces, against foreign preference: let’s struggle to give France back to the French and become masters in our homeland! “
This disgusting prose is a significant example of the xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and fascistic form of anti-Zionism which flourish on the internet at every minute.
National, cultural and religious identities are being promoted by states, churches and all sorts of fascist and populist demagogues. But neither Muslim nor non-Muslim workers lose their free will, intellectual independence or critical faculties just because they are exposed to vicious hateful propaganda.
Workers have a choice: either they support their exploiters and their demagogic leaders who claim to share the same faith and/or culture, or they unmask all the political uses of their beliefs and background.
As atheists and non-believers, we must also stand against all left or right, populist or fascist currents who claim the heritage of the Enlightenment or human rights to better hide their reactionary or obscurantist projects!
NB: The term “Muslim” is put in quotation marks in this article, because journalists, demographers, sociologists and many radical, left-wing or anti-globalization activists generally stick the religious label of Muslim on the front of all those who come from countries where Islam is the state religion, or whose families are practicing islam, or simply those whose names sound “Arab”, as if there were no atheists among these so-called “Muslims.”