Kenan Malik is not someone we often recommend, not least because of his dubious friends in the RCP/ Spiked Online / Institute of Ideas. Still, he’s often struck us as a bit more intelligent than most of that lot (the frankly embarrassing Claire Fox, etc), and this piece (from a couple of weeks ago), would seem to confirm that view:
I am taking part on Friday in a discussion entitled ‘When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia?’, hosted by Oxash, the Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. So, I thought it might be worth setting out the basic points that undergird my own thinking about the relationship between criticism, Islam and Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’. On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.
When it comes to criticizing ideas, nothing should be out of bounds. Nothing should be unsayable simply because someone finds it offensive. Particularly in a plural society, offending the sensibilities of others is both inevitable and important. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities.
‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority.
If no criticism should be off limits, nevertheless some kinds of criticism need to be challenged. The other side of defending free speech is the necessity of confronting bigotry. The whole point of free speech is to create the conditions for robust debate. And one reason for such robust debate is to be able to challenge obnoxious views. To argue for free speech but not to utilize it to challenge obnoxious, odious and hateful views seems to me immoral. It is, in other words, morally incumbent on those who argue for free speech to also stand up to racism and bigotry.
When does criticism become bigotry? The line is crossed when criticism of Islam, of ideas or beliefs, become transposed into prejudice about people; or when critics demand that Muslims are denied rights, or be discriminated against, simply because they happen to be Muslims.
We should oppose all discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere, from discriminatory policing and immigration laws that might specifically target Muslims, to planning regulations that make it more difficult to build mosques than other similar buildings or restrictions on the ability of Muslims to assemble or worship that apply merely because they happen to be Muslims. Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence. Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as in so doing one neither physically harms another individual nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. A Muslim should have the same rights and obligations as any other citizen.
We should also oppose all attempts to use criticisms of Islam to demonise Muslims. But criticism of Islam, of whatever kind, even if it is offensive or bigoted, should not be a matter for the criminal law. Bigoted speech should not be a legal but a moral issue. Just as Muslims have the right to express their beliefs, short of inciting violence, so should everyone else, including the right to express the most pungent beliefs about Islam. A society that outlawed anti-Muslim arguments would, in my mind, be as reactionary as one that banned Muslim immigration or pursued discriminatory forms of policing.
It is important to make the distinction between criticism of Islam and prejudice against Muslims. There is also, however, a large gray area on the borderlands of bigotry that needs addressing, a gray area between, on the one side, vicious anti-Muslim hatred and, on the other, absurdly self-serving claims of ‘Islamophobia’ hurled at everyone from Salman Rushdie to Tom Holland. It is a large gray area where you may sometimes find, say, the likes of Sam Harris or Martin Amis. I have been highly critical of both; not because they are bigots in any reasonable sense of the word but because their arguments often so lack nuance, and are so bereft of context, that they both provide intellectual ammunition for bigots and can become a means of mainstreaming bigoted arguments.
Much of the problem arises from the way that the debate about Islam is filtered through the lens of the ‘clash of civilizations’, the claim that there is a fundamental civilizational difference between Islam and the West that will, in the words of Samuel Huntingdon, the American political scientist who popularized the term, set the ‘battle lines of the future’, unleashing a war ‘far more fundamental’ than any ignited by ‘differences among political ideologies and political regimes’. The ‘clash of civilizations’ is a threadbare argument, but it is part of a genuine academic debate. It is also the frame through which the ‘otherness’ of Muslims is established, a frame within which both popular discussion and the arguments of the bigots, including tellingly those of Islamists, have developed.
The academic arguments need challenging. So do popular perceptions, and the arguments of the bigots, too. The academic debate is clearly distinct from the popular discourse which in turn is separate from the claims of the bigots. Yet not only does each shade into the other, but the academic debate also provides the intellectual foundation for both the popular discussion and for the arguments of the bigots.
The real issue we need to address, then, is not so much where to draw a distinction between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ criticism, as how to remake the very framework within which Islam is viewed, a framework that helps define both mainstream and bigoted ideas. Or, to put it another way, we should stop being so obsessed by the distinction between legitimate criticism and Islamophobia, and start thinking about how an obsession with both Islam and Islamophobia distorts our culture and our debates.
Statement from the European Roma Rights Centre:
ERRC Urges Restraint and Responsible Reporting in Child Removal Cases
22 October 2013
Budapest, 22 October 2013: The ERRC is concerned by increasing reports of children being removed from Roma families, following reports about a child taken from her home in a Romani settlement in Greece. Another child has since been removed from her home in Ireland, according to media reports.
We ask the media to act responsibly in reporting the situation, especially as the full facts of the original case have still not been established.
The ERRC is aware of at least one report from Serbia where skinheads tried to take away a two-year old boy from his parents because he was “not as dark as his parents”. Irresponsible reporting could have severe, negative consequences for Roma families across Europe.
If a crime has been committed in Greece, and this is still by no means clear, those who committed it should be treated as individuals, not as representatives of their ethnicity. Such a case could arise in any racial, ethnic, religious or national group.
Criminality is not related to ethnicity. Roma children are, however, much more likely to be put into state care, trapped in segregated education, and forcibly evicted from their homes. These are the stories that don’t make it to the front page.
We urge restraint, and we urge all local authorities, media outlets and other stakeholders to fully examine the facts before acting.
From the BBC website:
DNA tests prove Dublin Roma girl is part of family
DNA tests have proved that a seven-year-old girl taken from a Roma family in Dublin on Monday is their daughter.
The family said they were “delighted” that their daughter had come home.
They also said they would be taking legal advice, and that serious questions have arisen over the procedures used in the case.
The blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl had been removed by police from her Tallaght home and taken into temporary care.
The family have supported calls from human rights group Pavee Point for an independent inquiry into the investigation.
In a statement issued through their solicitor the family said: “Her removal has been a cause of huge upset to her parents, her brothers and sisters, and the young girl herself.
“They now intend to concentrate on looking after their family and, in particular, in trying to reassure their daughter that she will be left in their care.
“Our clients also wish to say they do not believe that what has happened to their family over the few days should ever have happened.
“They do not accept that this was any proper or sufficient basis to take their daughter away from them.
“They believe that there are very serious questions arising about the procedures used in this case but are going to wait for things to settle down and consider their position and that of their daughter in light of recent events and will be taking legal advice in respect of this.”
A 21-year-old sister of the child, who can not be identified for legal reasons, said their mother had not eaten for three days because she was so distraught.
“Everyone was very sad,” she said. The sister added she hoped no other family would have to go through a similar ordeal.
Meanwhile, a two-year-old boy from a Roma family who was briefly taken into care in County Westmeath has been reunited with his parents.
The boy was taken from his family on Tuesday in Athlone and returned a day later.
Alan Shatter, the Irish minister for justice, said he will be asking the Garda (Police) Commissioner for a report on the two cases.
A Garda statement said: “Protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance to An Garda Síochána and we continue to work in partnership with the HSE (Health Service Executive) and other agencies to ensure children’s safety.
“An Garda Síochána want to assure the community that we take extremely serious all reports received from members of the public concerning child welfare issues.”
The Irish police action took place against the background of international interest in the case of a blonde-haired child being taken from a Roma family in Greece last week.
Greek police are investigating whether the girl had been abducted
Protest: for everyone the Daily Mail hates
On Sunday, all the people hated by the Daily Mail – that’s pretty much all of us – are going to turn up at their headquarters, loud and proud about who we are. If you’re a woman, a Muslim, LGBT, a nurse, a socialist, a trade union rep, a disabled person or just someone who doesn’t like hatred being pumped into public life every day, turn up.
This is an upbeat, carnival-type protest, a statement of defiance against bigotry and hatred. So turn up in a good mood, with colourful banners, full of pride about who we all are.
Journalist and campaigner Owen Jones said: “A newspaper that once had the cheek to back Adolf Hitler and the Blackshirts has smeared Ralph Miliband, a Jewish refugee who fought the Nazis for this country, as a ‘man who hated Britain’.
“But the reality is it is the Daily Mail who hates Britain. They hate our proud institutions, like the NHS and the BBC. Their campaign of hatred has targeted women, public sector workers, trade unionists, immigrants, Muslims, benefit claimants, travellers, and other vast swathes of our society.
“We’re calling on all those hated by the Daily Mail to join us on Sunday, and to be loud and proud about what they are in a show of defiance against bigotry and hatred.”
Sam Fairbairn, Secretary of the People’s Assembly said: “Miliband announces he’ll scrap the Bedroom Tax and freeze energy prices, the next day the Daily Mail launches a vicious personal attack on his father. Millions are suffering under austerity Britain and this paper has made it clear who’s side they are really on – the corporations and the austerity addicted politicians. It’s the Daily Mail who really hates Britain.”
H/t: Comrades Bruce and Coatesy
From France 24:
Above: some of the bodies at the dockside
Italy has asked for help from the European Union to deal with refugee arrivals in the wake of the sinking of a boat carrying migrants off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on Thursday, in which it is feared 300 or more people could have died.
Around 500 people, believed to be mostly Eritreans and Somalis, were aboard the 20-metre boat when it capsized and sank on Thursday morning when the vessel was around half of a mile from the island.
By Friday afternoon, 111 bodies, including at least three children and two pregnant women, had been recovered.
But with only 155 survivors plucked from the water almost 24 hours after the disaster, there were fears that the final toll could rise significantly higher in what is one of the worst migrant tragedies to strike the Mediterranean in recent years.
“Two motorboats remained in the area overnight and this morning divers resumed work but we expect to recover more than a hundred [more] bodies from the ship,” coast guard official Floriana Segreto told Reuters.
Meanwhile, a ferry arrived early on Friday with a truck carrying about 100 coffins and four hearses for the dead, who are now lined up along the floor of a hangar at the airport.
“Seeing the bodies of the children was a tragedy,” Pietro Bartolo, a local doctor, told the AFP news agency. “In many years of work here, I have never seen anything like this,” he said.
‘A European tragedy’
Italy is one of the most common destinations for refugees trying to reach Europe from northern Africa and the Middle East.
According to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, 8,400 migrants landed in Italy and Malta in the first six months of this year, almost double the 4,500 who arrived during the first half of 2012.
Migrants frequently head for Lampedusa, just 113 km (70 miles) from the coast of Tunisia, and are often found in dangerously overcrowded boats before being taken ashore by the Italian coastguard.
There have mean numerous accidents involving migrant boats attempting to reach Italy and last year almost 500 people were reported dead or missing on the route between Sicily and Tunisia, according to UN figures.
Italy has pressed the EU for more help to fight the crisis, which it says concerns the entire 28-nation bloc.
“This is not an Italian tragedy, this is a European tragedy,” said Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano on Thursday.
“Lampedusa has to be considered the frontier of Europe, not the frontier of Italy.”
The EU’s Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroemn called on EU countries to do more to take in refugees, which she said would help reduce the number of perilous Mediterranean crossings.
A redoubling of efforts is needed to “fight smugglers exploiting human despair”, she said in a tweet.
‘These deaths did not need to happen’
Meanwhile, repressive policy towards illegal immigrants by Italy and other European countries could have also contributed to the tragedy, a UN official said Thursday.
François Crepeau, the UN’s special rapporteur on migrants’ rights, said that by closing their borders to refugees, European countries are only giving more power to human traffickers.
“Treating irregular migrants only by repressive measures would create these tragedies,” he told reporters. “These deaths did not need to happen.”
In Italy, migrants can work legally only if they have a work permit and a contract before they arrive – a policy pushed through by Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League party.
Migrants who arrive in Lampedusa are processed in centres, screened for asylum and often sent back home.
Crepeau was speaking at the start of a two-day debate at the UN General Assembly on international migration.
At the start of the debate, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his “deep condolences” and said he hoped the Lampedusa tragedy would be a “spur to action.”
The UN chief said protecting migrants’ rights, fighting against exploitation and improving the public perception of migrants were all crucial.
Pope Francis, who visited the island in July on his first papal trip outside Rome, also expressed his sadness over the incident.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘shame’,” Francis said in unscripted remarks after a speech in the Vatican. “Let us unite our strengths so that such tragedies never happen again.”
On Friday, Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta called for a national day of mourning and a minute of silence to be held in all schools to mark the tragedy.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
From When the Crisis hit the Fan
A new type of civil war
posted on 18 September 2013
I’m getting fed up of these numb mornings. I usually wake up in the morning, I prepare my coffee and sit on my computer to read the news and check the newspaper headlines. This morning my entire electronic universe was filled with the story 34-year old rapper Killah P (known as Pavlos Fyssas) who was killed by a fascist in Amfiali, Keratsini district, near Piraeus.
The victim, a singer known in the area for his anti-fascist lyrics and activism, was watching last night’s Champions League match with his friends at a coffee shop. During one of their discussions they said something (bad) about Golden Dawn. Someone from the crowd, obviously a Golden Dawn member (not just a voter), has called his fellow neonazi thugs and, after the match, the singer was ambushed, attacked and stabbed to death in front of his girlfriend and another couple.
Here’s one of his songs (you can activate English captions for the lyrics).
Can you be something less than immensely furious about this? I can’t.
Some days ago, another group of about 50 neonazi thugs have attacked a team of 30 communists who were wheatpasting on walls posters for the coming Communist Youth Festival. Eight communists were injured in the event that also took place near Piraeus, at Perama district. It was, once more, one of those mornings.
To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect a serious escalation of anti-leftist violence from Golden Dawn, despite the stated hatred from both sides. There was a very popular quote that was often appearing in my facebook timeline:
First they came for the immigrants, but I wasn’t an immigrant and I didn’t speak. Then they came for the communists, but I wasn’t a communist…
I was quickly scrolling down when I’d see this. But I am now afraid that the violence between Golden Dawn and anything Leftist is not an accidental confrontation in a battle to claim the streets but a rise in planned incidents.
One year ago, Golden Dawn MP Ilias Panayotaros has given an interview to BBC’s Paul Mason. Sitting comfortably, he said that Greece is in a state of civil war. Paul Mason, a connoisseur of modern Greek History, insisted on the phrase “civil war” and Panayotaros explained:
Greek society is ready, even though no one likes it, to have a fight, a new type of civil war. One the one side there will be nationalists, like us and Greeks who want our country to be as it used to be and on the other side there will be illegal immigrants and anarchists…
Watch the video here (go to 01:55 for the Panayotaros segment)
Last week Golden Dawn was involved in tension during two events that commemorated some ugly moments of the Greek Civil War. One was at Meligalas and the other was at Giannitsa. There were no immigrants involved, just leftists and nationalists.
There have been hundreds of attacks against immigrants, leftists, homosexuals and others and the Golden Dawn party has always denied involvement. There was never a denouncing of the event itself because there were seldom enough proofs (for Justice) to incriminate them. This morning, the killer of Pavlos Fyssas has been arrested and, unofficial police sources say that, he was a supporter of Golden Dawn. Was he an official member? Does it make a difference? Of course not. He was definitely a member of a circle of thugs who have answered the phone call at the coffee shop before the end of the football match.
Not only the killer himself has now blood in his hands. The person who made the phone call also has blood in hands. Golden Dawn MPs, like Panayotaros, who have used hate speech against all non-nationalists, who have made anything they could to polarize the Greek society, they all have blood in their hands. And all those who have voted for Golden Dawn should now feel the thick red liquid in their hands too.
The Golden Dawn ballot is now wet and it’s not black anymore. It’s bloody red.
Update: I just found this great poster made back in 2012 by b-positive:
“You’ve armed their hands with your vote”
H/t: Roger McCarthy
Frost v Powell, 1969
Originally scheduled for 39 minutes, this 1969 interview with Enoch Powell was allowed to continue for a further 20 minutes during the live broadcast as the TV producers realised that something exceptional and absolutely gripping was taking place.
It starts politely – amiably even - but the tone soon changes as Frost attempts to pin down the old racist on matters of straightforward fact. Essential viewing, especially for those who’ve only seen Frost in his later, smug and pompous, incarnation. Put aside an hour for this extraordinary encounter:
As marchers assemble in Washington to honour the memory of Martin Luther King and the continuing relevance of the 1963 March For Jobs and Freedom, the US Socialist Worker (once, but no longer, affiliated to the UK SWP), has published this important report:
Taking our struggles to Washington
Elizabeth Schulte, Laura Lising, Gaston Lau and Ann Coleman report on local organizing for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
BY AUGUST 1963, brave civil rights struggles across the U.S. South had thrust the ugly face of Jim Crow segregation–symbolized by the scenes of police attacking Black children with German shepherds and high-pressure fire hoses in Birmingham, Ala.–into the national consciousness.
For many participants, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented a coming together of the different battles for civil rights, as well as many people inspired by those struggles. The unexpected and unprecedented turnout of some 250,000 people showed the reach of the movement.
On the 50th anniversary of the famous march where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the situation is different, of course. We aren’t witnessing the crest of a mass movement. In fact, many of the gains of the civil rights struggles of half a century ago, like legalized desegregation in public schools and housing, are being eroded. And thanks to the popularity of the idea that we are living in a “post-racial society”–as evidenced by the fact that an African American occupies the White House–opponents of racism often find themselves struggling to push the conditions that Black America endures into the national spotlight.
But the murder of Trayvon Martin last year gave a clear picture of racism in “post-racial” America–and the outpouring of anger after his murderer George Zimmerman was acquitted in July showed the potential for protest, even if they were relatively short-lived. As a result, what might have been mostly a commemoration of the 1963 march 50 years on has taken on a new spirit and urgency.
At least some people will come to Washington this year to speak out about the often localized civil rights issues of today that they have been organizing around–against stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, against police violence and the New Jim Crow, for jobs and union rights, for housing and education justice, against voter ID laws and disenfranchisement, against the relentless austerity agenda.
The August 24 march represents the first time in many years that established civil rights organizations like the NAACP and National Action Network (NAN) have called for a national mobilization and put real resources behind it. Unions have taken up the call–around 15 unions have endorsed officially, including the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME and the United Auto Workers.
The weight of established liberal organizations in the official apparatus of the demonstration means that some of burning issues on marchers’ minds will be addressed from the speakers’ podium, but others will not. After all, many march organizers like Rev. Al Sharpton of NAN have so far failed to criticize the Obama administration, despite how little it has delivered for Black America.
But the same was true of the 1963 March on Washington, at least as radicals of the day, like Malcolm X, viewed it. Yet the 1963 demonstration is remembered not only for the famous words spoken from the front of the demonstration, but for the spirit and determination of the demonstrators.
There’s no way to tell how many people will attend this year, but reports from around the country indicate the march is inspiring more people to get on the bus than anyone expected a few months ago. In some cities, organizers say spaces on buses are selling out fast.
Lauren Byers of the University of Florida chapter of the Dream Defenders, a group of antiracist youths who occupied the Florida Capitol for a month after Zimmerman’s acquittal, said, “We are named after that historic speech by Dr. King, and we understand that the dream he died trying to accomplish has yet to flourish into reality.”
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IN NEW York City, buses are filling up fast. The United Federation of Teachers booked some 25 buses, and the seats were quickly taken.
Many longtime criminal justice activists are traveling as a group from New York and marching together with the formerly incarcerated and other longtime activists. Anti-criminal justice system activist and socialist Lee Wengraf said she was excited about how march organizing is drawing together people around issues of solitary confinement, conditions at the prison on Rikers Island, police brutality and other similar issues.
Constance Malcolm is one of them. She’s the mother of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by New York City police in his home. Since her son’s murder, Constance and her family have fought for justice for their son, along with the families of other victims of police violence. Last week, a grand jury refused to re-indict the police officer who killed Ramarley.
Constance explained the importance of attending this march:
We want to go to Washington because this is where Eric Holder, the head of Justice Department, is. We want him to take up Ramarley’s case–not just look into it, but take up this case. We want them to know who Ramarley is in Washington. The same way that Trayvon Martin became a household name, we need them to know that Ramarley was here. It was a police officer who murdered Ramarley, and Zimmerman was a wannabe police officer.
The everyday racism of the NYPD were in the national spotlight last week when a federal judge ruled in Floyd et al v. the City of New York that the department’s stop-and-frisk policy violated the constitutional rights of its hundreds of thousands of victims each year. The cracks in the criminal justice system are showing.
Joseph “Jazz” Hayden of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow in New York City explains that if activists are going to win this fight, we’re going to have to push forward our own demands:
The people initiating this march, I don’t know that we should be restricted to their agenda. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were products of mass demonstrations. The movement brought into question U.S. foreign policy around the globe–whether it was about democracy and fairness and human rights.
With that in mind, I looked at the Floyd decision that was just rendered in New York against stop-and-frisk and the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that he wants to reform federal sentencing laws and mandatory minimums. I think the Obama administration is aware of this mass population of predominately people of color descending on Washington. I think that has our first Black president concerned.
I think that these are incremental reforms–giving the appearance of moving in the right direction and finally recognizing the issues that impact poor people of color, which he has ignore totally throughout his administration. This march should be done for the purpose of holding their feet to the fire. We need to ask why haven’t they addressed the issue of mass incarceration in the U.S., of growing poverty, lack of affordable housing.
Moreover, said Hayden, the march is an opportunity to make connections toward building a national movement. “We saw the grassroots response to the Trayvon Martin decision, which led to demonstrations in over 100 cities across the country. Imagine if we were organized in 100 cities across the country. Anytime we decided we wanted to put something on the national agenda, we could put it out there instantly.”
Yusef Salaam of the Central Park Five–innocent Black youth who were framed for a high-profile rape and assault in 1989–spoke to the demands of the original march that remain unmet:
I think we can be sure that we are still in need of Jobs and Freedom, which are inclusive of our civil and economic rights. The progress we need isn’t satisfied by piecemeal gains for a few, but requires advancement for all. Marching lets the world know we are still at odds with a system that refuses to allow for this gain to take place.
Enough is enough! I want a brighter future for us and future generations, as I’m sure our predecessors wanted for us. As a member of the Central Park Five, I know all too well what it means to wear skin of a darker hue in a system that sees it as beneath them and as a tool of exploitation. Enough is enough!
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IN CHICAGO, activists organizing to attend the march are drawing the connection between the 1963 march’s demand for “Jobs and Freedom” with the unfinished fight for economic and racial justice today. At a meeting at the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, activists invited attendees to join their Chicago Labor Freedom Riders caravan.
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary Michael Brunson began the meeting by talking about the real legacy of the civil rights movement:
It was not until I did studying on my own that I learned how deeply concerned Martin Luther King was with the issue of labor. He not only spoke about it, but you must never forget that he lost his life when he went down to Memphis to stand with sanitation workers. So like the memory of the march, the memory of Martin Luther King himself has been condensed, circumscribed and sanitized.
Dr. Timuel Black, a 94-year-old veteran Chicago teacher and labor activist, described his own education as an activist:
Watching my father and his peers as they began to participate in union activities of United Steel Workers and later the United Packinghouse workers, I began to learn that in unity, there is strength…We began to organize…and we could tell the people that controlled the jobs: If you don’t hire us at a decent wage, we’re going to put you out of business.
Black attended the March on Washington in 1963, and when he got back, he helped organize a successful boycott movement in the Chicago Public Schools to demand equal education for Black children.
Brandon Johnson of the CTU’s Black Caucus explained how the gains in the fight for public education in the 1960s are being undermined today:
This attack on public education is very much an attack on Black labor. Public education and public-sector jobs are overwhelmingly held by Blacks, women in particular. So these conversations about privatization of public education are very much a threat to the working class, to middle-class Black families…
We have to make sure that the conversation about public education, housing, transportation and so on isn’t separated from racial, social and economic justice.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that guts the 1965 Voting Rights Act, seven Southern states have passed or implemented new restrictions that target people of color. This was very much on the mind of Martese Chism, a registered nurse at Cook County Hospital and member of National Nurses United.
Chism told the story of how her great grandmother Birdia, along with fellow Charleston, Miss., Freedom Riders, traveled to Jackson, Miss., in 1965 to give testimony at a voting rights hearing, despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. “On the way back home, just outside of Greenwood, Miss., their car was forced off the road,” she said. The women were removed from the car, marched to the edge of the wood and killed, and their bodies were mutilated. As Chism said:
Fifty years later, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that Birdia and Miss Hamlet testified in support of has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court…Striking down the 1965 Voting Rights Act is like striking down hypertension medicine for a hypertension patient…We are riding for my great grandmother Birdia, for the schoolteacher Miss Hamlet…and for Main Street. Get on the bus.
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IN BOSTON, back in 1963, organizers were only able to provide one bus to go to the March on Washington, and most people who wanted to go had to find their own way there. This year, the Boston branch of the NAACP is organizing four buses for the march.
At a meeting in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood on August 15, victims of police violence spoke about why the August 24 march was an opportunity for individual campaigns against police violence, led mostly by family members, to connect with other organizations and individuals to lay the basis for future organizing efforts.
Wayne Dozier is the grandfather of DJ Henry, a 20-year-old Pace University student who was shot through the windshield of his car by a Mount Pleasant, N.Y., officer in 2010. Through the family’s organizing efforts, it has been revealed that police conspired to lie about what happened the night Henry was killed.
After sharing the story of his grandson, Dozier pointed to a pin for Ramarley Graham on his shirt. He wears the pin to remind him that our struggles are connected, and that judges and courts from Boston to California support police violence. “March on Washington with a new cause and sense of purpose,” he said. “We need to question why we have more Black men in prison today than we had slaves in 1850.”
In May, Anwar Luckman was riding his bike when Brookline police surrounded him, causing him to crash, and then pepper sprayed and handcuffed him. Now, Anwar is facing up to $700 in fines or two-and-a-half years of prison. “It has to be a collective effort,” Anwar said. “We need different shades and shapes of people so we can’t be overlooked.”
Other attendees at the 75-person meeting included Carla Sheffield, mother of Bo (Burrell) Ramsey-White, a 26-year-old who was murdered by Boston police in August 2012, as well as mothers from Legacy Lives On, a nonprofit for family members who have lost loved ones to homicide or street violence.
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IN WASHINGTON, D.C., networks of activists have come together over issues related to criminal justice and are planning a special feeder march for the August 24 demonstration.
The activists first connected at an event celebrating the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland in May, which brought together former death row prisoners, antiracist activists, death row lawyers and people who have been part of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other criminal justice activism.
Afterward, a handful of people started meeting to discuss launching a new campaign, building on the changed political climate following the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia in 2011 and the popularity of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
When George Zimmerman was acquitted in July, activists organized rallies, meetings and speak-outs. When a report was released revealing rampant racial profiling in D.C., activists organized a press conference linking the struggle for justice for Trayvon Martin and an end to racial profiling by police. There, they called for a rally and march on the morning of August 24, which would then link up with the 50th Anniversary march.
Momentum for the feeder rally and march has been building, say organizers, with a packed forum on August 15 where community members spoke out about their treatment at the hands of the D.C. police. TeOnna Ross, who was distributing flyers the weekend before the rally, said:
As people of color, we know we can’t trust the police, and we teach our children to watch out for them. But the statistics in the report made the issues come to light in a new way. The report and the forum and the rally are all ways to pull people into this struggle against racial profiling.
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ON THE West Coast, activists are organizing their own actions on August 24 to coincide with the March on Washington.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, working-class Blacks, Latinos and Asians are being pushed out of the city centers and into suburban ghettos. Over the last 30 years, the Black population of San Francisco has fallen from 14 percent of the population to 4 percent.
Between 2008 and 2012 alone, 1,465 homes in one of the last remaining Black neighborhoods, the Bayview neighborhood, faced foreclosure–84 percent of which have been conducted illegally. As gentrification spreads across the Bay, the Black population in Oakland has dropped by a quarter over the past decade.
In the face of the housing crisis, the city of Oakland has increased its police department budget by $90 million since 2001. The priorities are clear, and the plight of Black and working-class people have been once again put off to the side.
In response, members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unions and Bay Area Black Worker Center have organized a solidarity action for August 24 in Mosswood Park, a historic meeting place for the Black Panthers.
Organizing efforts have been drawing together different pockets of anti-racist forces. For example, the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP has voted to endorse the August 24 action. The organizing has also incorporated younger community members, such as students from the University of California-Berkeley Black Student Union.
Local activists hope that efforts like these that will lead to future struggle and lay the ground for an ongoing fight against racism.
As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and that “I have a dream” speech by Martin Luther King, it seems right to bring you some of the music that sustained the civil rights movement in the sixties – and beyond.
This selection is by Nick Morrison of NPR, as are the brief comments:
I Wish I knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free) – Nina Simone
Of the many musicians who used their music to advance the cause of civil rights, Nina Simone was one of the most passionate, most outspoken and most gifted. Although many of her civil rights era songs had their origins earlier in the 20th century, this song was written in 1967 by noted jazz pianist and educator Dr Billy Taylor (along with Dick Dallas), and was recorded by Simone that same year. It quickly became one of the musical mainstays of the movement.
Selma March – Grant Green
The march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., took place in March 1965. Today, some people tend to forget that there were two failed attempts to make the journey earlier that month. The first march ended in bloodshed, while the second was met with a restraining order. That ruling was quickly overturned and, on March 21, Dr King began the historic four-day march. Five months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This jubilant instrumental by jazz guitarist Grant Green seems to reflect the jubilation surrounding the Selma march’s completion. A 1965 recording, it also features Harold Vick (sax), Larry Young (organ), Ben Dixon (drums) and Candido Camero (congas).
We Shall Overcome – Larry Goldings
Many people, when asked to name a song that encapsulates the civil rights movement, will pick “We Shall Overcome.” It was, indeed, the movement’s theme song, sung by countless people all over the world. That’s how we often think of the song: large groups of people gathered together, singing it as they struggle against mighty odds. Pianist Larry Goldings, however, gives us a different view of this classic. Accompanied only by trumpeter (actually, he’s on cornet – JD) John Sneider, Goldings turns “We Shall Overcome” into a wistful, intimate and moving meditation.
This Little Light of Mine – Sam Cooke
Folklorist and activist Zilphia Horton did a wonderful thing when she introduced this children’s gospel song to the civil rights movement in the 1950s. Vocalist Sam Cooke did something equally wonderful, and much more amazing. He took this song that people were singing at sit-ins and marches and brought it into America’s toniest nightclubs, putting the music of The Movement in front of an audience that probably didn’t spend much time at sit-ins and marches. Cooke performed this joyful and uplifting version of “the Little Light Of Mine” in 1964 in New York’s Copacabana.
Lift Every Voice And Sing – Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff
[No Youtube clip available, so click here]
In 1919, this song (by James and John Johnson) was adopted by the NAACP as “The Negro National Anthem.” Its resonance in the civil rights movement is indisputable and, like all of the songs in this brief overview, it remains an incredibly moving piece of music today. This soulful instrumental version by alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, with his long-time musical partner and organist Jimmy McGriff, is one of the best. Prepare to be taken to the river.
Above: Dawkins interviewed by devout Muslim Mehdi Hasan earlier this year
In case you missed it, Richard Dawkins caused a minor row last week with some comments he tweeted about Muslims, viz:
“All the world’s Muslims have fewer Noble Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”
The twitter storm that followed included comparisons between Dawkins and David Irving and the suggestion that he be ‘no platformed’ as a racist.
Dawkins defended himself by pointing out that his comments about Muslims’ lack of (recent) scientific achievement is simply a statement of fact, and that Islamism is a belief, not a form of ethnicity. Both those points are plainly true and the suggestion that Dawkins is any kind of racist is plainly nonsense.
Nevertheless, his comments about Muslims (as opposed to other religious people) are worrying, and the reason isn’t difficult to fathom: