Above: the explanation?
All too predicatably, the usual suspects have rushed to explain the Woolwich killing by means of the so-called ‘blowback‘ argument (utilised with varying degrees of obvious gloating). Comrade Clive dealt with this back in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 7/7 bombings. Obviously, the 7/7 attacks were somewhat different to what happened in Woolwich (though it seems likely that the Woolwich perpetrators intended to commit ‘suicide by police’), but I think Clive’s essential case remains incontrovertible – JD:
‘Blowback’: a banal non-explanation
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islmists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Remind you of anything?
This, for instance:
Socialist Worker, Sat 15 Sep 2001
The full horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Tuesday who was responsible. If it was people from the Middle East it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the US and other governments. The tragic scenes in New York and Washington are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the US state.
US president George Bush spoke of terrorist outrages on Tuesday. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. Ten years ago his father sent hundreds of US planes to bomb Iraqi civilians night after night during the Gulf War. They killed over 100,000 civilians and conscripts—’collateral damage’ in the US’s war for oil.
Two years ago the US and NATO bombed towns and cities in Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that bombs were about to drop on them as did those who died in the US this week. And the US, backed by Tony Blair, imposes a murderous embargo on the people of Iraq, backed by frequent bombing raids.
In Israel the US supports Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Israel has murdered over 600 Palestinians in the 11 months of the intifada (uprising). Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to turning a hijacked airliner into a suicide bomb instead. It is not a method that can break US power. Some military officials would have suffered from the explosion at the Pentagon. But many more innocent civilians were killed in New York and Washington. Tuesday’s suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
“As usual, the limits of selective empathy, the rush to blame Muslims, and the exploitation of fear all instantly emerge”
The title of the present post, and the opening quote both come directly from a piece written by one Glenn Greenwald that appeared on the Guardian‘s website on Tuesday 16 April. That’s just one day after the bombings.
Now, I don’t know anything about Mr Greenwald beyond the fact that he’s billed as “a columnist for Guardian US” and seems to be a fairly typical Guardianista: invertebrate- liberal, knee-jerk anti-American, routinely anti-Israeli, generally ignorant and probably quite well-meaning at a personal level. Sort of a Gary Younge without the intelligence and/or a Seumas Milne without the rank hypocrisy.
For a start, Greenwald’s claim that there was a “rush to blame Muslims” after the bombings (in a post he wrote just hours after the attacks!) is simply incorrect. Certainly the Obama administration didn’t do that: they warned against “jumping to conclusions” and didn’t even use the word “terrorism” in their initial reactions. There were suggestions in the media, largely as a result of premature and irresponsible social media speculation, that a Saudi national was involved. This man turned out to have been an innocent victim, but speculation about his possible involvement (mainly in the New York Times) hardly amounts to what Greenwald describes as “The rush, one might say eagerness, to conclude that the attackers were Muslim [which was] palpable and unseemly, even without any real evidence.”
Greenwald is on somewhat stronger ground with his point about “selective empathy”:
“The widespread compassion for yesterday’s victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers.”
Of course it is true that the western media gives far more coverage to killings that take place ’at home’ than they do to comparable outrages elsewhere. Greenwald seems to suggest that this is the result of simple hypocrisy and possibly (though he doesn’t use the word), racism. At a certain level, it’s hard to disagree: an innocent victim (especially when it’s a child) should count the same whether he or she’s died as a result of a terrorist outrage in America or a US airstrike in Afghanistan.
But Greenwald fatally undermines his own case (insofar as he has a coherent case) by pointing out something that is undeniably and self-evidently true:
“There’s nothing wrong per se with paying more attention to tragedy and violence that happens relatively nearby and in familiar places. Whether wrong or not, it’s probably human nature, or at least human instinct, to do that, and it happens all over the world. I’m not criticising that. But one wishes that the empathy for victims and outrage over the ending of innocent life that instantly arises when the US is targeted by this sort of violence would at least translate into similar concern when the US is perpetuating it, as it so often does (far, far more often than it is targeted by such violence).”
So what point is Greenwald trying to make? If it’s simply an appeal to all those outraged by what happened in Boston to also consider the innocent victims of US military adventures abroad, then fair enough: no-one here at ‘Shiraz’ would argue with that. But I can’t help thinking that Greenwald really wants to go further than that, and what he’s really trying to say is something put much more bluntly by Lindsey German of ‘Stop The War’ and ‘Counterfire’:
“[I]t is not hard to conclude that western lives are valued much more highly than those of people in Afghanistan or the Middle East, and that bombs in the middle of major US cities are regarded as more newsworthy than those in the Afghan countryside or in Baghdad…Whatever the truth about this latest bombing, the continued refusal to acknowledge the widespread grievances against the US and its allies caused by the wars and US policies in the Middle East will lead to turmoil until solutions are found.”
Now that, I think you’ll agree, spells things out rather more plainly than Greenwald managed, or perhaps, dared: German is, essentially, saying ‘the US had it coming and deserves it.’
If you think that’s a bit unfair on Ms German, then remember: she and her partner, Mr John Rees, were effectively running the SWP at the time of the 9/11 attacks, when Socialist Worker‘s headline was “Horror in the United States: Bitter fruit of US policy”, and the de facto SWP ‘line’ (I know this from first-hand observation at Birmingham Trades Council, the Socialist Alliance and elsewhere) was to celebrate and gloat.
Look, comrades, it aught to be obvious: the lives of innocent American civilians are not worth more than anyone else’s: but neither are they worth any less.
NB: Greenwald has a new piece in today’s Graun objecting to the use of the word “terrorism” as anti-Muslim. It seems to me to be incoherent gibberish, but if anyone can explain it to me I’d be grateful. I may return to this latest piece shortly.
From the AWL’s website and their paper, Solidarity:
By Martin Thomas
Solidarity has criticised the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) on its handling of allegations of sexual harassment and then of rape brought by a young woman member of the SWP against leading SWP organiser Martin Smith.
The SWP leadership’s approach, over two years and more, was to steer as near as it could to bureaucratic brush-off. The case is not closed: the woman involved should have the option of an independent investigation by labour movement people unconnected with the SWP and with some legal qualifications.
Some on the left have attempted to “no platform” the SWP — for example, shouting down speakers on demonstrations who are SWP members. We disagree. The SWP must be confronted politically, not “no platformed”.
The Glasgow protest against the bedroom tax at Easter, several thousand strong and the largest such demonstration in Britain, was disrupted by people (mainly young women) trying to shout down an SWP speaker. Some were violently harassed by SWP stewards, who told them to “go back to their rape demo”, and attempted to get the police to remove them.
The SWP speaker was Dave Sherry, a member of the SWP Disputes Committee. We understand why people object to someone so complicit in the SWP leadership’s handling of the issue.
But shouting down SWP speakers, even Disputes Committee members, will not improve the culture of our movement, or make it more safe and welcoming for women.
In Scotland, some members or ex-members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) have an added edge to their anger against the SWP because of memories of the destructive 2006 split in SWP, when the SWP sided with Tommy Sheridan.
At a demonstration in York on 6 April, anarchists and Maoist-Stalinists harassed SWPers and in one case spat at an SWPer. An AWL activist running for election in a Unison branch recently was denounced by some because her supporters in the election included SWPers. One union branch has voted not to affiliate to the West of Scotland anti-bedroom-tax campaign on the sole grounds that the SWP has influence in it. Some union branches have seen moves to oust SWPers from office.
The shouting-down and spitting disrupt the labour and socialist movement rather than helping it develop a better culture on issues of women’s rights and gender violence. Often, in unions, such responses will play into the hands of the right wing, which has no better attitude or record than the SWP on women’s rights. A union branch which disaffiliates from a broad campaign because of SWP influence is less, not more, able to make that campaign hospitable for women.
Some of those wanting to “no platform” the SWP learned this approach in the SWP itself, which has a long habit of trying to deal with political issues by anathemas and exclusions.
The International Socialist Group (ISG) in Scotland was formed by people who split from the SWP only in early 2011 (when the Smith scandal was already brewing: there is no evidence that the people now in the ISG did anything specially good on the issue when they were in the SWP).
The SWP’s own approach is now coming back on them. For example, the SWP and the AWL disagree on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The AWL argues that a workable and democratic settlement must recognise the rights to self-determination of both nations, Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews, and must therefore be a “two states” formula (a real one, not the Israeli government’s hypocritical “two states”, meaning all power to Israel and parcellised bantustans for the Palestinians). The SWP argues that justice for the Palestinians can be achieved only by conquering Israel and subsuming its people into an Arab state.
We’ve seen the SWP, not in an over-excited outburst by some young activist but in an official letter signed by Alex Callinicos, hyping this up into an absurd claim that the AWL “supports the Israeli state’s terror against the Palestinian people”. The outrage is selective: the SWP is relaxed about cooperating with people who really do support the Chinese state’s repression of the people of Tibet. The hype serves not to give due urgency to debate, but to replace it by curses (“Zionists!” “racists!”).
The ISG writes that the way the SWP handled the scandal “replicated the culture of… rape apologism”. On the streets, that translates into broadside denunciation of SWPers as “rape apologists”.
There is a reasonable case for the labour movement and the left not accepting Martin Smith, in particular, as an organiser and a representative until some better tribunal than the SWP Disputes Committee has delivered a verdict. And, in fact, despite protesting that Smith remains “in good standing”, the SWP CC has quietly pulled him out of public organising roles.
The investigation by the SWP’s Disputes Committee, all of whose members knew Smith well, was unsatisfactory. But the wider left is even less equipped to deliver a verdict than the SWP’s Disputes Committee was. Smith, like any other similarly accused, should be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Something like half the active SWP membership came out in one degree or another of opposition to the SWP Central Committee’s handling of the case.
Other SWPers backed the CC because, despite everything, they believed the Disputes Committee. Or because they were persuaded by the Central Committee’s cursing of its critics as feminists who had ceased to look to the working class, or as semi-anarchists. Such wrong attitudes do not make them “rape apologists”. Their attitudes can be changed by serious argument, not by shouting and spitting, and not by tactics which help the right wing.
The self-righteousness of the ISG does no service to women’s rights. As well as criticising the SWP, the AWL has also attempted self-examination. How would we have dealt with similar allegations in our own organisation? Even the best political positions and education programmes are no guarantee against individual abuse. Do we have strong enough safeguards against the sort of lower-grade wrongdoing which seems to have formed the background to the Smith scandal: older activists using their “prestige” in political activity for sexual advantage with young members and contacts?
Attempts to “no platform” the SWP cut against that sort of self-examination and against the rational argument — sharp and angry where necessary — by which alone the labour movement can progress.
Russian soldiers entering Germany at the end of World War Two raped as many as two million German women. In east Berlin some 100,000 women were raped, and up to 10,000 died as a result (Antony Beevor: Berlin: The Downfall). Communist Party activists across the world denied these facts or tried to explain them away. Trotskyists vehemently criticised the CPs, but they still sought to work with rank-and-file CP workers in the labour movement where there was common ground, and to re-educate them.
In 2001 the SWP openly “explained away” the Taliban’s abuse of women in Afghanistan (SW, 6 October 2001). The AWL criticised the SWP, but did not rally against the SWP in any way that could help the “bomb Afghanistan” brigade, then in full flood after the Twin Towers atrocity. We sought to discuss with and convince SWP members of the wrongness of their politics.
We should be criticising, debating with, and politically confronting the SWP in an attempt to persuade activists and clean up the culture of our movement.
“With the Korean War, passions in The Club became more aroused and after a vote on Birmingham Trades Council in which Cliff’s supporters, including Percy Downey, voted for a neutral, third campist, position they were expelled en masse from The Club. Cliff himself, being a member of the almost non-existent Irish section of the FI, could not be expelled. The final result of these events was the foundation of the Socialist Review Group organised around the magazine of the same name” - Wikipedia
“‘The War in Korea’ appeared in the second issue of the group’s duplicated paper, Socialist Review, in January 1951. It should finally nail the lie that the organisation ‘supported the Americans in Korea’. Incidentally, it should be noted that, at the time it appeared, the FI position, as determined by world congress decision, was that North Korea was one of the states about which it had been resolved: ‘The capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in war time.’ This fact did not prevent the British section of the FI from giving uncritical support to the Stalinist propaganda machine during the Korean war” - Duncan Hallas, introduction to The Origins of the International Socialists, August 1971.
SW said that North Korea’s nuclear weapons tests have “nothing to do with anti-imperialism or socialism“.
However, it declared the North Korean government not to blame for those tests. All the blame lies with the US and its allies.
SW said that North Korea is “a nuclear bogeyman created by the US“. SW cannot mean to say that North Korea really has no nuclear weapons (i.e. the story that it has them has been manufactured by the US). It cannot mean to say that the North Korean government is controlled by the US, and carrying out nuclear tests only because the US tells it to.
It seems to mean that the US is so aggressive towards North Korea that North Korea somehow has no choice but to stage nuclear tests. “North Korea’s third nuclear test was a direct result of bullying by South Korea, the US and Japan”.
The UN Security Council had increased sanctions against North Korea because of a previous rocket launch. The US and South Korean government had warned of further action.
This allegedly means that: “North Korea’s nuclear weapons and rockets are ‘monsters’ created by US imperialism“.
How? Let’s concede that the US has adopted an aggressive tone towards North Korea. It’s mild stuff compared to what the US has done over the decades in central America. If North Korea has developed nuclear weapons, and the central American countries haven’t, it is a matter of the North Korean government’s choice, not of compulsion.
SW’s argument here seems like their argument that Islamist terrorism, though not exactly what SWP members would want to see in their own front rooms, is an inevitable response to US misdeeds in the Middle East, so inevitable that people like those who bombed the World Trade Centre should not be condemned.
Why then haven’t the peoples of Central America been “forced” into Catholic-fundamentalist terrorism? For that matter, why haven’t workers in the US itself been “forced” into systematic bombing of civilian targets by the exploitation to which US bosses subject them?
SW continues: “The US demonisation of North Korea is part of its strategy to maintain hegemony in East Asia… There is even talk of supporting regime change in North Korea“.
The US State Department declares officially that “outstanding problems includ[e] the North’s attempts to develop a nuclear program and human rights abuses”. Facts about North Korea do not cease to be facts if the US government repeats them.
The SW article nowhere mentions the totalitarian and exploitative regime in North Korea, or its denial of all workers’ rights.
The issue on which the forerunners of the SWP first separated from other (“orthodox”) Trotskyists was that in 1950 they refused to consider the Korean war as simply an attack by the US on innocent North Korea, and insisted that Stalinism was also playing an imperialistic role in Korea.
At that time the Stalinist regime in North Korea (as far as can be guessed) had sizeable popular support. Why rally to the defence of its raddled and corrupt successor in 2013?
Presumably, to now re-write their own history and renounce, once and for all, the “third camp” politics that was their original, defining, characteristic. Professor Callinicos really believes that Tony Cliff got it wrong over the Korean war and James P. Cannon, Ted Grant, Gerry Healy and the ISFI (“orthodox” Trotskyists) got it right.
A very unfortunate and, it seems, very nasty confrontation between SWP stewards and anti-rape campaigners at the Bedroom Tax demo in Glasgow yesterday. This footage isn’t, perhaps, conclusive proof of SWP culpability, so we’d appreciate comments from anyone who was there.
The person who took the film and posted it on Youtube, writes: “i should make it clear, i only got my camera out after the stewards started to push people back and started all this off, i hadn’t gone intending to record anything, just show my opposition to the bedroom tax.”
H/t: Mod and Jelly (an unlikely pair…)
Guest post from Alex Callinicos:
I have to offer some corrections to a piece by Jim Denham, who has omitted some significant passages from my missive to the Organizing Committee of the Historical Materialism conference in India.
I understand of course how important the issue of rape and sexual violence is in India, especially after last December’s gang rape and murder in Delhi. It is also a very important question in Britain, and for me personally, as it is for the Socialist Workers Party. We are strongly committed to women’s liberation. We took the rape allegations against a leading member extremely seriously; the controversy over how the party handled these allegations is indicative of that seriousness.
The next paragraphs should read:-
Furthermore, our experience of dealing with rape allegations is invaluable. We have much to offer in models of procedure for how the gang rape incident in Delhi should be treated. We have developed a revolutionary method whereby some friends of the accused hold a private inquiry on whether they are guilty or innocent. If I can employ the loaded term “common sense”, who is more likely to know if someone is guilty of a crime than his long term comrades?
In the unlikely event an accused person is found guilty he should not be allowed to use that particular bus-line for a year.
We have followed this procedure for all charges of rape, sexual assault or harassment in our Party for decades now, and we can confidently assert that we have eliminated these evils totally. Similar procedures could be implemented in Delhi. It will soon lose its reputation as an unsafe city for women, especially when all those who object publicly to our failsafe methods are banished from the city or incarcerated.
Comrade Denham has seen fit to pass over these constructive suggestions for a revolutionary process of eliminating sexual violence within our society.
Jim Denham then quotes:-
This is to say nothing of the personal inconvenience and expense you are exposing me to by withdrawing your invitation a week after you had circulated a programme that included me as chairing one session and speaking at another, and barely a week before I was due to fly to India.
However again he has been highly selective in his quotation, omitting a further passage:-
I have had three different jabs for this impending trip, which have caused me considerable discomfort, I’ve stocked up on anti-malaria tablets, which aren’t cheap, and I had a nice little beach-break in Goa tacked on at the end of the conference.
I can only conclude that Denham’s selective quotations and omissions are through sectarian malice.
[NB: more from Redfriars and its Acting Headmaster Stallinicos, here]