The sheer humanity of Oliver Sacks

August 31, 2015 at 10:52 am (good people, humanism, Jim D, literature, mental health, philosophy, science)

In this 2007 photo provided by the BBC, Neurologist Oliver Sacks poses at a piano while holding a model of a brain at the Chemistry Auditorium, University College London in London.  Photograph: Adam Scourfield/BBC/AP Photo/AP

The neurologist and author Oliver Sachs died yesterday aged 82. I read his most famous book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife For A Hat, a few years ago, but beyond that know little about him. According to the obit in today’s Guardian, he was criticised for writing “fairy-tales” in that his case histories lack the meticulous detail that contemporary science expects of practitioners. He was also accused of breaching patient confidentiality, although as far as I am aware, he took care to protect patients’ identities and certainly never used their real names in his writing.

What I do know about him is the sheer humanity he demonstrated in everything I’ve read by him, not least the very moving essay he wrote in the New York Times on learning of his terminal illness in February of this year:

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”

I urge you to read the whole thing, here.

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Jon-Erik Kellso in The The Land Of Beginning Again

August 29, 2015 at 4:02 pm (culture, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, United States)

Blue Roof Blues: A Love Letter to New Orleans

Ten years on from Katrina, and New Orleans is still recovering. Great progress has been made (no thanks to the wretched initial response from the federal government under Bush), but it’s been uneven and problems remain – not least in working class black areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.

Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, though based in New York, has long regarded NO has his spiritual home:

“I was there playing at the Satchmo Summer Fest right before the hurricane … and then again at Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival), nine months after the hurricane. A dear friend took me on a reality tour, from the ‘blue roofs,’ protective blue tarps on wind-damaged roofs, to the devastation of whole neighborhoods totalled by the flooding. The Ninth Ward looked like a war-ravaged ghost town. It broke my heart to see my beloved New Orleans in such a state’ (quoted by Michael Steinman, of the most excellent Jazz Lives blog, in his notes to Jon-Erik’s fantastic 2007 Arbors CD Blue Roof Blues – A Love Letter To New Orleans).

Now Jon-Erik has released a new CD/album celebrating the Crescent City’s partial recovery: it was recorded in NO in April and as well as Jon-Eric, features his New York pal, guitarist and vocalist Matt Munisteri and two New Orleanians – clarinetist Evan Christopher  and bassist Kerry Lewis. The album is entitled In The Land Of Beginning Again, and Jon-Eric writes of the title:

“Why ‘In The Land Of Beginning Again?’ Louis Armstrong spoke of playing this song regularly in his early days as a member of Fate Marable’s band on a Mississippi Riverboat. It was their closing theme. This wistful, seldom-heard song is a fitting theme for this album … as it reflects New Orleans’ resiliency. It is a huge relief to see how this unique and wonderful Gulf Coast city has bounced back and reinvented itself since ‘the storm.’ It seems my hometown of Detroit is now being talked about as another ‘land of beginning again,’ with its ‘keep on keepin’ on spirit.”

NB: I have no commercial interest in this CD (on the Jazzology label), but can personally recommend it. As well as the fantastic music by Jon-Erik, Evan, Matt and Kerry, it comes with notes by the A.J Liebling of jazz writing, Michael Steinman and cover art by Cécile McLorin Salvant – a fine vocalist who turns out to be an equally excellent graphic artist.

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Corbyn wrong on Ukraine says leading human rights campaigner

August 28, 2015 at 11:29 am (Cross-post, Human rights, Paul Canning, Russia, stalinism, Ukraine)

Cross-posted by Paul Canning:

The author of this piece is one of the most respected figures on human rights in Ukraine. She has been fearless is going after all abusers, from all sides.

Her organisation, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, was birthed from the legendary Russian human rights group Memorial. Reblogged with permission.

===

Coynash

By Halya Coynash

Jeremy Corbyn, frontrunner for the UK Labour Party leadership and therefore a potential UK Prime Minister, affirms a commitment to human rights on his website. He demonstrates none when it comes to recent events in Crimea, the rest of Ukraine and Russia, and this is not through lack of attention to this part of the world. His assessment of Russia’s annexation of Crimea coincides nicely with that presented by Russian President Vladimir Putin and on Russian television and he has simply ignored grave human rights concerns under Russian occupation.

In February and March 2014 Russian troops seized control and forcibly annexed Crimea. Ukraine was too weak, even with the undoubted support of the Crimean Tatar population behind it, to defend its sovereign territory. The security assurances given by Russia, the USA and UK to Ukraine via the1994 Budapest Memorandum proved meaningless, and Crimea remains to this day under illegal Russian occupation.

The UK’s unwillingness to risk military conflict with Russia is understandable. Corbyn’s justification for non-intervention is much less so. He first expressed his views on March 8, 2014, two days after the leaders who had been installed at gunpoint had announced a largely alternative-less ‘referendum’ on joining Russia to be held ten days later, on March 16. Corbyn did note that “Russia has gone way beyond its legal powers to use bases in the Crimea. Sending unidentified forces into another country is clearly a violation of that country’s sovereignty.” He then added the non sequitur that Russian President Vladimir Putin had called ex-President Viktor Yanukovych “political history” and expressed woolly hopes for a “reduction of tensions”.

He asserts that one must “recognize the history lurking behind the drama”, and that “Ukraine’s national borders have ebbed and flowed with the tides of history”. He then claims significant collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War and states that “their descendants could be seen bearing Nazi insignia and spouting racist slogans in Kiev only a week ago.”

This is the first of a number of assertions that parrot attempts to discredit Euromaidan made first by Yanukovych, then by Putin. They are to this day pushed by Russian state-controlled media, including Russia Today which Corbyn is on record as praising for objective reporting. The refrain is heard again in an article for Morning Star in April: “The far-right is now sitting in government in Ukraine. The origins of the Ukrainian far-right go back to those who welcomed the Nazi invasion in 1941 and acted as allies of the invaders.”

The narrative Corbyn repeats, both with respect to Euromaidan and to subsequent events, has been repeatedly refuted by prominent Jewish figures in Ukraine and by Viacheslav Likhachev, the main researcher on anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Ukraine. It has also been debunked by the results of both presidential and parliamentary elections in 2014, where both far-right parties did extremely badly.

Corbyn’s chief villains in all parts of the world appear to be the USA and NATO. In the above articles written shortly after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, he effectively suggests that Russia is protecting itself against attempts by NATO to “encircle it”. From the Morning Star article, one could forget that it was Russia who breached international law by invading Crimea, and by funding and manning those who were by then already seizing control in parts of eastern Ukraine. Russia’s behaviour was, he claims, “not unprovoked, and the right of people to seek a federal structure or independence should not be denied”. This is how he describes the seizure of government buildings, airports and military units in Crimea by Russian forces.

It is supposedly NATO whose “belligerence endangers us all”, although there was no question back in Spring 2014 of Ukraine joining NATO. Corbyn from the comfort of his North Islington home is against Poland and the Baltic States having been allowed to join NATO, although the Baltic republics are now seriously concerned that even such membership will not prevent Russian aggression.

This, Corbyn will claim, as does the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, is all US / NATO imperialist propaganda.

On a recent interview for Russia Today, Corbyn is reported to have suggested that he would seek closer ties with Russia. He is in interesting company with the same closer ties currently being promoted by a number of far-right parties in Europe including France’s National Front; Hungary’s Jobbik; and Bulgaria’s Ataka Party. It was members of a number of far-right and some neo-Nazi parties who were invited to Crimea to ‘observe’ the March 16 ‘referendum’, and then in November ‘elections’ held by the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.

It is obvious why Russia Today ignores or denies the mounting evidence of human rights abuse in Crimea and in areas under Kremlin-backed militant control in Donbas. It is unclear and disturbing why Corbyn is following suit.

The following are just some of the developments that cannot be attributed to US or NATO propaganda.

A serious attack on Crimean Tatar leaders and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or representative assembly. Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov have been banned from their homeland. Dzhemiliev’s son Khaiser has been taken to Russia and is facing a lengthy term of imprisonment with his father unable to even visit him. The Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz has been in detention since Jan 2015 on legally absurd charges of involvement in a demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, i.e. before Russia’s invasion and annexation. The vast majority of Crimean Tatars opposed Russian occupation from the outset and they have been increasingly targeted in repressive measures aimed at forcing them into exile or silence. Chiygoz believes that his ongoing detention is specifically because he has made it clear that Crimea is his homeland and he is not leaving. Russia forced virtually all Crimean Tatar and independent Crimean media to close or move to mainland Ukraine. The investigation into the murder of Reshat Ametov, abducted from his peaceful protest outside parliament and tortured to death has been terminated, and the occupation authorities have made no attempt to investigate the abduction and / or forced disappearances of a number of other civic activists and young Crimean Tatar men.

A Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko is facing a 4-year sentence on equally absurd charges relating to an alleged incident in Feb 2014, before annexation and in Kyiv, not Crimea. His father has disappeared in mysterious circumstances and all attempts to get the clear evidence that Kostenko was subjected to torture have failed.

The same is true of Russia’s “absolutely Stalinist” Crimean show trial of renowned Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov and left-wing civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko. They, together with two other opponents of Russian occupation were arrested, almost certainly tortured and then taken by force to Russia where Sentsov has now been sentenced to 20 years quite literally for nothing.

At least one blogger is in detention for writing articles critical of Russian occupation. Ukrainians who held a meeting where they laid flowers in honour of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko and read his works were prosecuted for holding a ‘prohibited symbol’ – a Ukrainian flag. Similar cases of harassment are ongoing.

All faiths except the Russian Orthodox Church are facing repression in Crimea. The same is also true of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics in Donbas.

The list of very serious concerns – of hostage-taking; extra-judicial executions and torture carried out by Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas – is very long.

Does Corbyn really see all of this as the fault of NATO? Does he genuinely believe that Amnesty International, Russian human rights organizations, as well as the slain opposition politician Boris Nemtsov were all duped (or paid?) by NATO when they revealed details of direct Russian military involvement and deaths in Ukraine?

Or does he not care? This, one assumes, is the case with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder who found it lucrative to move to Russia and become a spokesperson for Gasprom. It is likely that Marine Le Pen has similar reasons for supporting Russia’s position on Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

It would be a damning position for a future leader of the United Kingdom.

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Owen Jones breaks the liberal-left’s taboo on anti-Semitism

August 27, 2015 at 9:59 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Guardian, Jim D, labour party, left, palestine, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, stalinism, trotskyism, zionism)

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

Owen Jones’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian – ‘Antisemitism has no place on the left. It is time to confront it‘ – acknowledges the fact that this foul poison exists not just on the traditional extreme right, but also within the pro-Palestine movement and sections of the left. To some of us, this is merely a statement of the obvious, and something that we have been banging on about for years. But the importance of Jones’s piece cannot be overestimated: much of the left (and that includes the Guardianista liberal-left) refuses to acknowledge that the problem even exists. It is to Owen Jones’s credit that he has broken this taboo.

Jones’s article has its shortcomings: he repeats, for instance, the old canard that “Some ardent supporters of the Israeli government oppose all critics of Israeli policy and accuse them of anti-Semitism (or, if those critics are Jewish, of being “self-hating Jews”)”: I, for one, have never heard such arguments being used by defenders of Israel, although the claim that they are is treated as an established fact by ‘anti-Zionists’.

And Jones does not deal with the crucial issue of ‘absolute anti-Zionism’ – a more widespread and pernicious problem on the left than crude, racist antisemitism. ‘Absolute anti-Zionism’  is opposition to the very existence of the Jewish state. From that all the overt anti-Semitism and covert softness on anti-Semitism to be found on the left and within the PSC and BDS movements, follows. It is the so-called ‘One-State solution’ and is the thinly disguised sub-text of slogans like “Palestine must be free – from the River to the Sea.” It is the policy of the SWP and much of the rest of the British kitsch-Trot left. Stalinists of the Morning Star variety in theory back the Two States position, but you’d be forgiven not realising this from what they say within the labour movement and write in the Morning Star. Until he very recently clarified his position, and came out clearly for two states, it seemed quite possible that Jeremy Corbyn was a one stater.

And on the subject of Corbyn, Jones’s piece is also weak: it’s simply not good enough to argue (as does Jones) that “He [ie Corbyn] could not possibly have known the personal backgrounds of every individual who has joined him at the many rallies he has attended over the years.” Whether Corbyn knew the politics of each and every one of the many anti-Semites he’s been filmed and photographed alongside, and in some cases is on record defending, is not the issue: the issue is that now that he does know who these people are, he should clearly denounce them and disown them by name – instead of blustering about how he deplores all forms of racism and is in favour of peace. And, surely, Corbyn knew exactly what the politics of Hezbollah and Hamas were when he welcomed them as “friends.” For the record, I make these comments as someone who has just voted for Corbyn.

For sure, Jones’s piece does not go far enough, or make its case as plainly as it should: but it’s an important breakthrough for the ‘anti-Zionist’ liberal-left, and all the more welcome because its published in the absolute anti-Zionists’ respectable, mainstream mouthpiece: the Guardian.

Alan Johnson's photo.

Above: Jones (left) with arch-critic Alan Johnson after the publication of Jones’s Guardian piece

 

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The fascists in Russia’s hybrid army

August 24, 2015 at 5:50 pm (fascism, imperialism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, Ukraine, war)

By Paul Canning (also posted at the author’s blog)

Type ‘fascist Ukraine’ into Google and the first dozens of results all refer to the Ukrainian government and those forces fighting the Donbas separatists.

You will be hard pressed to find any references to the presence of fascists in Russia’s hybrid army in Ukraine. Ones like those pictured above in an astonishing piece of detective work by Dajey Petros.

Petros is a Dutch blogger who has been doing great work using similar tools to those employed by Eliot Higgins’ Bellingcat. Taking content from social media and using various tools to tell a story from it – like the story of the Russian missile which shot down the Malaysian Boeing.

Far right and fascist groups both in Russia and throughout Europe are backing the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (DPR/LPR) in word and deed. They are raising money for them, despite the sanctions. They hold mass rallies and other events. They send representatives to the Donbas to endorse the ‘Republics’. And they send Russians – and sometimes other Europeans – to join the fighting. All with the tacit approval of the Kremlin.

Gubarev

That approval was most sharply on display in March when Europe and Russia’s far right groups came together in a conference in St Petersberg. It was organised by the Rodina party whose leader is a Russian Deputy Prime Minister.

The event’s star was Alexei Milchakov, the leader of the ‘Rusich’ group of rebel fighters. Milchakov is infamous for photographs of him with a Nazi flag and a puppy he had allegedly killed. He has also posed in front of the dead bodies of Ukrainian soldiers.

Naming the separatist fascists

Many fascists were involved in setting up the DPR/LPR, such as Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed first ‘People’s Governor of Donetsk’. His press secretary, Aleksander Kriakov, was described by Donetsk city Chief Rabbi Pinchas Vishedski as “the most famous anti-Semite in the region.”

When separatists took over TV broadcasting towers last year they boasted that:

Here, from Sloviansk, we are inflicting a powerful information conceptual blow to the biblical matrix … to Zionist zombie broadcasting.

They then presented a lecture by former Russian Conceptual Party Unity leader Konstantin Petrov, who the European Association for Jewish Culture (EAJC) describe as a “anti-Semitic neo-pagan national-Stalinist sect.”

In March last year Josip Zisels, Chair of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities in Ukraine, noted that pro-Russian organisations’ websites “have published many anti-Semitic materials which were meant to instigate hatred against the Maidan as being allegedly inspired by the Jews.”

Former DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Borodai was a writer for the Russian fascist newspaper Zavtra. He opened the DPR’s first foreign ‘consulate’ on the premises of the Moscow branch of the Eurasian Youth Union (EYU), the youth wing of the Eurasia Party, headed by fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin. Dugin has openly called for genocide against Ukrainians.

Another prominent Russian fascist in the Donbas is Gennadiy Dubovoy, whose colleagues are shown at the top and immediately above, participating in some sort of bizarre Nazi ritual. (See lots more whacky photos.)

Yuli Kharlamova

Participating in the ritual are several women and one is Yuli Kharlamova, a presenter on the Russian TV channel ANNA- News and an FSB (Russian security services) agent. Read the rest of this entry »

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My MP

August 23, 2015 at 8:29 am (Rosie B, scotland)


Thomson: smooth-talking pro-business voice of nationalism

During the Scottish independence referendum there was an organisation called Business for Scotland, whose schtick was that independence would be good for Scotland’s businesses. Their words were treated as if from the CBI or some other big business guns though in fact they were a slug pistol of one-man bands and consultants who did not trade with England. For an estimate of their general puniness check out Chokkablog:-

Given that the potential impact on this £47.6bn of trade is one of the big issues for business in the Independence debate I think we can agree that any “Scottish Business” voice would need to include representation from businesses involved in this trade to have any credibility.

This is why I’m amazed that “Business for Scotland” gets any airtime at all. As I show in painful detail in this post, the identified Members of Business for Scotland can be fairly summarised as;
•30 “business professionals”

•28 people who have Small Company directorships; businesses with no declared turnover or employee figures. These are predominantly consultancies, property companies and service companies; I can’t identify any material trading links with rUK and none can be considered major employers.

Business for Scotland was an SNP front group and now the managing director, Michelle Thomson, is my MP for Edinburgh West after the great Sneep Sweep last election. This piece from Private Eye shows the general contradictions of a party that tries to be all things to all people, except for the common thread of nationalism:-

NEVER let it be said the SNP gang at Westminster lacks ideological diversity. When Mhairi Black, the 20-year-old left-wing firebrand whose maiden speech recently went viral on the internet, attacks the wicked Tories and their tax-cutting ways, many of the SNP MPs nod and cheer her on.

Yet the awkward truth is that it is SNP policy to slash corporation tax and the SNP leadership has made strenuous efforts to crawl to big business, offering desperate reassurance that an independent Scotland would not be the left-wing, high-tax utopia that Black and many of the party’s hard left activists envisage.

At the forefront of that Nationalist push during the Scottish referendum to convince business that it had nothing to fear from independence was Michelle Thomson, then the managing director of an SNP-front called Business for Scotland. She won the Edinburgh West seat for the party in May, defeating Lib Dem Mike Crockart and securing a 3,210 majority.

Thomson was somewhat less successful in the referendum campaign last year, where she was deployed on radio and television as the theoretically smooth-talking pro-business voice of moderate nationalism trying to sell separation to business leaders and their employees. Many of them remained sceptical.

As one of the seven signatories of a letter to the Financial Times weeks before the referendum, Thomson proclaimed that Scotland’s financial sector would always prosper, contrary to the warnings from Unionists about the potential economic risks of independence.

One of Thomson’s fellow signatories to that letter was a banker who knows a great deal about the prosperity or otherwise of the Scottish financial sector. Sir George Mathewson, friend and adviser to Alex Salmond, was the buccaneering chief executive and chairman of RBS who expanded the bank aggressively, hired Fred Goodwin and then from the sidelines cheered on his old bank as it bought the Dutch bank ABN Amro in 2007, on the eve of the financial crisis, in one of the worst deals of the century.

Despite Thomson making a lot of noise and being invited on air by broadcasters in Scotland and London who did too little to probe the credentials of Business for Scotland, it was never clear that the organisation she ran had many serious businesses on board. The tenacious economics blogger Kevin Hague incurred the wrath of Thomson and the Nationalists by conducting an in-depth investigation last year into the group’s membership. Despite the claims that it represented Scottish business, only a few of those involved had major company directorships, Hague discovered, and many more ran tiny firms or no firms at all.

Thomson continued to be presented as a voice of business, and when she won her seat she was hailed by the National, the SNP fanzine that is a weekend offshoot of the once respected Glasgow Herald, as a “breath of fresh air” because she has enjoyed “a broad-based life experience”.

After graduating from the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow in 1985, she worked as a musician before joining Standard Life working in IT, moving to RBS and then setting up on her own in 2009. But her subsequent business career cannot be counted as stellar. At the time she ran Business for Scotland, she had one active directorship, in a small Fife-based outfit called Your Property Shop Ltd, providing property investment services. Her other property business, Edinburgh Global Property Investments, was dissolved.

At Westminster, in the SNP team, Thomson now has the lofty business, innovation and skills portfolio from which to pontificate about the great economic issues of the day. She may also have to explain to Mhairi Black and other left-wingers on the Nationalist benches that when they joined the SNP, if they thought they were signing up to a party in favour of punitively taxing the boss class, they were sorely mistaken.

The semi-official economic adviser to the Yessers is Stu Campbell of Wings for Scotland. He and Kevin Hague of Chokkablog are at loggerheads on twitter. Wings is notorious for his abusiveness and instead of countering Hague’s graphs and stats goes very very personal:-

wings

This refers to some personal stuff Kevin Hague put on his blog about the various “dads” that floated through his difficult childhood. I can’t parse Wings’ numbers but he really is a prize shit.

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Matgamna: why the left must back Corbyn

August 22, 2015 at 12:54 pm (AWL, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, socialism, unions)

This article by Sean Matgamna, one of the founders of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, also appears on the AWL’s website and in their paper, Solidarity: ________________________________________________________________________

Seize the chance the left has now

In the three months since the general election hundreds of thousands of people have joined the Labour Party, the party that lost the election.

Over 600,000 people have signed up to vote in the Labour leadership election. 300,000 have become full members of the Labour Party. The rise in Labour Party membership started immediately after the general election. Twenty thousand joined in the first couple of days after the defeat. Opinion polls report that in his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has the support of between 50 and 60% of those eligible to vote. He has the backing of the bulk of the trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union explained that what the trade union leaders are trying to do in backing Corbyn is to shift the political axis of mainstream labour movement politics radically from the politics that has ruled the roost in the labour movement for the last 21 years, since the Blairite coup in the mid-1990s. Jeremy Corbyn, Ward said, is the antidote to “the Blairite virus”.

The confluence of large numbers of rebellious people joining the Labour Party and union leaders looking for an “antidote” to neo-Thatcherism — that is what “Blairism” in the labour movement is — has produced something very like a mass movement to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class and the left. This mass movement has to be judged for what it is, not by how it measures up to our own working-class socialist politics. It would be a miracle indeed, if such a movement began with adequate working-class socialist politics.

It is for socialists to work to convince this movement of the need for socialist politics.

To do that socialists must be part of the movement, engage in dialogue with it. The alarm at the idea of a Corbyn victory in the press and in the ranks of the Labour Party Blairites tells its own story. The war criminals, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, architects of British participation in the invasion of Iraq, warn against electing Corbyn. Tony Blair: “If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation.”

Their’s is the voice of the Blairite virus. Their warnings that a Corbyn-led Labour Party would be unelectable are beside the point: a left-wing Labour Party could and would have to inform, shape, educate and re-educate “public opinion”. That is what a proper opposition party does. A serious political party is not, should not be, what the Blair-Thatcherite Labour Party now is — an election machine to install venal careerists in ministerial office. The influx into the Labour Party is itself evidence that this is possible. In any case, it is necessary.

There are vast numbers of people in Britain who have been deprived of a political voice and a political party by Blairite rule in the Labour Party. For a quarter of a century, at least, the working-class and the labour movement has been deprived of genuine representation in Parliament. British politics has been dominated by the political-personal rivalry of different strands of Thatcherism.

In a world on which the banks and their relentless greed have brought down catastrophe, Britian’s “public discourse.” has focused on the hunt for “cheating claimants” and an unending outcry against immigrants. The ideas, norms, consequences and ideology of market capitalism has not been contested by the political labour movement. All that can now be changed.

But let us take the worst possible case: what if the Labour Party in the course of educating “public opinion”were to lose an election? In 1931, when the Labour Party leader, Ramsay MacDonald and his associates went over to the Tories and to a Tory-led coalition government, with Macdonald as Prime Minister, the Labour Party was reduced to about the same number of MPs it had had in 1906, at its beginning. But if the Labour Party had not stood up to Macdonald and to the bourgeois economic consensus of that time then there would have been no 1945 victory for a Labour Party committed to the radical reform-socialist programme which created the modern welfare state. Read the rest of this entry »

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Are 31% of Londoners bigots?

August 20, 2015 at 11:42 am (Anti-Racism, elections, Islam, islamism)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

A few days ago it was reported that nearly a third of Londoners –  31% – felt uneasy at the prospect of a Muslim mayor.

Some responded to the poll result with cries of bigotry – others applauded the 31% for being Islamorealists. It seems probable that people who registered unease did so for a range of reasons, and with different degrees of certainty.

It’s useful to compare that 31% figure with the percentage who would be made uncomfortable by the idea of a mayor from an ethnic minority – 13%. Presumably almost all of the 13% were also part of the 31%. Clearly such people are bigots. But what about the 18% who would be happy with a non-white mayor but not with a Muslim one – and indeed the further 13% who didn’t feel able to give a decisive answer when asked how they’d view a Muslim mayor?

You don’t have to be a racist to be an anti-Muslim bigot (though it probably helps). Although white nationalists tend to be anti-Muslim by default, many of the most prominent counterjihadists are non-racist, and of course not all of them are white.

Someone like Ali Sina would never vote for a Muslim mayor. He has said:

“It is time to put an end to the charade of “moderate Islam.” There is no such thing as moderate Muslim. Muslims are either jihadists or dormant jihadists – moderate, they are not.”

Treating Muslims as a monolithic bloc is an obvious marker of bigotry. But some of those who felt they couldn’t unreservedly say they were ‘comfortable’ with the idea of a Muslim mayor might not have meant to imply that under no circumstances would they vote for a Muslim, just that they’d want to know more. With so much debate around Islam and extremism, people are becoming increasingly alert to the sharp differences of opinion within Muslim communities. Television programmes such as The Big Questions return to the topic of religious extremism and conservatism obsessively. Those taking the survey may have felt wary about such illiberal views.

However even those actively anxious about Islamism are likely to have favourable views of Muslims who call for reform or adhere to more liberal interpretations of Islam – I bet a fair few of the 31% would have been more than happy to vote for someone like Maajid Nawaz or Sara Khan. And some of them, at the last election, were probably rooting for Muslim Naz Shah to beat her non-Muslim rival George Galloway.

And there are likely to be similar differences of opinion amongst the 55%, those who said were fully comfortable with the idea of a Muslim mayor. Some may just be easy-going types who would see any Muslim mayor as a positive symbol of multiculturalism and diversity. Others might be more actively politically engaged, perhaps opponents of the Prevent programme and of the comparatively tough approach Cameron is taking towards radicalisation. Would such Londoners welcome a Muslim mayor who disagreed with them on these issues? Probably not. Maajid Nawaz, in particular, would be the last person some Muslims would vote for – and non-Muslims from some sections of the left –Nathan Lean for example – would most likely go along with them.

In other words, at least a few of the 55% are likely to have particular questions for Muslim candidates, questions which relate specifically to their Muslim identity, not simply (as would be the case for any candidate) to their political views. In this they are no different from some of the 31%. Whereas a liberal might want to be reassured that the Muslim candidate shared their secular values (and Muslim liberals will probably be particularly vigilant) others, by contrast, will want to check that the candidate is not a ‘sell out’, an ‘Uncle Tom’. Right across the spectrum, for different reasons, people will want to be sure that a Muslim candidate is the right kind of Muslim – but their definitions of what the ‘right kind’ are will differ.

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The Guardian – soft on the fash, hard on the anti-fash

August 19, 2015 at 11:14 am (anti-fascism, Guardian, islamism, Rosie B)

Further to Jim’s piece on Maajid Nawaz, this article in The Nation shows how The Guardian is losing its credibility through its treatment of anti-jihadists:-

The piece is basically a hatchet-job on the man and his personality, unacceptably taking pot-shots at his choice of club, coffee preferences, and work without much evidence to back it up. Unless you take the liberal use of anonymous quotes as evidence – and no-one in the journalism world does. Indeed, the Guardian’s Readers Editor, Chris Eliott has been obliged, due to the flood of complaints to his paper, to put out a statement that ‘the use of anonymous quotes is an insidious way to take a swipe at public figures, and the Guardian was wrong to have used three in this way.’

The statement is not entirely acceptable however because he yet sought to protect the journalists Nosheen Iqbal and David Shariatmadari from further blame by claiming that they felt the use of anonymous sources to be necessary as otherwise those sources could be harassed online, as these journalists now are. In short, they thought it alright to attack a man risking his life among Islamists to do the extremely dangerous job of counter-extremism work, yet they needed to keep sources attacking him anonymous because they were afraid of some online heckling?

Is heckling only alright if a Guardian journalist does it, either via articles or on Twitter? One of the foremost rules of journalism is that the journalist’s presence and especially his biases should not be visible in his articles – unless it’s a column or opinion piece. This interview of Maajid was supposed to be neither, although it ended up in essence an opinion piece. Yet even as an opinion piece, it breaks way too many bars to come plunging down into mud-singling territory. They didn’t just set the bar low, they plunged it.

It’s so incredibly bad, that as a fellow journalist living miles and oceans way, I am embarrassed for the journalism profession which has sunk to this new low. As once colonized countries, I suppose we still look up to British standards in professionalism. Certainly that was very much the case in my own student days at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. “Don’t look to the Daily Mirror,” we were told. That’s a tabloid. “Look instead to the Guardian. That’s the standard you ought to emulate.” Well, we are looking. Where are the standards?

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Good morning Scotland

August 16, 2015 at 8:15 pm (Beyond parody, Rosie B, scotland)

Here in Scotland politics sings its same auld sang, with full overbearing chorus from the Nats. For nature of the political discourse of our present representatives, check out this by the Flying Rodent:-

Good Morning The People Of Scotland

Presenter:  …Derek McSmug is the SNP spokesperson for Really Complaining About Things.  Derek, thanks for joining us on the show.

Derek McSmug:  Thank you, Gary.

Presenter:  Derek, you said yesterday that a second Scottish independence referendum is “terrifyingly inevitable”.  Does your party intend to bring forward plans for another referendum in the near future?

Derek McSmug:  Well Gary, I think it’s no secret that we’re in favour of Scottish independence!  (Laughs)  But no, we have no plans to hold a second referendum in the foreseeable future.  We’re focusing on standing up for the people of Scotland against the Tories’ swingeing cuts to public services, which the Labour Party is fully –

Presenter:  Well, if you’re focusing on standing up to the Tories, why do you keep talking about a second referendum?  Why not move past that and focus on your work at Westminster, or on governing here in Scotland?

Derek McSmug:  Frankly Gary, I’m shocked and disappointed that you’ve said that.  You know that it’s for the people of Scotland to decide whether there should be a second referendum and I don’t think it’s for the media to tell the people of Scotland that they mustn’t discuss their constitutional future.

Presenter:  With respect Derek, it’s you that keeps talking up a referendum, not the people of Scotland.

Read the rest. It’s brilliant. Also good comments underneath.

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