A momentary case of writer’s block

June 23, 2007 at 5:26 pm (blogging, voltairespriest)

Can’t think of much to say at the moment but I’m still here; Jim’s off compering a Jazz festival but will be back tomorrow. Whilst I’m pondering it, why don’t you go talk to Will about Christopher and Peter Hitchens? He’s always good value on a night in.

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A hero under threat

June 19, 2007 at 12:05 am (Islam, Jim D, perversity)

This week’s New Statesman carries a piece by Ed Husain (If words could kill me), which reminds me that I promised to review his book “The Islamist” (Penguin, £8.99). I haven’t done so, and apologise for that.  Here’s someone else’s review. The gist of it is that Hizb ut-Tahir (of which Husain is an ex-member) is an avowedly extreme Islamist outfit, but that most “respectable” Muslim organisations, like the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain are, essentially, Islamist Salafi or Wahhabi groups. And it seems  the first Muslim Peer of the Realm, Lord Ahmed, is in with them, judging by his reactionary, vicious and outrageous comments on a recent conference and upon Salman Rushdie’s knighthood.

But now it appears that Husain, an ex-Islamist who’s had the guts to break with the Islamo-fascists and write up his story, has been threatened with death (why aren’t I surprised?).

He even names his would-be assassin: Showkat Ali.

In this week’s New Statesman  Husain writes:

“In internet chatrooms and discussion threads  the Islamists break news of beheadings in Iraq, the downing of US helicopters and didcuss who is next on their agenda of killing and destruction. The mainstream media is bewilderingly unaware of this fast-moving, influential underworld.

“But things took an uglier turn recently. Showkat Ali, a member of  Hizb ut-Tahir, who is training in Birmingham to become a school teacher, wrote a rap-like poem and posted it on several prominent Muslim websites. He wrote that his poem “was inspired  by several Muslims who have betrayed Islam and the Ummah and are now openly working for the Crusader West in its losing battle against Political Islam.

“Purporting to speak my mind and likening me to Judas, he wrote:

No ifs no Butts [Hassan Butt]

Some people after me

To stab me in the heart

Like they did Hassan in Manchester

I dread the return of the Caliphate

Who will apply to extradite me

Put me on trial

And then execute me

As a traitor.

“I believe the above lines are a coded call for my death, written in the first-person narrative to absolve Ali and his organisation from any responsibility”.

Until recently, someone like Ed Husain – who had broken from the most reactionary aspects of his religious/cultural upbringing – would have looked to the Left for support. Not now. The SWP-type relativist  “left” would turn him in and then apologise for his execution.

We – the real Left, must rally round Ed Husain in his hour of need: he’s told us who wants to kill him; and why.

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Another tragedy for the Palestinians

June 17, 2007 at 7:56 pm (Jim D, liberation, sectarianism)

The Hamas coup in Gaza is a tragedy for the Palestinians. It sets back (possibly fatally) the only programme with any realistic prospect of bringing peace and justice to the Palestinians: two states. It divides Gaza and the West Bank, making a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel an impossibility for the time being. And whatever the corruption and decadence of Fatah, it was at least nominally a secular nationalist organisation with a democratic programme that recognised Israel’s right to exist behind pre-1967 borders: hence Hamas’ denunciation of them as “traitors” and “collaborators”. 

Hamas have a democratic mandate and its government should have been recognised by Israel, Europe and the US as the democratically-elected representatives of the majority of Palestinians. But to state that is not to give Hamas any sort of credit as a progessive force, as some on the Israel-hating “left” are only too keen to do. Hamas are anti-semitic clerical fascists. And that’s not just my opinion: here’s what Ziad Abu Ein, a Fatah leader in Ramallah and a close ally of the jailed Fatah hero Marwan Barghouti, had to say (quoted in the Guardian of June 16 2007): “What we have witnessed is a fascist, military coup. Hamas cannot control the Palestinian people with their machine guns”. Abu Ein’s prediction of “a new uprising in Gaza (in a few days) when people dicover the truth about Hamas” may be wishful thinking, but his description of Hamas and their military defeat of the Fatah rabble is accurate.

Worst of all, for the Palestinians, is the fact that Hamas’s victory now means that Israel is “encircled” by Hamas to the south, Hizbollah to the north and Iran to the East – all openly and outspokenly pledged to Israel’s destruction and to driving the Jews out of the region (if not “into the sea”). Israel is not, of course, under any immediate ‘existential’ threat, but this situation can only strengthen the Israeli Right and make a just accomodation with the Palestinians less likely than at any time since the failure of the Oslo accord. 

The refusal of most Arab states and of Islamic fundamentalists like Hamas, to recognise Israel’s right to exist in any shape or form, has been a deadly factor in the Middle East conflict ever since 1948 – and the main victims have (paradoxically) been the Palestinians. The fact that large sections of the “left” in Britain support this anti-semitism (as manifested in the present “boycott Israel” campaign) is nothing less than a disgrace.  The AWL pamphlet Two Nations, Two States summed things up back in September 2002, and the message is all the more true today:

“Thus, though it is indeed the beginning of wisdom to side with the weak and the oppressed Palestinians facing the Israeli army, to support the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation and demand the immediate setting up of an independent Palestinian state, more than that is necessary.

“If we are to understand the present stage of the conflict, and avoid falling into ‘the anti-imperialism of fools’, then an understanding of history is essential.

“The account most widely accepted on the left, of the Arab-Jewish conflict and of how and why Israel came into existence, and of why the conflict has dragged on for decades, is, in fact not history but envenomed scapegoat-making mythology. On this, much of the British left has for decades followed the line of argument laid down by the Stalinist USSR fifty years ago when it fell out with Israel, purvaying not only pseudo anti-imperialism, but a real and malignant anti-Semitism too.

“It is not racist anti-semitism, of course – there are many strands of anti-semitism in history – but it is a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive, branded as ‘racists’ if they refuse to support the destruction of Israel.

“The vicarious Arab chauvinism of the pseaudo-left on this issue cannot but repel fair-minded, thinking people who side with the Palestinians, in the sense that (the AWL) does. Thereby, it works against the creation of the mass solidarity movement which the Palestinians need”.

NB: Bob from Brockley (link on the right) has been following events in Gaza with a despairing eye, and provides this interesting link.

Addendum (June 18 2007): this pretty much sums up what passes for “politics” in middle class, ex-pat Palestinian opinion in the West: denial, self-pity and self-righteousness, combined with a refusal to believe that any problems the Arabic people of Palestine are experiencing, can have any origin other than the Israelis and the USA. Pernicious stuff. 

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A Picture of Dorian Matgamna

June 17, 2007 at 10:45 am (AWL, left, sectarianism, socialism, SWP, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAs someone who is active in left politics, and who is as often as not seen hanging around with the AWL, I’m often presumed to be a member of that group by those opposed to it. I’m not, although I make no bones about being an ex-member of theirs who remains on friendly terms with the group. Many of my friends and close political associates (foremost among them the one and only Mr Denham) are members of the AWL. Further, I consider them to be the most politically healthy and democratic tendency on the hard left in the UK today. One of the reasons for this is because people can write articles like this one about them without being thrust into the outer darkness – unlike certain organisations which act in public like some kind of hive-mind.

When the AWL are at their best, they take a stance on an issue which sets them out as truly unique. For instance their position on the Israeli academic boycott is one which is both principled and left-wing, a combination which sets them apart both from the kindergarten “anti-imperialism” of those agitating for the boycott in the union movement, and also from the right-wing “academic freedom” arguments of the mainstream opposition to it. As a consequence, the AWL gets to punch well above its weight on this issue, across several unions. Such is the virtue of an independent stance that steers clear of submerging itself into movements led by other groups which contain people with different motives.

But I do find one consistent problem with the AWL, which is a maddening tendency to define their politics as an auto-corrective to the rest of the left. There are a number of examples of this: I won’t bother to take you through the more boring ones relating to the stance revolutionaries should take on various labour movement issues – you had to be there. The most obvious example though is the perennial bugbear of Danish Cartoongate, where most of the rest of the left simply leaped into lock-step behind attacks on the cartoons and cartoonists as “racist”, called all free speech arguments either spurious or imperialist, and hysterically denounced anyone and everyone who tried to take them up in debate about the matter. All very predictable.

However, this then raises the question of what would be the right response to the issue. The AWL’s EC took a snap decision to publish the cartoons on the organisation’s website (although curiously, not in its paper – a half hearted kind of gung-ho if ever there was one), largely because it seemed they felt that this was the right thing to do in light of the mainstream press’ refusal to publish the things, and the left’s justification of the campaign against the cartoonists. The whole debate over whether or not this was the right thing to do, has since been thoroughly documented in the AWL’s public press.

It’s well known that I didn’t agree with the decision to publish those cartoons. However, that isn’t the point that I propose to make here. What I’m questioning is the basis of a political decision that is taken, partly because the liberal press haven’t done something, and partly because the rest of the left have. It’s entirely reactive, and contains no real thinking beyond “you say tomayto, I say tomahto”. It’s certainly not a good way to take political decisions at what was (for better or worse) a defining moment in the wider world’s perception of the AWL’s politics on anti-racism and islamophobia.

And that’s just one example. Thinking about it, all of the worst political positions and decisions that I can recall in the AWL’s history have been taken on the hop in opposition to positions held by the SWP and other groups on the left. It’s as though sometimes the AWL is battling a temptation to become a kind of Dorian Gray reflection of the SWP. That’s not the basis for sound politics of any kind, and it’s certainly not the way at which the AWL’s best moments, when it articulates a truly unique independent working-class politics, are arrived.

Comrades, we all get annoyed as one when the SWP come out with the hoary old statement that all other groups in the UK apart from themselves are “sectarians” who define their politics by opposition to the SWP. Don’t make them right. You’re better than that.

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Forum on the Labour Left

June 14, 2007 at 7:48 am (labour party, left, Respect, TWP, unions)

Last night I attended a forum sponsored by Socialist Resistance on what the next steps were for the left in the wake of McDonnell’s failure to get on the ballot. Simon Deville from LLB was there to give the labour left perspective.

Alan Thornett was speaking for SR and while critical, did conclude as expected with the desire to see the labour left split with the LP and join Respect. This time Alan admitted that Respect may need to be completely torn down and rebuilt, but he still maintained it WAS the organisation that was the next stage for leftists inside and outside the LP.

Simon was rather better, spelling out exactly how bad things were in the LP, but maintaining that things were pretty awful everywhere and that a small group of socialist MPs was far better than a discredited single MP outside of the party. He also pointed again to the link with the trade unions which Alan described as broken by Blair and New Labour.

I am convinced that SR’s trajectory is sailing away from the class. Alan described the anti-war movement as “class struggle” outside of the LP – when it is clear that the Labour left was centrally involved in the anti-war movement. He went on to describe various movements, including the environmental movement, in similar terms. In fact SR is going to be changing the name of its paper to something with “Green” in the title as they shift towards “eco-socialism”.

Those, including SR, who have given up on the Labour Party because of its right-wing leadership forget the history of the party. Is it worse now than in the 1970s when the orientation towards monetarism and selling out the class led to the Winter of Discontent and a massive Conservative Party victory? Its history is littered with atrocious behaviour by the leadership – yet this is no cause for abandoning the organisation which remains that of the one’s class. In fact, many people called for entryism after this period.

Perhaps most disconcerting is the short term perspective that these views are founded on. It’s as if they are saying “the working class is in a rubbish state so let’s participate in whatever happens to come down the road” – even if it is a thoroughly middle class movement like the environment and the Green Party. Anything to be active. But participating in whatever comes down the road is an anti-class view. It neglects the historic importance of the working class and its organisations and relegates the class to an issue of secondary importance – precisely at the time when we need all hands on deck to defend the class and rebuild our movement.

I remain convinced that the answers lie in ongoing developments within the LRC and the trade unions – but they don’t lie in Respect, and they don’t lie within the Green Party. After this forum I was more convinced than ever that SR needs to have a serious discussion about what its opinion of the class is and whether or not they think it even maintains any relevance whatsoever. A few SR comrades claimed that the LP was a “bourgeois party” and not a workers party. When members of an organisation say this about the LP while maintaining that Respect is a workers party, then something is seriously wrong. It’s time for SR and the ISG to reorient towards the class.

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Why the Left Needs to Take Advantage of Facebook

June 13, 2007 at 8:47 am (AWL, blogging, blogosphere, cyberspace, geeks, internet, left, TWP)

Thanks to my current time at university I’ve become alerted to a new phenomenon on the internet – Facebook. At the moment it is comprised mostly of students and a number of the groups created on it are satirical in nature. However, a few left organisations such as the AWL and the John4Leader campaign have recognised its potential for talking left politics.

Given that I am keenly interested in sociology and how people relate with technology I find it an intriguing use of the capacity for human beings to organise and communicate. Perhaps best of all, I get turned on to new things and new ideas due to groups that my friends are adding and they may do the same.

In any case, I’d encourage all lefties out there to join Facebook and all left organisations to create group pages while this phenomenon is still gaining momentum.

All too often the far left is well behind the times in utilising new technology and it’s time for a change. If you want to talk politics to young people, you have to go where they are and there are certainly a lot of young people on Facebook. Down with technical Luddism!

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Congratulations to a nice man

June 12, 2007 at 11:42 am (Jim D, left, politics, SWP)

It would be churlish not to join with the BBC “Today” programme and the Graun in offering congratulations to Michael Rosen on his appointment as children’s laureate. I have had cause in the past,  to berate Mr Rosen on this blog and elsewhere, for his half-baked political views (on Israel and the Middle East, especially) and willingness to be used as a front-man by the SWP. But he is, by all accounts, a nice man and there can be no doubting his passion for making literature relevant to children.

He has also managed to criticise the SWP over their support for the anti-semite Gilad Atzmon and promised, last year, to denounce Atzmon at the SWP’s “Marxism” event (though there is no record of him actually having done so: maybe this year, eh?).

His poems “Three Songs of the Dead” (especially  “Dear New Labour” , published on the front page of Socialist Worker after the London tube bombings) are, however, amongst the worst pieces of political poetry I have ever read (use the search facility on the link to find the poems).

Sorry: I do sound like a bit of a churl, don’t I?

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The Fat Man and the Black Bird

June 12, 2007 at 2:15 am (cinema, comedy, Jim D, modernism)

Hak Mao had a posting recently, about what she called “fillum noyer”, to which I responded, refering to The Maltese Falcon, and its comedy villains, Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet. GraHam at Harry’s Place has also posted about the Falcon, and I broke my rule about That Place and replied, pointing out that crucial to Hammett’s original novel is the story of Flitcraft (that does not feature in the film).

John T. Irwin writes in “Unless The Fear Of Death Is Behind Them – hard-boiled fiction and film noir” (The John Hopkins University Press, 2006):

“Clearly, one of the structural purposes of Flitcraft’s story in the novel, this story that Spade tells Brigid while they are alone together in his apartment waiting for Joel Cairo to arrive , is that it foreshadows the novel’s final scene between Spade and Brigid (again alone together in his apartment, this time waiting for the police to arrive), when Spade explains to her in great detail why he’s going to turn her in for Miles Archer’s murder. Needles to say, Brigid doesn’t grasp the explanation either. At one point in the scene, Spade tells her that if she gets a break, she’ll only serve twenty years and he’ll wait for her, but if she doesn’t, they’ll hang her and he’ll always remember her, and Brigid says, ‘Don’t, Sam, don’t say that even in fun. Oh, you frightened me for a moment! I really thought you-You know you do such wild and unpredictable things that-‘, to which Spade replies, ‘Don’t be silly. You’re taking the fall'”.

The author of the Maltese Falcon was a brave and principled man, who told HUAC to go to hell: his wife, the Stalinist Lillian Hellman, pleaded the Fifth, but (with characteristic dishonesty) claimed to have played the heroic role that, in fact, Hammett (not a CP member) did.

The trailer for “The Maltese Falcon”, introduced by the superbly pompous Sidney Greenstreet,  is great:

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The inescapable anti-semitic logic of the boycott

June 12, 2007 at 12:01 am (Anti-Racism, Jim D, Racism, unions)

Sean Matgamna (aka: John O’ Mahoney) writes an open letter to Hilary and Stephen Rose, two Jewish pro-Palestinian academics who support both the boycott and “two states”: Sean explains, at some length that: “there is no way in the circumstances I have outlined that a boycott movement will not , to put it at its mildest, run the risk of being an anti-Jewish movement. There is no way that participation in a movement for boycott, led and shaped by people mortally hostile to the continuation of Israel, does not conflict with your commitment to the only rational settlement: two states”.

Hak Mao has some thoughts on other people who could be boycotted… 

Engage has called a meeting (“Organising Against te Boycott”) for 6.00pm Wednesday 11th July, at the Friends Meeting House, 173 Euston Road, London NW1 2BJ. Speakers include Jonathan Freedland (Guardian columnist), Anthony Julius, John Mann MP, Tim Dawson (NUJ Exec – personal capacity) and Eric Lee (Labourstart). Tickets are £5 from Engage, PO Box 40072, London N6 4XU.

And finally, a taste of what the anti-semitic “left” has in store for Jews if we don’t stop them (the “left” anti-semites, that is) .This is from the present issue of the AWL’s paper, Solidarity:

A boycott before the boycott

“The Executive of the public services union Unison has rejected a proposal from the relevant union committee to give money to the international trade union news website Labourstart, on the grounds that one of the people involved in running (it) is a ‘Zionist’.

“It is a sort of ‘boycott before the boycott’, a pre-emptive application of motion 54 to Unison conference, which proposes a boycott of all Israeli institutions.

“Labourstart provides an unparalleled breadth of information on workers’ struggles and workers’ organisations worldwide, including in the Occupied Territories.

“At the Executive no-one objected to Labourstart’s coverage. The objection was to its founding sditor, Eric Lee. Eric is now only one of 79 contributors world-wide for Labourstart.

“But  (this) was enough to damn the whole project in the eyes of the Executive – Eric is a Zionist. He has been associated with left-Zionist parties in Israel such as Mapam and Meretz.

“Nobody proposed checking out the 78 Labourstart correspondents for their views.

“The basic argument is that the union cannot support projects, however worthwhile, if the people running them are Jewish. Supporters of ‘boycotting’ Labourstart will reply that the objection is not that people like Eric Lee are Jewish, but that they are ‘Zionists’.  But to brand left Zionists like Eric Lee as outside the range of people who we can work with is to ‘boycott’ almost all Jews around the world”.    

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Two Google Searches on…

June 11, 2007 at 10:40 pm (blogging, blogosphere, cyberspace, geeks, insanity, internet, perversity, voltairespriest)

bowen causes six day war

…reached this blog. Well, I think that’s a bit harsh on the man personally. But this week’s golden toilet brush goes to the person who searched on “zeopedia”. A whole encyclopedia about zeotropes. Who knew? Still more (or rather less),  who knew we’d written about it?

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