Russian universities: hotbeds of neo-imperialism

May 30, 2009 at 12:21 pm (bloggocks, Cuba, Human rights, Max Dunbar, Russia)

proyectReader Luke has emailed in an exchange between himself and the Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect. It was triggered by this long, meandering post about Proyect’s old college. The passage Luke took exception to was this:

[Bard College President] Botstein would seem to share [George] Soros’s missionary complex vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. With money siphoned from developing economies like Thailand’s, Soros has been able to foot the bill for Bard College’s colonizing effort in St. Petersburg, namely Smolny College, which sits next door to the organizing center of the October 1917 revolution–thus bringing the counter-revolution full cycle. Claude Allegre, the former French education minister, expressed misgivings about efforts such as Smolny College: ‘That our students go and study in the United States and Britain is entirely desirable, but that the Americans install their universities throughout the world, all on the same model and with the same courses, is a catastrophe.’ Well, what can one say–that’s just the voice of Old Europe once again. For the New Europe of Donald Rumsfeld, handouts from people like George Soros are eagerly accepted, especially since college professors in the liberated Russia republic average about $65 per month.

To which Luke responded:

This is possibly the silliest thing I have read on a blog since I stopped reading Lenin’s Tomb. Do you know anything about education in Russia? I’m an American student who is studying there this academic year, and can assure you that most Russians are very unhappy with the quality of their higher education, and the very wealthy attempt to send their children abroad to get education in the west. Labeling a liberal arts education the acme of counterrevolution is not only ridiculous but also completely hypocritical for you as a Bard graduate. Calling the creation of a liberal arts college in a country with a notoriously corrupt and inaccessible education system ‘colonial’ is extraordinarily ignorant. I assume you read Russian, since you appear to be able to recognize colonialism in the education system, and would tell me why other Russian professors became so interested in the college’s model?


Luke, I don’t regard a liberal arts education as ‘the acme of counterrevolution’ but I certainly regard George Soros’s philanthropic efforts as counterrevolutionary. Eastern Europe and even gas-rich Russia is economically devastated today largely because of the efforts of the CIA, Soros’s millions and the connivance of the intelligentsia and apparatchiks who calculated that they might be better off under capitalism. If that description offends you, then I invite you to stop reading this blog, just as you stopped reading the blog of my comrade Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb.

Luke gets the discussion back on track: ‘so are you saying now that you don’t regard Smolny as a ‘colonizing effort’? I’m talking specifically about Smolny, not Soros.’

This is where Proyect gets really silly:

Luke, what you should do is look at the political science course directory at Smolny and you will Soros-type preoccupations that would not be found in a normal college such as:

–Closed Institutions: Questions of Human Rights

–Human Rights as Political Theory: Its Emergence, Development, and Current State

–History of Human Rights Activism

–Human Rights Monitoring

–Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia: Scenarios of Post-Soviet Development

Half the courses are taught by Dmitry Dubrovsky, a ‘Human Rights’ activist associated with the ‘color revolution’ type movements that Soros supports. This is a highly politicized department that clearly seeks to influence the intelligentsia in the former Soviet Union along the lines of the Open Society. No other country in the world would have the audacity to open up a college in the US to promote ‘anti-American’ ideology. Could you imagine if the Cuban government funded a new college in the U.S. that had a political science department with courses like ‘On the need for economic justice in America’. It would be shut down immediately. Of course, Soros got away with this crap (until recently) because the Russian government saw the world the way that he did. Putin obviously is too much of a nationalist to put up with the Soros NGO’s but will likely tolerate the Smolny College for the time being.

The comparison with the metaphorical Cuba-US college is laughable given that US academics and students are often extremely critical of American governments. Back to Luke:

I think it’s great that the college offers classes on human rights, and I don’t regard that as colonialism, any more than Cuba’s creation of such a college course would be. The full description of the Human Rights Minor is here, along with actual descriptions of all the courses, which do not look that suspicious, and without actually sitting in a class, I withhold judgment. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Smolny and nothing about ideologically driven courses, if any other Russian speaker can show me where anything that indicates it’s all a stooge system for Soros go ahead. If human rights is an ‘anti-Russian’ ideology, I don’t know what to say, and dismissing these classes as ‘crap’ is an insult.

All Louis can say to that is ‘Luke, apparently you haven’t studied George Soros’s role in Eastern Europe very carefully with respect to ‘human rights’ but I would invite you to read what I wrote here: (Proyect link). Luke presses on:

As I said before, there is nothing in the course descriptions or offerings in the human rights minor that indicate that there is a bias in these specific courses or meddling by Soros. Until you have sat in on one of the classes that is being taught, neither you nor I can pass judgment on what is being taught in the classes.

‘Of course, Soros got away with this crap (until recently) because the Russian government saw the world the way that he did. Putin obviously is too much of a nationalist to put up with the Soros NGO’s but will likely tolerate the Smolny College for the time being.’

That’s funny, because according to here there are discussion going on between the program and the Russian ministry of education about the human rights program, and the Ministry is interested in expanding it to be included at other schools. Could you explain why the Russian government would want to have this spread if it is all just a Soros plot?

Several hours later, Luke adds: ‘You could always just admit that you made a mistake by writing about an educational system and course offerings that you misjudged.’

Only then does Proyect respond:

I am sorry, Luke. I really can’t take you seriously. You don’t show the slightest familiarity with George Soros’s NGO’s, especially their role in Georgia, Yugoslavia, Ukraine and other countries where they push for free market ‘solutions’ that have left people in dire poverty. I asked you to read what I wrote about Soros’s role in Hungary and you evaded me completely, only to pollute this blog with thousands of Russian words that nobody but a Russian or somebody who reads the language can understand. I have no idea whether you are some fan of the capitalist system irked by my taking exception to that system, or a confused left-liberal who really doesn’t understand what Soros means by ‘human rights’, a term that you have an uncritical understanding of. The one thing I got out of Bard College in the early 60s was an ability to think critically. Too bad that young Bardians today, and yourself apparently, have not been trained in that fashion.

I think this is a fascinating look at the problems with doctrinaire anti-imperialism, as well as the position that human rights is a purely Western idea forced upon the baffled natives of ex-slave empires and glorious socialist states.

Luke adds in his email to me:

I just would like to note that I don’t care for Soros or his politics, this is about Louis’s smearing of an educational institution and the human rights activists who have worked and trained there, and those who see it as a model for future human rights education in Russia.

(More Proyect action here.)

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Benny Goodman, b: 30 May 1909, d: 20 June 1986

May 29, 2009 at 9:04 pm (jazz, Jim D)

“It is not as easy to assess the place of Benny Goodman in the history of jazz as it is with some, like Armstrong and Charlie Parker, who were such overpowering improvisers that they drew everyone in behind them and changed the course of music. As a jazz musician Goodman ranks a step behind the tiny group of musicians at the apex, a group which includes Armstrong, Parker, Ellington and perhaps Beiderbecke, Lester Young and John Coltrane. He belongs, rather, to a not much larger group, which in my judgement would include Teagarden, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Bill Evans, Billie Holiday, and perhaps a dozen others – every jazz fan will have his own list. Many will disagree, but I think the case can be made. For one thing, Goodman was probably the single most influential clarinetist in the history of jazz…

“…Swing music was not, I submit as great a musical form as…let us say, the European symphony of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But it was sophisticated and skillfully played music which at moments reached the highest levels. Benny Goodman was the man who found the way to do it, and opened the door for the bands which rushed through the gap – among them Basie, Herman, Barnet, Lunceford, Berigan, Crosby, Webb, Shaw and eventually Kenton, Raeburn and the modernists. How things would have turned out without Goodman is hard to say. But they would have been different.”

-James Lincoln Collier, ‘Benny Goodman and the Swing Era’, Oxford 1989.

Here’s Goodman and his band in 1937, including Gene Krupa (drums), Harry James (trumpet), Vido Musso (tenor sax) and Lionel Hampton (vibes):


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Questions for Chris Mole

May 29, 2009 at 12:23 pm (capitalist crisis, expenses, Max Dunbar, welfare)

So it’s looking like the Great Crunch hasn’t caused any kind of revision in the government’s workfare plans. This is a press release from Chris Mole MP (crazy name, crazy guy):

The Minister was in Ipswich to visit the JobCentre Plus in Silent Street to see how people are being encouraged to return to work, and discuss with staff the role of sanctions on benefits for those who don’t cooperate with new training and assistance from the JobCentre. The discussion also focussed on the role of local employers in helping to encourage those who are long-term unemployed back to work.

The proposals would see people who have been unemployed for two years or those who go on and off of benefits working for their benefits and for the benefit of the local community.

The proposals would see those people in Ipswich who have been through the support of the New Deal and still haven’t found work or people who have a history of going on and off benefits taking part in full time community activity in return for their benefits. This will give people work experience that employers look for and will help flush out the people who are abusing the system or working while still signing on.

Commenting on the new plans, Chris said:

‘Long term unemployment is down 76% in Ipswich and more people are in work than ever before. But the days of mass unemployment have left scars and in some families worklessness has been passed down from generation to generation.’

‘This could be a win-win situation. Unemployed people will get valuable experience of work and we can all think of work that needs doing in the local community.’

The Ipswich Unemployment Action blog makes the point that claimants will have to be supervised. How much will it cost to train and salary these supervisors?

I have some questions of my own:

– Why is it that we never hear any information about what these claimants will be doing for their £1:73 an hour, or names of companies and organisations that are signing up? Volunteer work can be a great way to improve your skill set and thus increase your social mobility, but filling in potholes or doing outbound sales for next to nothing is not going to achieve much either for your CV or your quality of life in general.

– In these Troubled Economic Times™ shouldn’t every possible vacancy be advertised as an actual job? If there is work that needs doing why not pay a proper salary for it and get some wealth creation going on?

– If claimants are working 30 hours per week for their benefits, doesn’t that cut into the time when they could be filling out proper job applications and attending interviews?

– Why is it that, as a society, we are obsessed with cracking down on people who defraud the state of relatively small amounts while MPs who charge their servants’ accommodation to the taxpayer face almost no sanction?

The Ipswich bloggers raise the point that this is going to undercut the pay of those already in work. This could be a precedent for the further downgrading of the salaried job. We’ve gone from permanent contract work with benefits and protection to temporary work with almost no benefits and a third of the salary creamed off by recruitment consultants. This could be another step down.

(Via Andrew Coates)

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Another worthless ritual at UCU

May 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm (anti-semitism, Champagne Charlie, Middle East, palestine, unions)

It’s now become a ritual, and a worthless one at that: every year the UCU (the University and College Union) national conference passes a motion to boycott Israeli universities and academics; every year the union is told that such a boycott is illegal under anti-discrimination laws, and they back down. The same old routine has just happened again. It’s no longer worrying –  now it’s just tiresome. And it does not one iota of good for the Palestinian people.

No doubt most of those voting for the “boycott” resolution, are well-meaning supporters of the Palestinian cause and don’t know that they’re being used by long-standing “left” anti-semites like the SWP, and the likes of Cushman (see below), now turning the UCU into a Jew-free zone (though, of course, it will always allow space for those Jews willing to abase themselves and disavow Zionism and Israel):

Michael Cushman and the Jew-free UCU Congress

May 28, 2009 — David Hirsh

Michael Cushman Michael Cushman 

Mike Cushman is one of the leaders of the boycott campaign in UCU.  In the past he has pushed antisemitic conspiracy theory.   He has defended union members who passed material from David Duke’s website around the union.  He has rhetorically employed antisemitic stereotypes.   He has been feted by the Iranian state propaganda machine.  He has fawned over Hamas.

Now Cushman has provided the following breathless commentary of events at yesterday’s UCU Congress debate:

“It was brilliant. The Zionists bareley showed up. John Pike was totally isolated. On the first vote about invetigsting institutional anti-semitism in UCU he got about 6 votes out of 350.”

“On the key motion there were only two speakers against Pike and a woman from Workers Liberty, when the president asked for other speakers against no-one put their hand up. The vote was on my estimate about 300-30 (we should have asked for a count to rub salt into the wound).”

“What we must remember this was a victory built not just on hard work but even more on 1400 murders in Gaza.”

“Mike, in haste from Bournemouth”

This commentary requires a little bit of unpacking.  Two years ago, at the first Congress of the newly merged UCU, there was a big, very tense, very nasty debate about the boycott.  Cushman kicked off the ‘debate’ that day by declaring that he was “not going to be intimidated” – and received a huge cheer for it.  What he meant, and what Congress understood, was that he was not going to be intimidated by Jewish power.  And Congress followed his lead and voted for a boycott, many delegates showing clear signs that they were collectively excited at the feeling that they were standing up to the Jews.  Sorry.  To the Zionists.  This 2007 Congress was a horrible Jew-baiting Congress and it voted for a boycott motion.  When somebody stood up and mentioned antisemitism that day he was howled down by the delegates.

The Jew-baiters in UCU had a de facto deal with the union leadership – which was to allow them their fun at Congress but on the condition that the union would not actually do anything at all to implement any boycott.

Two years later, yesterday, the atmosphere was different.  There was not much cheering and there was not much howling.

Why?  Because there were no Jews left to bait.  As Michael Cushman says above, “the Zionists barely showed up”.

The Chair of the Open University Branch showed up to make a case for debating whether to have a ballot.  Congress voted him down.

Jon Pike showed up to argue that Congress should ask the union leadership to find out why Jews are resigning from the union.  Congress said it didn’t want to find out why Jews are resigning from the union.

Camila Bassi showed up, a member of a small Trotskyist group, she made a brave Trotskyist speech against the boycott.  Congress voted her down.

But there were speeches against the boycott available for anyone who wanted them.  But there was nobody left to make them.

There were no Jews there to speak against the boycott.  “The Zionists barely showed up”.

The soft left faction of union activists, the “reasonablists”,  the people who had always said they were against the boycott, remained silent, except for Mary Davis’ procedural question.  Perhaps some of them had gone soft on the boycott.  Perhaps some of them were frightened of being made into pariahs in the union if they stood up against antisemitism.  Not one of them spoke.  Not one of them insisted on making their argument.

Michael Cushman is excited by his victory.  He hasn’t noticed the significance of the fact that Congress is now free of Jews.  Except for Jews like him, the Jews who speak “as a Jew” but  who are quite unable to recognize antisemitism.  Haim Bresheeth.  John Rose.  Michael Cushman.  These are the Jews now, at UCU Congress.

David Hirsh

H/t: Engage

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Attention, earthlings: this is the Mekon!

May 28, 2009 at 8:36 pm (BBC, blogging, Champagne Charlie, Europe, green, media, strange situations)

mekon 2 Innocent viewers of this evening’s BBC 4 news programme have been terrified by the unexpected appearance of the dreaded Mekon, apparently undefeated by his would-be nemesis Dan Dare, and still intent upon inter-galactic domination.

The Mekon’s disturbing intervention into the programme, looming menacingly over a studio discussion on the EU elections, is of concern to this blog because he claimed to be called “Alan Thomas” and to be speaking on behalf of Shiraz Socialist! He had even gone so far as to attempt to disguise himself with orange makeup, but there was no concealing the true identity of the arch enemy of the human race.

He did talk some sense about the EU and the need for a strengthening of European institutions, citing the present negotiations over the future of GM’s European operations as an example of the need for Britain to be more fully engaged with Europe.

But the Mekon’s apparently reasonable line on Europe was merely a cloak for his dastardly plan to invade earth and enslave us all: Dan Dare, where are you now?

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Scientologophobia Watch: The French

May 27, 2009 at 7:01 am (cults, Max Dunbar, religion, scientology)

This is a second guest post by the Church of Scientology UK Media Relations Team

You will all remember that since the UK Crown Prosecution Service gave our Church the same legal protection as mainstream religions, the Church of Scientology has been able to set up ‘Scientologophobia Watch,’ a lively interactive web forum on which people who insult our religion can be named, shamed and Fair Gamed.

Now, via the Scientologophobic website Butterflies and Wheels (yes, Ophelia, we’ll get to you in time!) the Church has discovered the biggest Scientologophobes of all – the nation of France. The BBC reports that: ‘The Church of Scientology has gone on trial in the French capital, Paris, accused of organised fraud.’

Worse, Scientology isn’t even recognised as a proper religion in that evil country. If the Frenchies win this could mean that the Church could be banned in France.

This is the prosecution’s wafer-thin case:

The case centres on a complaint by a woman who says she was pressured into paying large sums of money after being offered a free personality test.

The church, which is fighting the charges, denies that any mental manipulation took place.

France regards Scientology as a sect, not a religion, and the organisation could be banned if it loses the case.

It is the first time the church has appeared as a defendant in a fraud case in France. Previous court cases have involved individual Scientologists.

The woman at the centre of this case says she was approached by church members in Paris more than 10 years ago, and offered a free personality test. But, she says, she ended up spending 21,000 euros ($29,400, £18,400) on lessons, books and medicines she was told would cure her poor mental state.

Her lawyers are arguing that the church systematically seeks to make money by means of mental pressure and the use of scientifically dubious ‘cures’.

A lawyer for the church, Patrick Maisonneuve, said: ‘We will contest every charge and prove that there was no mental manipulation.’

The church’s spokeswoman in France said it was being ‘hounded’ by the French courts and that its members were facing persecution.

€21,000 is indeed a ridiculous amount – that wouldn’t even get you five minutes on the e-meter in these troubled economic times. If you think eighteen grand is steep, you should see the amount Tom Cruise has shelled out over the years.

And it’s worth it! Like all non-Scientologists, this woman will have been infested by the souls of aliens that were murdered by the evil galactic overlord Xenu. I mean, does she think we can just wave a magic wand and make the body thetans go away? Dream your little dream, baby! It takes years of auditing to reach the status of ‘operating thetan’.

All true believers know that you cannot find salvation in the blink of an eye. The religious journey is long and arduous. It can’t be done in a single step – whether you are a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Jew, the quest takes time, integrity, effort, sacrifice, patience and duty (and loads of money if you’re a Scientologist!)

And religions don’t reveal their secrets to just anyone. It’s widely known that you need to be at least an Arch-Deacon to learn the story of Christ’s resurrection, and that only imams with twenty years’ service are allowed a copy of the Quran.

It is all too clear that Premier Sarkozy has formed an unholy alliance with the warlord Xenu and has made at least two diplomatic visits to his mountain prison in Quadrant 9. Together France and Xenu’s empire are engaged into a militant secularist crusade against religious freedom.

But don’t worry, we at Scientologophobia Watch are fighting back. We have already succeeded in persuading the UK government to rename French Fries ‘Xenu Fries’. French mustard is now known throughout Britain as ‘Xenu Mustard’. And all future DVD releases of the classic film The French Connection will now carry the motion picture’s real title: The Xenu Connection.

But that’s not all – we’ve followed up with a major poster campaign to show the world who really runs France.


The famous tricolore flag of France. Squint carefully and you will see the eight-armed trident of Xenu’s imperial federation.


The Eiffel Tower. Or to call it by its REAL name… the XENU TOWER!!!


French people eat frogs every single day. Xenu is known to have descended from the Frog People of Alpha Centauri.  COINCIDENCE?!?

But that’s not enough – if we are going to win the battle against religious persecution we need YOUR help.

What we need you to do is to contact your MP and urge them to lobby for a nuclear first strike on France. It only takes five minutes and there are standard email templates available on the Scientologophobia Watch website. We need YOU to do this because the Church of Scientology doesn’t have an independent nuclear capability of its own (yet!) 

With a Trident missile pointed at their asses the French will soon have to recognise Scientology as a religion or be annihilated! (Although let’s face it, a nation that doesn’t recognise Scientology isn’t worth living in anyway!!!)

Make no mistake – the entire population of France is Fair Game. We can win this fight – but we can only do it with YOUR HELP.



(end communication)

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The Ridiculous takes on the Repugnant

May 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm (elections, expenses, MPs, voltairespriest)

I suppose that most of the Westminster world will tonight be talking about David Cameron’s decentralisation plans, which are splashed all over the media. I thought however that just this once I’d celebrate the trivial instead, and salute the rotund Tory newspaper columnist Simon Heffer, for signalling his intent to lance the boil on the carcass of politics that is the expenses scandal by taking it on at source. Yes, he’s going to stand against the political titan that is Deputy Speaker of the House Sir Alan Hazelhurst, if he doesn’t pay back £12,000 in claimed expenses.

Go for it Si. I can just sense that the voters of Saffron Walden are ready for a real choice. And with people like you, Esther Rantzen, Lynn Faulds Wood and Robert Harris in the Commons, we at Shiraz Socialist just know the political sphere is in safe hands. Furthermore, if Bozo the Clown gets that deposit together to run against Birmingham Perry Barr’s Khalid Mahmood, then we shall be out on the streets working for him. Be sure of that.

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Lenny’s Bullshit Bingo

May 26, 2009 at 4:21 pm (bloggocks, Max Dunbar, Pro-War Left, religious right, SWP)

bullshitbingoLast week ReadySteadyBook featured a fascinating interview with Richard Seymour, of Lenin’s Tomb and SWP fame, discussing his book The Liberal Defence of Murder. This is Seymour explaining the origins of his blogging career:

Mark Thwaite: When and why did you first start blogging Richard?

Richard Seymour: I had been active on various message boards, arguing the case against the Iraq war. And just as one might gaze adoringly at some ordure just dropped in the pan and think ‘that is too beautiful to flush’, so I wished some of my comments and put-downs would have a permanent status somewhere on the internet. It was essentially intended to be a salon of scat, but somehow that noble purpose was lost on the way.

Sticking with the coprophilia theme, here’s Seymour bitching about his failure to win the Orwell Prize:

MT: We started exchanging a few emails recently because of the extraordinarily bad Orwell Prize shortlist. What do you think Orwell would have made of the shortlist?

RS: As you’re referring to the shortlist for the blog award – eventually won by a policeman for daringly belabouring ‘feral youths’ and the ‘Evil Poor’ – I had better point out that Lenin’s Tomb was included neither in the longlist nor the shortlist. So, naturally, I think Orwell would have detested it every bit as much as I do.

I also suspect that Orwell would have been horrified at the idea of such a prize being named after him. Awards are like statues, in that they only seem to attract copious amounts of shit.

Now, Mark Thwaite is an intelligent man and asks hard questions.

MT: The ‘bombing Left’ seems to think of some of the hard Left as the pro-Faith Left. Do you think bad compromises have been made by some on the Left associating with homophobic and mysogynistic Islamic groups?

Mark, it’s nice to know you’re still reading my stuff. Seymour’s response:

RS: It is strategically sensible for the liberal belligerati to focus on this issue and try to make the antiwar movement out to be ‘the enemy within’, in bed with the enemies of ‘Western values’. But it is by no means sensible for us to take their accusations as the starting point for a discussion. For example, this word ‘associating’ has quite a nebulous meaning here. I might ‘associate’ with Islamophobic liberals in defending the right to abortion, but does that involve a compromise on my part?

Let’s skip over the laughable notion that the antiwar movement is any kind of ‘enemy within’ rather than a hysterical and marginalised dead end in UK politics. Again Seymour doesn’t seem to understand the difference between single-issue campaigns involving people of faith and ‘actively forming political blocs with religious-political parties.

Seymour’s argument is that ‘a broad political campaign like the antiwar movement has to include everyone who opposes the war on whatever grounds, provided they aren’t outright fascists.’ As the STWC’s George Galloway is a donor to and supporter of the clerical fascists of Hamas then Seymour fails even on his own incredibly broad criterion.

Still, Mark presses him on the point:

MT: How should progressives walk the fine line between being vocally anti-Islamophobic and yet retain their own distinct secular radicalism?

RS: I don’t detect a ‘fine line’ between these two conditions. The Islamophobes in practise advocate an increasing encroachment by the state on matters of value, on conceptions of the good, and so on. That is not secular. Thus, while formally ‘secular’ concerns are presented about faith schools, or religious clothing, there is no doubt that what motivates them is the sudden discernment of a supposed threat to something called ‘British values’ or ‘Western values’ by Islam, and the desire for the state to thwart the threat. The result, which is that Muslims are singled out for opprobrium and suspicion, has nothing to do with secularism: it is its reverse. It is therefore not only possible to oppose this logic and remain secular – to be truly secular, it is *necessary* to oppose such logic.

But the arguments against faith schools and ‘religious clothing’ – I presume he’s talking hijab – are motivated by the fact that children don’t have a choice about whether they go to a faith school, and that women in Muslim communities do not, regrettably, always have a choice about whether to wear hijab. This is Patrick Weil, who sat on the presidential commission that recommended the French hijab ban, explaining why he changed his mind on the issue:

Either we left the situation as it was, and thus supported a situation that denied freedom of choice to those – the very large majority – who do not want to wear the headscarf; or we endorsed a law that removed freedom of choice from those who do want to wear it.

Also, Seymour’s anti-state rhetoric is unconvincing given that the main driving force behind faith schools is in fact the British state. And many defenders of secularism are and were against wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – so spare us the denounciations of ‘those who have aligned themselves with mass murderers’ and ‘soi-disant seculars’ with a ‘Spenglerian mysticism’ and ‘insistence on the idea of ‘Western values”.

The Enlightenment is not a Western invention: Seymour himself admits in his review of Chris Harman’s book that there was an ‘Islamic contribution to Enlightenment thought’. These are universal values, and if Seymour thinks they are exclusive to white liberals than that says more about the poverty of his vision than about the evils of the bomber left.

Finally, Seymour reveals the secret of his success: ‘If you want to make a career out of being a political writer, you have to find a way to market utterly conventional ideas as acerbic contrarianism.’ I couldn’t have put it better myself.

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Caution! Book may be inflammable

May 26, 2009 at 11:04 am (Feminism, Free Speech, Islam, islamism, Rosie B, women)

 About a year ago I did a post on Verso’s refusal to publish Does God Hate Women? by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, a book about various religions’ attitude towards women.  Verso (mission statement:- “Books with a critical edge” ) brought Jeremy Stangroom in for a discussion.  They had no problems about any of the religions mentioned and their attitudes towards women except for Islam.  The reason?  Well, Verso has a soft spot for Islam, which, they think, is a buttress against American imperialism.  All part of the creepy regard some sections of the left have towards theocracy.  Let’s hope that the recent revelations about how theocracy works against the most helpless in society – Ireland in this instance – might get them to reconsider this peculiar stance.

The church and the state in cahoots
The children lie under their boots.

For entertainment the comments thread under that post is worth reading.  People are desperate to prove that Ophelia Benson is a liar rather than that a famous left-wing publisher should be such a craven clerical arse-licker.

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom found another publisher, Continuum.   Now a week before publication date Continuum are getting cold feet.   Read it over here:-

About this non-ecumenical book that Jeremy and I wrote, that is due out at the end of this week. Yes, what about it, you’re thinking, all agog. For reasons which I will explain another day, the publisher became nervous about it last Friday. The publisher phoned us on Friday, and talked of changes, or delays, or would we like to drop a chapters. We would not like to drop a chapter, and if we had liked to drop a chapter, the time to discuss that would have been several months ago, not now, a week before the book is supposed to appear. The publisher sent the can-we-drop-it chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The publisher sent the chapter to an ecumenicist to get his opinion.

The ecumenicist will not like it. The ecumenicist will hate it. The ecumenicist specializes in Muslim-Christian relations. This book is not about Muslim-Christian relations, and it did not set out to improve Muslim-Christian relations, and it was not shaped in such a way as to improve Muslim-Christian relations. That means the ecumenicist is the wrong kind of person to be vetting our chapter.

It look like the publisher is doing what Random House did about the Jewel of Medina. They send the manuscript to someone to vet in case of offence to Islam, which they would not care much about except that they fear that some of the offended will turn violent. What Kenan Malik calls the “internalisation of censorship” comes into action.

Inayat Bungawala has said that when he was a lad in Bradford protesting about Rushdie’s Satanic Verses he thought that books should be read by a board of clerics before they were published.   He has since recanted from that opinion.  Nowadays publishers don’t send the books to clerics but to people who can do some second guessing about offensiveness and the effects on community cohesion etc, and more crudely, whether they could suffer the same kind of violence that murdered translators and distributors of The Satanic Verses and firebombed the publisher of The Jewel of Medina.

So books critical towards Islam will not be published.  Censorship by governments (Lady Chatterley, for instance) has been faced down in courts in this country.  We have censorship by our appalling libel laws.  We also have censorship by freelance censors with petrol bombs in their pockets.  The angry mini-cab driver becomes the publisher’s reader.

This will hid hardest not writers like Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom, who view Islam from the outside, but those who write from within – the liberalisers, the reformers, the feminists, the novelists, the historians.  They will write and no-one will dare to publish them.

If you want to put some put pressure on Continuum to publish and damn all the offended, you could pre-order the book from Amazon.

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The Whitsun Weddings (or why the licence fee is still worth paying)

May 24, 2009 at 10:47 pm (BBC, Jim D, literature)

“And as the tightening brakes took hold, there swelled

A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower

Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.”

Listen (Duration: 45 minutes)


7 days left to listen

Last broadcast today, 21:30 on BBC Radio 3.

Or read and listen, here.


Poets Paul Farley and Kate Royal travel across Britain, tracing the origins of some of Philip Larkin’s best-known train-inspired poems, including the celebrated Whitsun Weddings – of which they are both particular admirers.

They also look at other poems such as Dockery and Son, Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel and Here, and take journeys from Oxford to Sheffield and Hull to London. They lead them to a series of interchanges on class, gender, paternity and Englishness, as well as a discussion about the poet’s influence on them and on other contemporary writers.

Along the way, they meet fellow Larkin enthusiasts, including the Hull woman married in the 1950s who remembers the ‘bridal express’ days evoked in The Whitsun Weddings – as they build up a picture of how much of Larkin’s England has gone, what remains and talk about what the poems say

With new readings of the poems in addition to archive recordings.


  1. Sun 24 May 2009

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