Bremner, Islam…and fear

June 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm (BBC, Christianity, Free Speech, Guardian, Islam, islamism, Jim D, religious right, SWP)

Rory Bremner, a leftist satirist, was interviewed as part of a Channel 4 show on “satire” that appeared last night. He said this:

“With Islam, you’re in a situation now, which I’ve never been in before, which is that when you’re writing a sketch about Islam, I’m writing a line and I think ‘If this goes down badly, I’m writing my own death warrant there.’

“‘Because there are are people who will say ‘Not only do I not think that’s funny but I’m going to kill you’ – and that’s chilling.”

I’ve been thinking about Bremner’s words ever since, and reckon they’re quite important. At one level, he’s merely stating the obvious: that the willingness of Islamic fundamentalist extremists to kill people creates an atmosphere of fear that western satirists are not used to dealing with. When I first got involved with the far left, in the 1970’s, hostility towards religion was taken as read; satire (like Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’) was unquestioned; the idea that we might possibly, under *any* conceivable circumstances defend religion or have  “respect” for (as opposed to *understanding* of)  the feelings of religious people, was unthinkable. Socialist Worker and the International Socialists, in particular,  were vigorously secular and anti-religious.

The tide turned after the Salman Rushdie / ‘Satanic Verses’  row in 1988, when some elements on the “left” (noteably the SWP who had initially defended Rushdie, then changed their mind) turned against free speech and in favour of “respect” towards religion. This was the beginning of relativism as a force to be reckoned with in “left” politics in Britain.

The SWP, in particular, championed an unprecedented leftist softness towards religion and expended great efforts to misrepresent Marx and miseducate young comrades on the question of religion, up to and including what he meant by the “sigh of the oppressed.” The SWP’s bastard offspring, “Respect”, led by the shyster/poseur Galloway,  a proclaimed, political Catholic who hinted at a forthcoming conversion to Islam, further challenged the internationalist left’s traditional secularism.

We all know that the BBC and other mainstream media from the Sun to the Guardian, have long avoided any criticism of Islam. The sort of attacks on Christianity, Judaism and Hindusim, that are acceptable, and indeed, welcomed, by leftists, are now deemed “unacceptable” in “left” circles, when applied to Islam.

The reasons for this are mixed; as is so often the case there is a “good” reason:

Muslims are amongst the poorest and most disadvantaged people in Britain today. The left, quite rightly, wants to support Muslim people. Islamist radicals have been fostering a sense of victimhood within Muslim communities for some years. No reasonable person would want to increase the sense of victimhood by gratuitously insulting Islam. The “left”, in particular, wants to be seen as defenders of the oppressed. But our true role must be to champion working class people in the workplace and , and to fight for equal rights in the communities- not to defend religious and social backwardness.

But there is a “real” reason: the “left”  (which for the purposed of this article, includes the “establishment” liberal/left of the Guardian and the BBC) is afraid of the virile, aggressive religion of Islam, in a way that it isn’t of liberal, decadent Christianity.

And the establishment liberals are afraid because they’ve been told, by Muslim fundamentalists, “Upset us and we’ll kill you.”

Rory Bremner has acknowledged that simple  fear  often lies behind the reluctance of  the mainstream media, comedians and satirists, to treat Islam as they treat Christianity and all other religions.

We on the left need to reassert what used to be a trusim: that it is possible to defend immigrant communities against attack, whilst not defending their cultural traditions – especially when those traditions are thoroughly reactionary. And we must defend the right to attack and ridicule religion and defend free speech . “Leftist” like the SWP who have equivocated on any or all of that are, quite simply, traitors to the enlightenment and to Marxism.

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World Cup Fever!

June 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm (comedy, Max Dunbar)

I thought that I was a bourgeois anti-football elitist, but there’s always someone worse than you. The increasingly silly and irrelevant Terry Eagleton writes at CiF that football is ‘the opium of the people, not to speak of their crack cocaine… Nobody serious about political change can shirk the fact that the game has to be abolished.’

He doesn’t address the exploitation around this year’s World Cup – that would have taken time, thought and effort. Instead we get paragraphs like this:

If the Cameron government is bad news for those seeking radical change, the World Cup is even worse. It reminds us of what is still likely to hold back such change long after the coalition is dead. If every rightwing thinktank came up with a scheme to distract the populace from political injustice and compensate them for lives of hard labour, the solution in each case would be the same: football. No finer way of resolving the problems of capitalism has been dreamed up, bar socialism. And in the tussle between them, football is several light years ahead.

Like some austere religious faith, the game determines what you wear, whom you associate with, what anthems you sing and what shrine of transcendent truth you worship at. Along with television, it is the supreme solution to that age-old dilemma of our political masters: what should we do with them when they’re not working?

It’s curious that Eagleton is suddenly keen to tell us about the politics of football when he himself has promoted at great lengths another popular delusion that encourages mass conformity, appeals to some of the nastiest male instincts and creates a solidarity of anti-intellectualism and violence. There will be free tickets to the England-Algeria game at the Castlefield Bowl in Manchester for the first person to guess what that might be.

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Refugee week and our shameful treatment of Afghan kids

June 15, 2010 at 12:08 am (asylum, AWL, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, Middle East, war, youth)

Some things simply make you ashamed to be British:

“The Government’s decision to fast-track the deportation of child and adolescent Afghans from Britain to Afghanistan is an outrage against public decency and elementary human rights.

“If the people of Britain have not been numbed and brainwashed by the torrents of scapegoat denunciations of immigrants in the press and by politicians (including the New Labour government), then this decision will be met by the fierce outcry it merits.

“These are children and adolescents who sought refuge in Britain as “unaccompanied asylum seekers”. They have no parents, or are separated from their parents. Living in this country, they have become accustomed to British conditions.

“Now the government plans to expel them forcibly into a war-torn and war-wrecked country in which large numbers of children manage to stay alive only as scavengers on rubbish dumps…”

Read the rest here

…then do something about it:

Refugee Week 14 – 20 June 2010

Different pasts, shared future

Refugee Week is a unique opportunity to discover and celebrate the contributions refugees bring to the UK.

During Refugee Week loads of events take place all across the UK, all of which explore refugee experiences. Whatever you’re into – whether its arts, music, food or just meeting people in your local area – Refugee Week will have an event for you.

This year, we’re asking everyone to do a Simple Act. By doing one small, everyday action that can change perceptions of refugees we can help create a society we all want to live in. We want to reach 20’000 Simple Acts completed by world Refugee Day, 20th June. Find out more.

More info about Refugee Week

Find your nearest event

Add an Event to our Calendar

Highlighted Events for 2010

More on Simple Acts

Visit the Press Area

Get posters, flyers, banners & T-shirts

Join our Mailing List

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Larkin, Bechet and “the natural noise of good”

June 14, 2010 at 10:17 pm (BBC, jazz, Jim D, literature, music, perversity, Racism)

The City of Hull has just begun ‘Larkin 25’,  a 25-week-long event, marking the 25th anniversary of the poet’s death on 2nd December 1985.  BBC Radio 4’s ‘Front Row’ hosted by Mark Lawson, plugged the event, but spent at least half its time promoting the charges that Larkin was:

a/  a misogynist;

b/ a racist;

c/ a Nazi sympathiser.

No-one on the programme challenged these claims and even the suggestion (from one of the organisers of the Hull event) that we should separate the man from his work, came over as tacit acceptance that the allegations are true.

Alan Plater, a staunch defender of Larkin’s memory, did not feature in ‘Front Row’, but could have provided some balance. Plater wrote (in the Graun in 2002) about an incident in the 1970’s:

“I was on a selection panel with Larkin and a man from the Arts Council, given the task of selecting a poet-in-residence for a college in Hull. One of the applicants was black. After the interviews the man from the Arts Council said: ‘What did we think of our coloured cousin?’ To which Larkin and I replied, in synch: ‘We give him the job.’ Which we did, to the splendid Archie Markham.”

In his role as self-appointed counsel for the defence, Plater has written elsewhere (the forward to Larkin’s Jazz, Continuum, 2001):

“This collection goes a long way towards reclaiming Philip from the demonologists (Chandler used to call them ‘primping second-guessers’) who fell on the Selected Letters and the (Andrew Motion) biography with evangelical zeal and pronounced him unfit for human consumption on the basis of racism, sexism and various other disorders lumped together under any other business on that day’s agenda.

“Well, here is our designated demon on the racist issue, writing in 1969:

“‘It is an irony almost too enormous to be noticed that the thorough penetration of Anglo-Saxon civilisation by Afro-American culture by means of popular music is a direct, though long-term, result of the abominable slave trade.’

“And on the sexist issue, at the end of a review of books about Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday in 1973, he writes:

“‘Different in their styles, similar in their quality, these two women gave the world more than it could ever have repaid, even if it had tried.’

“Here are two huge, compassionate truths wrapped up in a sentence apiece, each informed by decency and anger, and enough to start a revolution any day of the week.”

For what it’s worth, I personally believe that the charge of sexism/misogyny carries some weight (Plater’s dismissal of it – “How can anyone be a womaniser and a misogynist?” – is pretty weak); the charge of racism comes with enough (albeit conflicting) evidence to be at least worthy of consideration; the charge of Nazi sympathies is simply an outrageous slur disgracefully repeated by Mark Lawson, whose only evidence seems to be that Larkin kept a mechanical model of Hitler once owned by his father (who was a Nazi sympathiser).

If I don’t go all the way with Plater, I am certainly with him in giving Larkin’s love of jazz a lot of weight in the case for the defence. As Plater notes, “It is no coincidence that repressive regimes the world over, taking their cue from Hitler, have always hated jazz, the music that doesn’t play by the rules, or as Philip describes it: ‘that incredible argot that in the first half of the 20th century spoke to all nations and all intelligences equally’.”

And Larkin’s love of one jazz musician in particular is significant: the black New Orleans clarinetist and soprano sax master Sidney Bechet, for whom Larkin’s enthusiasm knew no bounds:

“There are not many perfect things in jazz, but Bechet playing the blues could be one of them“,  he wrote in the Guardian in 1960.

As a young jazz record collector in Oxford in 1941, he wrote to a friend about a Bechet record: “I rushed out on Monday and bought ‘Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This Morning’. Fucking, cunting, bloody good! Bechet is a great artist. As soon as he starts playing you automatically stop thinking about anything else and listen. Power and glory!”

And, of course, in his 1964 collection ‘The Whitsun Weddings’, Larkin included this:

For Sidney Bechet

That note you hold, narrowing and rising, shakes
Like New Orleans reflected on the water,
And in all ears appropriate falsehood wakes,

Building for some a legendary Quarter
Of balconies, flower-baskets and quadrilles,
Everyone making love and going shares–

Oh, play that thing! Mute glorious Storyvilles
Others may license, grouping around their chairs
Sporting-house girls like circus tigers (priced

Far above rubies) to pretend their fads,
While scholars manqués nod around unnoticed
Wrapped up in personnels like old plaids.

On me your voice falls as they say love should,
Like an enormous yes.  My Crescent City
Is where your speech alone is understood,

And greeted as the natural noise of good,
Scattering long-haired grief and scored pity.

Here’s the record Larkin enthused over so colourfully in 1941:

…and here’s Larkin’s favourite jazz record of all  (the band, led by Alan Elsdon, at his Westminster Abbey memorial service recreated it): Bechet’s ‘Blue Horizon’:

I don’t believe that anyone who loved that piece of music (and the man who created it) so much, and called it “the natural noise of good”,  can have been all bad.

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A regime beyond simple human decency

June 13, 2010 at 9:49 am (Champagne Charlie, hell, insanity, labour party, stalinism)

An announcement on the London LRC (Labour Representation Committee) e-list:
Dear Comrades,

Friday 25th June

The Korea Friendship Association is holding a picket to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and the Month of Solidarity with the Korean people on Friday 25th June.

12 pm – 2.30 outside the South Korean embassy, 60 Buckingham Gate, London SW1E 6AJ

3.30 – 5.30 outside the  US embassy in Grosvenor Square

…and a response:
Sent: Friday, June 11, 2010 9:43 PM
Subject: [londonlrc] Solidarity with Korea
In general people can make mistakes and be corrected by education. So I don’t approve of burning heretics at the stake.
But these people are so wrong that their presence in a long term front like the LRC without any serious challenge makes it unworkable. As a passive member of the LRC I’m pretty sure that comment from me would have little impact.  I do not see tht there is anything to be gained from entering into debate with people who hold views so much at odds with the historical record that they can circulate this sort of shite.
Please delete me from your circulation list 

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World Cup: the exaltation and the exploitation

June 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm (africa, homelessness, Jim D, poverty, sport)

Even a dedicated anti-sportsperson like me cannot help but be moved by the obvious joy and pride that the World Cup has brought to many South Africans, including (if the media coverage can be trusted) many poor blacks . And, of course, football (soccer) has a long and honourable role in in the anti apartheid struggle.

But there’s another side to it as well: evictions and hyper-exploitation.


The Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF) and allies will be embarking on a march to coincide with the opening of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. The march will start at 09h00 from Ben Naude Drive, opposite Fons Luminous Combined School Assembly Area and will proceed along the Rand Show Road/Aerodrome Drive towards Soccer City. The APF urges all community and other civil society organisations who share our concerns and who wish to add their voices, to join us. We have no intention of disrupting the World Cup but simply to voice our discontent/concerns.

Despite the APF’s attempts to overturn them, conditions have been imposed by the Johannesburg Metro Police (in the name of ‘national security’) such that the march will not be allowed to proceed to Soccer City itself but will end at a designated ‘speakers corner’ some 1,5 kms away from the stadium. A memorandum of grievances and demands from communities that make up the APF has been drawn up and all the main local, provincial and national government offices have been contacted to come and receive this memorandum.

The Soccer World Cup is here and the official theme is “feel it, it is here”. However, despite the fact that most people love the game of soccer, poor communities are only feeling the hardship of South Africa’s hosting of the World Cup and the neoliberal policies which continue to ensure that poor people remain poor.

The massive amounts of public funds used to build new stadiums and related infrastructure for this World Cup have only served to further deny poor people the development and services they have been struggling for over many years. Millions remain homeless, unemployed and in deep poverty, thousands in poor communities across South Africa continue to be brutally evicted and those struggling to survive (like street vendors) are being denied basic trading rights and are criminalised.

Yet, our government has managed, in a fairly short period of time, to deliver ‘world class’ facilities and infrastructure that the majority of South Africans will never benefit from or be able to enjoy. The APF feels that those who have been so denied, need to show all South Africans as well as the rest of the world who will be tuning into the World Cup, that all is not well in this country, that a month long sporting event cannot and will not be the panacea for our problems. This World Cup is not for the poor – it is the soccer elites of FIFA, the elites of domestic and international corporate capital and the political elites who are making billions and who will be benefiting at the expense of the poor.

For the past fifteen years the majority of South Africans have continued to suffer the inheritances of the apartheid regime and neoliberal macro-economic policies. General living conditions, largely due to a lack of basic services and employment opportunities, have gone from bad to worse to bad. These problems are very real and they range from:

* the huge backlog in formal housing (parallel to the increased growth in shack settlements in all main urban and peri-urban areas)
* lack of access to electrification in many poor areas (upwards of 30% of South Africans – most of whom are poor – remain unelectrified and are forced to use dangerous substitutes such as paraffin and candles)
* a poor quality public education system (in which educational resources are scarce and a serious crises in the provision of basic services at public schools continues)
* a dire lack of proper recreational facilities and programmes in poor communities (contributing to a range of serious social problems, especially amongst the youth)
* the immense number of impoverished, unemployed people across the country (despite the promises of job creation through the World Cup, over 1 million have lost their jobs over the past two years – including those workers casually employed to build the new stadiums – and the real unemployment rate is around 40% – a national crisis!).

The APF wants to make it clear that we love the game of soccer. Soccer is a predominately working class sport that is enjoyed by billions around the globe. But this World Cup does not represent those billions but rather the interests of a small elite who have manipulated the beautiful game and have used this World Cup to make massive profits at the expense of poor ordinary South Africans who, after all, are the ones who have paid – through the public purse – for what so few will enjoy.

South Africa is the most unequal society in the world and we believe that addressing this socio-economic inequality must be the top priority of our country, our government is addressed. One World Cup – no matter how much we enjoy watching soccer – is not going to address or solve our fundamental problems. The more we continue to allow the elites to hide the realities of our country, to falsely claim that this World Cup will provide lasting social unity and leave a positive developmental ‘legacy’ and to spend public funds to do so, the farther we move from confronting the real problems that the majority in our country experience every day of their lives.

For comment/further information contact:

Sithembiso Nhlapo 078 148 0153

Mashao Chauke 082 212 6518

Sipho Magudulela 074 938 2145

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Howlin’ Wolf centennial

June 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm (jazz, Jim D, music)

Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett), born June 10 1910, died January 10 1976

“Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smoke Stack Lightnin’ ‘ is an amazing performance, a piece of pure jazz Gothic, creating with no more properties than an echo chamber and his own remarkable voice an impression of Coleridge’s demon lover wailing for his woman”  – Philip Larkin,  ‘All What Jazz – A Record Diary.’

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Labour leadership: socialism not on offer

June 9, 2010 at 8:25 pm (Champagne Charlie, labour party, multiculturalism, wankers)

As a  “nutty”-sectarian supporter of John McDonnell, I’m naturally disappointed that he’s not obtained sufficient nominations to stand for the Labour leadership and has withdrawn. Tactically, he may have been  right to stand down in favour of Diane Abbott. Clearly, the New Labour establishment decided it would be bad PR to exclude her from the ballot. But it will still take a great deal to persuade me that socialists should give this shyster, liar and professional “diversity person” Abbott any support.

Certainly not on this pathetic basis (which I’m not suggesting Abbott solicited) :

“The black MPs have got to learn how to play big people’s politics. You get no respect from white folk by being disunited. If the black MPs had all nominated Diane, no matter what their misgivings about her, they would have presented themselves as a powerful bloc to be reckoned with. As Lammy pointed out, who they voted for thereafter would have been less important than the symbolic and historic act of supporting a black sister for Labour’s top job.

Marc Wadsworth”

Good grief! We’re still into identity politics, and that twat Wadsworth still dares open his mouth/ to put pen to paper. I’m just amazed that he writes about the “white folk”, and not “The Man”… No wonder the “left” is getting nowhere on race issues, if this ridiculous sloganising and posturing from discredited, sell-out poseurs is the best that we can do… Back to class, comrades! And stop insulting/patronising black socialist women who are coming up in our movement, and who regard people like you, Wadsworth, and Diane Abbott, as embarrassing buffoons, careerists and throw-backs. You and your pseudo-wadical posturing are just embarrassing in the eyes of able young black activists, who want to fight on a class basis.

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Zionists, flotilla, false flag, imperial ambitions, Alastair Campbell (Will this do?)

June 7, 2010 at 7:29 pm (comedy, Max Dunbar)

Can anyone tell me what on earth John Pilger is trying to say here?

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In The Room The Women Come And Go

June 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm (anonymous, Human rights, Iran, Max Dunbar, religion)

Via Sunny Hundal at Pickled Politics, I’ve come across an excellent piece by Gita Sahgal, recently fired by Amnesty for speaking out against its gushing promotion of Taliban enthusiast Moazzam Begg and his fundamentalist CagePrisoners phony human rights group. (Here is the whole sorry tale.)

Sunny doesn’t care for the article – which is not surprising, for smart women dissidents get a hard time from the left these days. Western feminism consists of complaining about Sex and the City 2 rather than international solidarity with women in appalling circumstances.

Yet Sahgal makes a couple of important points. The first is about priorities. The issue of possible hijab bans has been raised yet again. There are good arguments for and against the ban. As Ophelia says, it’s progress that Sarkozy has called the burqa what it is – an instrument of oppression – but we should hesitate to draft laws that specifically target immigrants and ethnic minorities. People should be able to dress how they choose.

And yet, when you consider the forms of active misogyny at home and abroad, from the pay gap to the use of rape as a weapon of war, should the ‘right’ to wear suffocating garments of dubious Quranic legitimacy be so high on the list of priorities? Apparently it should. The New Statesman recently dedicated an entire issue to the veil. The conversation centres mainly on Western countries where the penalties for breaking workplace dress codes are relatively mild. From Sahgal’s article:

Shadi Sadr, the courageous Iranian lawyer who has been sentenced in absentia to lashings and imprisonment, has pointed out that while Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have rushed to condemn the niqab ban in Europe, not a word has been heard against increasing dress code restrictions imposed by the State in Iran and accompanied by draconian punishments.

I can find no mention of this in Mehdi Hasan’s article or anywhere else in the special issue. Even the generally thought-provoking and original writer Laurie Penny has, on this occasion, retreated into conformity. Why defend the rights of French women but not Iranian women? What does this say about our priorities?

The Catholic Church abuse scandal was greeted with a similar indifference. That there exists a systemic culture of child rape in the organisation is beyond dispute. Yet as Sahgal points out, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch did not go after the Church for its violations of the rights of the child as codified in international law.

The last mention of the Catholic Church from Amnesty that I can find is in its statement on Sahgal’s dismissal, where Widney Brown, the Senior Director of Law and Policy, asks the following rhetorical question:

For example, should we not work against the death penalty with an influential actor like the Catholic Church because we disagree with their stand on women’s reproductive rights and homosexuality? There are valid arguments for and against. We chose to work with the Catholic Church against the death penalty.

… as if the fight against capital punishment can’t be won without CAFOD’s postcard campaigns. Brown is prepared to overlook the Church’s opposition to female autonomy and gay rights. Will he overlook papal complicity in the torture of children? From Sahgal’s article:

Amnesty should have spoken out against the complicity, cover up and abuse of children by those exercising religious authority. In the event, they stayed shamefully silent. As one voice, the leaders stood with the Catholic establishment and ignored Catholic victims.

The quixotic task of bringing the criminals to justice had to be taken up by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens because professional human rights activists have no interest in the case.

It is simplistic to assume that this section of the left hates everything Western and supports everything anti-Western. The reality is that Hasan, Brown, Eagleton, Armstrong, Byrnes and their whole shambolic crew of ubiquitous intellectual mediocrities will campaign against secular laws made by elected governments while defending the horrific crimes of faith-based regimes and movements. It’s barely worth saying that this pro-faith view of the world is incompatible with a campaign for universal human rights. Religion prioritises the needs of an imaginary god over the love and support of human beings.

We are fortunate that there is no monopoly on compassion. To finish with Sahgal: ‘If human rights organizations can no longer tell their own stories, others will do it for them.’

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