The Hollow Crown ended with the fourth play in the series, Henry V. It was brilliant, like the whole series, and it was great to see Henry V in sequence after the two Henry IV’s. I’ve seen Henry V several times, and the Falstaff and Mistress Quickly scene at the beginning doesn’t make much sense in a stand alone Henry V.
I thought framing the play with the funeral at beginning and end was a fine device. At first I was puzzled when a woman in black, who I couldn’t identify, turned up at the beginning, but at the end you see her again and it makes sense. By then you have enjoyed her as the radiant, playful Princess Katherine with rippling golden hair and a pale blue. girlish dress, and now she is transformed into a braided, draped piece of mourning and motherhood. The adventures and romance of Henry were glorious, but short-lived.
Henry V is a play with a fantastic action hero at its centre and so there were plenty of shots of Henry galloping on a white horse, his cloak flying behind him. Tom Hiddleston looked right – the director had left off the usual pudding basin haircut -and was a young man full of energy and warmth, surrounded by a posse of capable old codgers (all excellent, and Paul Freeman as Erpingham was perfect in his smiling delivery). Henry is an epitome of Rudyard Kipling’s If – he walks with kings (he is one) and has the common touch, all men count with him and none too much. This was an unbombastic Henry. Hiddleston seems to be able to do anything, so no doubt he could perform the famous motivational speeches, the once more in the breach, dear friends, and the Crispin Day one as a leader to his troops. But he was directed to get in a huddle with his immediate comrades urging them on hoarsely, like a coach at a football team rather than Elizabeth I at Tilbury. Very different from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. One of Branagh’s strengths is to convince as a leader of men, as he did in Shackleton.
They didn’t cut the Harfleur speech, when Henry threatens atrocities if the town does not surrender, as Laurence Olivier’s wartime version did. Any modern production of a play with a war setting will emphasise the cruelties and terrors, so there were plenty of shots of the Boy, who follows the army after he picked up the St George Cross armband at the beginning reacting to the deaths and fear around him.
I thought that a production that underlined the horrors was going to rob us of excitement – the advance of the cavalry and the arrow shower, but we got them both – a lovely wide shot of the horses approaching, the English bowmen waiting and the hooves thundering closer and closer. Not as good an arrow shower as in the Olivier and Branagh film versions, but pretty good.
Henry V is – well not pure jingoism, as nothing Shakespeare ever does is pure and simple – cynics, nay sayers and no-shows have their turns – it’s got a touch of the Wilfred Owen among the Rupert Brookery – but full on aggressive patriotism, with everyone in the play telling us how marvellous Henry V is – and of course he is marvellous, like James Bond with heavier responsibilities. His enemy is a sneery Dauphin (Edward Akrout, an English bloke’s nightmare of a handsome, French dude advertising perfume). The Dauphin and his henchmen are arrogant sods whose horses wear dressy armour – that concertinaed neck protector on the Dauphin’s horse looked amazing. The English stand stoically covered in mud. If there any image of Frenchman vs Englishman that has staying power with the English, this one is it, the flashy smoothy vs the dogged rough substance.
Like James Bond Henry gets the girl, who is delightful and French to boot (Melanie Thierry – utterly charming, whether giggly or serious). When in the final wooing scene Henry adds to his other virtues a GSOH and amusing self-deprecation and the beautiful young Prince and Princess kiss each other, it’s the end of a fairy tale, but they do not of course live happily ever after Henry dies, and England bleeds. The Chorus in the play tells us so, this production showed us, that glory existed but was cut short.
‘Shiraz’ Commenter Robin Carmody writes:
“The really scary thing (see Friday’s Guardian) is how hard those with vested interests are trying effectively to fix the election, or come as close to doing that as is constitutionally allowed, by making it as hard as possible for likely Obama supporters to vote. Worse still, this is strongest in Florida.”
Here’s the Doonesbury take:
The Hollow Crown series has been marvellous in direction, acting and settings.
Jeremy Irons, who played Henry IV, also presented a thoughtful documentary about the three Henry plays in the series. This includes footage of different productions especially those at The Globe and you get an idea of how those plays worked up their audience with contrasting scenes – a comic bit, followed by a love scene, followed by a fight.
I am glad that the plays have been set in medieval times, when these dynastic discords occurred, and that the actors are wearing chain mail or robes. The battle scenes, in snow or through bare woods, are excellent, as the warriors get into single combat and go to it clanking sword againstsword. Single combat always makes a good spectacle. Why else employ light sabres in Star Wars?
That is a problem with modern settings of Shakespeare. How do you make the fights work, especially when the dialogue constantly mentions swords?. Baz Luhrmann‘s production of Romeo and Juliet tried to get round this by making the camera zoom in on the brand names Sword and Dagger printed on the guns that the Mafia style gangs fought with, but it was a clumsy fix. Two recent modern productions, Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth and Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus managed to sneak in a little hand to hand engagement from the blood-thirsty combatants, however unlikely that would be in the age of ballistics.
Macbeth and Coriolanus were both updated to be political thrillers, and they worked well. But it can be annoying to have modern parallels pushed at you. I once saw a production of Coriolanus with the main man goose-stepping, which infuriated me because (a) Coriolanus isn’t a Fascist, just a general bad at democratic politics; (b) even if he were, I don’t want the director holding up Think Mussolini! signs like that It’s slightly insulting, like being harangued about politics by Rory Bremner.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t find parallels in your own times. Young Prince Hal goes slumming among the low-life and I thought of a rich boy, the son of a CEO or banker, hanging out with rappers, Falstaff being the veteran MC and the Godfather of the Dive Club.
The talking heads in the Jeremy Irons documentary agree that, as King Henry IV wishes Hotspur was his son, so Prince Hal is seeking a father figure in Falstaff. That is neatly symmetrical, but while there are lines where King Henry says that of Hotspur, there is not one to suggest Hal regards the reprobate Falstaff as anything but a playmate. Hal is eloquent, quick witted, – one of Shakespeare’s smart-arses, like Hamlet, a great world-wielder -and his and Falstaff’s exchanges are duelling performances as each out-nouns and out-adjectives each other.
Hal: I’ll be no longer guilty of this sin; this sanguine coward, this bed-presser, this horseback-breaker, this huge hill of flesh,—
Falstaff: ‘Sblood, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish! for breath to utter what is like thee! you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bowcase; you vile standing-tuck,—
Tom Hiddleston as Hal suggests lithe and young energy and is an eyeful lounging with the bad ass Poins (David Dawson) in the bathhouse scene.* He gets all of Hal’s moods – his enjoyment of his own talents and pranks, the splinter of ice that observes coolly his low-life chums while acting as one of them, the growing awareness that one day he will have to do the equivalent of graduating from Harvard and taking his seat on the board. His knowledge that his wild ways are a gap year before returning to his real life make him unlovably cool and self-contained. Prince Hal has to grow out of Falstaff, put on the armour and start fighting as a modern privileged roaring boy starts wearing the suit, tapping the blackberry and spending his days in a glass tower to maintain his position in the world.
Simon Russell Beale was a sound fat Falstaff. with his mixture of intelligent cynicism, warmth and the pathos of one feeling age approaching. Age presses more and more on him while his corruption becomes less amusing as he accepts bribes from the press-ganged working men and exploits the daffy Mistress Quickly’s affection for him (Julie Walters, good, but isn’t Mistress Quickly a marriageable forty or so, not sixty?).
Prince Hal and Falstaff are both complex characters that could come from novels, in that we are given much of their thinking as well as their words. Around them are simpler and vivid characters – the king, Hotspur, Glendower, Pistol, Justice Shallow.
Jeremy Irons as the king, sick and furrowed with anxiety and guilt is superb. Joe Armstrong, playing Hotspur as a touchy, scrappy whippet of a Geordie lights up every scene he is in, whether rousing his troops, undercutting the operatic Owen Glendower’s grandiosity or teasing his wife. The scene when Glendower’s daughter sings in Welsh by the fire in the Great Hall while Hotspur and his wife (Michelle Dockery) are together for the last time is very poignant.
This scene’s poignancy is echoed later by Falstaff’s last hours with Doll Tearsheet ( Maxine Peake). I liked her fierceness and also her tenderness, but in late medieval England surely even a cut-price whore would wear some finery, not just a torn hempen sack.
When Hal and his father go off to do serious business together, i e. put down a rebellion, Hal speaks his father’s language. The rapping has stopped:-
Henry IV: How bloodily the sun begins to peer
Above yon busky hill! the day looks pale
At his distemperature.
Hal: The southern wind
Doth play the trumpet to his purposes,
And by his hollow whistling in the leaves
Foretells a tempest and a blustering day.
I have not seen the Henry IV plays before. They are as rich and complex as the great tragedies. The old feel themselves failing and dwindling and fear the burning young waiting to take their place in the world. Is there any scene in literature about ageing that is as sad as those between Falstaff and Justice Shallow (a lovely thin reed, David Bamber) talking of their youth? The powerful use the less powerful and then discard them. Power colours every relationship – father, son, spouse, friends, comrades.
*Totally gratuitous, as the stage directions just say “A street” but they are fine male specimens.
Assad-apologist and professional conspiracy-theorist John Pilger, in a typically incoherent ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ rant (New Statesman, 20 June 2012), suggested that the anti-Assad rebels, in an attempt to discredit the regime, were responsible for the Houla massacre:
“The threats against Syria, co-ordinated in Washington and London, scale new peaks of hypocrisy. Contrary to the raw propaganda presented as news, the investigative journalism of the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung identifies those responsible for the massacre in Houla as the “rebels” backed by Obama and Cameron. The paper’s sources include the rebels themselves. This has not been completely ignored in Britain. Writing in his personal blog, ever so quietly, Jon Williams, the BBC World News editor, in effect dishes his own ‘coverage’, citing a western official who described the “psy-ops” operation against Syria as ‘brilliant’. As brilliant as the destruction of Libya, and Iraq, and Afghanistan.”
Now Der Spiegel has fully investigated all the claims, and interviewed witnesses. Spiegal‘s concusion is clear: the regime’s army, probably working with the shabiha militia, carried out the massacre. Then some very poor residents of Houla were brought to Damascus and paid to back up the regime’s version of events (see Witness VI, below):
A Syrian Bloodbath Revisited: Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre
By Christoph Reuter and Abd al-Kadher Adhun
It was a fatal miscalculation, as Colonel Sayyid was forced to realize during the last few minutes of his life. According to statements by his surviving wife and daughter, he was in his room on the second floor when he overheard the murderers in front of the house as they agreed bring out the women first and then kill everyone. He told his wife and children to run. “I’ll try to stall them,” he said. He succeeded, but paid for it with his life.
The Houla massacre at the end of May, which claimed the lives of 108 village residents, according to the United Nations, including 49 children and 34 women, most of them murdered with hatchets, knives and guns, shocked the world. UN observers were able to gain access to the site of the carnage, where they could see the bodies and independently confirm what had happened there. The Syrian ambassadors to the UN and 12 countries, including Germany, were expelled. On June 1, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the Syrian regime and its shabiha militias for the massacre, with Russia and China voting against the resolution. The government in Damascus, however, blamed the incident on “terrorists” and denounced what it called a “tsunami of lies” over the massacre.
But then views began to shift. As time passed, the UN began to question its original findings. On June 27, the Human Rights Council discussed a report prepared by its Syria commission, which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to determine who had committed the massacre.
On June 8 and 14, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily, published two reports based on the statements of anonymous eyewitnesses, who claimed that members of the armed opposition had committed the massacre and then blamed it on the regime. According to the reports, 700 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) had come to Houla from various towns to kill families that had converted to the Alawite or Shiite faiths and had not joined the rebellion. At the beginning of June, Jürgen Todenhöfer, a member of German parliament for the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), pursued the matter and sharply criticized the rebels for what he called “massacre marketing.”
Since May 26, when Alex Thompson with Britain’s Channel 4 television station joined UN observers in Houla for a few hours, no foreign journalist had been in the town to examine the site and speak directly with surviving members of the massacred families and eyewitnesses of the attack.
Now, though, a SPIEGEL team has managed to visit the place where the massacre occurred: Taldou, the largest of four widely scattered villages that form the Houla municipality. Getting there was complicated; the Syrian regime doesn’t want any foreign journalists in the country, especially not in Houla.
The region is also surrounded by a ring of Alawite villages, where the Syrian army has established bases from which it continues to fire at Houla with tanks and artillery. The regime provides arms to the villages, which in turn supply the pro-regime shabiha militias, which have set up checkpoints on area roads and are participating in attacks.
Taldou itself, home to more than 15,000 people before the revolution, is under the control of its own residents. They have formed a unit of the FSA, which protects them from smaller attacks, but not from bombardment. Parts of the village, including one of the areas where the massacre took place, remain inaccessible, because they are within the range of army snipers positioned on a ridge outside the town.
The SPIEGEL team spent two days in Taldou, where it was able to move about freely, interview surviving members of the Sayyid and Abdul Rassak families and speak with witnesses. Some of the witnesses spoke on camera, while others wanted to remain anonymous, because they still have relatives in prison or in cities controlled by the regime. To prevent collective memories from interfering with their own experiences, the witnesses were interviewed individually and asked what they had seen and heard.
After Friday prayers on May 25, the residents of Taldou formed their usual protest marches against the regime. But then, in the early afternoon, army forces began heavily bombarding the village from several surrounding bases. FSA units launched counter-attacks on a number of army checkpoints. Witnesses, though, say that there were hardly any FSA fighters in Taldou on that afternoon, which is why the advancing death squads faced no resistance. It was still broad daylight when the first wave arrived.
On the afternoon of May 25, Mohammed Faur Abdul Rassak was on his way to his house on Sadd Street, which intersects with the side street where the massacre victims lived. He had called his house after hearing rumors that shabiha groups from several surrounding localities, including the exclusively Alawite village of Fullah, were on their way to Taldou. “They are forming groups,” his father had told him, saying that there was a lot of shooting and that people were afraid to leave their houses. “Shortly after five, I was near our house, where you can see the road to Fullah on the hill. About 10 cars and at least 400 men were approaching on that road. Some were wearing military uniforms, while others were dressed in civilian clothing. Some had long beards and shaved heads. Some of the men were wearing red armbands.
A second group, consisting of about 30 men in uniform, came from the waterworks where the military is based. I approached my house slowly and hid on Sadd Street. From there, I watched as the men quickly dispersed and first posted a man with a machine gun in the intersection, so that they could monitor the area. The two groups probably met there. I saw four or five men, dressed in civilian clothing and uniforms, go into each house. They were carrying Kalashnikovs, and whenever they went into a house I would hear a few shots a short time later. Some soldiers saw me, so I ran away, about 400 meters (1,312 feet) from the site. I heard other shots at about 7 p.m., but it sounded more like they were celebrating. When it seemed to be over, someone gave me a ride on his motorcycle, and we found 12 bodies from the Samir Abdul Rassak family in the first house we entered.”
From his house on Sadd Street, Jihad Raslan, an officer who had been on home leave for the previous four days, saw armed men in civilian clothes and uniforms approaching an olive grove between the Alawite village of Fullah and Taldou at about 6:30 p.m. “I saw more than 100 men, but it was hard to tell. The shelling had subsided. I carefully left my house to see what was happening. A woman, who was walking toward me from the west and recognized me, called out: ‘They’re killing people!’ Around six, I saw another woman with gunshot wounds lying on the street, and she said: ‘They’re going into the houses and killing!’
I waited and continued to see people running away until 7 p.m. Half an hour later I went out with a flashlight, because the electricity had been shut off. Then I went into three houses in a row. In the first house, the house of Samir Abdul Rassak, one woman was dead and there were several women and children with gunshot wounds in another room. I saw Mustafa Abdul Rassak lying in a huge pool of blood, still breathing, in front of the second house; the dead family was inside. And there were more than 20 bodies in the third house, which belonged to Abu Shaalan Abdul Rassak. I helped put the bodies in cars and take them to the mosque, and then I took my own family to safety.”
Lieutenant Malik Baqur, an acquaintance of Jihad Raslan, was in his cousin’s house on Sadd Street when he heard that armed men were coming down from Fullah to Taldou. “Until six o’clock, there was so much shelling that I was afraid to go outside. At about 5:30 p.m., I saw 40 men in uniforms and civilian clothing going up to Fullah. Most of them were walking, but they were behind a silver pickup with a machine gun mounted on the bed. I had seen it a few days earlier at the checkpoint that had been set up in Fullah sometime earlier. I was standing a little higher up and could see the men until they were about 100 meters from the village.
Then I ran into Raslan, and we went into the houses together and saw the bodies. Some had had their skulls split open as if they’d been hit with a butcher’s hatchet, while others had been shot in the head, execution style, with a small hole in the front and bigger hole in the back. I counted 17 bodies all over the place in Mustafa Abdul al-Rassak’s house.”
Other survivors saw the group coming from Fullah, and they too remember similar details, like the red armbands that an old woman who wanted to remain anonymous saw: “The soldier in a green uniform who came down was wearing it. All the doors were open, because we still thought it was going to be a raid, like the ones that had already happened several times before. My daughter-in-law told him that there were only women and children here, and that our men were working in Lebanon. I was standing behind the door when he came in and started shooting right away.”
It was the mistaken belief that the murderers were merely there for a raid that cost so many people their lives — and also saved the lives of others, like Mustafa Abdul Rassak. He had hidden in an abandoned chicken farm 50 meters behind the house, because he was afraid of being arrested as a rebel.
After the first wave of the massacre in the late afternoon, there was another wave in another part of Taldou between about 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Because it was dark by then, none of the survivors saw where the killers had come from. But given that the houses were between two army checkpoints, it would have been almost impossible for rebels to move easily from house to house and shoot the residents without clashing with soldiers.
It was late in the evening, and 11-year-old Ali Adil Sayyid had been kept awake for hours by the sound of nearby shelling. “I heard voices outside at about 11 p.m. ‘Turn off the light! Open the door!’ they said. But the electricity was off, anyway. I heard them hitting the bottom of the door, but then they left.
I woke up again just before 4 a.m., when men came into the house. My brother and I were lying in the living room. When my sister Rasha tried to run away, one of the men shot her. My brother Adil was still sleeping when a man shot at him. A piece of Adil’s head was missing after that. The man also shot at me, but he didn’t hit me. I rolled over on my side and played dead. Then the men took two TV sets, our washing machine and the computer. I heard the sound of a BMB outside” — a type of armored personnel carrier used by the Syrian army.
According to Ali, his severely wounded brother Nadir “was still making noises, as if he had the hiccups. Then he died.”
Ali Adil Sayyid, the only surviving member of his family, is a distant relative of Abdulmuti Mashlab, a member of the Syrian parliament. This circumstance prompted UN observers to make the assumption that people were killed because of their family ties to a regime official. But Mashlab, says Ali, was merely the uncle of his uncle’s wife. Ali says that he and his father had gone to many demonstrations until last fall, “and we always bought kebabs and cola first!” But his father was arrested in November, “and he was afraid to go after that.”
The family of Muawiya Sayyid, the retired police officer, lived a few houses down the street. His daughter Maryam Sayyid was standing at the window inside the house, “when a group of soldiers approached from the waterworks for the first time, at about 4:30 p.m. They were shooting into the air and they banged against our door, but when no one responded they kept going. We felt safe. My father had been in the police for 30 years, most recently as a colonel. Nothing had ever happened to us in previous raids.
My brother was also in the house. He was a soldier and he had a broken leg, so he couldn’t move. They didn’t give him any time off for four months, because he was from Houla, which made him suspicious.
He had only been allowed to return home because of his broken leg. But we weren’t afraid of the army. And if they were terrorists, how could they get here through the two checkpoints? What we were afraid of were the shells that had been raining down nearby for hours. It was still light outside, and our house is the last one on the street, so we were afraid to run away.
At about 6 p.m., we heard a tank on the street and men on a car who were chanting: ‘Shabiha forever! With our blood and our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, oh Bashar!’ We had never heard that before.
We were in the house, with my father in the room facing the street and everyone else in the room facing the back. At about 11 p.m., we could hear voices through loudspeakers, saying: ‘All lights out! Including candles!’ I went to my father in the other room. He had just heard the men standing downstairs in front of the door, and saying that they would take the women first and then kill everyone. I asked him what we should do. He said: ‘Go! I’ll go outside and try to stall them.’
There were 15 of us. We couldn’t take Ahmed with us, because he was too sick. But we were so afraid and in such a hurry that we forgot Sarah, my 8-year-old sister. She was sleeping. When I realized that, I went back to the house with my sister-in-law. We heard the men saying: ‘We want the women!’ My sister-in-law said: ‘There’s nothing we can do. They’re going to die.’ She pulled me back, and we fled.”
Maryam Sayyid’s mother, Hana Harmut, had remained in the house a moment longer and, in the darkness, didn’t see where the others had gone: “I returned to the back of the house, where I head the voices of the men inside. I heard Ahmed shouting, and then I heard Sarah as she woke up, started crying and loudly shouted ‘Mama.’ I heard my husband shouting: ‘Not Ahmed! Not Ahmed!’ Then there were a few shots. I don’t know how many. Then it was quiet for a little while. And then I heard noises that sounded like they were tearing apart the kitchen. Maybe they were looking for knives.
All I could think was that I had to get away from there, so I hid in a nearby barn where they normally keep the animals. I could hear the men until two or three in the morning, and then it became quiet again.”
The Sayyid family was neither overly prominent in the opposition, nor did it support the regime. The survivors believe that the father’s first name, Muawiya, was one of the reasons the Sayyids were targeted. Muawiya was also the name of a caliph who, more than 1,300 years ago, fought against the imams whom the Shiites consider to be their saints, and whose deaths are still ritually mourned today. The name is very offensive to radical Shiites and, to a somewhat lesser extent, to Alawites, who are part of the same religious group. And it certainly wouldn’t be the name of a man who had converted to Shiite Islam.
According to survivors, all of them residents of Taldou and other parts of Houla, there are no Shiite or Alawite families in Houla, nor were there any there before — just as there are no Sunni families in the surrounding Alawite villages. Although there were occasional marriages between Alawite and Sunni families in the past, the wife, say local residents, always moved to the husband’s village and converted to his faith.
But what about the anonymous eyewitnesses who had been quoted as saying that the victims of the Houla massacre were not Sunnis and members of the opposition at all, but were supporters of the regime?
Colonel Mohammed Tayyib Baqur, who served in the Syrian army for two-thirds of his life and deserted a few weeks ago, worked most recently in the political division of the Defense Ministry. He now reports that, on May 28, he received a call from Jamil Hassan, the head of Syrian Air Forces intelligence and one of the leading members of the regime: “He told me to come in on June 2. He pointed out that I was from Houla, and that an international conspiracy against Syria was underway. For that reason, he wanted me to find a few people, as poor as possible, from Houla or the surrounding area. I was to bring them to Damascus so that they could circulate the regime’s version of the massacre. He said that the people from Houla would be paid, and so would I. Then he called his office manager and told him to give me 25,000 Syrian pounds.” This is the equivalent of slightly more than €300 or roughly $385.
After 35 years in the army, says Baqur, he realized that the time had come to change sides. “I didn’t want to be part of it anymore, so I brought my family to safety and fled.”
If the rebels had truly committed the massacre, why has the army continued to fire at and shell Taldou for months, including the days when the SPIEGEL reporters were there? And if the FSA was behind the massacre, why did a large number of army officers from Houla defect to the FSA afterwards?
After the massacre, Taldou residents buried the dead in a square in the center of the village. They say that there were more bodies than the 108 counted by the UN observers. Although this can no longer be verified, it makes sense, because many of the bodies could only be recovered days after the troops had withdrawn.
It is now mid-July, and a few courageous workers are still shoveling new soil onto the graves, now that the ground has subsided. They want to replace the bricks that had been scattered around the site with a border of stones. At least it should look dignified, says one of the men. But it isn’t a good idea to stand around for too long, he warns. “Sometimes the soldiers fire rockets at this spot from the waterworks.”
A few streets away, on Taldou’s ruined main square, where the army had maintained a checkpoint that it only abandoned six days after the massacre, there is some graffiti on a wall that local residents say was written by the soldiers: “Don’t be too upset! Sometimes the dogs dance on the lion, but they don’t even know that he is the lion.”
The name Assad means lion in Arabic.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Will Pilger now admit his mistake, apologise to his readers for misleading them, and to the Syrian rebels for libelling them? Don’t hold your breath -JD
Above: two of the dockers, Vic Turner and Bernie Steer, carried in triumph from jail by supporters
On Friday 21 July 1972 five dockworkers, picketing a container depot in a dispute over job security, were jailed in Pentonville Prison, London, under the Industrial Relations Act which the Tory government of the day had finally brought into law – after big trade-union demonstrations against it – in August 1971. Within a few days of the jailings, and despite the fact that many factories were on summer shutdowns, around 200,000 workers across the country struck in protest.
The TUC, under pressure, called a one-day general strike for Monday 31 July. At that point the Tory government buckled and found a legal device (the intervention of the previously unheard-of “Official Solicitor“) to release the five dockworkers. It was a historic victory for our class and marked the effective end of the Industrial Relations Act, which the 1974 Labour government formally abolished.
Forty years on, it’s a salutary reminder to older comrades, and evidence for younger people interested in left-wing politics, that our movement can win major victories, forcing a Tory government to back down, the TUC to call a general strike, and an incoming Labour government to repeal anti-union legislation. Working class solidarity is possible, and it can achieve great victories.
Here’s what Workers Fight (forerunner of today’s AWL) had to say at the time, about its own role and that of the rest of the UK left.
Here‘s quite a good factual account of events leading up to the release of the dockers.
The US Democrats have wasted no time in making capital out of Romney’s Olympian ineptitude in London. And who can blame them?
The RomneyShambles saw the US presidential contender lurch from one fax pas to another, speaking of “looking out of the backside of 10 Downing Street”, disclosing what was meant to be a secret meeting with MI6 and appearing to criticise London 2012 on the eve of the Games. The ineptitude is especially memorable because visiting England should have been the easy bit of a Romney foreign tour.
Meanwhile US comedian Stephen Colbert urged Romney to “stay strong.”
“Remember, your next stop is Israel. Keep up the charm offensive. I say you open your speech to the Knesset with, ‘America will always stand behind you and so will Jesus Christ. Now where can a boy get some baby-back ribs in Palestine?’”
NB: we publish the above purely for the information and amusement of readers, not because we feel terribly strongly about what Romney said. Mind, you, as Jonathan Freedland writes in today’s Graun:
“This remember, is the party that slammed John Kerry for the crime of speaking French. Its antics, like those of the man it has chosen for the presidency, would be funny were the Republican party not aspiring to hold an office that is still mighty and, for the rest of the world, deadly serious.”
From The Economist:
THE kids these days play their music too loud and it all sounds the same. Old fogies familiar with such sentiments will be happy to hear that maths bears them out. An analysis published in Scientific Reports by Joan Serrà of the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute in Barcelona and his colleagues has found that music has indeed become both more homogeneous and louder over the decades.
Dr Serrà began with the basic premise that music, like language, can evolve over time, often pulled in different directions by opposing forces. Popular music especially has always prized a degree of conformity—witness the enduring popularity of cover songs and remixes—while at the same time being obsessed with the new. To untangle these factors, Dr Serrà’s team sifted through the Million Song Dataset, run jointly by Columbia University, in New York, and the Echo Nest, an American company, which contains beat-by-beat data on a million Western songs from a variety of popular genres. The researchers focussed on the primary musical qualities of pitch, timbre and loudness, which were available for nearly 0.5m songs released from 1955 to 2010.
They found that music today relies on the same chords as music from the 1950s. Nearly all melodies are composed of ten most popular chords. They follow a similar pattern to written texts, where the most common word occurs roughly twice as often as the second most common, three times as often as the third most common, and so on, a linguistic regularity known as Zipf’s law. What has changed is how the chords are spliced into melodies. In the 1950s many of the less common chords would chime close to one another in the melodic progression. More recently, they have tended to be separated by the more pedestrian chords, leading to a loss of some of the more unusual transitions. Timbre, lent by instrument types and recording techniques, similarly shows signs of narrowing, after peaking in the mid-60s, a phenomenon Dr Serrà attributes to experimentation with electric-guitar sounds by Jimi Hendrix and the like.
What music lost in variety, it has gained in volume. Songs today are on average 9 decibels louder than half a century ago, confirming what industry types have long suspected: that record labels engage in a “loudness race” in order to catch radio listeners’ attention. Since digital audio formats max out at a certain decibel level, as the average loudness inches towards that ceiling, songs will lose dynamic range, becoming ever more uniform.
This homogeneity is not just jarring to melomaniacs. It might confuse the popular algorithms for identifying and recommending tracks, like those used by Spotify and other music services. Many of these rely on timbre measurements to sort songs into genres, for instance. Some musicians are bound to respond by confounding expectations with new sounds. Whether audiences wish to be confounded remains moot.
Now click on the jukebox below and choose a year:
Here you have England, host to the 2012 Olympics.
First, the bill:
The total Olympics budget is set at $14.7-billion (£9.3 billion to the taxpayer) – nearly four times the 2005 estimate given by organizers when London won the 2012 bid.
Then, the security—complete with surface-to-air missiles on residential rooftops, and a warship in the Thames:
Fighter jets and helicopters will protect the airspace over the London Olympics, surface-to-air-missiles will be stationed on top of residential buildings, and 12,500 police will be on the ground during the games with 23,000 part-time security guards at sporting venues.
A security exercise in May saw the Royal Navy’s largest warship HMS Ocean, which is a landing platform for six helicopters, moored on the Thames River at Greenwich. It will be overseeing marine security during the games.
Then, the branding:
Above: from Marketing Magazine.
In an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme, the chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games answered questions about the extent to which sponsorship agreements would impact upon spectators.
He said: “You probably wouldn’t be walking in with a Pepsi T-shirt because Coca Cola are our sponsors.”
Interviewer Evan Davis asked Lord Coe if he would be able to enter the Olympic Park wearing Nike trainers, to which Lord Coe replied: “Let’s put some reality in this. You probably would be able to walk through with Nike trainers.”
Lord Coe defended the ban on ‘objects or clothing bearing political statements or overt commercial identification’ outlined in official guidelines for spectators.
He said: “We had to raise through the organising committee a mountainous amount of money through the private sector.”
Finally, bizarre police harassment:
The former London 2012 “ethics tsar” Meredith Alexander has accused police of an “Olympic-sized overreaction”, saying they broke up a theatre performance designed to highlight the problems of corporate sponsorship of the Games and arrested six people on suspicion of criminal damage for spilling custard.
Alexander, who was behind the event in Trafalgar Square in central London on Friday, quit her role as a commissioner of the Olympic sustainability watchdog earlier this year over the awarding of a £7m Olympic sponsorship deal to Dow Chemical. Dow owns Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), responsible for the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India, which killed 25,000 people.
Alexander described how 25 police officers moved in after the 15-minute piece of theatre, which was performed to explain objections to sponsorship of the Olympics by companies such as Dow, BP and Rio Tinto.
Police sources confirmed that six individuals were arrested in Trafalgar Square for criminal damage. Alexander said the individuals were led away in handcuffs after green custard used in the show spilled on to the ground. [emphases added]
The story later notes that seven people were arrested. Three of them were not part of the performance, but were cleaning up the custard when the cops moved in.
Remember when the Olympics were all about the game and friendly competition? How on earth were they permitted to degenerate into this obscene totalitarian spectacle?
In view of some recent comments on this blog (see, especially, those below the piece Why won’t the IOC mark the Munich massacre?), and the Graun‘s despicable obituary of the “left” antisemite Alexander Cockburn, I though the following article from the AWL might serve an educative purpose for those who are willing to think about the issues, and not already “absolute” anti-Zionists and anti-Israel fanatics:
What is left anti-semitism?
There are three difficulties, three confusions and obfuscations, that stand in the way of rational discussion of what we mean by “left-wing anti-semitism”.
The first is that left-wing anti-semitism knows itself by another and more self-righteous name, “anti-Zionism”. Often, your left-wing anti-semite sincerely believes that he or she is only an anti-Zionist, only a just if severe critic of Israel.
The second is that talk of left-wing anti-semitism to a left-wing anti-semite normally evokes indignant, sincere, and just denial – of something else! “No, I’m not a racist! How dare you call me a racist?”
No, indeed, apart from a nut here and there, left-wing anti-semites are not racist. But there was anti-semitism before there was 20th-century anti-Jewish racism. And there is still anti-semitism of different sorts, long after disgust with Hitler-style racism, and overt racism of any sort, became part of the mental and emotional furniture of all half-way decent people, and perhaps especially of left-wing people.
Left-wingers are people who by instinct and conviction side with the oppressed, the outcasts, those deprived of human rights, the working class, the labour movement; who naturally side against the police, the military, and the powerful capitalist states, including their “own”; who are socially tolerant; who, in contrast to the “hang ‘em, flog ‘em, build more jails” types, look to changing social conditions rather than to punishment to deal with crime — people who want to be Marxists and socialists, or try to be consistent democrats. Confused such people may be, racists they are not. We are not saying that left-wing anti-semites are racists.
The third source of confusion and obfuscation is the objection: “You say I’m an anti-semite because I denounce Israel. I’m not anti-Jewish when I denounce Israel, but anti-Zionist”. And sometimes, at this point, you get the addition: “By the way, I am myself Jewish”.
The objector continues: Israel deserves criticism. Even the harshest criticism of Sharon’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza, and of Israel’s long-term treatment of the Palestinians, is pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist, not anti-semitic. To equate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism is just crude and hysterical Zionist apologetics.
No, by “left-wing anti-semitism” we emphatically do not mean political, military, or social criticism of Israel and of the policy of Israeli governments. Certainly, not all left-wing critics of Israel or Zionism are anti-semites, even though these days all anti-semites, including the right-wing, old-fashioned, and racist anti-semites, are paid-up “anti-Zionists”.
Israel frequently deserves criticism. Israel’s policy in the Occupied Territories and its general treatment of the Palestinians deserve outright condemnation. The oppressed Palestinians need to be politically defended against Israeli governments and the Israeli military. The only halfway equitable solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a viable, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel, needs to be argued for and upheld against Israeli power.
Solidarity [the AWL paper] condemns Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. We defend the Palestinians and champion an independent Palestinian state side by side with Israel.
The difference here between left-wing anti-semites and honest critics of Israel — a category which includes a very large number of Israeli Jews as well as Israeli Arabs — is a straightforward one of politics, of policy.
The left-wing anti-semites do not only criticise Israel. They condemn it outright and deny its right to exist. They use legitimate criticisms, and utilise our natural sympathy with the Palestinians, not to seek redress, not as arguments against an Israeli government, an Israeli policy, or anything specifically wrong in Israel, but as arguments against the right of Israel to exist at all. Any Israel. Any Jewish state in the area. Any Israel, with any policy, even one in which all the specific causes for justly criticising present-day Israel and for supporting the Palestinians against it have been entirely eliminated.
The root problem, say the left-wing anti-semites, is that Israel exists. The root “crime of Zionism” is that it advocated and brought into existence “the Zionist state of Israel”.
Bitterly, and often justly, criticising specific Israeli policies, actions, and governments, seemingly championing the Palestinians, your left-wing anti-semites seek no specific redress in Israel or from Israel, demanding only that Israel should cease to exist or be put out of existence.
They often oppose measures to alleviate the condition of the Palestinians short of the destruction of Israel. Thus the petitions and chants on demonstrations: “Two states solution, no solution!”
A neat illustration of this was provided three years ago when, at a meeting of the council of the SWP-dominated Socialist Alliance, a supporter of this newspaper proposed the slogan “Israel out of the Occupied Territories”. It was voted down, and much vaguer ones, “Free Palestine”, “Victory to the intifada”, voted in.
Why? “Free Palestine” can be understood in different ways, depending on your definition of “Palestine”. Therefore it can accommodate those who, without having studied the complexities or the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict, instinctively side with the oppressed and outmatched Palestinians, and for whom “Free Palestine” means simply that Israel should get out of the Occupied Territories. And it can also accommodate those, like the proponents of the slogan, the political Islamists of the Muslim Association of Britain/ Muslim Brotherhood and others, who define “Palestine” as pre-Israel, pre-1948 Palestine, and by “Free Palestine” mean the destruction and abolition of Israel, and the elimination in one way or another of the Jewish population of Israel, or most of them.
The political differences spelled out here are easily understood. But why is the drive and the commitment to destroy Israel anti-semitism, and not just anti-Zionism?
Because the attitude to the Jewish nation in Israel is unique, different from the left’s attitude to all other nations; and because of the ramifications for attitudes to Jews outside Israel. Apart from a few religious Jews who think the establishment of Israel was a revolt against God, and some Jews who share the views of the leftists whom we are discussing here, those Jews outside Israel instinctively identify with and support Israel, however critically. For the left-wing anti-semite they are therefore “Zionists”, and proper and natural targets of the drive to “smash Zionism”.
The attitude of the “anti-Zionist” left to Israel brings with it a comprehensive hostility to most Jews everywhere – those who identify with Israel and who defend its right to exist. They are not just people with mistaken ideas. They are “Zionists”.
In colleges, for example, where the anti-Zionist left exists side by side with Jewish students, this attitude often means a special antagonism to the “Zionist” Jews. They are identified with Israel. They, especially, are pressured either to denounce Israel, to agree that it is “racist” and “imperialist” and that its existence is a crime against the Arabs — or else be held directly and personally responsible for everything Israel does, has done, or is said to have done.
In such places, where the left “interfaces” with Jews, the logic of the unique attitude to Israel takes on a nasty persecuting quality. In the past, in the mid 1980s for example, that has taken the form of attempting to ban Jewish student societies. Non-Jews who defend Israel’s right to exist are not classified in the same category.
But is the attitude of the “absolute anti-Zionists” to Israel really unique? There are seeming similarities with left attitudes to one or two other states — Protestant Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or pre-1980 white-ruled Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) — but the attitude to Israel is unique, because the reality of Israel cannot properly be identified with Northern Ireland, apartheid South Africa, or white Rhodesia.
In apartheid South Africa and white Rhodesia a minority lorded it over the big majority of the population, exploiting them. Israel is a predominantly Jewish state consisting of all classes. The Jewish nation does not subsist, and never has subsisted, on the exploitation of Arab labour, or depended in any essential way on such exploitation.
The general left hostility to the Northern Ireland Protestants — who are not exploiters of Catholic labour, and who are the compact majority, if not of the Six Counties, then of the north-east half of the Six Counties — is the closest to the attitude to Israel.
But it is not widely believed on the left that the Northern Ireland Protestant-Unionists simply have no right to be there. The right of the Jews to “be there” is denied in those sections of the left that we are discussing. The organisation of Jewish migration to Palestine — that was the root “crime” of Zionism, of which the “crime” of establishing Israel was only a further development. The “solution” is not only to undo and abolish Israel, but to reverse Jewish “migration” — which now includes people born there, to parents born there — and to roll the film of Middle-Eastern history backwards.
The prerequisite for left-wing anti-semitism is the catastrophic decline in the culture of the left over the last decades, a decline which allows people who want to be socialists to chant “Sharon is Hitler, Israel is Nazi” and similar nonsense without checking on the words. The specific framework within which what we have been describing exists, and without which it probably couldn’t exist in these “left-wing” forms, is the poisonous and systematic misrepresentation and falsification of the history of the Jewish-Arab conflict and of the Jewish people in the 20th century. We can only touch on that here.
In real history, Jews fled to Palestine, where a small Zionist colony and a small pre-Zionist Jewish community already existed, from persecution in Europe in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. In the 1930s and 40s they fled for their lives from Nazism, which killed two out of every three Jews alive in Europe in 1939, in a world in which no non-persecuting state would let them, or enough of them, in.
They fled to the existing Jewish national minority in Palestine (a long-established minority which, though small, was for example the majority in Jerusalem in 1900).
While Hitler was organising mass slaughter, Britain shut out Jews from Palestine, interning those who tried to enter. Overloaded, unseaworthy boats carrying illegal cargoes of Jews sank in the Mediterranean trying to get to Palestine (for example, the Struma, in which over 700 people died).
Israel was set up by those Jews on licence from the UN, which stipulated two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Arab. When the state of Israel was declared in May 1948, the surrounded Arab states invaded. States like Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt were then British-dominated, and some of the armies were staffed by British officers.
The Israelis defended themselves and won. In the war three quarters of a million Palestinian Arabs were driven out or fled; in the same period and afterwards, about 600,000 Jews were expelled from or fled Arab countries.
In the Arab invasion of 1948, the Arab-Palestinian state was eliminated. Most of its territory went to Jordan, and fell under Israeli control in the war of 1967. That was a tremendous tragedy that will only be redressed when an independent Palestinian state takes its place alongside Israel.
This complex and tragic history is presented by the “absolute anti-Zionist” left as a conspiracy of Zionism, conceived of as a demonic force outside history. It is not rare to find “left anti-Zionists” arguing that this Jewish-Zionist conspiracy was so all-powerful that it was able even to manipulate Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust in which six million Jews died (see the play by the veteran Trotskyist Jim Allen, Perdition, of which Ken Loach planned a performance at a London theatre in 1987).
The core idea, the root of modern left-wing anti-semitism, is that Israel, in one way or another, is an illegitimate state; and that therefore, in one way or another, it should be done away with. If its citizens will not be the first in history to voluntarily dismantle their nation-state and make themselves a minority in a state run by those whom they have had to fight for national existence; if they will not agree to voluntarily dismantle Israel and create a “secular democratic Arab state”, in which Israeli Jews can have religious but not national rights – then they must be overwhelmed and compelled to submit or flee by the Arab states, now or when they are strong enough.
Usually beginning with the benign-seeming proposal to sink Israel into a broader Arab-majority entity in which “everyone could live in peace”, the chain of logic rooted in the idea that Israel should not have come into existence, that it is an illegitimate state, leads directly — since Israel will not agree to abolish itself — to support for compulsion, conquest, and all that goes with it. Israel must be conquered.
Even the work of a writer like Hal Draper can feed into this poisoned stream. While Draper made valid and just criticisms of Israel, he accepted that it had a right to exist and a right to defend itself. He denounced those who wanted to destroy it. But he made his criticisms in the tone and manner of a prophet denouncing sin and iniquity. He too thought that Israel was an illegitimate state, that it should never have come into existence and should go out of existence as soon as possible.
By agreement, and only by agreement, he believed; but the subtleties got lost. There is nothing to stop someone swayed by Draper’s denunciations of Israel, and accepting his idea that Israel is an illegitimate state, then impatiently insisting: if not by agreement, then by conquest.
And so an increasingly-disoriented SWP-UK could look to a Saddam Hussein to “free Palestine”, that is, conquer Israel.
The point here is that states and nations are the products of history. There is no such thing as an illegitimate nation or a “bad people” which does not deserve the rights conceded to other peoples.
Above: August Bebel
The German socialist leader August Bebel, confronted by raucous denunciation of “the Jews” ludicrously depicting them as the epitome and embodiment of capitalism said of anti-semitism that it was “the socialism of the fools”.
The anti-semitic left today, which depicts Israel as the hyper-imperialist power — either controlling US policy, or acting as its chief instrument, the story varies — is in the grip of an “anti-imperialism of the fools”. And that in practice leads to a comprehensive hostility to Jews not far from what Bebel called the socialism of fools.
One of the great tragedies of today is that many young people, whose initial instincts to oppose Bush and Blair in Iraq and to support the Palestinians are healthy, are being poisoned with “left-wing” anti-semitism through the “anti-war movement”.
“Left-wing anti-semitism” is, in short, a comprehensive hostility to most Jews alive, branding them as “Zionists” and seeing that description as akin to “racist” or “imperialist”. It excepts only those Jews who agree that Israel is racist imperialism in its most concentrated essence, and oppose its continued existence.
The general antidote to this anti-imperialism of fools is the propagation of rational democratic and socialist politics. Such politics focus on a political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. They measure and criticise Israel — and the Arab states — according to their stand in relation to that just solution — the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
There is an immediate “antidote” to left-wing anti-semitism too, and it is a very important task for Marxist socialists like those who publish Solidarity [ie: the AWL]: relentless exposure and criticism of their politics and antics — without fear of isolation, ridicule, or the venomous hostility of the vocal and self-righteous left-wing anti-semites.