Review of The New Philistines: How Identity Politics Disfigures the Arts by Sohrab Ahmari
The Philistines identified by Matthew Arnold had a narrow and reductive view of the arts as only good if they upheld a particular morality. The 1890s and the aesthetic movement upturned them, the aesthetes were despised by the Social Realists in the 30s, who were taken on by the liberal creatives bursting out in the sixties, the New Leftists returned, along with the feminists, with shock and political art and now the identitarians have moved in. The identitarians are Ahmari’s New Philistines, who judge, and sometimes make, art via their ideology, caring about the political point rather than craft or beauty. His contention that they dominate the culture is reinforced by how his frequent use of “beauty” and “truth” now seem antiquated as critical terms.
Ahmari has a reverential attitude towards high art, so Part I of his readable polemic, Intruders in the Temple, tells of how he was affronted by a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe. Emma Rice was the director and it included a sound-and-light show, a gay male Helena and the love juices were date rape drugs. I share his pain as I too have ground my teeth at a goose-stepping Coriolanus, say (Coriolanus is not a Fascist, and it made no sense). Directors making stupid political points are as annoying as hectoring comedians.
However for every modish production of a Shakespeare play with a Hoxton-hipster Hermia there’s a straightforward, well-acted piece in robes and furred gowns. In the RSC production of King Lear I saw the other night Anthony Sher was a mound of pelt. Although the director had rehearsed it during Brexit, and thought there were parallels with bad decision-making and a union falling apart he did not present Cordelia as Angela Merkel nor Goneril as Theresa May and left us to draw the modern parallels about power and powerlessness and the times being disturbed.
It shows a particular cultural strength that the educated Shakespearean audience sees interpretations as variations on a theme, because the plays are so well known, as Athenian play goers liked to see what a playwright would do with the myth of Orestes or Dionysus.
I can’t get too holy about Shakespeare. He has his longueurs and a lot of his humour is lost with his language so the actors have to force out laughs with cod-fingering. Cuts can be enhancements. There are plenty of excellent productions including those broadcast at local cinemas by the RSC and the terrific Wars of the Roses series on the BBC a while back.
Ahmari does make a good thrust about shallow gimmickry in theatre productions:-
The bhangra and Bollywood numbers, and actors of south Asian heritage in two leading parts, suggested an Indian sensibility. Now a Midsummer with a well-developed south-Asian concept – juxtaposing or blending say, the rich mythology of the subcontinent with English folklore – might have worked well. Such a concept would have required a sincere, rigorous encounter with these sources. Yet identitarian art is rarely capable of such engagement. The texture and weight of genuine difference elude art of this kind, with its ironic posturing and tendency towards the flattening pastiche. Identitarian art rarely manages to raise marginalise and ‘subaltern’ voices. Doing so successfully requires really listening to such voices in all their rich complexity – whereas identiarian art usually searches for subaltern props with which to bash the ‘dominant’ culture. Opposing the ‘oppressive’ mainstream is more important than examining the peripheral as it really is.
Actually I do wonder that Emma Rice wasn’t castigated for cultural appropriation by Indians, or someone purporting to speak for Indians. These fashions change so fast. Emma Rice however will not be around to do brash shows based on Shakespearean texts. She has had her marching orders because her use of neon lighting is against the spirit of The Globe. The Guardian thinks that is a bad idea, and The Spectator a good. So it goes in culture-land.
Ahmari finds a parallel with other ideological arts e.g Socialist realism but “Say what you will about the Soviet critics, at least they were erudite. Not so with today’s identitarian critics, who care little for art history and aesthetics. What they are blessed with is lots of opinions about everything – all of which invariably revolve around race, gender and class, power and privilege.”
I’ve seen just such criticism of the gooey headed Corbynistas from dialectic trained old Trots about the Corbys’ lack of hard analysis. Unlike Victorian evangelists and Marxists, the identitarians have no authoritative scripture to use as a measure for their particular world view – Foucault comes closest, but Ahmari does not find his identitarians actually quoting so much as osmosing, which he lays out in the second part of his polemic, The Illiberal Imagination. This follows discussions at Artforum. I found it a useful primer for such terms as “queer”, “performative”, “visibility” and “legibility” (something lots of people want to see and enjoy).
Liberal societies have increased “visibility” in the form of social and political rights, and liberal-minded writers were part of this process eg the authors of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Oliver Twist. And as far as visibility is concerned the marginalised have moved more towards the centre. The RSC’s King Lear had a lot of black actors without making any identitarian big deal about it and that would not have happened a generation ago. And those who fulminate against political corrrectness, would once have grumbled about a black Edmund and Cordelia.
Ahmari has fun with the appalling jargon his Artforumites use and its view of art as “a place where we can treat the self as historical and social material”. This particular idea has permeated through to artists whose work he goes to see in the third chapter. Some have talent but, “their curiosity is limited by politics; identitarian politics takes away their freedom to explore great big questions in an uninhibited way; without pre-determined answers and concepts. Foucault, hardline feminism and queer theory wrap their art like a straitjacket. If their English grammar sounds broken, it is because their creative grammar is, too, and the source of the brokenness is the same.”
His tour of identitarian art – videos and installations – and dance – political twerking – is amusingly terrible. My own experience of such things – neon tubes of slogans repeating banalities and amateurish looking videos saying things that are neither new nor true – has sent me along the road to the museum of handsome and interesting artefacts. The audience for this work is the highly educated white liberals that it castigates, the ones who take city breaks in grand European cities who have preserved their past.
Of course fashions change. “The Great Wall of Vagina”, plaster-casting 500 women’s sexual organs that Ahmari evokes may be deemed to be transphobic in a year or two, and Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party, which used a vagina theme in ceramics, is beautiful as well as polemical. Ideological art does not mean ugliness of course- as demonstrated by the great mass of Christian and Islamic art. So the ugliness may come from lack of craft as anything else. That may be the fault of the art schools, as well as the zeitgeist. Also, while the subsidised galleries and the grant receiving artists may be at work on such things the commercial artists will be turning out posters and cards of quite a different complexion for the mass market. Modern culture is definitely not all of a piece, nor stagnant.
Ahmari’s last chapter is about the effects of this ideological art on our society. “Ideas that being with elite, avant-garde institutions invariably trickle down to popular culture, then go on to impact our daily lives.” and he instances criticisms of eg Downton Abbey (which deserves it – the servant class was not treated with anything like that consideration but caste superiority has to be prettied up for the modern audience). Downton Abbey may be castigated by someone in the Guardian but it will be made as long as it makes money and Julian Fellows is ready to turn out scripts.
He thinks identitarian politics is responsible for the rise of white-rage politics of Trump and UKIP.
Is it any wonder, then, that Americans and Europeans are increasingly embracing nationalist parties and illiberal movements?..
Having been told for decades that the promise of universal rights is a lie, that group identity is all that there is to public life, that the Western canon is the preserve of Privileged Dead White Men, and that identitarian warfare is permanent, many in the West have taken up their own form of identity politics. .. When culture only rewards the assertion of group identity (black, female, queer etc.), the silent majority will want its slice of the identitarian pie. They can do identity politics, too; it’s called white nationalism. ..
Surely identitarianism is a muted annoyance compared to eg mass migration, demographic changes, a globalised economy and the sense of the world is becoming a more dangerous place. But the cause and effect of culture and politics is a large subject. In crude terms, far more read The Sun and the Daily Mail than get annoyed by The Guardian.
“To repair our politics, we could do worse than to start by expecting better from our arts and culture.”- is Ahmari’s final call, and that really is the chicken-and-the-egg. I would expect a generational shift for talent and brains will break out of a strait-jacket and they’re at work somewhere on a hub near you. Our society does have teeth and a stomach and it’s a wonder what it can digest.
After reading Ahmari I re-read Robert Hughes’ Culture of Complaint, which has a similar theme, and is richer and funnier from someone wholly engaged with the art world. It was published in 1992 and how little has moved on from then. What Hughes calls political correctness, we now call identity politics but they are essentially the same thing, constant language policing, a favourite target for conservative satirists.
Satire loves to fasten on manners and modes, which is what PC [political correctness] talk is, political etiquette, not politics itself. When the waters of PC recede – as they presently will, leaving the predictable scum of dead words on the social beach – it will be, in part, because young people get turned off by all the carping about verbal proprieties on campus. The radical impulses of youth are generous, romantic and instinctive and are easily chilled by an atmosphere of prim, obsessive correction. The real problem with PC isn’t ‘post-Marxism”, but post-Puritanism.
Generous, romantic and instinctive I’d like to believe but what is reported from the universities is an equal impulse for correction, censoriousness and righteousness. And against the post-Puritanism is the post-Restoration of the alt right and Milo Yiannopoulos.
So though not as apocalyptic as Ahmari, I do share some of his concerns. It is a chronic condition for liberalism to be in danger as it is an unnatural state for a tribal species and it has plenty of enemies, whether the new Red Guards of identitarianism,, the Islamic Fascists and their idiot enablers, the Guardian Cultural Sensitives, the Lock-em-Up Tabloids, and a whiff of blasphemy laws from the government.
“It’s a free country,” we would say self-righteously at my primary school during disagreements. That sentence had a long political and cultural history behind it. Do they still say it now?
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Peter Tatchell once again demonstrates his fairness, generosity of spirit and commitment to freedom of expression:
Ashers Baking Company refused to make this cake
The law should not compel businesses to aid political messages
London & Belfast – 24 October 2016
The Appeal Court in Belfast has today ruled that a local Christian-run business, Ashers Bakery, was wrong to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.
“This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“It seems that businesses cannot now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message, even if it is a sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay message and even if the business has a conscientious objection to it.
“Although I strongly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.
“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage.’
“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and is rightly unlawful. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion.
“The judgement opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.
“What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse.
“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” said Mr Tatchell.
Read Peter Tatchell’s detailed reasoning as to why he changed his mind on the Ashers case (he initially supported the verdict against them) and why he opposes the new legal ruling:
Why I changed my mind on the Ashers gay cake row
The law should not require bakers to aid the gay marriage campaign
By Peter Tatchell
Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.
I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict, which last year found the bakery guilty of discrimination. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:
1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.
2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and other minorities – and their points of view.
But I later changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the LGBT community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.
While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.
I will continue to oppose the proposed “conscience clause” in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.
The whole saga began in 2014 when Ashers said they were not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group, Queer Space; claiming it was contrary to their Christian beliefs to promote homosexuality and gay marriage.
This struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination?
Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.
A Belfast court last May agreed and found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds; ordering them to pay Gareth £500 compensation.
I profoundly disagree with Asher’s opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.
Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.
For sure, the law suit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage remains banned.
The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.
However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.
His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.
Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.
I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.
On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: “If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words ‘support marriage’ or ‘support heterosexual marriage’ I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.” Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.
This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.
The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.
The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.
This begs the question: Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? I don’t think LGBT people should be forced to promote anti-gay messages.
The court judgement also leads me to ask: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one a book that propagates Holocaust denial?
If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.
In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.
Jill Stein is the Green Party candidate for US president, and has the support of some American leftists, but her apologies for Putin has angered Greens in Russia, who’ve sent her this Open Letter:
Open letter to Dr. Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President of the United States in the 2016 election
Dear Dr. Stein,
We are writing to you in the spirit of green values and principles, which include fighting for a sustainable future, defending the environment and human rights, and engaging in international solidarity. We are also writing to you as eco-activists, women and mothers.
In November of this year, you will face an important challenge which will have an impact all over the world, even far away from US borders. As Russian eco-activists, we are following the US presidential election with curiosity and fear. Curiosity for your democratic system and fear for the impact that the result of this election could have on our lives and the lives of our children.
As environmentalists and human rights defenders, we often support Green candidates all over the world when they run for local, national or continental election. However, we are asking ourselves if we can support your candidature for the Presidency of the United States of America. We have carefully read your program and your website and we have to admit that we are deeply shocked by the position you expressed during your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.
During the last few years, Russian authorities have continued the destruction of the rich and unique Russian environment. The Kremlin is heavily contributing to global climate change and the destruction of global biodiversity by over-using Russian natural resources and promoting unsafe nuclear energy. Corruption and anti-democratic behavior of the current Russian government has also led to negative impacts on Russia’s unique forests and natural heritage. Russian eco-activists and human rights defenders are also facing an increasingly repressive system which was constructed under Putin’s regime. The list of the victims of this system is unfortunately becoming longer and longer. Russian environmentalist Yevgeniy Vitishko spent 22 months in prison for a non-violent action. Journalist Mikhail Beketov was violently attacked in 2008, suffered serious injuries, and died in 2013. Our personal cases are also symbolic: because of our activism, and in order to protect our children, we were both forced to leave Russia and to seek political asylum in the European Union.
After your visit to Moscow and your meeting with Vladimir Putin you said that “the world deserve[s] a new commitment to collaborative dialogue between our governments to avert disastrous wars for geopolitical domination, destruction of the climate, and cascading injustices that promote violence and terrorism.” We agree with you. But how can this new “collaborative dialogue” be possible when Mr. Putin has deliberately built a system based on corruption, injustice, falsification of elections, and violation of human rights and international law? How is it possible to have a discussion with Mr. Putin and not mention, not even once, the fate of Russian political prisoners, or the attacks against Russian journalists, artists, and environmentalists? Is it fair to speak with him about “geopolitics” and not mention new Russian laws against freedom of speech, restrictions on NGOs and activists, or the shameful law that forbids “homosexual propaganda”?
By silencing Putin’s crimes you are silencing our struggle. By shaking his hand and failing to criticize his regime you are becoming his accomplice. By forgetting what international solidarity means you are insulting the Russian environmental movement.
Dr. Stein, you still have several weeks before the elections in order to clarify your position on the anti-democratic and anti-environmental elements of Putin’s regime. We sincerely hope that our voices will be heard and that our questions will not go unanswered
H/t: Roland Dodds at That Place
A demonstration against The Satanic Verses, in Bradford, 1989. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
Peter Tatchell can usually be relied on for common sense, decency and a an instinct for fair play, especially when it comes to those difficult personal-meets-political questions that seem to crop up so often these days.
So when Tatchell came on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, saying that Keith Vaz has “not broken any laws” and should not resign from his position as chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee in the light of the Sunday Mirror‘s revelations, my initial reaction was to agree.
Tatchell said he could see no public interest in publishing the story:
“As far as I can see he has not broken any laws, or caused anyone any harm and there’s no allegation of hypocrisy; buying sex in this country is lawful,” Tatchell told Radio 4’s Today Programme on Monday.
“Keith Vaz has a strong record of supporting gay rights. He has never gone tub-thumping in terms of supporting family values so what is the public interest in publishing this story … Whatever you think about Keith Vaz behaviour and some people might take the view that it was irresponsible and wrong, I don’t think it’s a resigning matter. I don’t think there is a serious conflict of interest there” [The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently overseeing an inquiry into prostitution laws. An interim report published in July recommended significant changes to existing laws so that soliciting and brothel-keeping are decriminalised].
Tatchell also suggested that Vaz may have been entrapped by the paper and argued it appeared to be a “classic tabloid sting … “It’s a throwback to the sensationalist tabloid style of the 1980s. It’s not something you’d expect to see in 2016”.
All of which is true and needed saying: well done Peter!
So why am I not inclined to take up cudgels in defence of Vaz?
It isn’t just because ever since entering the Commons in 1987 (the first Asian MP since 1929, alongside pioneer black MPs Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant), he’s been a rank opportunist and unprincipled careerist of almost breathtaking shamelessness (well described here); his personal dishonesty and contempt for free expression, secularism and enlightenment values was exposed once and for all within two years of entering parliament:
Rushdie affair (from Wikipedia):
Shortly after being elected in 1989, Vaz led a march of several thousands of Muslims in Leicester calling for Salman Rushdie‘s book The Satanic Verses to be banned. According to Rushdie’s autobiography Joseph Anton, as quoted by Douglas Murray in The Spectator, Vaz had earlier promised his support against the fatwa:
- Vaz said, in that phone conversation, that what had happened was ‘appalling, absolutely appalling,’ and promised his ‘full support’. A few weeks later he was one of the main speakers at a demonstration against The Satanic Verses attended by over three thousand Muslims, and described that event as ‘one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain.’
Vaz is a Catholic of Goan origin. But even so, I’m sure he’s familiar with the Buddhist concept of Karma (an attractive idea, even for an atheist like myself): it means, roughly, “what goes around comes around.”
Above: Walker puts her case on RT (aka Putin TV)
Sean Matgamna has argued persuasively, here, that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should generally be dealt with by argument and education, not disciplinary measures.
I would, personally, make an exception for Ken Livingstone, whose long record of Jew-baiting is such that he should be expelled.
The case of Jackie Walker is much less clear-cut, based as it is (or was – she’s now been reinstated), on some ambiguous comments made in the course of a private Facebook exchange with friends. Nevertheless, the comments do give cause for concern, especially this:
“As I’m sure you know, millions more Africans were killed in the African holocaust and their oppression continues today on a global scale in a way it doesn’t for Jews …
“Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean. So who are victims and what does it mean? We are victims and perpetrators to some extent through choice”
As a comrade commented to me, “I would ask, what is the relevance of Jewish slave-traders in the 17th century to anti-semitism today? I genuinely don’t understand what point Jackie was trying to make.
“That may be partly because I haven’t seen the whole conversation the comments were part of, but could someone explain what the point was? The only interpretation I can see is that the role of Jews in slavery somehow mitigates anti-semitism today. If that’s not the point, then what was it? I’d be very happy to have it explained”.
The participation of some Jews in the slave trade was, of course, terrible (as anyone’s participation was), but actually relatively minor. Jackie Walker’s ignorant comments (she claims, just about her own family, but quite obviously aimed at Jews as a whole) suggest that Jews played a leading role (as “chief financiers”) in the slave trade, which warrants special mention to this day. This argument is usually based upon the spurious “research” of the US Nation of Islam and/or various neo-Nazis.
And, certainly, the gloating of various obvious anti-Semites since Walker’s reinstament should give leftists and anti-racists some pause for thought:
Anyone who wants the truth about Jews and the slave trade, should read this and this.
Above: Bouattia speaks
By Champagne Charlie
Malia Bouattia, the new President of the NUS, stood on a supposedly “left wing” platform consisting largely of identity politics, simplistic, reactionary anti-imperialism and undifferentiated hostility towards Israel and most of its people in the name of supposed “solidarity” with the Palestinian cause.
Normally, student politics are not of much interest to us at Shiraz, but the politics behind Bouattia’s victory are of significance to the left – and a warning of what can happen when the serious class struggle left fails to vigorously oppose identity politics and reactionary anti-imperialism.
Bouattia made headlines last year after opposing a motion to the NUS executive condemning Isis and supporing the Kurds, claiming that to do so would be “islamophobic”, “racist” and “imperialist”.
This brought criticism from Kurdish and left wing students, but when the press picked up the story, she responded by whipping up a storm against the proposer of the motion, Workers’ Liberty supporter Daniel Cooper (see Cooper’s statement on this below).
The left majority on the NUS executive has repeatedly discredited itself by taking ridiculous positions – to take one example, voting down support for Palestinian workers fighting Israeli bosses in Israel’s settlements, on the grounds that this would supposedly legitimise the occupation…
On the issue of free speech on campus, which has been a major issue this year, the majority NUS left has been on the wrong side, promoting the idea that suppression of views they don’t approve of, and the promotion of so-called “safe spaces”, is the way to challenge oppression and backward ideas.
NUS has campaigned against the government’s Prevent programme, but done so by promoting the thoroughly reactionary Islamist campaign Cage. It has helped promote a “left” politics where the idea that Germaine Greer (or indeed, following their rape scandal, the SWP) should be banned from speaking and/or organising on campus, is combined with a sympathetic attitude towards an organisation, Cage, whose central leaders admire the Taliban.
Almost everyone in NUS is in favour of support for the Palestinian struggle. But the unthinking, absolute “anti-Zionism” which all too often shades into a form of political anti-Semitism, does a disservice to the Palestinian cause and can only set back any prospect of a just peace (not that Bouattia & Co want peace – see the video at the top of this post).
The new NUS President is representative of all these problems. Her record is defined not so much by being a leader of struggles as a spokesperson for these kinds of political ideas and positions.
Workers Liberty made many of these points (perhaps slightly more tactfully worded) in a statement, adding:
We remind the movement of this because we believe that Bouattia behaved like a petty and unprincipled factionalist, putting her resentment at her bad luck, her prestige and the chance to attack a political grouping she doesn’t like above the massive issue of the Kurdish struggle. Although the NEC eventually, two months later, passed a motion about Kurdistan, NUS circles spent far more time and energy on the row than on supporting the Kurds. So much for anti-imperialism!
We have little confidence that an NUS led by Malia Bouattia would be more habitable for political minorities and dissenters, more democratic or more serious about political debate and discussion than one led by [the “right wing” incumbent] Megan Dunn.
Workers Liberty, however, decided to give Bouattia critical support against Dunn:
Bouattia and co are more left-wing than Dunn and co on a whole series of class struggle-type issues. In the context of a Tory government attacking all along the line, and important battles against them – junior doctors, other strikes, anti-academies fight, Labour Party struggle – breaking the grip of the old right over NUS is of no small importance. That is why our position is to vote for Malia Bouattia above Megan Dunn – not because we can in any real sense endorse her candidacy, let alone her politics. (Although it is secondary, we also think NUS electing its first black woman, and first Muslim-background, President would be positive.)
Daniel Cooper’s statement on his motion on Iraq, ISIS and the Kurds
I have read on social media various criticisms of my report of the September NUS National Executive Council meeting. Here are some thoughts in response.
Didn’t you go to the press about the NUS Black Students’ Officer, the row about Kurdistan and ISIS?
No. I have had a number of requests from newspapers to comment and I have turned them all down, the ones from the Sun and Daily Mail very rudely. This is because I am a socialist, anti-racist and feminist and have no intention of helping any right-wing campaign. I also have my own experience of being witch-hunted by the political right and the press: in late 2012 and early 2013 there was a major national campaign against me for publicly declining to take part, as ULU Vice President, in a pro-war/pro-imperialist “remembrance” ceremony (see here).
I condemn the press, right and far right attacks on Malia Bouattia, many of which are disgusting examples of racism and sexism.
After I published my report of the September NUS NEC meeting, it was covered by some (left-wing) blogs and then noticed more widely. At that point the story was picked up and repeated, naturally in distorted form, by the right-wing online student paper the Tab, and from there by the mainstream press. It is absurd to suggest I am responsible for this, unless you think people on the left should never publicly criticise each other in case the right makes use of it.
Didn’t you accuse Malia of not condemning ISIS?
No. Read the report. I never said anything of the sort. I objected to Malia opposing the motion on Iraq proposed by me, Shreya Paudel and Clifford Fleming, and responded to her claims that it was Islamophobic and pro-imperialist. Some people have claimed I misrepresented Malia. The only justification I have heard for this is, firstly, that I did not state that Malia condemned ISIS. That is because it was so blindingly obvious: before the right-wing attacks on Malia, the idea that anyone on NUS NEC would not condemn ISIS had not even occurred to me. And, secondly, that I failed to report that Malia offered to support a different motion on Kurdistan at the next NEC if it fitted with her politics. Whether or not I should have reported this or not, it is hardly decisive! Does anyone seriously believe that if I had stated either of these things it would have prevented right wingers distorting and making use of what I wrote?
Why didn’t you talk to Malia about the motion before the meeting?
Firstly, I am under no obligation to consult Malia, who has different politics from me, about what motions I want to submit to the NEC.
Secondly, I did. I specifically sent Malia the motion after it was submitted (she will also have received it as normal in her NEC papers) and asked for her views. She responded saying that she would have liked to be consulted before the motion was submitted, but when I replied and asked for her views on the actual contents of the motion, she did not reply.
Malia and her political allies could have moved amendments in advance, through the normal process, or moved parts to delete particular lines or elements on the day. They didn’t.
I would add that we had submitted a very similar motion to the previous NEC in July (it fell off the agenda for lack of time), so the general contents were available to consider and discuss for even longer than normal, and Malia had ample opportunity to move her own motion about Kurdistan in September. Again, failing that, she could have amended mine.
Isn’t “resolves 5” of the motion (“Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers”) Islamophobic? Doesn’t it effectively propose that MI5 spies on Muslim students?
Resolves 5 was a point that Roza Salih, NUS Scotland International Students’ Officer, wanted in the motion. In general (not always), I am opposed to be boycotts as I believe they are ineffective and strip agency of people on the ground to bring change. I also think that there are indeed issues about seeking to establish who ISIS supporters are. I considered removing this line after Roza proposed it, but then didn’t. I should have. If anyone had emailed me stating their opposition to it (or replied to my emails asking for opinions!) I would almost certainly have removed it.
But it’s worth noting that in Bouttia’s speech in the NEC meeting she did not state why she believed the motion to be Islamophobic.
It’s only after the meeting that I have been informed that this particular point was contentious. I am still confused about why, then, it was not amended or deleted from the motion in the meeting itself, rather than opposing the whole motion outright.
I understand that, in a society such as ours, in which anti-Muslim feeling is wide-spread, this point in the motion might be misconstrued. However, it was clearly never intended in this way, by Roza or by me.
I am also curious as to how most of those that opposed the motion, especially on the left, square this with their support for boycotts of Israel.
Why are you attacking the NUS Black Students’ Officer?
I’m not attacking her as a person, much less because she is BSO. I’m expressing a political criticism of a position she took and arguments she made, because I disagree with them.
Why did you single out Malia in your report?
Because she was the person – the only person – who spoke against the motion. There was one speech for and one against – Shreya Paudel and Malia. I moved for another round of speeches, but Toni Pearce, as chair, over-ruled me. That is why that section of my NEC report focuses on Malia’s arguments (plus the tweet from Aaron Kiely celebrating the motion being defeated).
Why did you call Malia a Stalinist?
Again, read the report! I said the political approach she argued in opposing my motion – putting flat opposition to everything US imperialism does above questions of democracy, liberation and working-class struggle, in this case the democratic liberation struggle of the Kurds, as well as Iraqi socialists, feminists and labour activists – was informed by the legacy of Stalinism. I stand by that. That is the real political disagreement here, and one that few if any of my critics seem willing to engage with.
Why have you done this now?
Actually I submitted a similar motion about Iraq in July, for the obvious reason that I was concerned about what was happening in Iraq and Syria. (I have worked and still work closely with Iraqi Kurdish socialists in London.)
Please note: between the two NEC meetings, an almost identical motion to the one defeated at the NEC was passed, I believe unanimously, at NUS’s Scottish Executive Committee, where it was proposed by Roza. I’m not sure, but I think some people voted one way at the Scottish EC and another at the NEC. That’s ok if they genuinely changed their minds because of the arguments, but not ok if they were doing what they thought would make them popular (at both meetings!)
I resubmitted a motion in September because, far from going away, the issue had got bigger and more urgent. That is surely the point of being on NUS NEC: to raise important issues and try to agitate and mobilise people about them.
Support the Kurdish struggle!
That is the absurdity of all this: hardly anyone in NUS, in the leadership or on the left, has done anything to support the Kurdish struggle and other democratic, feminist and working-class struggles against the odds in the Middle East. While hundreds if not thousands of Kurdish students in the UK have taken action to protest against genocide and extreme oppression, their national union is failing them. And in this debate, the voices of Kurdish left activists have been largely ignored.
Right-wing attacks on student activists and officers, particularly attacks on black activists motivated by racism, must be opposed, condemned and fought. At the same time, the fact is that Malia and others on the NEC did the wrong thing when they voted down the Iraq motion at the NEC.
I’d urge everyone to read this interview with Roza Salih about the Kurdish struggle, and get active to support it.
If anyone would like me to respond to a different argument or objection, please feel free to drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A debate has been taking place in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:
From Omar Raii:
Oppose Prevent but don’t ally with Cage
The Daily Mail has condemned the National Union of Students over its links with the organisation Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), run by former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg.
The Daily Mail (7 January) targetted NUS Vice-President Shelly Asquith, criticising her for speaking out in opposition to the government’s Prevent strategy — the government’s scheme ostensibly aimed at stopping young people being “radicalised” by “extremists” but which is aimed exclusively at Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism and has is linked to increased state surveillance and repression on the grounds of “national security” and “counter-terrorism”.
The Daily Mail linked opposition to Prevent with support for Cage. Spokespeople for Cage have been invited to NUS events to speak against Prevent. The paper also linked opposition to Prevent with some student unions banning speakers such as Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and David Starkey.
Criticism of NUS and Asquith by the right-wing press has brought understandable ire from the student movement and the left. The Prevent strategy is deeply flawed and many students are rightfully worried about its potential negative implications for freedom of speech on campus, and about using teachers and lecturers as spies and informants. The NUS and Asquith are absolutely right to organise speaker tours against something that would be damaging to the student movement.
The Daily Mail’s pro-freedom of speech language, is hypocritical given its support for repressive government measures that would dampen down freedom of speech on campus. The paper was also hugely patronising and sexist — at one point, the NUS Vice-President is referred to as a “Corbyn girl”. We should unequivocally defend NUS for its stance on Prevent. Despite the crass hypocrisy of The Daily Mail, that is not the only issue here. Banning speakers — not matter how offensive they may be — in an attempt to create so-called “safe spaces”on campuses makes it more difficult to argue against government censorship and repression. Moreover, working with Cage and Begg is a huge own goal for the NUS in terms of fighting Prevent.
Members of Cage and Begg have made statements supporting right wing Islamists such as the Taliban. The NUS does itself no favours by allying with them. Equally the left’s response to opt for unequivocal defence of Cage is dishonest. In its opposition to the Daily Mail, Socialist Worker interviewed Moazzam Begg and Azad Ali (who has also worked with Cage) without once criticising them, or even mentioning their history. This, not just the Daily Mail’s racist witch hunt or propaganda for the Prevent agenda, is a problem. We do not have to defend Begg or groups like Cage in order to defend Muslim students or overlook the views of Islamists in a battle against a greater enemy, on this occasion The Daily Mail.
• More on Cage
From Patrick Murphy:
Why and how to oppose Prevent
In February 2015 schools, local authorities and colleges in the UK became subject to something called “the Prevent duty”. Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, this was a legal duty to “have regard to the need to protect people from being drawn into terrorism”.
In this age of high-stakes monitoring and the tyranny of Ofsted, that “duty” led to frequent cases of over-anxious staff reporting perfectly innocent behaviour as if it were dangerous. The Prevent programme itself was introduced by the last Labour government in 2006, in response to the 7/7 London bombing, and driven by the concern that atrocities were the work of “home-grown” terrorists.
At the time it was part of a four-pronged anti-terrorist strategy: “Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare”. In 2006 the strategy was focused exclusively on Islamist terrorism and based on the principle that there was a decisive causal link between extremist ideology and violent acts. The strategy relied heavily on funding Islamic groups seen as “moderate” and able to act as a counterweight to the “extremists”.
In 2009 the focus narrowed to target Al Qaeda and the funding increased. At the same time an attempt was made to widen the definition of extremism to include “promoting Sharia law or failing to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan”, but that was quickly withdrawn. In 2011, the Coalition government extended the definition of extremism to include non-Muslim groups, and in particular the far right. Funding was withdrawn from so-called “moderate Islamic” groups, on the not entirely unfounded basis that some of them were promoting much the same ideology as the “extremists”. So-called “British values” became the litmus test for what was deemed “safe”. Prevent was given a focus on protecting young people from grooming by jihadis and other extremists.
The left should unequivocally oppose everything that jihadists or far-right extremists represent. We oppose them not in a passive or abstract way; we want them stopped, caught and defeated. We want children and young people protected from efforts by such people to groom them and endanger their lives, just as we would want more and not less effort by the state to prevent child abuse, whether it is violent or sexual or through neglect. The Prevent agenda is, however, very unpopular across mainly-Muslim communities and on the left. The National Union of Students calls for a boycott and has produced a handbook on it. The largest teachers’ union, the NUT, is likely at its conference at Easter to pass a motion which calls for Prevent to be withdrawn. So, representatives of some of the most important groups and communities expected to make Prevent work dislike the strategy.
They are right to do so. For a start, there is no evidence that Prevent is successful in “preventing” jihadi recruitment. The number of young people travelling to Syria to join Daesh indicates the opposite. So none of the other problems with the strategy can be excused on grounds of ends justifying means. Muslim communities feel targeted. Until 2011 other forms of terroristic extremism went unmentioned. Even now the references to the far right appear fairly token. Many initiatives developed as part of Prevent increase the level of surveillance in our society, by encouraging people to spy on and suspect the worst of each other, or by the misuse of local state power. Prevent funds were used to fund all the CCTV cameras in central Birmingham.
The strategy is open to political abuse. Once its approach is embedded the state can easily recalibrate it to target direct action environmentalists, anti-fascists and the labour movement. Prevent undermines the relationships many public service workers, especially teachers, have with their communities, students and young people, and thus cuts against teachers gaining trust and being able to re-educate young people tempted by terroristic ideologies. Without doing anything significant to stop recruitment to terroristic ideologies, the Prevent strategy introduces or exacerbates a whole set of other problems. It should be withdrawn.
Socialists, however, should acknowledge that there is a real problem of jihadi-terrorist recruitment. There are useful ideas in the NUS handbook, but major weaknesses too. Against Prevent it proposes we ally with the self-styled “human rights NGO” CAGE. Omar Raii explained the problems with that in an article in Solidarity 390. NUS claims that Prevent diverts attention from “the government’s own complicity in nurturing political violence due to its recent foreign policy decisions as well as its long history of colonialism” and that, by focusing on terrorism, the government is guilty of redirecting attention to “the consequences of its actions”.
The logic here is that the terrorists are not really responsible for their own actions. They were made to do them by some recent foreign policy decision or by “the long history of colonialism”. This view simultaneously excuses and infantilises religious fascists. NUS dismisses what it calls “the conveyor-belt theory”, the idea that there is a decisive link between extremist ideas and acts of violence. But the evidence they cite against shows only that violence has multiple causes and that ideological predisposition is not enough on its own.
It is ironic that NUS should deny the link between the expression of reactionary ideas (extreme homophobia, misogyny, religious hatred) and the threat of violence. Too many student unions have sought to ban speakers they don’t like on grounds that the ideas represent a risk to the safety of various constituencies of students. So Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and Dapper Laughs are too dangerous to be heard, but overt jihadi-terrorist ideas have no consequences?
We should oppose the Prevent strategy for the right reasons and alongside the right allies. We should also treat the danger to children as real and serious. Policies to deal with grooming, travel to Syria, and social media safety should be embedded in regular school safeguarding policies and training. Citizenship teaching should be reinstated in schools: it has been marginalised by government obsessions with tests, league tables, and core subjects.
More primary schools should be encouraged to discuss ideas, including through the teaching of basic philosophy. Prevent isn’t necessary to do such work. It does more harm than good, by closing debate down where it should be opened up.
From Jim Denham:
Omar Raii (Solidarity 390) and Patrick Murphy (Solidarity 391) both draw attention to the shortcomings and potential dangers of the Prevent programme, aimed at countering “extremism”/”radicalisation” in schools and colleges.
It does indeed seem to be the case that in some instances Prevent has been implemented in a heavy-handed manner by over-zealous and/or ill-trained teachers. I can also agree that Prevent is potentially a threat to free speech – discouraging free and open discussion of the issues surrounding terrorist ideologies and thus making it more difficult to counter them. However, there is a great deal of credible evidence showing that much of the opposition to Prevent stems not from “ordinary” parents and teachers, but is being organised and co-ordinated by ultra-reactionary Islamists, specifically Cage, Mend and their front organisation, Prevent Watch.
Many of the media stories about heavy-handed and/or inappropriate Prevent interventions were, in fact, put about by Prevent Watch with the intention of spreading fear and confusion in Muslim communities. Several of these stories have turned out to be exaggerated or, indeed, downright false — for instance the story about the Muslim boy in Accrington whose family received a police visit after he wrote at school that he lived in a “terrorist house” when what he meant was a terraced house.
Sections of the media had a field day with this story, but it now turns out that the police visit had nothing to do with Prevent or “terrorism” but happened because the boy had also stated that he’d been subjected to physical violence at home. Prevent Watch continues to carry this false story on their website.
Omar and Patrick rightly point to the foolishness of much of the left (and the NUS leadership) in allying with Cage/Mend/Prevent Watch in opposing Prevent. But both comrades take it as read that we should oppose Prevent, albeit “for the right reasons and with the right allies.” I’m not convinced. Teachers and others in positions of responsibility towards young people are, quite rightly, required by the state to take action to protect their charges from grooming and all forms of physical and mental abuse. Surely protecting children and young people from terrorist ideologies is a similar responsibility that socialists should not, in principle, oppose? A final (genuine) question: Omar states that Prevent “is aimed exclusively at Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism”: is this true? I have read elsewhere that only 56% of those referred for intervention under Prevent have been Muslim.
From a London teacher (name and address supplied):
This bureaucratic drive is probably counterproductive
Yes, of course, we should oppose the government’s anti-Islamist strategy, Prevent. It is heavy-handed and, probably, counter-productive.
Teachers already have a legal obligation to actively stop children being put in danger, and keep them safe. So, for example, I have reported to the school’s safeguarding officer that one of my students had been attacked by his dad. The senior member of staff then reported the incident to the police.
In the same way I recently reported a student for Islamic extremism. That report led to a police raid on his family’s home. How can I justify reporting this student? Because I might have saved his life (and the lives of others he might have hurt if he had ended up in Syria). So, on the level of the obligation to keep kids safe there is no need for extra legislation. Nor is there any need to force schools to teach “a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils.” That’s already a legal obligation in schools like mine.
If the government wants to stop religious radicalisation the best first step would be to abolish religious schools. My school does quite good work promoting gay equality and women’s rights; I bet you can’t say the same about the independent religious schools attached to the mosque at the end of my road, or for any priest-and-nun-infested schools as well.
All religious schools maintain boundaries, encourage isolation and obscurantism. The problem with Prevent is that, firstly, it is part of a ruling-class ideological offensive against Islamists which is done in their name, with their ideas. The government knows it is part of a bureaucratic elite, and they are seeking to co-opt teachers and others into gathering information on their behalf which they wouldn’t be able to collect otherwise. But the net is far too wide.
If a kid tells me they are in favour of sharia law I would like to talk to them, not to get them arrested or put under state surveillance (I can draw a distinction between a student who might be about to sign up with Daesh, and another who is curious, or awkward, or bloody-minded, or contrary, or a bit sexist). And finally this policy will be overseen by school Head teachers who are paranoid about becoming the next school to have a student disappear to Syria (with all the bad press and interest from Ofsted that that generates). They will over-report to cover their arses.
Obviously what is required is for the unions to develop an independent policy. We should oppose Islamist terror in our own name, and educate students to value liberty and equality. There are groups which oppose Prevent for their own reasons (because they are Islamists, or the Islamists “useful idiots”), but that shouldn’t stop us critiquing the government from a socialist perspective.
From Adam Southall:
Prevent script is authoritarian
I was very interested to read recent articles and correspondence regarding the government’s Prevent strategy (Omar Raii, Solidarity 390, Patrick Murphy, Solidarity 391, Jim Denham, Solidarity 394).
As part of being formally inducted into a new role, I had the pleasure of receiving a session on Prevent. This consisted of a heavily prescribed and standardised script and DVD presentation. It was clear the tutor was not allowed to depart from the script, expand or engage in discussion.
I was a little surprised that the “main terrorist threat to this country” is still regarded as being from Al-Qaeda. Included in the script and DVD was an overarching “explanatory” “expert” narrative which explicitly regarded terrorism by Al-Qaeda and presumably ISIS as merely the latest in a long line of historical “ideological terrorisms”, which included in the past people “fighting for a homeland” and even “for a communist society.”
The sources and motivations behind Al-Qaeda and ISIS are undoubtedly complex and contradictory, but to equate these with the mass democratic struggles including armed actions by such as the African National Congress of South Africa, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Irish Republican Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, for national liberation, democratic self-determination, and some degree of social emancipation, seems to me to be not only ludicrous but to indicate an underlying dangerous and authoritarian ruling class ideology.
People are not required or expected to have agreed with every dot or comma or action by groups such as these, but there is surely a world of difference between movements and organisations fighting for basic democratic, national, human and social rights, and those which would seek to impose some form of clerical-fascistic/murderous dictatorship over the people.
Readers may remember the incident a week or so ago when Fran Cowling, the NUS lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with Peter Tatchell, whom she described as “racist” and “transphobic”. The row was covered in some detail by Comrade Coatesy here, and in the Guardian here.
Tatchell, a long standing campaigner for gay rights and human rights more generally, quite understandably, decided to mount a public defence of his good name against these outrageous slurs. As a result of doing so, he was denounced yet again, in this hysterical Open Letter – which includes the truly Orwellian charge of Tatchell referring to a “confidential email chain” that had been forwarded to him “without permission”, thus apparently making Tachell’s accuser the true ‘victim’ of this story!
The signatories include not just the usual NUS suspects and their petty bourgeois and authoritarian friends in academia, but shamefully, the editor of the anarchist Freedom News has signed, too.
It’s a depressing read, but serious in its way, as an example of the anti-free speech, authoritarian logic of extreme identity politics and the hysteria it can induce.
Note, in particular, this paragraph:
“Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.”
So, at some point, it has apparently become acceptable for supposed leftwingers to consider speaker tours for homophobic bigots to be a matter of indifference, and that it is “racially insensitive” for LGBT rights campaigners to object to people expressing “religious opinions about homosexual acts“. Most decent lefties (and liberals) will find this euphemistic description of far-right hate preachers pretty sickening. Now, some might disagree with Tatchell on minor tactical issues of precisely how he approaches this, but my gut response, when ‘lefties’ tell gay rights campaigners to shut up about organised far-right bigotry is: “fuck off”.
Also: “The particular urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims“? Well – which Muslims? All of them? An attack on a far-right preacher who thinks all gay people are animals is an attack on all Muslims? Isn’t it “racially insensitive” to identify all Muslims with the hard-right ideologues that Tatchell feels “urgent” about?
What a wretched, hypocritical shower these self-righteous NUS authoritarians and their academic friends, are!
From Tendance Coatesy:
HOPE not hate
We hope this is not true but the story is circulating:
The Huffington Post also carries the story:
The NUS Is ‘Trying To Ban’ Hope Not Hate Founder Nick Lowles For Being ‘Islamophobic’
The Tendance has been to an event organised by Hope not Hate in Ipswich.
A broad range of left-wing activists, from the Labour Party, trade unionists, to the extra-Parliamentary left, Muslims, and even one Tory, were present.
Our principal concern at that point was campaigning against the xenophobes of UKIP.
Hope Not Hate’s work against UKIP and all forms of far-right bigotry, from Islamists to the BNP, is greatly respected.
It is perhaps unnecessary to observe that the far-right (Stormfront) often mentions that Nick Lowles is from a Jewish background*.
All we can say, if this account is true, is that the NUS are now even more beneath contempt.
* This is what the Nazis say, “Nick Lowles of Searchlight, admits to being part of “Jewish community”?
I’m not sure if this was just a Freudian slip, or what. There have been rumours kicking about before, from Larry O’Hara, that he was a member of the Union of Jewish Students. In any case, this was in The Jewish Chronicle and set alarms ringing;
Update: The Letter of Shame.
We stand in solidarity with NUS LGBT+ Officer Fran Cowling and support their right to choose who they share a platform with according to their own values and beliefs. We believe fundamentally in the right to freedom of speech and association but that both of these carry with them the right to choose to neither speak nor associate with someone and Fran has every right to exercise those rights however they deem fit.
We are appalled at Peter Tatchell’s actions in dragging a dedicated, hard-working and passionate activist through an appalling media circus which has led to them receiving a torrent of vile abuse with no other apparent purpose than to salve his own ego.
We believe that whether Peter Tatchell feels he is racist or transphobic is ultimately irrelevant as none of us is best placed to be an objective judge of our own behaviour and Fran’s decision to listen to the voices of People of Colour and Trans people who have raised issues with his behaviour was the right decision for them to make and should be supported. Whilst also recognising that those opinions are not universal amongst People of Colour and Trans people, nor should there ever be expectation that they would be, because neither group is comprised of identical clones and where differing opinions exist the choice of who to side with remains with the individual.
More on the Site of Shame
Like (I’m sure) most decent people, I was appalled to read in today’s Observer that the NUS’s LGBT representative, one Fran Cowling, has denounced Peter Tatchell as “transphobic” and “racist”.
The “evidence” for this nonsense is non-existent to any rational person, so I don’t intend, here, to even dignify it with a response: Comrade Coatesy deals with it here.
Suffice to say that my immediate reaction was that Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT representative who made these comments, may be mentally ill: certainly, she should not be taken as speaking on behalf of the NUS: the NUS told the Observer “Tatchell has not been ‘no-platformed’ by the union as a whole, and that it was up to Cowling to make her own choices with regard to this event.”
So I assumed this was the reaction of one strange and disturbed individual, carried away by the self-righteous logic of identity politics. Until this was drawn to my attention:
Here is what passed – overwhelmingly – at NUS LGBT conference 2015
Motion 101: End Transphobia, Biphobia and Islamophobia on Campus
Content warning: Transphobia, biphobia, and Islamophobia
1.1. NUS LGBT has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as part of LGBT NUS, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.2. All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus where they can learn, develop as an individual, and achieve their full potential. This safe space must include an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and prejudice including but not limited to: homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
3.3. Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as Trans, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and genderqueer people, and anyone who does define into the gender binary norms of society.
4.4. NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’ Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach prejudice and discrimination based on an individual’s identity, and who incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity or beliefs.
5.5. The NUS LGBT Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign have previously passed policy refusing to share a platform with Julie Bindel, a journalist and author who is notorious for her transphobic publications and views, and other individuals who hold transphobic views.
Conference further believes:
1.1. Julie Bindel is renowned for her transphobic viewpoints, which first came to light in her article Gender Benders, Beware (2004). Bindel has apologised for the ‘tone’ of this article, but has not renounced further writings which argue that Trans people should be denied medical care. Moreover, she has spoken at events such as Femifest 2014 that explicitly exclude Trans people.
2.2. Julie Bindel argued in her latest book, ‘Straight Expectations’ (2014) that that bisexuality doesn’t exist as a sexual identity, thus erasing bisexual individuals’ identities and experiences.
3.3. Julie Bindel has also criticised women who wear the niqab in her article for the Daily Mail: Why are my fellow feminists shamefully silent over the tyranny of the veil (2013); in refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency.
1.1. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT committee shall not share a platform with Julie Bindel.
2.2. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT Committee shall not engage with transphobic, biphobic or Islamophobic speakers
And here is a motion that passed at NUS Trans Conference in autumn 2015 – note “The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform … Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform”
Motion 108 | Hate has no place on campuses
Content Warning: Transphobia
1.NUS has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as trans, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.All students, regardless of their gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus.
3.Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as trans.
4.NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’, “no sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach and incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity.
5.Legally “hate speech” does not cover transphobic speech
Conference Further Believes:
1.1. Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or antiSemitic speakers have no place at universities or colleges.
2.2. “No sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies do not limit the freedom of speech
3.3. Transphobic speech should be legally recognised as hate speech
4.4. Transphobia and transphobic speakers have lead to poor access to health care and welfare services by spreading myths about trans people.
5.5. By allowing transphobic speakers onto campus this can affect the mental health of trans students on campus.
6.6. By giving a speaker a platform it is a method to legitimises their views
7.7. The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform
8.8. Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform.
9.9. Transphobic speech is still transphobic hate speech even if they are a member of another or the same liberation group.
10.10. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination.
11.11. Universities and Colleges should be a place for trans people to thrive where they feel safe and accepted.
1.1. To support all campaigns, protests and petitions making people who are Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or anti-Semitic speakers not to invited onto campuses.
2.2. To not share platforms with and not to invite onto campuses all transphobic speakers including but not limited to: Germaine Greer1 , Julie Bindel2 , Julie Burchill3 and Milo Yiannapolous4 .
3.3. To actively campaign against the platforming and inviting onto campuses of all transphobic speakers at universities.
4.4. To encourage the platforming and inviting onto campuses of people from liberation groups, specifically pertaining to the issue at hand.
5.5. Encourage students’ unions to have safe spaces for trans people, as well spaces where they can operate autonomously
6.6. To work on making transphobic speech covered under the definition of “hate speech”
So it would seem that Fran Cowling is not just an individual lunatic, but is acting on behalf of the NUS’s LGBT conference: in which case socialists have a job of work to shake these tossers out of their self-righteous idiocy, before society as a whole declares them beyond the pale.
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