What does ‘Jewish Voice for Labour’ actually stand for?

September 29, 2017 at 7:50 pm (anti-semitism, Free Speech, israel, Jim D, labour party, palestine, reformism, Unite the union, zionism)


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Describing itself as a “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party”, Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) had its official launch at this year’s Labour Party conference in Brighton.

JVL chair is Jenny Manson, described in a JVL press release as “a retired tax inspector”, the Garden Suburb branch chairperson in Finchley and Golders Green CLP, an active supporter of Jews for Palestine, and editor of two books (one of them on consciousness: What It Feels Like To Be Me).

Manson was one of the five Jewish Labour Party members who submitted statements in support of Ken Livingstone in March of this year. According to her statement:

“… These actions by Ken were not offensive, nor anti-Semitic in any way, in my view.

 … In my working life as a Tax Inspector I saw a (very) few instances of anti-Semitism, such as the characterisation of ‘Jewish Accountants’ as accountants who skated close to the edge. I have never witnessed any instances of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.

 Anti-Semitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism.”

 The JVL’s brief “Statement of Principles” includes the following:

“We uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities, such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. We oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews.”

A JVL press release likewise states that the new organisation:

“Rejects attempts to extend the scope of the term ‘antisemitism’ beyond its meaning of bigotry towards Jews, particularly when directed at activities in solidarity with Palestinians such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.”

In other words, this “network for Jewish members of the Labour Party” will be campaigning in support of the ‘right’ to boycott Jews, and in favour of restricting the definition of antisemitism so as to exclude the most common forms in which contemporary antisemitism manifests itself.

JVL already has the backing of the “Free Speech on Israel” campaign, the “Electronic Intifada” website and Len McCluskey of Unite (who claims never to have encountered anti-Semitism within the labour movement), and Tosh McDonald of Aslef, both of who have taken it upon themselves to affiliate their unions to JVL.

Last Monday at the Labour conference there was a fringe meeting of the so-called ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign (prop: Anthony Greenstein esq) at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton.  It was chaired by Jenny Manson.

The Mirror reported on the meeting:

Israeli-American author Miko Peled told a conference fringe meeting Labour members should support the freedom to “discuss every issue, whether it’s the holocaust, yes or no, whether it’s Palestine liberation – the entire spectrum.

And you can listen to the clip here.

Was he – and the Labour members sitting in the room – really suggesting that the historical reality of the Holocaust is a legitimate topic for debate? Did Jenny Manson agree with him? We cannot say, because Ms Manson has made no comment (as far as I’m aware) on the matter.

However, Ms Manson does have a letter in today’s Guardian that takes the paper’s John Crace to task for confusing JVL’s fringe meeting with the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ fringe meeting (understandably, one might think, given Ms Manson’s prominent role at both):

Jewish Voice is not an anti-Zionist group
John Crace, whose contributions are always good value, has got it wrong (Sketch, 27 September). I chaired the meeting of Jewish Voice for Labour he mentions in passing. What he discusses in his sketch is in dispute but, in any event, it happened at an entirely separate meeting – not ours. JVL is not, as he claims, an anti-Zionist group, nor was the Holocaust mentioned, let alone questioned at our hugely popular launch on Monday evening at the Labour party conference, attended by close on 300 people.

Our mission is to contribute to making the Labour party an open, democratic and inclusive party, encouraging all ethnic groups and cultures to join and participate freely. The sole ideological commitments members make is to broadly support what is contained in our statement of principles. These include a commitment “to strengthen the party in its opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism”. Describing JVL as “anti-Zionist” fundamentally misrepresents us. Our statement of principles makes no mention at all of Zionism. Rather our objective is simply to uphold the right of supporters of justice for Palestinians to engage in solidarity activities. I gave an assurance from the chair that, in accordance with our statement of principles, you need hold no position on Zionism – for, against or anything else – to join and work with us.
Jenny Manson
Chair, Jewish Voice for Labour

There are two obvious points to make about this letter:

(1) Anti-Zionism is, in itself, a perfectly respectable ideology, and the Bund has an honourable history (even though the holocaust proved it to be, eventually, on the wrong side of history) so why does the Chair of the anti-Zionist JVL seek to deny the obvious?

(2) Why didn’t Ms Manson take the opportunity to clarify the links between JVL and ‘Free Speech on Israel’, whose meeting she chaired and at which the controversial comments on the holocaust were made?

A much more detailed – and honest – description of the politics of JVL was given in a speech by David Rosenberg, published in today’s Morning Star.

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Trans activists versus radical feminists: abandonment of freedom for ‘ressentiment’

September 28, 2017 at 7:46 pm (Feminism, Free Speech, gay, homophobia, Human rights, identity politics, LGBT, liberation, Marxism, philosophy, posted by JD)

Comrade Camila Bassi on a dispute that has recently emerged:

The following is a full recording of and written extracts from my book chapter, “On Identity Politics, Ressentiment, and the Evacuation of Human Emancipation”, in Nocella and Juergensmeyer (eds.) Fighting Academic Repression and Neoliberal Education (Peter Lang Publishing).

My chapter and its podcast examine a neoliberal wave of identity politics in the form of intersectionality and privilege theory. I argue that it is a repression of self by self, which precludes connection, bypasses freedom, and generates ressentiment. I explore a specific case study of the political deadlock between a current of radical feminists and a current of transgender and transsexual activists, which has played out on social media and across university campuses.

Freedom has become dangerously lost in the contradiction of identity politics. As Brown (1995: 65) observes:

“politicized identities generated out of liberal, disciplinary societies, insofar as they are premised on exclusion from a universal ideal, require that ideal, as well as their exclusion from it, for their own continuing existence as identities.”

Brown (1995: 66) develops Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment to explain how the desired impulse of politicized identity to “inscribe in the law and other political registers its historical and present pain” forecloses “an imagined future of power to make itself”. What one has instead of freedom then is the production of ressentiment:

Ressentiment in this context is a triple achievement: it produces an affect (rage, righteousness) that overwhelms the hurt; it produces a culprit responsible for the hurt; and it produces a site of revenge to displace the hurt (a place to inflict hurt as the sufferer has been hurt).” (Brown, 1995: 68)

We are left with an effort to anaesthetize and to externalize what is unendurable.

The radical feminist and trans activist deadlock is the privilege production of impasse, and a symptom of acute political distress in which freedom has been abandoned for ressentiment.

The chasm Marx identifies between human beings as, on the one hand, citizens of a universal political community and, on the other hand, private, alienated, egoistic individuals of a civil society, is reflected in the contradiction of a neoliberal wave of identity politics considered and critiqued in my chapter and its podcast.

Our journey back to the dream of freedom requires us making a case for supplanting a politics of “I am” – which closes down identity, and fixes it within a social and moral hierarchy – with a politics of “I want this for us” (Brown, 1995: 75 [my emphasis]). If we fail to help make this happen, we will remain locked in a history that has “weight but no trajectory, mass but no coherence, force but no direction,” thus stagnated in a “war without ends or end” (Brown, 1995: 71).

(See also my earlier blog post, The evacuation of human emancipation, identity politics, and ‘ressentiment’)

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Roald Dahl: wonderful storyteller, vile human being

September 13, 2017 at 1:06 pm (anti-semitism, children, conspiracy theories, culture, Free Speech, Human rights, islamism, literature, posted by JD, Racism)

By Stephen Knight at  Godless Spellchecker’s Blog

ROALD DAHL FAILED ON FREE SPEECH AND THREW SALMAN RUSHDIE TO THE MOB

September 13th marks the birthday of the late and great children’s author Roald Dahl. In celebration of his prolific storytelling, the day has also been dubbed ‘Roald Dahl Day’.

Dahl’s exceptional storytelling was a huge part of my childhood. I adored his hilarious tales which were perfectly complemented by the illustrations of Quentin Blake. That’s what makes my loss of respect for him as an adult all that more regrettable. If you want to keep your rosy, Dahl infused childhood in tact, you may wish to go away now.

You may remember, or at least know of the fallout that continues to pursue Salman Rushdie to this day after he published a work of fiction in 1988 titled ‘The Satanic Verses’.

The book dealt partly with the life of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad. This didn’t go down well in the Muslim world, leading to then supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issuing a Fatwa for Rushdie’s death.

Rushdie requires police protection and had to live for 8 years in a safe house. Fortunately, he has avoided harm so far. Others haven’t been so lucky, namely a number of people attempting to translate his book into their native language.

History will look back at those who threw Salman Rushdie under the bus during this time rather unfavourably. Indeed, if Charlie Hebdo reminded us of one thing, it’s that the moral confusion of the left has remained alive and well since the Rushdie Affair. For some reason, it seems an even more egregious transgression when coming from those that write for a living themselves.

Unfortunately, Roald Dahl was quite vocal in his belief that Rushdie’s writing was the problem, rather than the fascist mob who wished him dead for a work of fiction.

‘In a letter to The Times of London, Dahl called Rushdie “a dangerous opportunist,” saying he “must have been totally aware of the deep and violent feelings his book would stir up among devout Muslims. In other words, he knew exactly what he was doing and cannot plead otherwise. This kind of sensationalism does indeed get an indifferent book on to the top of the best-seller list, — but to my mind it is a cheap way of doing it.” The author of dark children’s books and stories for adults (who himself once had police protection after getting death threats) also advocated self-censorship. It “puts a severe strain on the very power principle that the writer has an absolute right to say what he likes,” he wrote. “In a civilized world we all have a moral obligation to apply a modicum of censorship to our own work in order to reinforce this principle of free speech.”

And for a childhood destroying bonus round, a ‘dash’ of anti-Semitism from Dahl:

‘There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity; maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.

Of course, the work of Dahl should be celebrated and judged on its own merits, but I also think it’s important to remind people which side of the argument he was on during this vital test of principles.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.

  • JD adds: more on Dahl’s anti-Semitism, here

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‘Prevent’: time for a rational discussion on the left

May 25, 2017 at 8:40 pm (anti-fascism, apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, communalism, ex-SWP, fascism, Free Speech, islamism, Middle East, misogyny, SWP, terror)

Image result for picture Cage John Rees
Stalinoid ex-SWP’er John Rees flanked by pro-Taliban members of Cage: united in opposing Prevent

The Manchester outrage, and the reports that some local Muslims had warned the authorities of the perpetrator’s (and others’) extremism, raises the question of the left’s attitude towards ‘Prevent’. For too long Islamists and their apologists have got away with simply smearing Prevent as “islamophobic” and denounced all those (including secular Muslims) willing to work with it. This article from Labour List provides a starting point for a much-needed discussion:

In defence of Prevent: why Britain’s anti-radicalisation strategy must be reformed rather than scrapped

By Stephen Lambert

Prevent, part of the Government’s annual £40m counter terrorism strategy, seeks to challenge the impact of extremism and radicalisation by “encouraging debate” in local communities and schools.

It works through community safety partnerships led by local councils. Each police force has a specially trained Prevent officer who liaises with community groups and other public bodies. All teachers, social workers, doctors and councillors are trained to be on the lookout for signs of radical Islamic, far-right and extreme left-wing activity.

Since the latest rules came in four years ago there have been a number of appalling events leading to the loss of life on mainland Britain. The actions of a suicide bomber, motivated by hate, brought carnage to Manchester, killing 22 and maiming 59. It is the latest in a line of attacks. Our thoughts go out to the bereaved and injured. Two months ago a “lone actor” terrorist hit Westminster and murdered a police officer. Last summer the anti-racism campaigner, Jo Cox, was killed by a far-right white supremacist in her home town in Yorkshire. In 2013 the off-duty soldier Lee Rigby was killed by three jihadis in London.

According to the counter-terrorism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, Britain is ‘”facing a shifting and increasing range of threats emanating from jihadist groups and individuals.’’

Islamic State or Daesh remains the principal threat on British soil “reinforced by the numbers of returned foreign terrorist fighters.’’

MI5 estimated that 850 people seen as a potential security threat are known to have taken part in the Syrian conflict, with half thought to have returned here. 

Lead anti-terrorist experts such as Rob Wainwright of Europol claim another worrying development is the “significant rise in nationalist, xenophobic, racist and anti-Semitic sentiments across the EU, each resulting in acts of far-right extremism.’’

Some 57 per cent of lone-actor foiled terrorism attempts in Britain have been carried out by right-wing extremists, the home office said.

The radical left believes Prevent is damaging trust in society. The duty has charged government officials, teachers, health professionals and councillors with monitoring people’s political and religious views. It has been suggested that Prevent has eroded civil liberties, demonised Muslims and bolstered religious discrimination.

True, hate crimes against Muslims soared by 70 per cent between 2011 and 2014. For Liam Byrne, who considered this in Black Flag Down, and former Conservative minister Sayeed Warsi, Prevent has contributed to a climate of intimidation amongst some ethnic groups. Muslims constitute 5 per cent of the population, yet official figures show that 67 per cent of those referred for suspected radicalisation in 2014, were Muslim.

Civil libertarians maintain that Prevent is not making our citizens safer. Rather it’s fostering an atmosphere of insecurity while stoking up Islamophobia at a time when the far-right is on the rise both in the UK and across Europe.

But scrapping Prevent as part of the overall Contest strategy is not the way forward. The stark reality is that Prevent, despite its imperfections, has helped to thwart the level of violent terrorism. Radical Islamism and the growth of the far-right threatens hard won freedoms, democratic values and institutions, liberty, the rule of law and national security.

Critics of Prevent have to been too quick to label it as some sort of spying operation. This is patently false. Prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, one in three of the hardline Communist-run East Germany’s populace were Stasi informants spying on their own neighbours.

Prevent, contrary to popular belief, is a voluntary programme, requiring parental consent. It takes in special branch, local  community partnerships such as Safe Newcastle, educational establishments, the fire service and youth offending teams. In most cases it is implemented with sensitivity without alienating any section of the community. Clearly the vast majority of Muslims in Britain are moderate, law-abiding citizens who reject violence. Across our core cities, including Newcastle, peace vigils are being held in response to the latest attack.

The shocking event at Manchester testifies to the terrible impact of terrorism. Most of it is home grown. It’s not imported from the EU. Andrew Parker, director-general of MI5, notes that more than 3,000 jihadi men and women, some in their teens, are being watched. At least 12 plots have been foiled in the last two years. The government, Andy Burnham and fair-minded people across the country fully support the decision to increase the number of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ operatives by another 1,900.

Of-course, strengthening surveillance is crucial. But the government needs to take steps to better engage Muslim groups in anti-radicalisation measures delivered through a multi-agency approach. Indications are that Amber Rudd, the home secretary, will carry out an in-depth review of Prevent to shed its toxic image amongst some sections of the Asian community.

One important way to tackle potential radicalisation is through learning and training. The government’s Fundamental British Values programme is being delivered in every school and college in England and Wales to promote the principles which underpin our liberal democracy – respect, tolerance, the rule of law and equality.

Many experienced teachers and youth workers are prepared to challenge the reactionary ideas of “youthful jihadi apologists” or far-right supporters of ultra-nationalist groups, like the BNP.

Urban colleges, as in Bradford, have been praised by Ofsted for their partnership work with police and the local Muslim community in challenging extremism. And Sadiq Khan, Labour’s mayor of London, pointed out that the Muslim community in other places needs to take ownership of the issue and engage more with Prevent.

Prevent’s work on the ground needs reform, as spelt out in Labour’s manifesto, but it must not be abandoned if we are to win the hearts and minds of Britain’s Muslim communities. Maintaining safe neighbourhoods remains a priority while violent extremism against vulnerable citizens must be defeated. And, of course, the perpetrators of these cowardly crimes must be brought to justice.

Stephen Lambert is director of Education4Democracy and a Newcastle councillor. He is a former chair of  Safe Newcastle.

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Don’t let Erdogan become Sultan

April 16, 2017 at 5:09 pm (AK Party, Free Speech, Human rights, islamism, Middle East, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, religion, turkey)

Alan Thomas shared Kader Sevinc‘s post (on Facebook).

Thanks to Kader for this. Vote #hayir: don’t let Erdogan become Sultan!

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“Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” by CHP European Union Representation, Brussels

The 16 April referendum on a package of some 18 amendments to the current Constitution is about the future of Turkish democracy. What is at stake is the replacement of the current parliamentary system by an all-powerful Presidency.
The ayes claim it will make the regime “more efficient, stream-lined and more responsive to popular will”. They assert that the President – now elected by direct suffrage – must have “commensurate authority”. They declare that the Presidential system is “the answer to all the problems and challenges the country is facing at home and abroad”.

The stark reality is quite to the contrary. A “yes” vote on 16 April will have the following consequences:

It will mean the end of the separation of powers, of checks and balances because both the legislative and the judiciary branches of government will come under the control of the President.
The President, not the elected Parliament, will be making laws by issuing executive orders.
The President, not the elected Parliament, will prepare and execute the national budget – with no accountability.
The President will be able to dissolve the Parliament – at will.
The President will have the power to appoint judges to the Constitutional Court and other high judiciary bodies.
The President retains political party identity, making the Presidency a partisan institution; this contravenes Article 101 of the present Constitution that is not affected by the proposed amendments and that calls for a bi-partisan President.
The Vice-Presidents and Ministers appointed by the President will answer not to the Parliament or to the people, but only to the President.

In short, the referendum will be a choice between a parliamentary democracy and one-man rule, between saying goodbye to democracy in all its surviving manifestations and giving Turkey another chance to reclaim its secular democracy. A “yes” vote will mean Turkey’s further estrangement from the Euro-Atlantic community and the EU. A “no” vote would give the democratic, secular and liberal forces the opportunity again to turn Turkey into a progressive, forward-looking country. Whether “yes” or “no”, 16 April will be a turning point for Turkey. The people of Turkey will say “no” and choose to go forward.

Please download our publication “Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” for detailed analysis of the current situation, full unofficial translation of the proposed changes article by article, latest poll results, CHP Leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s statement ahead of referendum and unfair campaign conditions, NO campaign by photos and more.

Kader Sevinç

CHP Representative to the European Union

Party of European Socialists & Democrats (PES) Presidency Council Member

Brussels

Please download “Turkish Constitutional Referendum: All you need to know” in pdf format.

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The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary

April 13, 2017 at 1:46 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, fascism, Free Speech, Human rights, Hungary, intellectuals, nationalism, populism, posted by JD)

The ultra-reactionary government of Viktor Orbán imprisons refugees and asylum seekers in barbed wire-fringed detention centres, is hostile to a free press, and (taking a leaf out of Putin’s book) is targeting NGOs that receive “foreign” funding.

Despite being a member of the EU, the Hungarian government is presently conducting a “Stop Brussels” campaign – a survey full of loaded questions aimed at scuppering the EU’s efforts to resolve the refugee crisis by requiring Hungary to take in its fair share of migrants.

Now,  the government has passed a new law that requires foreign-accredited universities to provide higher education services in their own countries – which would effectively shut down the Central European University (CEU) founded by Georg Soros, a financier who embodies for the fascistic Orbán the influence of globalisation and international capital.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Budapest on Sunday to urge President Janos Ader not to sign the law, but on Monday he did just that.

Writers, artists, civil libertarians and intellectuals have signed an open letter to President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani regarding the threat to the Central European University (CEU). The open letter, which was published on poet George Szirtes’ blog, is titled “The Closing of the CEU: the closing of Hungary“, and reads as follows:

We are deeply concerned about the passing of the disgraceful law intended to shut the Central European University in Budapest.

The law, intended for this one specific purpose, is the latest step taken by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to close out democratic institutions in the country, including press, media and NGOs.

Please note we do not say opposition institutions since the CEU is in no way a political opponent of the government. It is simply an independent university.

On 10th April, the president of the country, János Áder, signed the law and, that night, for the second night running students were out in the streets protesting in their thousands and tens of thousands. Those students are the last bastion of hope against the establishment of an authoritarian state in Hungary.

If that should happen it would be a serious blot on the EU’s conscience to have permitted this act of the Orbán government to pass without response. It reduces Europe. It weakens it. It takes it one step further to the edge of disintegration.

It is vital to act quickly. We ask for a period of intensive fact-finding into the legality of the Hungarian government’s law in this specific instance and its consequences for freedom of education, and for a process of mediation, bringing the parties together around the principle of European rule of law.

To add your name, visit George Szirtes’ blog

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The New Philistines

November 6, 2016 at 10:42 am (drama, fascism, Free Speech, Rosie B)

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.

Kinglear

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.

The_dinner_party_book_cover

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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Tatchell: ‘gay cake’ verdict is defeat for freedom of expression

October 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm (Christianity, Civil liberties, Free Speech, gay, homophobia, law, LGBT, Peter Tatchell)

Peter Tatchell once again demonstrates his fairness, generosity of spirit and commitment to freedom of expression:

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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.

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Russian Greens condemn US candidate Jill Stein

September 7, 2016 at 7:16 pm (apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, democracy, elections, Free Speech, Green Party, Human rights, posted by JD, Putin, Russia, thuggery, United States)

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:

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Yesterday at 9:34am ·

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

Best regards,
Evgeniya Chirikova
Nadezda Kutepova

H/t: Roland Dodds at That Place

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Vaz: Bad Karma for a Bad Man

September 6, 2016 at 4:23 pm (censorship, Free Speech, From the archives, history, islamism, Jim D, labour party, MPs, Peter Tatchell, populism, relativism)

 Demonstration against 'The Satanic Verses', BradfordA 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.[10] 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.’[11]

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.”

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