There was a time when no Islamist terror outrage was complete without an article published within a day or two, from Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Terry Eagleton or the undisputed master of the genre, Seamus Milne, putting it all down to “blowback”. Such articles usually also claimed that no-one else dared put forward the “blowback” explanation, and the author was really being terribly brave in doing so. No such articles have appeared for a few years (the last one I can recall was after the Charlie Hebdo attack), so here’s my idea of what such a piece would read like today:
LONDON – In London today, a police officer was stabbed to death and pedestrians killed by a car driven by a so-called “terrorist”. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for some hours before hitting the pedestrians
The right-wing British government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”
In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a Conservative MP described the incident as a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” A government spokesperson said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in London shows the long reach of these ideologies.”
In sum, the national mood and discourse in Britain is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country, followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:
First, Britain has spent the last 16 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Britains, that “Britain is poised to go to war against ISIS, as [she] announced plans in Parliament  to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, fighter jets left for Iraq and the Prime Minister stood tall as she issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.
It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Britain’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of British bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.
That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.
The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on civilians and police officers to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.
Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.
If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.
Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”
But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in London, it wasn’t civilians who were really targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver attacked pedestrians at random, but his real targets were in uniform. In other words, he seems to have targeted a policeman– a member of a force that represents British imperialism.
Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that police officers engaged in security duties are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident (and others like it in the UK and the US).
That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.
This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote in The New York Times:
Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.
Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.
At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.
(c) Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Patrick Coburn, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Peter Oborne, the SWP, Stop The War Coalition, etc, etc.
Guest post by Robin Carmody
In response to the letter to the Morning Star (a paper which is, ultimately, little more than the Daily Mail with the ending changed; it peddles the same populist Europhobic nationalism, uses the same pejoratives for its opponents and is just as great an apologist for censorship in theory, and quite possibly more so in practice) which I suspect was written wholly if not entirely by David Lindsay, and which has Neil Clark and George Galloway among its signatories, I am reminded again that whether or not people support universal public funding of the whole BBC – and not just those parts of it considered “100% British” by Daily Telegraph letter-writers and “not sufficiently lucrative” by Rupert Murdoch – is, over and over again, a litmus test for their other views.
(In saying this, I am burning out elements of myself; at various points in my life, a significant traditional-conservative streak has surfaced).
Lindsay, it should always be remembered, believes that the BBC should be funded by an increased but voluntary licence fee (interestingly, considering his endorsement by many as an anti-racist icon, Gary Lineker also thinks this) and should not do Radio 1, 1Xtra etc. In other words, he thinks it should become a long-shadows-on-county-grounds heritage broadcaster, and that petty-racist whingers should be conceded all the ground in the world (even more than they have already, which in itself is far too much) and should define what the broadcaster does entirely on their terms, not on the terms of the whole nation. His plan would be a wet dream to those who resent the fact that the music of the post-1980 black Atlantic is funded on their money and they can’t opt out of it.
Clark, similarly, has endlessly moaned and whinged about hip-hop and its tributaries in Mail-esque language, and has attracted people with similar views, one of whom once told me that I was “a cell in the cancer that killed the Left” because I said he should not have moaned about it in such a way, referred to “the Ecclesiastical Court of the Liberal-Left Inquisition” (language that even the most lurid Mail Online commenter would have been hard-pressed to dream up, and note again that he is using identical pejoratives, identical terms of attack) and accused me of “sanctimonious yoof bigotry” – both a dehumanising Mail-esque spelling and a refusal to acknowledge the fact that he might not even be right on those horrible terms, because many of his opponents are now in their forties and do not like current rap-based music at all.
It’s not hard to see the connection between such attitudes and their apparent endorsement – however qualified – of someone who clearly thinks (and many of whose supporters blatantly, unequivocally, unapologetically think – I knew Obama would inspire a backlash but I never dreamt it would be this bad, and I certainly never dreamt that anti-Semitism in the United States, as opposed to anti-Muslim bigotry in Western countries or anti-Semitism in, say, Poland, would be mainstreamed again in this way; I thought the Jewish influence and presence was far too integrated into the mainstream of American culture and society for that) that the people who invented hip-hop, and continue largely to produce it, aren’t really American.
When people de-Anglicise the very concept and the very form of expression – and, by implication, the people – in such a way, their endorsement of those who dispute its American-ness can hardly be considered surprising. It justifies all my previous doubts and warnings as practically nothing else could have.
Above: Galloway and fellow Red-Brown dictator-lover Neil Clark on Putin’s TV channel
It had to happen: Red-Brown scum break cover to welcome the Trump victory; I presume that what these neanderthals mean by “an excessive focus on identity issues” is any concern about racism or misogyny.
Letter to the Morning Star (published Nov 12-13):
THE US Democratic Party has been defeated in the person of the most economically neoliberal and internationally neoconservative nominee imaginable. From the victory of Donald Trump, to the Durham teaching assistants’ dispute, the lessons need to be learned.
The workers are not the easily ignored and routinely betrayed base, with the liberal bourgeoisie as the swing voters to whom tribute must be paid.
The reality is the other way round. The EU referendum ought already to have placed that beyond doubt.
There is a need to move, as a matter of the utmost urgency, away from an excessive focus on identity issues, and towards the recognition that those existed only within the overarching and undergirding context of the struggle against economic inequality and in favour of international peace, including co-operation with Russia, not a new Cold War.
It is worth noting that working-class white areas that voted for Barak Obama did not vote for Hilary Clinton, that African-American turnout went down while the Republican share of that vote did not, and that Trump to 30 per cent of the Hispanic vote. Blacl Lives Matter meant remembering Libya, while Latino Lives Matter meant remembering Honduras.
The defeat of the Clintons by a purported opponent of neoliberal economic policy and of neoconservative foreign policy, although time will tell, has secured the position of Jeremy Corbyn, who is undoubtedly such an opponent.
It is also a challenge to Theresa May to make good her rhetoric about One Nation, about a country that works for everyone, and about being a voice for working people.
DAVID LINDSAY Lanchester council candidate, 2017
GEORGE GALLOWAY former MP for Glasgow Hillhead, Glasgow Kelvin, Bethnal Green & Bow and Bradford west
Comrade Coatesy writes:
Speaking in North Carolina, Republican candidate Mr Trump – who called himself ‘Mr Brexit’ during the campaign – promised that today was ‘gonna be Brexit plus, plus, plus’. reports the Daily Mail.
The view of this Blog is that Trump is a disgusting pile of cack.
Beyond this we have not commented on his Presidential Bid.
But in evoking Brexit he has strayed into our Manor.
We wonder what those who relished Brexit, such as Susan Watkins, Editor of New Left Review, who said, “Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed”, Tariq Ali, who was “Pleased’ Brexit Has Given EU “Big Kick’ up ‘Backside‘”, those who believed it was a sign of the actuality of the revolution (Counterfire), a time to mobilise for a “People’s Brexit” (People’s Assembly), or a working-class ‘revolt’ against ‘elites’ (SWP and Socialist Party) think of Trump’s claims.
Actually we don’t give a toss.
For us the Republican Candidate is the Brexit Carnival of Reaction incarnate.
Tendance Coatesy will not go into details about the problems about his contender.
For the moment we sincerely wish Hillary Clinton success – come what may.
Tariq Ali meanwhile has other ideas, ” Tariq Ali: Is Trump Any Worse Than Clinton? I’d Vote For Jill Stein.
If Ali’s stentorian voice is not enough to convince people that Hillary is the only option we would wish for, Galloway broadcast this yesterday:
Above: Abdi-Aziz Suleiman tells the Iranian regime’s Press TV what it wants to hear on Israel/Palestine (a different interview from the one discussed below)
By Omar Raii (this post also appears on the Workers’ Liberty website)
In a way getting angry at someone on the left appearing on Press TV is a bit like getting angry at England playing poorly in the World Cup. It’s a dreadful and appalling thing but it happens all the time. And therefore I cannot legitimately claim to have been outraged when hearing that the Young Labour International Officer, Abdi-Aziz Suleiman of former NUS fame, spoke on Press TV to support Jeremy Corbyn. I must admit I was a little surprised that he was speaking to George Galloway who one would have thought had been discredited enough even for Press TV but I was clearly wrong. Rather than outrage my first thought was surprise that Suleiman would make such a poor PR move as to appear on Press TV while he is on the Young Labour National Committee.
For those who are unaware of what all the fuss is about, Press TV is a television news network that is funded by the Iranian state and therefore, rather unsurprisingly, parrots the Iranian regime’s line on every international issue.
For example, they will talk all day about the horrors of the Israeli occupation, of the disgraceful Saudi-led War in Yemen, of the vile rule of the Bahraini monarchy. But will you hear one word for example about Hezbollah’s murder of Syrians on behalf of the vile murderer Bashar Al-Assad? No, you’d be far more likely to hear sycophantic praise for Hassan Nasrallah. After all, isn’t he a defender of Arabs and Muslims (so long as those Arabs don’t have the temerity to demand their freedom from anyone other than Israel)?
The station often uses people with “left-wing” credentials as contributors but also people on the far-right like German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter (the common thread is anyone with an anti-American viewpoint).
In that sense it shares a lot in common with the Russian state’s outfit Russia Today, though it has a particularly notorious record for its propaganda. It has been accused of all manner of things from publishing anti-Semitic material on its website to airing a forced confession of an Iranian journalist who had just been tortured by the Iranian state.
When speaking on Press TV, Suleiman did nothing to criticise the Iranian regime which got a lot of people, including hypocritical right-wingers, quite bothered.
As part of his response/defence, Suleiman said that there was no organised boycott of Iran and in any case appearing on its state outlets did not amount for support for the regime (but stopped short of actually criticising the Islamic Republic of Iran). He counterposed this to Israeli outlets, which he supports boycotting. This almost comical kitsch-left cliché of “look over there! What about Israel?” is a tactic used by everyone from crackpot Stalinists in Britain to Arab dictators as a form of whataboutery to avoid answering difficult questions about their own conduct. Of course, the famed Iranian regime uses the exact same tactic when, while continuing in its organised murder of Arabs in Syria on behalf of Bashar Al-Assad, it pretends to care about the repression of Arabs in Palestine.
I can’t think of a more insulting use of the Palestinian struggle than to use it as a cover for abominable regimes such as those of Iran. If Suleiman cares so much about Muslims perhaps he would take more care than to be uncritical of a regime that spends so much time terrorising some of them (alongside the numerous Baha’is, Jews, atheists etc. that it terrorises).
Why doesn’t he take the opportunity now to openly denounce the disgraceful regime? Even better had he done so on Press TV. Surely that would silence at least some of his critics.
And it also should be said now that George Galloway (the presenter that Suleiman nevertheless criticised for his recent waste of talents) never had any talent to squander. Not when he fawned after Mahmoud Ahmedinajad after the fraudulent 2009 Iranian elections, not when he described the disappearance of the Soviet Union as “the biggest catastrophe of [his] life”, not when he apologised for rape and not when he lavished Saddam Hussein with praise in 1994, six years after he had gassed 5000 Kurds in Halabja. Galloway was a reactionary since Suleiman was at least an infant so any attempts to imply his degeneration was a recent one seems quite dubious at the very least. If simply opposing the Iraq War is enough to make someone a hero, then why not extend the compliment to Nick Griffin or Donald Trump?
But why do left-wingers continually feel it’s okay to appear on outlets like Press TV and Russia Today? Who even watches them other than perhaps those left wingers who appear on them plus some weird chaps who stalk the comment sections of Youtube videos?
And why do Iran and Russia pay for them? Because they are useful to them of course. Because the British left can continue to cover for those regimes thinking that if they’re covering things like anti-EDL demonstrations or letting people on to talk about how great Jeremy Corbyn is they must be progressive. Unlike the dastardly BBC that never covers our demos. All this leads to the British left’s softness on reactionary self-styled “anti-imperialist” regimes becoming even softer, which is of course the very intention in the first place.
I can assure Suleiman and other contributors to Press TV that most of Britain’s Muslims do not watch let alone get persuaded by it. So there is no principle here necessarily so much as a tactic. If going on Press TV does nothing to persuade anyone of socialist politics but does legitimise the Iranian regime’s attempt to be a “dissenting” or even “left-wing” voice then we should absolutely not take part in that, at least not without saying something critical.
But isn’t appearing on RT or Press TV the same as appearing on the BBC for example? The BBC is obviously also state-funded. Overlooking the rather blatant differences between the bourgeois democratic nature of the British state and the others (which means that while it usually goes along with the ideas of the ruling class, it does usually have some form of criticism not only of the government but even of itself as a corporation), the main difference is that the BBC isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. The BBC does not seek out “progressive” voices from the UK as part of a cynical attempt to not only make it look like the British state is comparably anti-democratic to the Russian or Iranian state, but also to make itself look like a progressive broadcaster, and by extension make the states that fund it look progressive.
I remember when I was on the National Committee of the NCAFC I once put forward the idea that members of the organisation should not give media appearances to RT when asked, but I was unsuccessful. My feeling was, why give this outlet legitimacy as a left-wing news network? Why not minimally appear on RT but only with a T-Shirt saying “Freedom for LGBT Russians” or “Putin get out of Ukraine/Syria/Chechnya”?
In my first year of university I was on a demonstration against the BNP outside Parliament when I saw that Press TV was there. I was rather bewildered to see them at the demo and so in a fit of pique, I grabbed a placard and with a biro scrawled “Down with Khamenei” and did my best to show it onto the camera (see here). I say this not as a boast – it’s hardly the most heroic fight anyone’s ever done against the Iranian regime, I’ve met Hekmatist comrades who’ve literally fought the regime’s soldiers. I say this as an example of something that’s really not very impressive that can be done when appearing on Press TV.
Before any protestations of hypocrisy arise it should of course be said that it was no less bad when Corbyn appeared on Press TV. Though this isn’t an excuse, it seems that Corbyn’s blindness on the issue of Press TV comes from the naïve peacenik view that all TV stations are the same. Corbyn not only signed the petition in defence of a jailed (now dead) Iranian trade unionist that I was involved in promoting, but took the lead on the issue in Parliament (more info can be found here). In any case, a criticism of Corbyn I very much agree with has been written by comrades in the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency that I encourage all to read here.
Blairites and hypocrites will of course excoriate the Young Labour International Officer for appearing on Press TV but the fact that those on the right will be opportunist in their criticism is of course no excuse. The left should have higher standards. Let’s stop with these appearances on Press TV so that we can feel good about saying something left-wing on television, as if anyone is watching. All we’re doing is legitimising a regime that spent many years destroying what was once a powerful Iranian left and labour movement.
Omar Raii is a Labour and Momentum activist, and part of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts caucus on the National Union of Students national executive council.
Like me, Coatesy is a Corbyn supporter and Momentum member. Like me, he’s appalled by their choice of speakers for their forthcoming conference (his report appears below):
Target of Richard Seymour’s ‘anti imperialist’ mockery.
The coming Momentum conference looks interesting.
The “five-day festival” of radical politics will take place alongside the official party conference in Liverpool, and will include talks from the film-maker Ken Loach and the journalist Paul Mason. The Young Fabians’ Greg Dash will be doing a slot at the event, but tells the Staggers it is not an official Young Fabians event (the group will, however, be hosting their own fringe events alongside the conference).
It has stirred up controversy.
I will not comment on the list of speakers, or the programme (such as available at present) but it looks pretty obvious that a 5 Day event is going to have a broad range of opinion on the left, and that many of these views, and individuals, would not be palatable to everybody.
That is the nature of democratic debate.
These are more balanced reports, at least about the event’s content:
It is however of concern, which the Guardian notes, that this individual is going to have a platform.
Simon Weston suffered serious injuries whilst on active duty on HMS Sir Galahad when the Argentinians attacked it. His injuries included severe burns to his face.
Richard Seymour wrote in a comment:
“If he knew anything he’d still have his face”.
Seymour refused to apologise on his comment which appeared on an article written by Simon Weston in the Daily Telegraph.
The Guardian no doubt underlined Seymour’s appearance for the simple reason that they refused to have anything more to do with him after these vile, anti-disabled, comments were written.
More on this story: here.
Apparently Seymour has not learnt to curb his tongue.
It seems that Trolling is now an acceptable part of the political scene.
Or it is, if this creature is invited.
Seymour would go down well in certain quarters with further remarks – perhaps a few jokes – about making those fighting on the side of the ‘imperialists’ disabled, or murdering them.
Well-established rumour has it that he could have them rolling in aisles.
We hope this does not include Momentum.
Another comrade (from Scotland) reports the following:
Line-up of some of the speakers for the big Momentum event at Labour Party conference in Liverpool:
“Speakers include Cat Boyd of RISE”:
The problem with having her speak is: a) Cat Boyd; b) RISE.
Cat Boyd/RISE are rabidly anti-Labour (far more anti-Labour than the SWP). They count for nothing in Scotland (see their election results in May of 2016). One of their leaders (Jonathan Shafi) called for a constituency vote for the SNP in the Holyrood elections. Their only policy is for a second independence referendum. They took no position on the EU referendum (as it would have split them down the middle). Insofar as they have people around them, they systematically miseducate them politically. In practice, their politics are simply nationalist, not some nationalist ‘variant’ of class politics. Their members in Unite line up with the bureaucracy (as a trade off for being given places on constitutional committees).
You’d really have to go back to the RCP to find a similar bunch of preening prima donnas (with the difference that the RCP had some intellectual ‘weight’, whereas RISE are merely pretentious, and Cat Boyd – laughably described as a ‘trade union activist’ – is the most pretentious of them all).
There has been no discussion with Momentum Scotland about this invite. A post about it went up on the Momentum Scotland Facebook page a few hours ago. It attracted more comments in an hour – condemning the invite – than any other post on their Facebook page ever has.
There are journalists and commentators whose views I don’t agree with (and in some cases, hate), who are nonetheless interesting, intelligent and worth reading. John Harris of the Guardian is not one of them.
I first came across Mr Harris in 2001 or early 2002, when he first started writing for The Guardian. He was, then (like many other Guardian coumnists), an uncritical supporter of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), and keen to defend it against any suggestion that it was led, or politically dominated by the SWP.
This was shortly after the STWC’s first conference in October 2001, when the SWP and its allies like George Galloway and Andrew Murray had ensured the defeat of calls to reject ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ as well as US imperialism. The slogan “No to fundamentalism” indicated that opposition to war did not mean support for the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban reactionaries: but the SWP, Murray, Galloway & co were determined not to alienate Islamists and cared nothing for the anti-fundamentalist views of Iranian and Afghani socialists in Britain, or the only Iraqi socialist organisation (the WCPI) active in Britain, all of whom were horrified by STWC’s alliance with Islamists.
In fact the leading members of the STWC were, and remain, soft on political Islam. This is clear from a footnote in Andrew Murray’s history of the STWC which says: “Political Islam… has expressed, in however warped a fashion, some of the anti-imperialist demands which were once the preserve of Communist and nationalist movements of the region.”
Harris wrote a column in the Guardian at the time defending STWC and denying that the SWP, etc, ran the campaign. I sent a comment to CiF calling Harris a “useful idiot” which apparently upset him at the time. Unfortunately, Harris’s 2001 (or 2002 ?) column does not seem to be available anywhere on the web, but this 2008 article gives a taste: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/feb/15/iraq
Since then, I haven’t spent much time reading the banal outpourings of this rather stupid ex-New Musical Express journalist, but I have noted that he claims to have been in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1980’s, before being driven “to despair” by the Militant Tendency and subsequently leaving the Labour Party for fifteen years.
Now, it’s a matter of record and straight fact, that those of us around in the 1970s and ’80s, can vouch for, that the Militant Tendency were a bunch of thugs, bullies, homophobes and sexists. But they’ve been out of the Labour Party since 1991 when they abandoned entryism and decided to establish themselves as a separate party. Ted Grant, the group’s founder and leading theoretician, was expelled, and his breakaway minority, now known as Socialist Appeal, continued in the Labour Party. The majority changed its name to Militant Labour, and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party. Their leader, Peter Taafe, is now making ridiculous noises to the bourgeois media, suggesting that his group now expects to be readmitted to Labour – having spent more than twenty years denouncing the Party as irreformable and the past eleven months trying to stop his members leaving to join Labour.
The idea that the hundreds of thousands of new (and, in some cases, re-joining) members of the Labour Party who’ve signed up since Corbyn’s victory last year, are doing so under the influence of the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), or any other ‘Trotskyist’ organisation, is a preposterous conspiracy theory put about by Tom Watson in a desperate attempt to undermine Corbyn and boost the hapless nonentity Owen Smith. But the wretched Harris asks Guardian readers to believe this nonsense in a truly ridiculous article entitled If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead. This idiot’s ignorance and stupidity knows no bounds: and while there’s no requirement upon Guardian columnists to have any knowledge of (let alone sympathy with) Trotskyism, someone writing about it might be expected to have at least an elementary grasp: Harris clearly hasn’t.
To give one simple example, Harris describes Trotskyist transitional demands thus:
The practice of Trotskyist politics has long been built around the idea of the “transitional demand”, a rather cynical manoeuvre whereby you encourage people to agitate for this or that – a hugely increased minimum wage, perhaps, or the end of all immigration controls – knowing full well it is unattainable within the current order of things, but that when the impossibility becomes apparent, the workers will belatedly wake up. In other words, the herd gets whipped up into a frenzy about something you know it won’t get, while you smugly sit things out, hoping that if everything aligns correctly, another crack will appear in the great bourgeois edifice.
The reality (as explained by the AWL) is this:
These are not catchpenny demands designed to capture or mirror back an existing “mood”. In some cases, such as open borders, they are ideas that are positively marginal and currently rejected by most working-class people. Others, such as the demand for a democratic federal republic (rather than secession for Scotland and Wales), or opposition to withdrawal from the EU, are marginal even on the far-left.
But we cannot hope to popularise them or make them less marginal except by raising them consistently, within the context of a programme which starts from the logic of our current struggles. The boldness required is the difference between attempting to create a political “space”, through the hard work of agitation and education in our workplaces and communities, and cynical attempts to manoeuvre into some existing space where people are already imagined to be by mirroring back to them slightly more radical versions of the ideas we presume them to already hold.
These wouldn’t be demands that we’d orient towards the state, necessarily, as if we expect a Tory government to implement them. They are demands that make up part of our own political narrative, our own plan for remaking society, just as the Tory policies of cuts and privatisation make up theirs.
Capital make concessions to labour either when we are strong enough to simply overwhelm it and impose ourselves, or when it is too scared of the consequences of not making concessions. For either condition, a conscious programme – a working-class socialist alternative to austerity – is necessary.
Floppy-haired ex-pop music journalist Harris is, indeed, an idiot (whether “useful” or not): first on behalf of Galloway and the SWP; now on behalf of Tom Watson and Labour witch-hunters.
The long-awaited Chilcot Report is – understandably – of immense concern to those who lost family members in this ill-conceived adventure. But it was never going to deal with the crucial political issues at stake, nor help socialists develop a worthwhile programme for Iraq (the Worker-communist Party of Iraq made a serious attempt at this back in 2004).
Like many readers of this blog, I was on the massive anti-war march of 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, and the loathsome, misnamed, ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (STWC) Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the STWC into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, put his finger (in the New Statesman) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively ascribed it to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember, in 2003, stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local STWC email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well. The issues it raises are still the crucial ones neither Chilcot nor the STWC are able to address:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
Galloway meets his Prince
Thanks to the Telegraph‘s Michael Deacon (writing last Friday) we now know all abut George Galloway’s friendship with the late music star Prince, and how it may have led to a slight misunderstanding:
Poor George Galloway. He’s had a rotten week. First, he learnt from YouGov that, in the race to become Mayor of London, he’s currently polling at a disappointing zero per cent.
He could console himself, I suppose, by remembering that the margin of error in the given sample size is three per cent – so he may actually be on a more respectable three. Although, by the same token, he may equally well be on minus three.
On Thursday evening, however, he received some even worse news. An old friend had died.
I must confess, I had no idea that Mr Galloway had been friends with the Grammy-winning composer of Purple Rain, 1999 and When Doves Cry. The first I heard of it was when Mr Galloway revealed it on Twitter on Thursday night. “I am distressed to hear of the death of Prince, whom I knew briefly,” he announced.
A follower asked how he’d known him. “I hung out with him a bit 25 years ago,” replied Mr Galloway casually.
What a remarkable image. George Galloway, and one of the most famous pop singers on Earth, meeting up for a coffee, shooting the breeze, chatting pleasantly about this and that (favourite funk basslines, say, or the sad collapse of the Soviet Union). A heartwarming thought.
And yet, at the same time, a puzzling one. Twenty-five years ago, Mr Galloway was a backbench Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, so where exactly he and the reclusive Minneapolis-based megastar hung out remains uncertain. Sadly, I am unable to shed light on this conundrum, as I have not yet succeeded in locating any photographs of the two friends together.
This is not to suggest that I doubt the word of Mr Galloway. I do wonder, though, whether there might perhaps have been some kind of innocent mix-up.
Is there a possibility, for example, that he has confused Prince with Saddam Hussein?
Picture it. It’s the mid 1990s. Mr Galloway, a devoted fan of The Most Beautiful Girl in the World and Lovesexy, has booked a trip to the US to see his idol in concert. Yet, after accidentally heading to the wrong departure gate, he boards a flight not to Boston, but to Baghdad.
He lands at Baghdad airport. The weather seems startlingly warm; but then, to a Scotsman, everywhere seems startlingly warm. He approaches the taxi rank, and excitedly tells the driver he’s here to see Prince.
Unfortunately, the driver, having little English, misunderstands – and drives Mr Galloway to the palace.
They arrive. “Here!” announces the driver. “Big house of princes!”
Mr Galloway gazes in delighted awe at his opulent surroundings. The outrageous grandeur! The dazzling chandeliers! The solid gold lavatories!
Yes, this is exactly the sort of place one would expect a multi-millionaire eccentric like Prince to live.
Suddenly, striding importantly towards him, comes a handsome, stylishly moustached figure clad in military uniform, offset by a chic black beret.
Classic Prince! The ultimate pop chameleon! Always changing his look to stay one step ahead of the crowd!
Gratefully Mr Galloway extends his hand. “Sir!” he cries. “I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability!”
For years, Mr Galloway’s political opponents have misinterpreted this remark as servility to a mass-murdering tyrant. The truth is entirely innocent. He merely intended to show support to a musical idol in his long-running contractual battle with Warner Brothers.
Anyway: after that, Mr Galloway and his hero found that they got on very well – although, as the London mayoral candidate acknowledged on Twitter, the two men knew each other only briefly. Indeed, I gather that, for the last decade or more, his hero had proven impossible to make contact with.
When you look at it like that, it all starts to make sense. I think one or two people owe Mr Galloway an apology.