Above: Seumas (right) and his hero
By Dmitri MacMillen
I have made little secret of my disappointment with much coverage and discussion of the ongoing developments in Ukraine this past year, but rarely more often so than when it is stirred by certain elements of the British left. Earlier this week I happened to see Seumas Milne, a Guardian editor and columnist, as well as a leading voice on the British left regarding capitalism and imperialism, at an event and thought it appropriate to approach him and confront him over his poor reporting on Ukraine; unfortunately, the opportunity did not arise. As an individual who sympathises with many of Milne’s and the left’s arguments, I find it disheartening when they fail to apply standards of moral consistency and objectivity for the likes of Ukraine and not only.
So I wrote him two emails of varying lengths, openly expressing my frustrations with his coverage of Ukraine, and also his chairing, days earlier, of a discussion featuring Putin at the Valdai conference. To a large degree, I can say that the impressions penned in these emails are an accurate summary of not only my dissatisfaction with Milne’s politics, but also that of swathes of the left (John Pilger comes to mind) in this country and others, who refuse to contemplate embracing anything other than a ‘tunnel vision’ disproportionately suspicious of the West and its allies, consequently producing material which regrettably falls short of balanced and well-researched journalism. The correspondence is as follows:
Dear Seumas Milne,
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dmitri and I am a student at a London university. I was also present at the event last night at the Argentine embassy, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak to you as I would have hoped to.
There is much that I admire about your work and writings, in particular that what you have written regarding the War on Terror, Palestine and the effects of capitalism in this country. However, and to be frank, I have begun to despair of your writing of late.
As a matter of disclosure, I am a Russian citizen, and one appalled by the events for over the past half year in Ukraine, to a very large extent instigated by my own government. Your writing on Ukraine has been unimpressive to put it mildly, almost entirely pinning the blame for the conflict on the West (funnily enough, not a word from you about Russia’s own devastating intentions and actions – just mere apologism) as well as propagating the notion of swathes of fascists and neo-Nazis roaming in the Ukrainian establishment and society; the absurdity of your latter thesis was effectively laid to rest by the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the nature of their conduct.
As someone whose reputation as a campaigner and journalist is to a large extent seen as having been consistently grounded on anti-imperialism, to see you sharing a stage with Vladimir Putin just days ago was bewildering, if not exactly surprising by now. If you are serious on seeking out the dangerous forces of fascism, I politely advise you to reread a transcript of Putin’s Q and A session at the session you moderated and look at his comments regarding ethnic Russians in Crimea, just for a start. If this does not incite concern in you, then that is unfortunate and equally inconsistent.
You are a powerful voice on the left and one which many read and look up to. You are a writer of considerable talents and one whose campaigning I have often admired. However, if moral consistency across the board is not something you wish to strive for, and your politics are really defined by an innate suspicion of the West, but not the rest, then so be it. If you want to exclusively judge the likes of Ukraine on the basis of a pre-conceived world view, rather than carefully examining the country’s own circumstances, then so be it. But that is a tunnel vision, and it is rarely worthy of wider respect. And I, alongside many other erstwhile enthusiastic readers of yours, deeply regret that.
A courteous reply promptly ensued, the exact contents of which I shall not publish here but instead paraphrase. In brief, Milne said he disagreed with my interpretation regarding responsibility for the events in Ukraine over the past year as well as my criticism of his portrayal of the far right’s significance. He added that moderating Putin’s speech in no way constituted endorsement of him, given that journalists are often asked to fulfil such a role. He did not accept that his politics are innately anti-Western, but underlined the imbalance in power between the West and its allies and that of powers such Russia and others in world affairs. I followed up with a reply.
Dear Seumas Milne,
Thank you for courteous reply, for which I am grateful considering how harsh some of what I may have said did sound. I hope you don’t mind if I make a few points regarding the aforementioned.
Regarding the far right in Ukraine, I in no way dismiss it. I am of direct Ukrainian Jewish descent and my family have had their own experiences with Ukrainian nationalism, so I am more than aware and also wary of its potential dangers.
But the role of the far right in Ukraine, as you and others have put it, as it now stands, is too often exaggerated and overblown. You may insist otherwise, but the impression that many gathered from your readings was that Maidan was effectively a fascist coup (and no, I do not subscribe to the comfortable and simple narrative of a pro-Western, pro-democratic revolt against Russia). Maidan was complex, as were its origins – there is no straightforward interpretation. The nature of Ukrainian nationalism and the far right is also fairly complex and deserves scrutiny. But to describe it all with broad brushstrokes, often entirely ignoring the real significance to modern-day Ukrainian nationalism of basic figures such as Stepan Bandera, no matter how unpalatable to some like myself, is intellectually dishonest. Accusations of an astronomical surge in xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine, as a result of the protests, have time and again been disproved by public figures and protestors, many of them of the very ethnic backgrounds that you would believe are most at risk from marauding fascists. In fact, many of these communities have stated time and again that those most responsible for fascism in Ukraine are not the far-right, but Putin and his very actions in Ukraine.
At the beginning of the Maidan, the fascists were almost invisible. After the New Year, as the protests radicalised in the face of government intransigence and the subsequent crackdowns on the square, their presence grew (although they were still a minority). You suggest Yanukoyvch was overthrown in a coup. A figure as repulsive as Yanukoyvych, who in the face of popular pressure was prepared to resort to armed force on his own people, plundered the national budget in the billions and ran away to Russia of his own volition (a coup?) at a time when statesmanship was most needed (with the assistance of the Russian state, as you would have heard at Valdai), surely also merits some condemnation from you too.
To say the government that came after Maidan had many fascists is dishonest; there were at best a few. To see how badly the far-right did in this Sunday’s elections (and this at a time when Ukraine is fighting a war with an external aggressor, that has historically been a catalyst for Ukrainian nationalism, struggling to retain its eastern provinces and fighting on so many other domestic fronts) is by and large a testament to the maturity of a great deal of the Ukrainian electorate and also the relative irrelevance of fascists in Ukrainian politics, at least on a substantive level.
Yes, the West no doubt bears some responsibility for what has taken place; but why cannot you bring yourself to recognise Russia’s more than considerable role? If fascism is what you feel strongly about, why don’t you also condemn Russia for fuelling some of its worst effects, especially in Ukraine? Why cannot you condemn the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea (especially when it is grounded on such spurious and equally disconcerting arguments such as a supposed threat to Russian-speakers and ethnic Russians – why is it neither imperialism)? Is it not fascism when Russian rule has led to thousands of Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and others having to leave Crimea, or the abductions and murders of local pro-Ukrainian activists and Tatars (none of which have been investigated), coupled with attacks on local religious minorities or communities, all with Russian acquiescence? Or is the installation of puppet states in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, professing totalitarian and rabidly pro-Russian nationalistic narratives, ostracising and oppressing, with often murderous and gruesome consequences, locals supportive of Ukraine and its territorial integrity, not fascism? That is fascism and its real life consequences; overtly totalitarian and militaristic tendencies, insisting on dividing people on ethnic markers which until recently were of very little relevance on a daily basis, and now bearing devastating repercussions.
I am not advocating whataboutism; I am in no way blind to abuses committed by the Ukrainian establishment. But I ask for consistency – something which I have not felt apparent in your writings.
Regarding moderating the Putin event; I understand journalists might need to moderate these events, but where does the buck stop? You have accepted that he is authoritarian (although to leave it at there would be simplistic); but is it still acceptable? If you were invited, in the unlikely event, to moderate an event featuring Barack Obama, would you go? Would you reject an invitation by a certain government? Is there not a moral compromise in any case by involving oneself in these events in such a capacity?
I am happy to discuss this further.
I rest my case.
Charlie Brooker is unfailingly amusing and his return to the Graun is a welcome surprise. Let’s hope he maintains a regular column, if only to counteract the malign, or at least annoying, effects of public school Stalinist Seumas Bloody Milne. Brooker’s G2 page/column yesterday had me laughing out loud – especially this:
Total Farage Plus
As 2015 dawns, Britain seems more divided than ever. But there’s one thing we can all agree on: we just don’t see enough of Nigel Farage. Sometimes you can eat an entire Twix without seeing a photograph of him raising a pint and guffawing or hearing his voice on the radio. Total Farage Plus is a tiny chip almost painlessly inserted into the back of your mind using a knitting needle and a croquet mallet. Once in place and booted-up, it hijacks the signal to your visual cortex, skilfully Photoshopping Farage into whatever you’re looking at. Enjoying a glorious sunset? It’ll be even better with Farage’s face peeping over the horizon. Bathing your kids? Nigel’s here too, with a cheeky blob of bath foam perched on his lovable nose! Staring into the eyes of the one you love? That’s not your own reflection gazing back at you – it’s Farage. Kicking a foreigner to death? Who’s that standing beside you, delivering the final blow with his steel-toe boots, real ale sloshing from the pint he’s still holding in one hand, a lusty guffaw bursting from his wobbly amphibian throat? It’s Farage again! What a card!
Taliban slaughter school children
A mother mourns her son, a student who was killed during the atrocity
Adapted from the South Asia Daily:
The Taliban stormed a military-run school in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 140 people — most of them children (NYT, CNN, BBC). Around 10:00 a.m. local time, six or seven heavily armed Taliban gunmen entered the Army Public School and Degree College in Peshawar, opening fire on some students and taking dozens of others hostage and holding them in the main auditorium; some managed to escape the school compound. As the day wore on, military forces battled with militants still inside the school.
Children who escaped say the militants then went from one classroom to another, shooting indiscriminately.
One boy told reporters he had been with a group of 10 friends who tried to run away and hide. He was the only one to survive.
Others described seeing pupils lying dead in the corridors. One local woman said her friend’s daughter had escaped because her clothing was covered in blood from those around her and she had lain pretending to be dead.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that it was in retaliation for the military’s offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. The Pakistani military has been carrying out the offensive, known as Operation Zarb-e-Azb, since June.
Khan postpones protests
Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf opposition party [which has often been accused of appeasing the Taliban – JD] announced on Tuesday that he would delay his party’s countrywide protests — scheduled for Dec. 18 — in light of the attack on the school in Peshawar (Dawn). The protests were aimed at shutting down the country in order to pressure the government to investigate allegations of vote rigging 2013’s general elections.
Too many people on the left and liberal-left are willing to excuse Islamist movements like the Pakistani and Afghani Taliban (or even ISIS, though for some reason they have fewer apologists on the “left”), or use spurious “blowback” explanations to “contextualise” their atrocities into a narrative that effectively excuses their outrages by blaming the west and denying the Islamists any autonomy or independent agency.
This latest outrage is far from unique in targeting school children, though it is exceptional in its scale. One hopes that it might give some leftist idiots and Guardian columnists pause for thought, as well as forcing the present government of Pakistan out of its complacency and denial … but don’t hold your breath.
The last really positive development towards a just peace in the Middle East came in 1978 when, following Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat‘s unprecedented visit to Israel, he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began secret negotiations at Camp David. These talks led directly to the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. (aka the Camp David Accords). As a result Sadat and Begin shared 1978 Nobel Peace Prize. As part of the Accords, the two also drew up a Framework for Peace in the Middle East, which dealt inadequately but generally fairly with the Palestinian question, but was written without participation of the Palestinian leadership of the time, had little impact and was condemned by the United Nations.
But this was a far more hopeful and potentially fruitful moment for peace in the Middle East than the 1993 Oslo Accords, or the second – abortive – Camp David negotiations of 2000.
However, according to an article in today’s Guardian, had Yasser Arafat been willing to defy his closest aides and the Syrians who then controlled Lebanon, he would have accepted Sadat’s invitation to join the 1978 talks and, indeed, “welcomed” them. The authors of the piece, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi know what they’re talking about: Khalidi is a former Palestinian negotiator who was part of Arafat’s team at the time.
How different the last thirty years or so of the tragic history of the Israel/Palestine conflict might have been if only Arafat had had the courage of his own personal convictions at the time.
The crucial passage is this:
His style of leadership was consensual. He was conscious of the need to maintain support among the broader leadership of Palestinians and their institutions. He cultivated and heeded the opinions of his associates, and often gave way to their demands, sometimes using their objections as a foil to avoid difficult decisions. He never moved too far without the support of those he felt were important in lending political legitimacy to his stance. He would have welcomed Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem and the ensuing Camp David political process had he been free to decide on his own. In a room packed with most of the Palestinian leadership and senior cadres at which the Sadat initiative was being discussed and volubly denounced, Arafat sat with eyes half-shut, pretending to show no interest, until one of the present authors was asked his opinion. When he suggested that anything that would free Arab land from occupation without bloodshed would be in the national interest and proposed that the Palestinian leader should join the Egyptian-Israeli meeting at Mina House, as invited by Sadat, Arafat’s eyes popped open and he nodded in vigorous assent. But his close aides rejected any such notion and he had to go along with the prevailing mood. After the meeting was over, Arafat took the author aside, saying that while he was convinced of what he had said, the Syrians – then in control in Lebanon – would never allow it, and made a cut‑throat gesture with his hand.
Read the entire fascinating article here.
This bit is a classic example of Milne’s method; a crude “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” view of the world that, dressed up in pompous verbiage, pretends to be some kind of serious analysis:
“Putin’s oligarchic nationalism may not have much global appeal, but Russia’s role as a counterweight to western supremacism certainly does. Which is why much of the world has a different view of events in Ukraine from the western orthodoxy – and why China, India, Brazil and South Africa all abstained from the condemnation of Russia over Crimea at the UN earlier this year.”
At least one BTL commenter has nailed Shameless good and proper:
In the 1930s, people like Seumas would have argued that the infamous Moscow Trials were an antidote to Western influence, that the Nazi-Soviet pact that carved up Poland was a necessary antidote to perfidious Western democracies, similarly the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia etc etc.
It’s simply wrong to counterpose Russian and Western power in the way he does. Ironically, this is simply a variant of the geo-political approach taught in bourgeois universities.
Neither Russia nor the US is a champion of democracy and Putin’s regime is increasingly totalitarian to boot. Socialists counterpose the struggle of workers and their supporters to the reach and policies of the states that oppress them and should never rely on these vary same states to come to our rescue.
Unfortunately, this is one of the most shocking articles I have read in a long time and an abject apology for a nationalist Kremlin regime that praises Stalin and rules for and on behalf of oligarchs.
What’s the betting that Shameless will soon be appearing on an exciting new TV channel about to launch in the UK?
I have been asked, by a regular reader, to carry more material explaining our position on antisemitism – and, in particular our allegation that a lot of contemporary antisemitism comes from the “left” and takes the form of Palestinian solidarity (a cause that, in principle, Shiraz supports). I intend to write at some length on this subject soon, but as a starting point I’d refer readers to Galloway’s recent refusal to support Palestinian statehood (and his explanation, here) and the following account of a meeting at Oxford University. Note that one of the main speakers is an Oxford academic who frequently writes for the liberal-left Guardian. In other words, these people are not fringe elements within the pro-Palestinian movement in the UK. Support for the total destruction of Israel (ie the Hamas position) and casual comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, are now commonplace in the pro-Palestine movement. Even placards stating “Hitler was Right” are allowed on pro-Palestine demos, apparently unchallenged by the organisers or other marchers. As usual, when we re-publish material, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all the article’s contents or endorse all the politics of the author.:
15 October 2014:
Tonight I had the misfortune to attend the inaugural Palestine Society event here in Oxford. I went with Sapan and Jonathan out of a mixture of open mindedness and intellectual curiosity.
What I heard and saw genuinely shocked me. I’ve heard a lot in my time but this was by far the worst event I have ever attended. I can only describe it as a two hour hate fest of the variety described in George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ It went from the downright idiotic to the explicitly anti-Semitic – and often both. I heard a girl complain about the evils of ‘Zionist’ control in her native America – she even attacked ‘Zionists’ for controlling the make up she wore! No one challenged this girl’s delusions: they only reassured her that fighting Zionism must remain paramount. I heard numerous people glorify the ‘right of the resistance’ and reject non-violent tactics, even including an Oxford academic on the panel (Karma Nabulsi).
I had a question of my own. I read to the panel a quotation from John Molyneux, a theorist from the Socialist Workers’ Party;
“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”
I then added – “I’d be interested to know what the members of the panel think about this mode of analysis. Do they support what I consider to be a totally irrational – and dangerous – position?”
Not only did the panelists evade my question – Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi and Barnaby Raine – to my horror, they actually agreed with its sentiment. Mr Raine, a student at Wadham College and a student activist, mocked me by saying that “anyone would stand up for the oppressed against an oppressor.” It should also be noted that Mr Raine noticeably hesitated when I put up my hand – he looked everywhere around the room before reluctantly taking my question. This person excuses the most morally reprehensible actions. He practically fetishises totalitarianism.
It got worse. Near the end of the talk, a local PSC activist defended Molyneux’s remarks by arguing that he’d rather be a Medieval, backward Chassidic Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto than a cultured German in a Nazi uniform. A sizable proportion of the room – hundreds of people – applauded this awful anti-Semitic distortion of history and trivialization of the Holocaust.
I am aware this status is long and most students couldn’t care less about student politics. However, I think it’s important that all students know that here, in 21st Century Britain, at one of the best universities in the world, political extremism is flourishing. Whereas far right fascists are, rightly, tarred and made into social pariahs, their equivalents on the far left get away with it time and time again. These are the totalitarians in our midst.
I have done what I can. I tried exposing rampant anti-Semitism in the Palestine Society at the start of this year and I was treated with ridicule. It’s time to take this stuff seriously. I saw many freshers at this event – freshers whose minds have been poisoned and given a wholly false narrative which demonises one people at the expense of the other, one that demonises the forces of peace and rewards the actions of hate and terrorism. I saw a room of intelligent, perhaps highly naive students, express the most hideous and morally warped trash. I saw no effort to condemn outright anti-Semitic prejudice when it was expressed. I saw pure intellectual fascism – people attending a talk to confirm their prejudices, and actively ostracising those that disagree with them.
I cannot think of a worse introduction to Oxford for incoming students to this University. Anyone who genuinely cares about Palestinians – whether in the West Bank or Gaza, or elsewhere in the Middle East or the diaspora – should stay the hell away from Oxford University’s Palestine Society. And remember that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.
By Dale Street (cross-posted with Workers Liberty)
The Guardian (3 Sept, print edition) carried a truly dire article by George Monbiot entitled “Scots voting no to independence would be an astonishing act of self-harm – England is dysfunctional, corrupt and vastly unequal. Who on earth would want to be tied to such a country?”
Monbiot begins by inviting his readers to “imagine the question posed the other way around”, i.e. what if Scotland were independent and the referendum were on whether to “surrender its sovereignty to a larger union.”
In terms of formal logic, he may as well have invited his readers to “imagine” that the referendum on 18th September is about whether Scotland should vote to join Putin’s territory-grabbing Russian Federation or the head-chopping Islamic State.
Arguing about how people should vote in a real referendum about (a) on the basis of how you think they would or should vote in a non-existent referendum about (b) is just plain nonsensical.
And evasive. And politically dishonest. Because instead of addressing the actual issues raised by the referendum, it allows Monbiot to take refuge in flights of imagination.
“What would you say about a country that exchanged an economy based on enterprise and distribution for one based on speculation and rent?” asks Monbiot, as if that was the choice on offer (in reverse) on 18th September.
And an economy based on attracting low-pay employers through cuts in corporation tax in a country without a reserve central bank and a currency of its own – the SNP’s actual economic policies – is not the same as “an economy based on enterprise and distribution.”
But Monbiot simply and majestically declares: “How is the argument altered by the fact that Scotland is considering whether to gain independence rather than whether to lose it? It’s not.”
As in: “How is the argument that we are all at risk of falling off the edge of the earth if we walk too far in a straight line altered by the fact that the earth is round, not flat? It’s not.”
The next ‘link’ in Monbiot’s ‘chain of argument’ (which is in fact a succession of unsubstantiated assertions and factual inaccuracies tied together by logical incoherencies) is the statement: “Those who would vote no could be suffering from system justification.”
System justification, as Monbiot explains, is when victims of injustice rationalize and legitimize the injustice they suffer, e.g. when women think that it is right that they are paid less than men.
Having provided an explanation of the term, Monbiot writes: “It might help to explain why so many people in Scotland are inclined to vote no.”
Monbiot offers no evidence at all for this conclusion. But his total lack of evidence is secondary to the utter arrogance of the conclusion.
Without bothering to look at the real and entirely rational reasons why real people in the real world will be voting no on 18th September, Monbiot dismisses such people as self-deluding and self-harming imbibers of the ideology of the ruling classes.
(English writer living in Wales writes article for London paper calling for a yes vote on 18th September. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper denounces Westminster arrogance towards Scots. English writer living in Wales writing article for London paper dismisses millions of Scots as psychologically damaged. You couldn’t make it up.)
By contrast, yes voters – those who want to keep the pound, the monarchy, EU membership, NATO membership and capitalism in general – are not subject to any Monbiotesque foray into cod-psychology.
Then Monbiot homes in on the contradiction in UKIP’s policies: They want the UK to quit Europe (and thereby regain its sovereignty) but oppose independence for Scotland (which means Scotland continues to lack sovereignty).
But UKIP is not the no campaign. It’s an easy target for Monbiot, and one he homes in on. But this is just another act of political evasion on his part. It allows him to sidestep the fact that the overwhelming majority of no campaigners are for continued membership of the European Union.
Why does Monbiot use UKIP as emblematic of the no campaign rather than the rather larger Labour Party? Because its suits his polemical purposes and is another element of the political dishonesty in which his article is steeped.
And if UKIP’s inconsistencies can be cited by Monbiot as “a crashing contradiction in the politics of such groups”, why is he silent on those yes voters who want Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU?
True, there is no contradiction between wanting Scotland out of Britain and out of the EU. But it does demonstrate the one driving force within the yes campaign is not the noble goals which Monbiot attributes to it but a narrow inward-looking nationalism.
A “crashing contradiction” if ever there was one.
There then follows a lengthy treatise by Monbiot on all the evils of the current British political system: inequality, neo-liberal economics, freedom of the rich to exploit, numberless abuses of power, royal prerogative, first-past-the-post voting … … And so the list goes on, and on, and on.
“Broken, corrupt, dysfunctional, retentive: you want to be part of this?” asks Monbiot with a rhetorical flourish.
No, socialists don’t want to be part of it.
But our answer to the evils of capitalism tediously listed by Monbiot – as if the vote on 18th September was a referendum on whether to scrap capitalism – is not to create another border in the world, to pander to the nationalist lie that Scots and English cannot live side by side in the same state, and to create another unit of capitalist accumulation in the world.
Monbiot also gets so carried away by his denunciations of the evils of capitalism that he is blind to his own factual inaccuracies. He describes, for example, first-past-the-post voting as “another triumph for the no brigade”.
Scottish elections are based on proportional representation – thanks to the “no brigade” (Labour and Lib-Dems). And the “no brigade” Lib-Dems also back PR for Westminster elections. So too – surely the ultimate humiliation for Monbiot – does UKIP.
Monbiot also overlooks the fact that the Scottish Parliament which legislated for the referendum on 18th September owes rather a lot to the “no brigade” (i.e. its creation by the last Labour government) and was created by the very British state which, according to Monbiot’s article, is simply beyond reform.
But why allow anything as vulgar as a fact to stand in the way of yet another incoherent rambling diatribe that misrepresents a nationalist project to divide peoples along national lines as a left-wing challenge to capitalism.
The horrors exposed by the Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham are so sickening, so angering, so distressing, that I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting. I’m simply not qualified to do so on an issue that seems at once so simple and yet so complex. What I am sure about is that those refuse to seriously address the racial aspect to this outrage are nearly as culpable as those who would use it to demonise Asian/ Muslim people and stir up racial hatred.
So, for now, I’ll simply recommend this piece by Samira Ahmed. I know quite a few of you will have already read this, as it was first published in yesterday’s Guardian. But it’s by far the best and most sensibly nuanced commentary on the subject I’ve yet encountered and it deserves to be as widely read as possible.
It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.
Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.
Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.
The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.
Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including – as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates – the Guardian itself:
Dear Alan Rusbridger,
The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.
On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).
Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.
“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.
Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”
And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.
The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….
The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.
All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.
The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.
Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.
Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?
The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.
The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.
Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.
The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.
These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.
For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.
The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.
The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.
Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:
The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.
Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.
Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.
Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.
Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”
Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”
Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”
So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?